By now you are beyond well aware that Red Hat‘s changes to its CentOS community distribution has made it a less than an ideal for many use cases. Switching from the regular releases to a rolling release, the change brought about a domino effect that rendered many admins with a rather confusing path forward. Do they risk sticking with a platform that could become unstable? And what about those who depend upon cPanel? Where do they go?
Because this is open source, you knew it was only a matter of time before developers (or teams of developers) stepped in to solve the problem before it became a serious issue. So no matter if you have servers powered by CentOS 7, 8, or even Stream, you have options. You might be surprised that some of these options feel quite familiar. They should because they are pretty much spot-on clones of the CentOS you’ve grown to know and depend on.
But which one of these available Linux server-specific distributions should you turn to? Let’s take a look at each of them and see if we can help you figure that out.
AlmaLinux is one of the first of the CentOS clones to have been released after the dust settled. Born from CloudLinux, a company that is well known for hosting and provides thousands of data centers worldwide. CloudLinux already had its CloudLinux OS, which is purpose-built for shared hosting environments. Upon the announcement of CentOS jumping into the stream, CloudLinux decided to take up the mantle and release AlmaLinux.
AlmaLinux is 1:1 binary compatible with Red Hat Enterprise Linux 8 and is not only “forever free,” but developed by the command and for the community. This distribution is backed by the likes of AWS, ARM, Open Source Lab, cPanel, CHEF, Pleak, Mattermost, and more.
This CentOS replacement is already enjoying its second release (with 8.4, which is based on Red Hat Enterprise Linux [RHEL] 8.4) and is production-ready for the enterprise.
One of the more important aspects of AlmaLinux (especially for larger companies) is that you can purchase enterprise-grade support, through TuxCare, according to Jim Jackson, president, and chief revenue officer at CloudLinux.
If you’ve used CentOS, you will be immediately familiar with AlmaLinux — it even defaults to the GNOME desktop
For those who rely on cPanel and WHM, rest assured that both technologies are supported on AlmaLinux, with the makers of cPanel going so far as to say, “We have made the commitment to support the RHEL fork by CloudLinux,” Jackson said.
If you’ve used CentOS, you will be immediately familiar with AlmaLinux — it even defaults to the GNOME desktop, just like your favorite data center Linux distribution has for years.
Oracle Linux has been around for quite some time but seems to have existed in the shadows of CentOS — indeed it is pretty much a RHEL clone for Oracle shops. Now might be the perfect time for your company to take a look at this alternative distribution.
Before you do, you might want to ask yourself, “How deep is my connection with open source?” You see, Oracle has had a rather up and down relationship with open source over the years. Oracle’s lackluster management of OpenOffice (acquired when Oracle purchased Sun Microsystems in 2009) arguably led to the fork of LibreOffice. So many feared that the same would happen to MySQL that the codebase for that database system was forked to create MariaDB.
But if you can set aside the notion that Oracle hasn’t always been the biggest champion of open source software, it does have a server-based distribution that’s pretty outstanding. Oracle Linux is one of the best performing CentOS clones on the market. This might be one of the only RHEL-clones that can stand toe-to-toe with the likes of Ubuntu Server when it comes to upgrade/update performance. And because Oracle Linux has been around for some time, it’s as rock-solid a server distribution as you’ll find.
Oracle Linux might be one of the only RHEL-clones that can stand toe-to-toe with the likes of Ubuntu Server when it comes to upgrade/update performance.
And for cloud native developers, there’s always Oracle Linux Cloud Native Environment, which is a fully integrated suite for the development and management of cloud native applications and services. These tools are all based on open standards, defined by the Open Container Initiative and Cloud Native Computing Foundation, and have been tested for interoperability. These tools aren’t installed by default, but they are designed and optimized to run on Oracle Linux.
The big caveat for Oracle Linux is that it’s not supported by cPanel. So if you’re looking for an alternative as a hosting provider, Oracle Linux is not the distribution you want. If you’re looking for cloud native development and (especially) integration with Oracle Database, Oracle Linux might be the ideal distribution to meet (and exceed) your needs.
And, like AlmaLinux, you can purchase support for Oracle Linux.
Red Hat Enterprise Linux
You cannot have a list of CentOS clones without including the distribution that all of them are based on. Red Hat Enterprise Linux should be considered one of the top options for all enterprise businesses. Why? Because Red Hat is all about big business. Not only is it one of the top-earning open source companies on the planet, but it is also one of the largest contributors to open source projects.
So if you want the mother of all Linux server distributions, why not just go with the original?
Of course, with RHEL comes a price. Unlike the rest of the distributions on this list, you won’t be deploying this distribution for free — unless you are deploying to 16 systems or fewer with the No-cost RHEL for small productions workloads program.
Red Hat Enterprise Linux is based on Fedora, a community-driven distribution that serves as a testing ground for what eventually will arrive on RHEL. RHEL is available via subscription that includes world-class support (or you can opt for the self-support subscription for a lower cost). RHEL also includes some of the best distribution documentation on the market. And because RHEL supports x86/64, ARM, Power, and IBM System Z, you’ll find it capable of serving on nearly any environment.
But more importantly, if you find yourself considering any distribution on this list, know that it has been heavily influenced (or simply cloned) by RHEL. So if you want the mother of all Linux server distributions, why not just go with the original?
Rocky Linux is special because it was created by the same developer that created CentOS. So if you want a distribution that is as close to what CentOS was, this is where you should start your journey. If you’ve used CentOS Linux, you’ve used Rocky Linux. That means there’s zero learning curve. To the point, Rocky Linux is more CentOS than CentOS will ever again be.
Rocky Linux is being developed by the same gent who created CentOS, so you can be sure it’ll take the same slow, methodical approach that made CentOS so incredibly stable.
And because Rocky Linux is being developed by the same gent who created CentOS, you can be sure it’ll take the same slow, methodical approach that made CentOS so incredibly stable. And if the first release candidate of Rocky Linux is any indication, this server distribution will wind up being one of the most dependable on the market.
One thing that’s important to understand about Rocky Linux (which I reported in my interview with creator Gregory Kurtzer) is that this distribution isn’t just about re-creating RHEL, but about “building the community, the infrastructure, and the trust that Rocky Linux will always remain stable, open, collaborative, and secure.”
In other words, Rocky Linux won’t be a fly-by-night Linux distribution that will gather a large user base and then shift gears as CentOS did. Rocky Linux promises to be exactly what CentOS was before it changed leadership.
Rocky Linux has already garnered support from 45 Drives, OpenDrives, MontaVista, and Amazon Web Services, so you know it’ll be available on third-party cloud hosts.
VzLinux is yet another CentOS clone that seemingly came out of nowhere. Only it didn’t. VzLinux has been around for over two decades, as the base operating system for OpenVz (and other commercial products, offered by Virtuozzo). For those who have never heard of Virtuozzo, this company specializes in virtualization and were responsible for developing the first commercially available operating-system-level virtualization container technology. This technology, Virtuozzo, was first launched in 2000 and was released in 2005 as the open source OpenVz.
Virtuozzo knows containers, so it should come as no surprise that VzLinux is geared toward cloud native. There are three flavors of this server distribution, optimized for:
- Running high dense system containers
- Virtual environments
- Bare metal
VzLinux is also supported as a guest operating system under different hypervisors (Virtuozzo, OpenVz, and KVM) and is deployable with templates from various hyperscaler markets. VzLinux is even available as a Docker container image (which can be pulled with the command docker pull virtuozzo/vzlinux8).
Virtuozzo knows containers, so it should come as no surprise that VzLinux is geared toward cloud native.
In the end, however, you’ll find VzLinux to be just as familiar as CentOS. And like all of the other distributions on this list, it’s 1:1 binary compatible with RHEL 8. You can download and use VzLinux for free, from the official VzLinux page.
In the end, you have options. If you found yourself in a panic about the decision to shift CentOS away from what made it so popular and reliable, you can set that panic aside, knowing that you can choose from a wealth of distributions, all of which will bring the same things to the table that made you choose CentOS in the first place. And because most of these distributions are free, you can try them out and find the one that perfectly fits your use-case, style, and company size.
The New Stack is a wholly owned subsidiary of Insight Partners, an investor in the following companies mentioned in this article: Docker.
Amazon Web Services, The Cloud Native Computing Foundation, Oracle and Red Hat are sponsors of The New Stack.