Back in December of 2020 Red Hat announced it will no longer be supporting CentOS 8 as of January 1st, 2022 . This was a big deal for HPC practitioners and the larger computing community. But Red Hat had a plan.
Red Hat announced CentOS Stream, which they are calling “the upstream brand of Red Hat Enterprise Linux.” This version of CentOS does not operate on a traditional release schedule but in a rolling-release style, which limits its practical applications. Further, it has shifted from a downstream, bug-for-bug compatible version of Red Hat Enterprise Linux (RHEL) to an upstream, experimental distro. This means it is less a free version of RHEL and more of a beta version of future RHEL releases.
Not long after that announcement the founder of CentOS Gregory Kurtzer announced Rocky Linux, a new, community-driven alternative to CentOS. Fast forward four months, and the first release of Rocky Linux is here, and we are actively testing it in our lab. But what does that mean for users?
For most users, it is an exciting – if not yet practical – step in the right direction. CentOS was popular for many reasons. We saw it most often as a budget-friendly alternative RHEL in development and testing environments. (That meant these teams only paid for RHEL on their production environments.) Even still, thousands of other organizations were using CentOS in their production environment.
If you are in the first group, using CentOS for a development or test environment, and you have the resources available, you can start exploring Rocky Linux now. If you are lacking the resources to test with or are looking to use Rocky Linux in a production environment, we suggest keeping an eye on Rocky Linux as it works its way towards a more stable release in the coming months. If you run workloads that require Federal Information Processing Standards (FIPS) or Center for Internet Security (CIS) certification, you may have to wait longer for Rocky Linux to become an option.
When Red Hat took control of CentOS in 2014, it was because CentOS was closely tied to their corporate interests. This was largely positive for the rest of the world because it gave the CentOS team far more development resources than it had previously. On the other hand, it also meant that CentOS was no longer an independent platform.
Losing its independence meant losing its flexibility and potential for innovation, something engineers like us at Silicon Mechanics really value . With Rocky Linux, we have returned to having a free, independent Linux distro. What’s different about Rocky Linux when compared to the early days of CentOS, is it has far more support and contribution in its infancy (Amazon Web Services, GitLab, MontaVista, and Ctrl IQ are some of the big-name supporters). This momentum puts Rocky Linux in a position to have a very bright future and add real value to those who need to extract maximum ROI from their HPC systems.
Rocky Linux is very exciting for solutions architects like Silicon Mechanics and for the IT leaders and system administrators we support every day. These community-led projects are often a hotbed for innovation and advancement. In fact, there is already discussion of variations beyond the main, CentOS-like distro. In the future there may be versions of Rocky Linux designed for specific workloads, such as simplified versions for embedded computing. Once Rocky Linux reaches a more mature state, and we start to see more complexity in their offerings, the potential use cases skyrocket so we’re following this space closely, just like you.
Many Silicon Mechanics clients are working on cutting-edge AI, ML and Analytics workloads and can benefit from a simplified version when testing workflows that move data from the edge to their core data center. If you use many devices — which is becoming more and more common as computing, even HPC and AI, is moving closer to the edge – having a homogenous OS environment may provide yet-to-be-seen advantages. Plus, each of those devices will be running a free-to-use OS, keeping operational costs low. Of course, much of this is conjecture, but it is exciting for the future of open-source computing regardless.
The future is bright for Rocky Linux, but what about users looking at building a new cluster in the more immediate future?
There is always an inherent risk in using an unsupported operating system. Every system administrator and IT infrastructure manager must understand their own circumstances and make a judgement call. If you and your organization are comfortable with the risk associated with an unsupported platform, then more power to you. In either case, make sure you’re working with a system infrastructure design vendor that is committed to putting in the extra time to learn new technologies as they evolve, so that when you’re ready to work with Rocky Linux or another emerging technology, your partner will be capable of providing the guidance you need to be successful. If you are looking for support around cluster management and Rocky Linux, vendors like Silicon Mechanics can leverage relationships with partners, like Ctrl IQ, that can offer support contracts.
If not, you may still be able to leverage Rocky Linux. If support is a requirement, you may be able to get support through a 3rd party vendor like our partners, Ctrl IQ. When you work with a team like Silicon Mechanics to design your systems, we can often help source support contracts for open-source software at a better price point that enterprise OS offerings.
If you are currently running CentOS, you still have plenty of time to transition to a new platform, whether it be Rocky Linux, Oracle Linux, RHEL, or another Linux distro. Regardless of which direction you choose, the future is bright for Linux-based enterprise computing.
If you are looking to replace or expand your enterprise computing infrastructure, Silicon Mechanics is here to help you build cutting-edge clusters today and plan the future of your environments. Our team focuses on creating the ideal solution to meet each client’s needs, whether it be leveraging open-source Linux, building leading AI clusters, or rightsizing an HPC environment.
Silicon Mechanics, Inc. is one of the world’s largest private providers of high-performance computing (HPC), artificial intelligence (AI), and enterprise storage solutions. Since 2001, Silicon Mechanics’ clients have relied on its custom-tailored open-source systems and professional services expertise to overcome the world’s most complex computing challenges. With thousands of clients across the aerospace and defense, education/research, financial services, government, life sciences/healthcare, and oil and gas sectors, Silicon Mechanics solutions always come with “Expert Included” SM. Learn more at www.siliconmechanics.com.
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