June 30th, 2024 is a pivotal date in the world of enterprise Linux. For almost 20 years, CentOS Linux has been, for many, the choice for server workloads. However, that's about to change when CentOS Linux 7, the last live version of the Community ENTerprise Operating System, is going end of life. This means the repositories will be shut down, no new versions will be released and no new updates will be made available.

What does this mean?

It means that thousands, if not hundreds of thousands, of servers need to find a new home, and the solution is closer to home than you might realize. CentOS Linux 7 is a derivative of Red Hat Enterprise Linux 7, so the most direct path to a successful upgrade is to convert your CentOS systems to Red Hat Enterprise Linux (RHEL).

Red Hat has a lot of resources focusing on the technical means of moving from CentOS Linux to RHEL, but I want to discuss this transition from a programmatic view.

What's my migration journey?

Infrastructure-wide changes are expensive, not just in dollars but in time, resources and planning. This can potentially add new business relationships and create operational risks that might impact existing SLAs.

Each workload in each environment needs to be evaluated and inventoried. Compatibility charts need to be referenced and special cases need to be considered—and does anyone remember what that server is under Joe's desk?

CentOS in production

Before I dive into why RHEL is the right upgrade from CentOS, let me address a question I frequently get asked: "Eric, what about CentOS Stream?"

Here's my honest take on CentOS Stream. It's an amazing operating system. The amount of effort that goes into the distribution is nothing short of amazing. However, I wouldn't bank on it for my production applications, particularly the ones that eventually pay my salary.

While CentOS Stream is a high-performing operating system, it isn't designed with the long term in mind. There's no in-place upgrade mechanism between major versions, and you have only 5 years of community support.

So when might you turn to CentOS Stream? If you're a hardware or software vendor and you want to ensure your widget is RHEL-next ready as close to Day 1 as possible, CentOS is a great target. For example, perhaps you write medical software certified for RHEL. By developing and testing against CentOS Stream, you're pretty close to ready for the next major release of RHEL because CentOS is constantly evolving. Once the next RHEL beta is released, you can do final validations.

You might also turn to CentOS Stream if you're an upstream contributor who wants to impact the future of enterprise Linux and technology in general. CentOS Special Interest Groups (SIGs), like the hyperscaler and Automotive SIGs, are comprised of contributors from all over the ecosystem working to solve the next set of problems, including Red Hatters and partner engineering teams.

What am I getting with RHEL?

When you start utilizing Red Hat Enterprise Linux, you get more than just a subscription. You're getting a partner in business. That's the beautiful thing about a company with open source at its heart. Red Hat got started by making the work of an amazing community of open source developers ready for the enterprise. However, as Red Hat has grown and matured, open source is no longer the only value we bring to the table. Much of the value is now delivered above the bits, in the form of services and support.

Realistically, large software or hardware vendors simply won't stake an application built to last for decades, or the next line of CPUs, on a community project. However, they do look to Red Hat as an advocate, and they certify hardware and applications on a production-grade OS like RHEL.

There's also certification and security standards to consider. Red Hat seeks out governments, vertical-specific organizations (such as HIPPA), and general security organizations (like CIS) to work towards certifying as many versions (major and minor) as we can. A community effort doesn't have the resources to pursue certification. It can take months, even a year or more for a specific minor version of Red Hat Enterprise Linux to reach a certified status. Anyone can check a box and claim they'll deliver a certification like FIPS, but very few companies actually deliver it.

Here's what Red Hat Enterprise Linux offers:

  • Multiple lifecycle options
  • Support for a full 10 years
  • Predictable release cadence of a minor release every 6 months
  • 2-year Extended Lifecycle Support (ELS) for those stubborn workloads that need a little more time to migrate to the next major release
  • 2-year support for specific minor versions through our Extended Update Support (EUS) addon
  • 4-year support for specific minor versions through our Enhanced Extended Update Support (EEUS) addon
  • A new major release with a 10 year lifecycle every 3 years

Of course, we have our world-class support teams and their follow-the-sun support model and a consulting and partnership organization that has relationships with literally thousands of ISVs.

Plus, we make it easier than ever to proactively get analytics around your systems. With Red Hat Insights, you can register your systems with our Hybrid Cloud Console to receive notifications of CVEs, cost analysis on your workloads, and even remediate configuration issues from a single-pane inventory! We're so sure that our Linux management tools will help you manage your environments easier, we even announced an expansion of our Red Hat Insights tools recently at Red Hat Summit.

RHEL isn't just an open source operating system with a support team. We offer so much more, from expertise to analytics to predictable releases. Plus, RHEL is available to run where you need it: from the data center, to the public and private clouds, and even out to the edge.

Free to fee

There's a myth around CentOS that says it doesn't cost a dime. That's not really the case, though, when you look at the bigger picture. First, if you're getting access to your CentOS Linux images through a 3rd party, you may be paying support or maintenance costs to that vendor. If not, then sure, you're not paying a vendor for the ability to use their code in the traditional sense.

However, CentOS is community supported. Your options for support are to hire a 3rd party to support it, and that's a cost. You also could go the self-service, do-it-yourself (DIY) route. That means that you or your systems administrators are pulling long hours arguing over the proper format of a question on Stack Exchange instead of solving the issue at hand!

While a community distribution may not have a price tag on it, you do end up paying for it in time and, in many cases, your work and life balance.

How do I move forward with RHEL?

The easiest option is to do an in-place conversion using the Convert2RHEL tool. The convert2rhel command replaces all of the CentOS Linux packages with their equivalent RHEL packages. This is as close to running the way things are as you can get! The best news is the conversion is a supported process, so you can always work with our support and consulting teams to help you change your CentOS Linux servers into RHEL servers.

In fact, at Red Hat Summit this past May, we announced a new offering. Red Hat Enterprise Linux for Third Party Linux Migration bundles Red Hat Enterprise Linux subscriptions with upgrades and patches for an additional four years after the CentOS Linux EOL date into one discounted package.

If you're hoping to make some forward momentum with your infrastructure, not only can you do in-place conversions, but you can follow that up with an in-place upgrade. That means across your infrastructure, you can move from a community-focused distribution to a fully supported, enterprise distribution without having to buy all-new hardware or reprovision your entire cloud instance.

Finally, you could even consider migrating certain workloads into a container, and run those workloads on a RHEL host. CentOS Linux containers will also stop being updated on June 30th, 2024, but RHEL 8 and 9 both support Podman as well as CentOS Stream or RHEL container images.

Upgrade early

June 30th, 2024 is coming up quickly. If you need help:

About the author

Eric "The IT Guy" Hendricks is a Technical Marketing Manager for Red Hat Enterprise Linux, as well as the host of "Red Hat Enterprise Linux Presents," a podcaster, and open source advocate. Hendricks started out in 2007 as a Systems Administrator specializing in Linux before moving into technical marketing.

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