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Red Hat Enterprise Linux (RHEL) is the world’s leading enterprise Linux platform, known for its stability, versatility and enhanced security capabilities, whether on-premise or across the hybrid cloud. To help RHEL users keep up with the latest updates and security patches, Red Hat has established a well-defined lifecycle for each RHEL version that helps customers to have a clearer understanding of the different support phases.

Let’s start our overview from the beginning, outlining the different phases that constitute the RHEL lifecycle.

Red Hat Enterprise Linux lifecycle phases

The core part of a lifecycle is understanding how the product is going to be supported and how it is possible to benefit the most from it.

Generally speaking, and regardless of the specific version (that could introduce some exceptions), the RHEL lifecycle is divided into three main phases.

the RHEL lifecycle phases, illustrated

Full Support Phase

The full support phase is the primary lifecycle phase for RHEL and is planned to run for five years.

During this phase, all security updates and selected bug fixes are released, as well as new hardware compatibility changes to the OS, at Red Hat’s discretion. Red Hat also provides updated installation images for each minor release of RHEL.

Maintenance Support Phase

This phase is typically five years long and is focused on addressing critical security and bug fixes.

During this phase, Red Hat will deliver:

  • Critical and Important Security errata advisories (RHSAs)
  • Urgent and Selected High Priority Bug Fix errata advisories (RHBAs); are at Red Hat’s discretion
  • Other errata advisories if they apply

Extended Life Phase

During this phase, the duration of which can vary from version to version at Red Hat's discretion (Its typical duration is three years, but it can be extended or reduced), Red Hat provides limited support for RHEL and only critical security updates are released. No new features or bug fixes are included, but access to the Red Hat knowledge base and all content on the customer portal is granted. Support for upgrades and migrations to newer RHEL versions is also included.

Understanding the RHEL lifecycle benefits

By understanding the RHEL lifecycle, you can ensure that you are using the most up-to-date version of RHEL. This is crucial for maintaining the stability of your applications and infrastructure, as well as being able to plan for and execute infrastructure upgrades with a clear vision.

Standardizing on an operating system with a clear support lifecycle grants a number of advantages both on the operational and economic sides.

Some of the benefits are:

  • Reduced risk of security vulnerabilities: Using the most recent version of RHEL means you are up to date with Red Hat's security recommendations and fixes.
  • Improved stability: Red Hat is constantly working to improve the stability of RHEL. By using the latest version, you can benefit from these improvements.
  • Reduced maintenance costs: As you can count on a predictable updates lifecycle, designed to reduce friction between releases over time, keeping your RHEL systems up-to-date can help to reduce maintenance costs.

Planning your RHEL upgrade strategy

We just saw that one of the benefits of having a clear support lifecycle is being able to plan and execute infrastructure upgrades in a timely fashion.

When planning your RHEL upgrade strategy, it is crucial to consider the following factors:

  • The RHEL version you are currently using: The length of the Full Support Phase for your current RHEL version can be a great indicator of when you should start planning towards an upgrade.
  • Organization's specific requirements: You need to factor in your organization's specific needs and constraints, such as compatibility with existing applications and infrastructure.
    • In our experience, some of the bigger blockers or slowdowns to upgrades are usually compatibility issues with hardware or third-party software. It is crucial to plan accordingly to avoid being stuck on older versions and potentially exposed to otherwise avoidable security threats.
  • Organization's risk tolerance: This implicitly relates to the previous point, and refers to how much risk you are willing to accept in terms of exposure to potential security vulnerabilities and downtime when remaining on an older version in its late/near-end maintenance phases.

Red Hat provides a number of tools and resources to help you plan and execute your RHEL upgrade. These tools include the LEAPP upgrade tool for in-place upgrades between different major versions, which can help you identify and plan for compatibility issues with its pre-upgrade analysis and reports, and the Red Hat Customer Portal, which provides documentation and support resources for all RHEL versions.

If you would like some help,, Red Hat Customer Support and Consulting Services can guide and advise you during all upgrade phases.

Wrap up

Understanding the RHEL lifecycle is an important part of managing your RHEL infrastructure.  By following the lifecycle guidelines, you can make sure that you are using the most up-to-date version of RHEL, which provides a number of benefits as we've discussed here..

If you want to learn more about RHEL lifecycle or other Red Hat product lifecycles, don’t hesitate to contact us!

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About the author

Alessandro Rossi is an EMEA Senior Specialist Solution Architect for Red Hat Enterprise Linux with a passion for cloud platforms and automation.

Alessandro joined Red Hat in 2021, but he's been working in the Linux and open source ecosystem since 2012. He's done instructing and consulting for Red Hat and delivered training on Red Hat Enterprise Linux, Red Hat Ansible Automation Platform and Red Hat OpenShift, and has supported companies during solutions implementation.

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