As AlmaLinux and Rocky Linux vie for dominance in the free RHEL replacement space that was abandoned by CentOS Linux, Alma appears to be making deeper inroads on several fronts.
The few who were expecting cries of anguish to start when CentOS 8 became unsupported at the strike of midnight on New Year’s Eve, were likely surprised when January came and went with nary a whisper about the loss of a Linux distribution that months earlier had powered millions of servers running mission critical workloads in data centers around the world.
A year earlier Red Hat, which had sponsored the 18-year-old project for the better part of a decade and owned the CentOS trademark, announced it was closing the project down, while keeping the CentOS name for a different, if similar, distro.
This was a big deal. As a feature-for-feature downstream clone of Red Hat Enterprise Linux, many enterprises depended on the distro as a way of running RHEL without having to pay a Red Hat tax, which is probably why Red Hat wanted to see it go.
While several existing Linux distros immediately raised their hands to offer themselves as potential CentOS replacements (most notably Oracle Linux, already a near clone of RHEL), two impressive new distro projects surfaced to fill the void and now dominate the market that CentOS left behind.
Both of these Linux distributions were announced within hours of each other, soon after Red Hat made its announcement. Rocky Linux was announced first, and got the lion’s share of the initial attention from the press because its founder, Gregory Kurtzer, founder and CEO of CIQ, has a complicated connection with CentOS’s genesis, with many seeing him as the logical choice to raise a new CentOS out of the ashes.
A short time later, the distro that eventually became known as AlmaLinux after a lengthy naming process, was announced by Igor Seletskiy, CEO of CloudLinux, a hardened CentOS-based commercial distribution designed primarily for web hosting companies. With CentOS on the way out, Seletskiy evidently figured he’d have to find another way of bringing RHEL parity to CloudLinux.
A little over a year later, both distros are up and running, both are seeing large numbers of installs by large enterprises and smaller users alike, both have found a degree of funding, and both have seen several successful releases. They’re also both solid distros.
However, maintaining a distro that can meet the security and regulatory requirements of Fortune 500 companies using the software to run mission critical production workloads is expensive, so it’s probable that only one of these distros will survive for the long term.
It’s likely that distro will be AlmaLinux.
“We founded the AlmaLinux OS Foundation for the specific goal of creating a CentOS successor that allowed those who had a stake in the future of the operating system to also have a voice,” the AlmaLinux OS Foundation’s chairperson, benny Vasquez (not a typo, she spells her first name all lower case), said in a press release a couple of weeks back. “Our success simply is not possible without support from our members, and it’s exciting to have such a strong response across key industries using Linux.”
The press release announced four new dues paying members, about three months after the foundation announced that immutable database startup, Codenotary, had signed-on to join AlmaLinux as a $100,000 a year top tier Platinum supporter.
“Sending out a big welcome to Sine Nomine, AMD, BlackHOST, and Knownhost,” Vasquez said. “If your organization cares about the future of the best downstream RHEL-clone out there, come talk to us! Your voice matters here, and we are excited to prove that to the world. This is how open source grows and flourishes.”
What is most interesting about this new round of members is the addition of Sine Nomine Associates. Joining at the $20,000 per year Gold Level, the company introduced the concept of virtual server farms using Linux on the S/390 IBM mainframe. This is interesting, because in late February AlmaLinux began supporting IBM’s Power architecture, and Sine Nomine’s involvement could put it on track for supporting IBM’s System z, the only remaining architecture supported by RHEL that Alma doesn’t support.
This would help put it further ahead of the competition, since so far Rocky Linux only supports x86-64 and Arm Aarch64, although the project is reportedly working on adding IBM Power support.
“Linux is a foundational technology for mainframes, making the reliability, scalability, and security of mainframe architecture more broadly accessible,” Kurt Acker, the principal IT architect at Sine Nomine Associates said in the press release. “We are pleased to be joining the AlmaLinux OS Foundation and helping to create strong alternatives for CentOS and other Linux users on mainframes moving forward.”
The most recognizable name on the list of new members, chipmaker AMD, said it’s joining Alma’s foundation to sustain support for AMD products.
“At AMD, we build products that help solve our customers’ biggest business challenges,” Raghu Nambiar, a corporate VP at AMD’s data center ecosystems and solutions said. “We are proud to contribute to community-driven open-source projects like AlmaLinux, that foster an open and accessible Linux ecosystem.”
AMD joins at the Silver level, which only requires a $2,500 annual commitment, as do KnownHost and BlackHOST.
The money figures attached to the dues don’t necessarily mean cash-out-of-pocket, as there are alternate methods that AlmaLinux OS Foundation members can use to honor their financial obligations. In lieu of cash payment, Platinum members can supply three full time employees working on AlmaLinux; Gold members can supply one full time employee, annual service credits, or a hardware donation valued at $20,000 or more; and Silver member can make a contribution of services or hardware. All alternate payment methods require prior approval by the foundation’s membership committee, with Silver members also requiring approval by the board of directors.
It’s not surprising that the two other new members are hosting companies, given CloudLinux’s popularity with hosting providers who use it as the underlying OS on which to run virtual machines. Since CentOS has traditionally been the default distro that hosting companies offer their customers, it only makes sense for them to make AlmaLinux the new default instead of Rocky or something else, since it shares the same code base as their underlying operating system.
KnownHost’s involvement is particularly interesting to us at FOSS Force, because it’s been the company hosting our site for nearly ten years, and a couple of months ago we became affiliate partners (which means that if you click on a KnownHost link on our site and end-up signing up for a hosting account, we’ll get a commission). This makes KnownHost’s relationship with AlmaLinux a major reason behind our decision to move FOSS Force to AlmaLinux in the near future.
“Web hosting runs on Linux and AlmaLinux provides a clean CentOS migration path and strong community engagement,” KnownHost’s COO, Daniel Pearson said. “By joining the AlmaLinux OS Foundation, we will continue to provide the best web hosting technology solutions for our customers.”
The other hosting company that’s now onboard as an AlmaLinux member is BlackHOST, which specializes in providing unmetered networking solutions ranging from 1Gbps up to 100Gbps, with points of presence around the world.
“We have made AlmaLinux our default OS choice when our clients are ordering VPSes and dedicated servers,” Thomas Nuchatel, CTO at BlackHOST said. “Linux is a key technology in web hosting and a range of other cloud infrastructure services, and AlmaLinux is the type of community-based distribution that provides value to our customers.”
Not only does AlmaLinux seem to be in front in terms of financing, it’s also ahead of the game in the technology department, where its developers have demonstrated the efficacy of their development technology twice already.
This started with the distro being the first out-of-the-gate with it’s first release, AlmaLinux 8.3, last March, nearly three months ahead of Rocky Linux’s first release, even though they both began development at about the same time. In November, less than 48 hours after RHEL 8.5 was released, AlmaLinux devs released their own 8.5 version based on it, several days ahead of Rocky.
The project has also developed and released open source software that potentially benefits anyone using RHEL or any its clones. ELevate is software that makes it much easier to migrate from one major point version of any RHEL-based distro, to another major point version of any RHEL-based distro. For example, it can be used to migrate from CentOS 7 to AlmaLinux 8, Oracle Linux 8, Rocky Linux 8, or even RHEL 8.