Red Hat Embraces Rival CentOS

Red Hat's CTO explains why the Linux giant is now working with the community group that has been cloning its flagship enterprise Linux platform.

In an unexpected announcement, Linux leader Red Hat is now partnering with the CentOS community Linux project. CentOS is a clone of Red Hat's crown jewel, the Red Hat Enterprise Linux (RHEL) platform, and in some circles has been seen as a rival, providing a free alternative to Red Hat's subscription pricing for RHEL.

RHEL is an open-source platform, and as such the core code components are freely available. CentOS has been regarded by some to simply be a direct copy of RHEL, with the Red Hat copyrights and trademarks removed. That's a perception that Red Hat does not agree with.

"It's a misconception that CentOS is a stripped Red Hat Enterprise Linux clone," Red Hat Chief Technology Officer Brian Stevens told eWEEK. "Beyond trademarks and support, there are significant differences."

Stevens said there are different build environments, quality assurance processes and, in some editions, kernels and other open-source components. Another key difference between RHEL and CentOS are the hardware, software and government certifications that Red Hat provides, he added.

As a community project, CentOS also has not directly offered service and support for users, beyond community-supported user forums. That said, third-party vendors, including OpenLogic, have been in the market providing commercial support for CentOS since at least 2009. OpenLogic was acquired by Rogue Wave Software in 2013.

Stevens noted that Red Hat provides a relationship with the people behind the code to fix problems and prioritize features that matter to the specific subscribers.

"Today's announcement is truly about building a 'new' CentOS Project and expanding beyond the operating system to address new parts of the stack, including OpenStack, SDN [software-defined networking] and big data," Stevens said.

Red Hat is not providing commercial support for CentOS and is still not recommending the use of CentOS for production deployments. For that, Red Hat is still firmly positioning its subscription-based RHEL offering as the primary choice.

"With CentOS, we have the opportunity to get cloud and big data into even more hands around the globe," Stevens said. "As this early adoption leads to production and mission-critical deployments, those users will want the value proposition we offer with our enterprise products—stability, support, a strong ecosystem and a predictable lifecycle."

For years, Red Hat's management has had an ongoing sales effort known as "Free to Paid" in which the company's sales force aims to convert free Linux users to paying RHEL subscribers. Stevens said that Free to Paid conversions will continue as they have as they are a natural component of Red Hat's selling motion into the enterprise.

"One of the many advantages of creating technology value and innovation in an open-source development model is low barriers for communities of contributors and users to get the technology into their hands, use it, collaborate on getting the most value out of it," Stevens said. "Such free community use accelerates adoption and innovation, which creates opportunities to sell a commercial value proposition for Red Hat in the form of product subscriptions."

In addition, Red Hat's Free to Paid conversions from non-paid Linux promote the economic benefits of standardizing on a common platform and leveraging the benefits of scale and reduced complexity, Stevens said.

While CentOS has been one of the most popular RHEL clones on the market, it isn't the only one. Others include Scientific Linux and Oracle Linux. According to Red Hat, one of the goals of the company's direct participation in the CentOS project is to make it a more attractive option than other RHEL clones.

Sean Michael Kerner is a senior editor at eWEEK and Follow him on Twitter @TechJournalist.

Sean Michael Kerner

Sean Michael Kerner

Sean Michael Kerner is an Internet consultant, strategist, and contributor to several leading IT business web sites.