AlmaLinux is developed for filling the gap left by the demise of the CentOS stable release as an open-source, community-driven project. This open-source project is a 1:1 binary compatible fork of RHEL 8. AlmaLinux is built by the creators of the established CloudLinux OS. Furthermore, AlmaLinux got $1M in annual sponsorship from CloudLinux. We’ve talked with Igor Seletskiy, CEO of CloudLinux about AlmaLinux and the future plans of the new OS.
First, where did the name “AlmaLinux” come from? Why did you change the code name “Project Lenix”?
ProjectLenix was always a temporary name. We knew we had to get out in front of the community ASAP to reduce the fear, uncertainty, and doubt around CentOS 8 end of life. We needed a temporary name that we can use to refer to the distro we are creating. This is why we quickly decided to use the code name ProjectLenix.
That gave us some time to come up with a distro name. The community is the soul of Linux – and in the spirit of a dedicated community, we decided to call our new distribution Alma. Alma means “soul” in Spanish and Italian, and we thought it was a very fitting name for a community distribution.
Did you anticipate Red Hat’s CentOS announcement before it was made? Were you planning on AlmaLinux for a long time, or did you initiate the project right after Red Hat’s announcement?
When RedHat acquired CentOS several years ago it was fairly obvious that CentOS will not continue in its current form. That said, we didn’t expect Red Hat to just come out and announce that CentOS 8 will be gone in a year’s time. We had to scramble – and start the project pretty much the “next day” after the announcement.
Red Hat’s decision around CentOS caused confusion and panic, particularly amongst hosting service providers. How do you think hosting providers will react?
We expect that the majority of vendors will offer support for AlmaLinux by early Q2 of 2021, given that it will be binary compatible with CentOS, and that there isn’t much extra work involved. We expect hosting service providers to follow soon after, deploying new AlmaLinux 8 workloads, and migrating existing CentOS 8 workloads to AlmaLinux.
What advantages will AlmaLinux offer to hosting companies?
AlmaLinux is not so much about offering something new in the marketplace, as replacing an important tool that has been lost. AlmaLinux replaces CentOS 8, the free, stable, enterprise-grade OS that countless hosting companies depend on. It fills the void left by RedHat. If a similar distro does not come to market it will harm a lot of hosting companies, and the community as a whole. Which is why we launched AlmaLinux — to fill that gap.
We know that you have a team of experienced Linux experts working on AlmaLinux, how is the project going so far?
Our core product, CloudLinux OS, is in itself a fork of RHEL. We have developed and maintained a RHEL fork for over a decade, starting with RHEL 5. CloudLinux OS 8, which matches across to RHEL 8, has years of active deployment. It is very simple for us to use our existing knowledge and experience around CloudLinux OS 8 to build and release a free distro, AlmaLinux 8.
So, the project is off to a great start, even though we had a lot of staff members on leave around New Year. We are highly confident that we can deliver the first beta by the end of January.
We also expect it to be sufficiently stable for web-related workloads as we’ve already done much of the necessary testing with CloudLinux OS. We hope to reach enterprise-grade stability for other components including KVM host, JBoss, and so forth by the end of Q1.
As you already know, Gregory Kurtzer is also working on a CentOS replacement, Rocky Linux. How do you feel about the competition?
I think it is great that the Linux community has people like Kurtzer and his team who are willing to spend the time and develop important Linux assets without financial gain. That is an important part of the open-source movement, and it makes the whole ecosystem robust.
Rocky Linux announced that the first release is expected to be ready in the Q2 of 2021, can you set any date for the first release?
We expect to have a beta in a few weeks (end of Jan, maybe the first week of February) with the stable release by the end of Q1.
CloudLinux announced a generous budget for AlmaLinux. How will the project be funded in the future?
CloudLinux is an established company with a significant footprint in the market. It gives us the capacity and the opportunity to sponsor projects like AlmaLinux. We are not looking for external sources to fund the project.
We also see that backing such a critical Linux distro will give a boost to our market position, and our standing in the FOSS community. In the long term, it will help us increase the uptake of our rebootless kernel update (KernelCare) and extended Linux support services.
We also look at it as a way to give back to the community. We have benefited greatly by being a part of the open-source, Linux community – and now it is our chance to give back.
You will be able to use a modified kernel with AlmaLinux, unlike in Red Hat. What kind of advantages will it offer to users?
At release, the kernel in AlmaLinux will be the same kernel as the one shipped with RHEL 8. We will provide the community with a route to using alternative kernels, if the community requires it and if there is a real interest.
So far, we’ve already been contacted by community members who want to collaborate on a Xen kernel for AlmaLinux 8. There is also interest in running the latest mainstream kernel. Broadly speaking, we see AlmaLinux as a platform for the community. Special interest groups are welcome to take the new distribution into any number of different directions to meet their distinct needs.
What is the feedback from the community so far? Are you planning to collaborate with CentOS developers?
We are seeing very warm support from the community and from vendors. A lot of people want to contribute and participate. However, there aren’t many CentOS developers, most CentOS developers were employed by RedHat and those developers were redeployed to other projects.
We are nonetheless very open to anyone who wishes to contribute. Anyone who wants to contribute can join our community on Reddit. If you have any direct feedback just let us know by sending a message at hello [at] almalinux [dot] org.
Do you think a rolling CentOS release has a place in the market, given that Fedora is already out there?
In my opinion, CentOS Stream will be suitable for production use in only a minority of cases. While RedHat might have some uses for CentOS Stream, for 95% of users in the community, it simply won’t work.
How long will AlmaLinux provide support for LTS versions?
We plan to match the RHEL lifecycle which is 10 years of support for each release.
Let’s also talk about CloudLinux OS. What advantages does CloudLinux OS provide for hosting companies?
CloudLinux OS is developed specifically with shared hosting in mind, with the key benefit of delivering higher levels of stability under the same density. It eliminates the “bad apple” effect, where one customer can cause issues for other hosting customers.
There are many other important components that are part of what makes CloudLinux OS so successful today, including our CageFS that improves security in a shared hosting environment. HardenedPHP provides security patches for older versions of PHP that are no longer supported by the community, and we also make it possible to offer Python and NodeJS hosting.
Why do you want to provide a free, open-source alternative to CentOS when you already offer a commercial distro, CloudLinux OS?
CloudLinux OS is very specific to shared hosting and is an excellent product for cPanel/Plesk/DirectAdmin workloads. It is not a good fit for the broader enterprise environment. That is where we see the value of AlmaLinux.
How can hosting companies that want to provide a stable RPM-based distro migrate to AlmaLinux or CloudLinux?
Once we release the first beta of AlmaLinux, we will provide a script that enables in-place migration from CentOS 8 (and RHEL 8) directly to AlmaLinux 8. This in-place migration does not require a reboot or a restart of either the server or any processes, and would take just seconds to run.