CentOS is one of the most popular server distributions in the world. It is an open source fork of Red Hat Enterprise Linux (RHEL) and provides the goodness of RHEL without the cost associated with RHEL.
However, things have changed recently. Red Hat is converting the stable CentOS to a rolling release model in the form of CentOS Stream. CentOS 8 was supposed to be supported until 2029, but it is now forced discontinued by the end of 2021.
If you are using CentOS for your servers, it may make you wonder where to go from here.
See, the first choice for replacing CentOS 8 is CentOS Stream. The process to upgrade CentOS 8 to CentOS Stream is simple, and you don’t have to worry about reinstalling anything here.
However, since CentOS Stream is of rolling release nature, you may want to consider something more stable for a production server. I’ll help you with that decision by suggesting some recommendations in this article.
RHEL-based server Linux distributions you may want to consider for replacing CentOS
I’ll start the list with some of the RHEL forks to replace CentOS 8. I’ll also list some server distributions that aren’t precisely RHEL forks but should come in handy.
The same day Red Hat announced its plans to replace stable CentOS 8 with rolling release CentOS Stream, the original developer of CentOS announced a new project to provide RHEL fork to CentOS users.
This new project is called Rocky Linux. It is named in the memory of one of the co-creators of the original CentOS project. It’s been forked from RHEL 8 and aims to be “100% bug-for-bug compatible with Red Hat Enterprise Linux”.
It offers easy migration, is supported by the community, and acts as a downstream to RHEL. So, this is one of the obvious choices to replace CentOS.
AlmaLinux (initially known as Project Lenix) is a CentOS alternative backed by the team behind CloudLinux OS.
While it is an initiative by a well-known organization, it also adopts the same principle of building for the community with their help.
The team behind AlmaLinux is an enterprise-oriented service that has been providing customized CentOS servers for several years now. So, their experience should reflect with AlmaLinux OS and should give you confidence in choosing AlmaLinux for your servers.
Probably the only RHEL fork in this list that is ready to use in the best possible manner. Not only ready to use, but you can also even migrate from an existing CentOS installation to Oracle Linux without reinstalling it.
Oracle Linux has been available since 2006. It is 100% application binary compatible with Red Hat Enterprise Linux (RHEL) and it provides an equivalent to each RHEL release. And no, you don’t need to sign an agreement with Oracle for using Oracle Linux.
Oracle Linux comes with two choices of Linux kernels: the Unbreakable Enterprise Kernel (UEK) for Oracle Linux or the Red Hat Compatible Kernel (RHCK).
It’s just that the track record of Oracle is not very good with open-source projects, and probably this is the reason a true community fork in the form of CentOS was preferred over Oracle Linux. With CentOS being replaced with CentOS Stream, perhaps it is the right time to give Oracle a chance?
ClearOS (by HP)
ClearOS is offered by HP on its HPE ProLiant servers. Though it is not clearly mentioned on their website, ClearOS is based on RHEL and CentOS.
Clear Center and HPE have partnered on this project. The open source ClearOS available for free to the community. They have their app marketplace with a mix of free and paid applications. You don’t pay for the OS, but you may have to pay for the apps if you opt for a paid one.
It might not be that popular but with CentOS Stream becoming the default, ClearOS stands to gain some user base, if HP plays its cards right. Will they do it? I am not so sure. Oracle is trying to lure CentOS users, but I have seen no such efforts from HP.
Springdale Linux (academic project from Princeton University)
A Red Hat fork maintained by academicians? That’s Scientific Linux, right? But Scientific Linux has been dead for over a year.
Springdale Linux (SDL) is another such project by Princeton University. It was previously known as PUIAS (Princeton University Institute for Advanced Study).
There is no RHEL 8 equivalent of Springdale Linux yet, which gives some hint about the speed of development here.
Server distributions that are not based on Red Hat
Alright! So far, the list mentions the distributions based on Red Hat. It’s time to look at some of the server distributions that have nothing to do with RHEL, but they are still a good choice for your production server.
YunoHost (Specially customized for web servers)
YunoHost is based on Debian and customized for the purpose of providing you with a system for hosting your web servers.
You can use it on ARM boards like Raspberry Pi, old desktops, and computers on virtual private servers.
YunoHost also provides a web-based admin interface (inspired by Webmin?) so that you can manage the system graphically. This is a great relief for someone who wants to host a web server without getting too much into the command line stuff.
The universal operating system provides a rock-solid server distribution—an ideal choice for those who want a stable system.
If you had invested too much time and skill in CentOS, you might find Debian slightly different, especially the package management system. Though, I believe it should not be much of a trouble for a seasoned Linux sysadmin.
SUSE is one of the direct competitors of Red Hat. They have the enterprise offering in the form of SUSE Linux Enterprise. Their open-source offering openSUSE is also quite popular, both as desktop and server.
openSUSE makes up a good choice for a server Linux distribution. People these days won’t understand what a relief YAST tool of SUSE brought for users in the last 90s and early 2000s. It is still a handy utility for managing the SUSE system.
openSUSE comes in two formats: the rolling release Tumbleweed and the stable point release Leap. I am guessing you are looking for stability, so Leap is what you should be aiming for.
Ubuntu is the most popular distribution in the world, both on servers and desktops. This is why this list could not have been completed without Ubuntu.
Since I have been using Ubuntu for a long time, I feel comfortable hosting my web servers on Ubuntu. But that’s just me. If you are coming from the RHEL domain, package management is different here, along with a few networking and management components.
Ubuntu LTS version comes with five years of support, which is half of what a CentOS release provided. You may opt for paid extended support for an outdated LTS version if you want to avoid upgrading versions.
What’s your choice?
I have listed some top recommendations for RHEL based distributions as well as for generic server distributions.
Now it’s your turn. Which of the above-listed distributions do you like the most? Do you have any other suggestions to add to this list? The comment section is all yours.