Red Hat stamps its influence on CentOS 7

Latest version of the community edition of RHEL is the first release under the partnership between CentOS and Red Hat

The latest update of CentOS, the free community edition of Red Hat Enterprise Linux, is about to be released, according to posts on the official CentOS blog. Version 7 is the first version of CentOS to be released after the nominally independent Centos and Red Hat brokered a deal earlier this year to work together more closely.

From the outside, the union between CentOS and Red Hat looked like a way for CentOS to become a staging ground for future features for RHEL, akin to the Fedora Project's former status. But it's also become a way for Red Hat to reach out more directly to CentOS's base -- the enterprises, service providers, ISPs, and other outfits using CentOS to keep costs low.

The Red Hat/CentOS deal originally raised concern that CentOS would cease to exist as a no- to low-cost alternative to RHEL. CentOS's chief attraction has been that it provides all the bits nominally provided by Red Hat Enterprise Linux, compiled by the volunteer staff at CentOS. Support for CentOS doesn't come from Red Hat, but rather from a community of volunteers. For users who turned to CentOS to leverage their own expertise with Linux, that was typically enough.

The changes introduced into CentOS seem split evenly between new features for CentOS itself and community building for the project. They include:

Nightly builds. Introduced in June for the CentOS 7 release process, the nightly build system provides a complete and automated build of the most recent version of the code. This parallels Red Hat's "Rawhide" release system for Fedora, although nightlies aren't recommended for production use. Future CentOS versions will also have nightlies available in the run-up to their respective releases, and a Git repository for CentOS source code releases has been created -- yet another way for the source to be more accessible.

Docker images of CentOS builds. This seemed inevitable given Red Hat's enthusiastic use of Docker as a key component of RHEL 7. It's not clear how often Docker images will be built -- whether nightly Docker images will be built in conjunction with the regular images -- but it's plain that Docker images will now accompany all major releases of CentOS.

CentOS variants. Since CentOS is used often in production, it's inherently difficult to adopt a "move fast and break things" strategy that's closer to what Fedora does. But the greater range of flexibility inherently available with the CentOS model has inspired the concept of CentOS variants, sub-editions of CentOS that replace various subsystems with different packages. Ubuntu Linux's Respins follows much the same concept. Nothing concrete has come of the idea yet, but projects in the works include "Xen4CentOS, an implementation of Xen 4 on CentOS, and an edition of CentOS designed as a storage node.

Governance policy. The single largest change to CentOS as an organization -- and one of the most potentially worrisome -- has been the creation of a governing board for CentOS. The board is made up of the nine existing CentOS members, one community-nominated member, and three Red Hat-appointed members. As Donne Berkholz of RedMonk pointed out, Red Hat can make decisions on behalf of the rest of the board members if they can't agree on something, so the long-term effects of such a governing structure are unclear.

CentOS is not the only third-party product compiled from RHEL's source. Scientific Linux, for instance, uses RHEL as a starting point for a common Linux platform for science research. That may not be the best swap for those organizations running CentOS as a production platform, but it's an example of how CentOS is not the only alternate RHEL build.

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