Saying goodbye to CentOS: Exploring 2 alternative Linux operating systems for HPC.

linux CentOS dead?

If you look at the official webpage of the CentOS Project, you will see two versions of CentOS: Linux and Stream.

Image credit: https://www.centos.org/

In this post, we are mainly concerned about saying goodbye to the Linux version, which will expire on June 30, 2024.

We will briefly touch on the reasons for ending support for the Linux distro, look at the available CentOS alternatives in 2024 to migrate to and consider when you would prefer one over the other.

As we know, currently, RHEL is NOT Free. It is subscription-based.

Why was CentOS popular?

Therefore, CentOS became widely popular, especially in enterprise environments, for a few good reasons:

No-Cost. It was freely available without any subscription costs.
Binary Compatibility with RHEL. This meant that any software certified and tested on RHEL would run seamlessly on CentOS. This was very important for someone who needed a free alternative to RHEL but required the stability and reliability that RH is known for.
Long-Term Support and Large Active Community. Each CentOS release was maintained for up to 10 years.
Security and Compliance. Being based on RHEL, CentOS had strong security features.
Versatility. CentOS was versatile enough to be used in small home servers to large enterprise data centers, including web and database servers and even desktops. In fact, the HPC cluster I frequently use for my research used CentOS. However, it has now been migrated to a different Linux operating system because of the EOL support for the Linux distro.

Why was CentOS discontinued?

The discontinuation of CentOS Linux was primarily driven by Red Hat’s decision to shift focus towards CentOS Stream. The two main reasons behind this transition:

  1. Resource Allocation Supporting both traditional CentOS and CentOS Stream likely required significant resources in terms of development and testing.
  2. Better customer support. Enterprise solutions that require paid subscriptions imply better customer support rather than community reliance.

CentOS Alternatives

What are the alternatives for folks migrating from centOS Linux?

  1. Migrate to CentOS Stream 9 (but that depends on the application).
  2. Convert to RHEL 8 (might cost money).
  3. Convert to another operating system (we will focus on this option).

According to the Microsoft Learn Azure page, the following are CentOS-compatible distributions that are non-problematic to migrate to, with minimal changes to make.

Image credit: https://azuremarketplace.microsoft.com/en-ca/marketplace/apps/almalinux.almalinux-hpc?tab=Overview

The HPC cluster I am using migrated to the AlmaLinux HPC distro, which is optimized with HPC-specific kernels and libraries (like MPI for parallel computing) and supports multiple hardware architectures. So far, everything has been running smoothly. Despite being relatively young, this distro has some strong pros.

  • No-Cost OS Option
    • AlmaLinux is free to use, which makes it an attractive option for an enterprise-grade operating system without the associated costs.
  • Strong Backing by CloudLinux
    • AlmaLinux is backed by CloudLinux, which has committed to supporting the project with funding and development resources. This backing ensures robust support and continuous development, providing stability similar to that which users expected from CentOS.
  • Smooth Transition from CentOS
    • Transitioning to AlmaLinux is easy due to its similar structure and management. It is a binary-compatible fork of Redhat Enterprise Linux, which reduces the learning curve and migration complexities when switching operating systems.
  • Community-Driven and Open Source
    • Which means it is developed, supported, and maintained by the community. This allows users to contribute to its improvement.
  • Long-Term Stability and Support
    • AlmaLinux promises a stable lifecycle. Each release is supported for up to 10 years.

RockyLinux seems to be on par with the AlmaLinux HPC for high-performance computing applications.

  • Free and Open Source
  • Optimized for HPC
    • It supports multiple hardware architectures and is optimized for performance, making it suitable for HPC applications.
  • Smooth Migration Path
    • For current CentOS users, especially those in specialized fields like HPC, migrating to Rocky Linux is straightforward due to its similar system architecture and management. Here is the Migration Guide from CentOS to Rocky Linux.

If you are looking for a system that is likely more “turn-key” with respect to HPC setups, particularly if it comes with pre-configured HPC optimizations, you might choose AlmaLinux HPC.

Rocky Linux might be the choice if you require a more hands-on approach where you configure and optimize the system yourself, or if it aligns better with your existing tools and workflows.

The advice in the table above might be more oriented toward the Azure platform and solutions. Also, this blog post is focused more on the HPC-type applications when it comes to choosing suitable CentOS replacement.

The following Linux distributions have also been frequently recommended on the web in the comments to my latest video about the CentOS end of life. However, these are likely not your best choice for HPC applications if you want a smooth transition. However, these distros may be adapted for HPC applications.

  1. Ubuntu Server LTS
  2. Debian
  3. OpenSUSE

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