Oracle, SUSE, and CIQ, in a joint statement issued Thursday, said that the new Open Enterprise Linux Association will “encourage the development” of Linux distributions compatible with Red Hat Enterprise Linux by providing free access to source code.
“With OpenELA, CIQ, Oracle and SUSE join forces with the open source community to ensure a stable and resilient future for both upstream and downstream communities to leverage Enterprise Linux,” said CIQ CEO Gregory Kurtzer, in the statement.
At the heart of the new organisation is a disagreement over the way Red Hat, long the dominant force in enterprise Linux, provides access to its source code. For years, the company supported the development of a Red Hat Enterprise Linux clone called CentOS, with the idea of providing a free alternative for testing and development purposes, given that paid support would be unnecessary for that purpose.
However, increasingly, users began to implement CentOS instead of RHEL in production environments as well, with other companies, including CIQ, springing up to provide enterprise support.
Accordingly, Red Hat stopped supporting CentOS in its previous form two years ago, in favor of an alternative called CentOS Stream. That, however, is an upstream distribution, meaning that it’s updated much more frequently, making it less suitable for production work.
And earlier this summer, Red Hat made its source code less accessible, restricting access to paying Red Hat customers and obscuring some details of the way the code is put together to create the final distribution.
According to Tony Iams, a research vice president at Gartner, the loss of those details and the tightening of access to the source code threw the downstream ecosystem into disarray, making it far more difficult for the likes of CIQ to provide RHEL-based alternatives.
“The details are important,” he said. “Some people say that Red Hat is closing access to their source code, but that’s not true. What they’re not showing is how it’s packaged, exactly how it’s organised and assembled specifically to deliver the RHEL distro. The bottom line is that this makes it very difficult to replicate RHEL.”
The real question, according to Iams, is whether the OpenELA group can create a RHEL alternative with a sufficiently high level of compatibility — whether it can be “bug compatible,” or a nearly exact replication of RHEL. It isn’t simply a matter of creating compatibility across APIs. If that can be done, said Iams, the group could put serious pressure on Red Hat to revert back to the old way of providing its source code.
“You need to create the same code with the same behavior,” he said. “Which was the value that CentOS provided.”
When asked for comment on OpenELA, Red Hat sent a statement attributed to Mike McGrath, vice president of Core Platforms, which said in part, "We have always welcomed on-going contributions to the broader Linux community, whether personally motivated or from companies like Oracle and SUSE, that actually move enterprise-level Linux forward rather than replacing one logo with another.”