8 September 2023

Open Enterprise Linux Association (OpenELA): A New Step in Open Source and RHEL Compatibility

CIQ, Oracle, and SUSE form the Open Enterprise Linux Association to promote the creation of Linux distributions compatible with Red Hat Enterprise Linux.

OpenELA

CIQ, Oracle and SUSE announced the formation ofOpen Enterprise Linux Association (OpenELA), a trade group committed to developing Linux distributions compatible with Red Hat Enterprise Linux (RHEL). This initiative is a direct response to Red Hat's decision to no longer make the RHEL source code available for organizations looking to build compatible platforms based on a Linux distribution. But what does all this mean for the open source software landscape and IT companies? Let's find out together.

The Context: Enterprise Linux (EL)

Enterprise Linux (EL) is the base operating system on which RHEL, SUSE Linux Enterprise, Oracle Enterprise Linux, Canonical's Ubuntu, and CIQ's Rocky Linux are built. Red Hat's decision to no longer make RHEL's source code available has raised concerns about fragmentation that could occur within the open source community.

As we anticipated in this post Red Hat deals a major blow to downstream versions of RHEL Red Hat has decided to deny the publication of the source code underlying the various forks of derivative distributions.

The founders of the OpenELA initiative

The Open Enterprise Linux Association is an ambitious project that sees the collaboration of three leading companies in the technology sector: CIQ, Oracle and SUSE. Each of these companies brings something unique to the initiative, guaranteeing a mix of experience, innovation and stability.

  • CIQ: Perhaps less well-known than its partners in the initiative, CIQ is a fast-growing company specializing in Linux solutions. He gained recognition for his role in the development of Rocky linux, an enterprise Linux distribution designed to be a direct alternative to Red Hat Enterprise Linux. Its participation in OpenELA demonstrates a commitment to open source and a willingness to actively contribute to the Linux ecosystem.
  • Oracle: One of the largest and most historic technology companies, Oracle is a pillar in the world of databases and business solutions. Oracle Enterprise Linux, its Linux distribution, is optimized to work synergistically with its database products, offering a robust and well-supported alternative to RHEL. Its extensive experience in providing enterprise solutions makes it a key partner for this initiative.
  • SUSE: With a history dating back to 1992, SUSE is one of the oldest and most respected open source software companies. It is best known for SUSE Linux Enterprise, a Linux distribution that finds application in a variety of environments, from enterprise data centers to hybrid clouds. Its long history and commitment to open source solutions make it an influential and trusted member of OpenELA.

The combination of these three companies makes the Open Enterprise Linux Association a force to be reckoned with, with the potential to significantly shape the future of enterprise Linux distributions.

OpenELA objectives

Wim Coekaerts, executive vice president of software development at Oracle, said there have already been cases where organizations have migrated from one Linux distribution to another. The goal of OpenELA is to reduce this fragmentation. Alan Clark, member of the SUSE CTO office, added that this approach will preserve the flexibility organizations have today, while applying it specifically to RHEL-compliant platforms.

 

The Challenges of Fragmentation

Conflicts involving various project forks continue to be a problem for the open source community. These forks are often created due to differences in business models, but other factors, such as the pace of innovation and personality conflicts among project maintainers, play a role. Each variant adds complexity that DevOps teams must navigate. Dependencies on specific versions of open source software can create problems when certain features are not available on another platform that a DevOps team is using to deploy an application.

The Open Source vs. Proprietary Dilemma

Some organizations prefer a proprietary platform like Windows simply because they perceive that navigating compatibility issues can be more challenging than they can handle. However, open source software stimulates innovation more quickly due to the accelerated pace at which contributions are made.

Implications for IT companies

It's not yet clear how concerned IT organizations are about Red Hat's decision, but if they are, they will have to decide whether to swap operating systems or deploy a different Linux distribution for new application environments in the future.

OpenELA and RHEL Versions

The Open Enterprise Linux Association (OpenELA) has announced that its initial focus will be on the EL8, EL9, and possibly EL7 versions of Red Hat Enterprise Linux (RHEL). This decision is of particular importance for companies that use older versions of RHEL and who may be interested in migrating to newer or alternative versions. But what are the practical implications of this choice? And how might it affect the landscape of enterprise Linux distributions?

Why EL8, EL9 and Maybe EL7?

The EL8 and EL9 versions are the most recent and, therefore, the most feature-rich, offering the latest innovations in terms of security, performance and support for new hardware technologies. Including EL7 in the OpenELA focus would be a sign of attention towards companies that have not yet made the leap to the most recent versions, perhaps due to constraints related to legacy applications or budget.

Advantages for Companies

  1. Flexibility: Businesses will have more options when it comes to choosing an enterprise Linux distribution. They will no longer be tied to RHEL if they are looking for specific functionality that is only available in newer versions of EL.
  2. Cost: OpenELA could offer cheaper alternatives to RHEL while maintaining compatibility and functionality.
  3. Long Term Support: With OpenELA supporting older versions like EL7, companies could benefit from expanded support, even if they decide to stay on an older version.
  4. Facilitated Migration: Compatibility between versions would facilitate migration from one version to another, reducing the time and associated costs.

Technical Implications

  • Kernels and Modules: Compatibility between EL versions means that kernel modules and drivers will be more easily portable between different versions, reducing hardware compatibility issues.
  • Software Packages: Management of software packages will be simplified, as the same packages will likely be available across all versions of EL supported by OpenELA.
  • Safety: Security patches and updates could be rolled out more uniformly across all releases, improving the overall security posture of companies using EL.

Considerations for the Future

While OpenELA may start by focusing its efforts on EL8, EL9, and perhaps EL7, support is likely to extend to future EL releases. This would ensure a smoother upgrade path for companies and greater longevity for the OpenELA project itself. Furthermore, extending support to future versions could also attract a greater number of contributors to the project, enriching the ecosystem of available solutions and skills. This, in turn, could accelerate the innovation and stability of EL-based Linux distributions, making OpenELA a benchmark in the world of open source software.

Conclusion

The Open Enterprise Linux Association emerges as a collaborative and strategic response to Red Hat's sudden decision to restrict access to RHEL's source code. This move generated some disquiet among companies that had adopted free solutions based on RHEL, calling into question the continuity of their business. In this context, OpenELA, founded by CIQ, Oracle and SUSE, presents itself as a robust alternative solution. This initiative has the potential to ensure that businesses can continue to operate without interruption by offering them RHEL-compatible migration and upgrade options.

The association represents a significant step towards standardization and reducing fragmentation in the enterprise Linux distribution landscape. Despite being born as a reaction to a controversial decision, OpenELA could actually turn a challenge into an opportunity, preserving and perhaps even enhancing the flexibility and innovation that have always characterized the world of open source software. Only the future will tell if this initiative will be able to consolidate the Linux community and encourage a more cohesive and innovative development of the ecosystem.

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