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AlmaLinux Ensures CentOS Users They Can Trust It

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AlmaLinux came to exist for the CentOS community that felt the rug pulled from under their feet when Red Hat decided to turn ‘stable’ CentOS, its 100% clone, into a ‘stream’. There is a massive user community around AlmaLinux that is not only using it to run their workloads but have also used it in their products and services. It’s a core piece of their business. AlmaLinux brings the same ‘stable’ CentOS experience for continuation for those users who were affected by Red Hat’s decision. Where does AlmaLinux stand today, what challenges does the community-driven Linux operating system see for itself and how does it stack against its competitor Rocky Linux?

In this episode of Let’s Talk, Swapnil Bhartiya chats with Jack Aboutboul, a Community Manager at AlmaLinux, about this new enterprise-ready Linux distribution. This 100% community-owned and governed clone of CentOS is 1:1 binary compatible with Red Hat Enterprise Linux (RHEL). Right from the top, Aboutboul makes it clear how important it is that the community owns and controls everything with AmlaLinux. To that, he states, “We’re all about doing the same thing that CentOS was doing, but doing it in a community-oriented fashion where the community owns everything, controls everything.” Aboutboul adds, “And we just want to make sure that things, whatever happened that caused this, should not happen ever again.”

But how can the company behind AlmaLinux ensure the fate that befell CentOS will not happen with their distribution? To start with, AlmaLinux set up a 501(c)(6) nonprofit, which is the same structure used by the Linux Foundation. This ensures the Foundation is, according to Aboutboul, “the steward of the OS, of the IP, of the copyrights.” To make this even more community-driven, anyone can join the AlmaLinux OS Foundation.

Aboutboul also addresses how AlmaLinux is connected to CentOS. To that, he says, “We are closely tied to them, they are upstream. They are the big brother. So we are always going to be tied to them. But I think that’s exactly what people are looking for. They know the quality of what’s being produced upstream, and they know that they can count on that quality to filter right down to us.”

When asked about what kind of users AlmaLinux has seen adopt the OS, Aboutboul indicated adoption was across the board. AlmaLinux has seen users adopt the OS for “home service stuff,” as well as larger companies like Cisco and Samsung reaching out to join the community chat and ask questions. Those same companies are already building products on top of AlmaLinux. Aboutboul even mentioned a user on Twitter who spoke of deploying a 500+ node HCP cluster with AlmaLinux.

But how is AlmaLinux different from other CentOS clones? The first thing Aboutboul says is that Red Hat, in changing CentOS, created a space for competing projects to flourish. As to the difference between AlmaLinux and Rocky Linux, Aboutboul says, “I think the big differentiators are number one, they chose a different ownership and governance model, which some people may or may not be interested in. I think we tried to make things a little bit more open and a little bit more community ownership.”

The roadmap for AlmaLinux is pretty clear, with the focus on adding more architecture, open-sourcing their build systems, and offering more options for both the private and public cloud spaces.

Guest: Jack Aboutboul  
Company: AlmaLinux
Show: Let’s Talk

Summary for this interview/discussion was written by Jack Wallen


Here is a rough transcription of the interview. 

Swapnil Bhartiya: Hi, Welcome to Let’s Talk. And today we’re going to talk about AlmaLinux. We have talked about it earlier as well. It’s an open source enterprise Linux distribution that’s binary compatible with RHEL and it’s a drop-in replacement for CentOS. It was more or less created because that changed the way the CentOS Project was governed. And today to talk about this project, we have with us Jack Aboutboul, community manager at AlmaLinux. Jack, it’s great to have you on the show.

Jack Aboutboul: Hey, great to be here. Thank you so much.

Swapnil Bhartiya: Since you’re on the show, can you quickly tell our viewers what AlmaLinux is all about?

Jack Aboutboul: Yeah, so we’re basically, as far as I know, the only 100% community owned and governed CentOS, a RHEL alternative, and we’re all about doing the same thing that CentOS was doing, but doing it in a community-oriented fashion where the community owns everything, controls everything. And the quality of the software is just as good. And we just want to make sure that things, whatever happened that caused this, should not happen ever again. And shouldn’t send people scrambling, like what happened before.

Swapnil Bhartiya: You are making some bold statements there. We heard the same kind of statements from the CentOS team in the early days. How can you reassure users that the same thing will not happen at AlmaLinux? What kind of infrastructure, governance, and the management of the products you have set in place? So it’s kind of disconnected from any company’s control.

Jack Aboutboul: Yeah, absolutely. So the first thing, and the most important thing that we’re doing is we’ve set up a 501(c)(6) Nonprofit. That’s the same organisation structure that the Linux Foundation has. And what that’s basically going to do is that the Foundation is the steward of the OS, of the IP, of the copyrights of everything like that. So anything that’s done is owned by the Foundation and now the Foundation is open to membership from everybody.

So anyone in the community can join. As a matter of fact, we already have a few sponsors that have joined and we also have community members that have joined and many more that will join as well. And what that’s going to do is just going to basically ensure that the community has a vote in everything that happens. We have some safeguards built into our bylaws to make sure that no one person has any more control than anyone else. And we’re just going to make sure that this is community owned and run, and it’s not for any one group to take over, to sell, to control, to manipulate, whatever you want to call it. So the keys truly do rest in the hands of the community.

Swapnil Bhartiya: How have you seen the evolution of the project?

Jack Aboutboul: We are closely tied to them, they are upstream. They are the big brother. So we are always going to be tied to them. But I think that’s exactly what people are looking for. They know the quality of what’s being produced upstream, and they know that they can count on that quality to filter right down to us. And we’re also certainly trying to do as much of our work upstream as possible so that everyone can benefit from that. So it’s a good dichotomy. And I think it’s a good model that works for everyone.

Swapnil Bhartiya: What kind of adoption have you seen so far?

Jack Aboutboul: Phenomenal, to be honest with you! I think, in terms of downloads as of today, we don’t track downloads per se, but we do know more or less how much traffic we’re getting. So we do know that we can probably easily say that we have over 100,000 downloads. We have over 130 mirrors, might even be up to 140 mirrors worldwide right now. So that’s tremendous. We have a Docker image, which was over 50K Docker pulls, which we just passed, which is great. I think ]that seeing such great adoption so quickly, definitely solidifies and, and verifies and validates what we’ve been doing. And again it’s, we’ve seen community growth, we’ve seen contributor growth. It’s been tremendous. Everything from containers, VMs, bare metal installations, Fedora recently tweeted out some stats in terms of machines, checking in with Apple. And I think we’re easily above 10,000 machines. So that also just continues, validating what we’ve been doing.

Swapnil Bhartiya: If I were to ask you what kind of users are there because end users could be people who are either running on the servers or whatever? And then there are a lot of users who are building their own products on top of CentOS. So can you talk about what kind of users you have?

Jack Aboutboul: Yeah. I’ll say it’s all across the board. We’ve had people in our forums obviously, and users that are just using it for their home service stuff that come in to ask questions. We’ve seen large companies like Cisco and Samsung reach out to us and join our community chat and ask questions. They’re building products on top of it. We’ve seen some HPC activity as well on Twitter. Someone mentioned something like, they’re installing us on, I think like a 500+ node HPC cluster. We’ve seen a lot of activity in the financial industry and that’s also based primarily around the ARM stuff that we put out. I think they’re becoming rapid adopters of ARM architecture. And so they’ve decided to adopt our AlmaLinux there and it’s really virtualization. I mean the web hosting is really like everywhere. It’s amazing.

Swapnil Bhartiya: Yeah it is. When the whole fiasco with CentOS happened, a lot of projects sprung up. A lot of companies, organizations tried to create alternative operating systems. One of them was Rocky Linux. How is AlmaLinux different from Rocky Linux?

Jack Aboutboul: The first thing that I want to say is I think the sort of unexpected outcome of what Red Hat did was actually create a space for all the competing projects to flourish, and I think that’s great. This is certainly true. Rocky’s also doing great work. I think the big differentiators are number one, they chose a different ownership and governance model, which some people may or may not be interested in. I think we tried to make things a little bit more open and a little bit more community ownership.

And I also think a fact that’s overlooked is that our project, the people behind it and the  team working on it; we have over 10 years of experience creating a solid RHEL rebuild that has a good amount of market penetration. So we’re really, well-seasoned doing this. And I think that’s definitely something that people need to take into consideration when deciding what OS they’re wanting to have installed on their stuff for potentially the next 10 years. So you do want to make sure that the team behind it is capable. Not that anyone else is less capable or not. That’s not what I’m meaning to say, but I mean, we do have our experience that does count for a lot.

Swapnil Bhartiya: Do you also see any collaboration within all three projects where developers who do work on Red Hat versus developers who do work on Rocky Linux, but they also contribute to AlmaLinux?

Jack Aboutboul: Yeah. I think that’s inevitable. I think we’re all part of the same family. So there’s going to be collaboration there. I can almost guarantee that. The whole purpose of Red Hat going with the stream model was that people could have a direct influence on the development upstream. And so I think naturally all of us will collaborate there and probably on other things as well. So it’s only inevitable. And I think it’s good. It’s healthy for the community. We’re seeing there are practitioners from every corner of the earth in every imaginable use case that are using all of these things. So it’s really just inevitable.

Swapnil Bhartiya: A lot of people are running to the cloud, which could also be a private cloud, not necessarily a public cloud. So can you talk about where you see things will be, let’s say six months from now, for AlmaLinux?

Jack Aboutboul: Yeah. For us, our roadmap is pretty clear. We have more architectures that we’re adding. We’re in the process of open-sourcing our build systems, which is a big one. And I think it is very important for the community and then more cloud containers, whether public cloud or hybrid cloud, that’s where things are trending. Kubernetes that’s where things are going. And I think we’re going to be right on top of that. Red Hat said that they’ll be releasing around RHEL 8.5 And the CentOS 8.5. And so that’s going to take up a fair bit of time on our schedules in order to get that built as well. And there’s lots of stuff to do. That’s coming down the pipeline, whether large projects, small projects, like one of the things we just did is we launched a new mirror service globally for everyone.

So we want it to support a geolocation-based mirror lookup, so that downloads are quicker, updates get downloaded quicker, and package installations are faster. And that’s just like a little user experience tweak, which it’s not something very prominent that people are really going to rave about. And really even may, they may not even know that it’s happening, but it really grains the user experience tremendously. Being somewhere and downloading something from a server closer to you is just like a world of difference. And especially if that’s automated as some sort of a pipeline or something like that. So little things like that, which I think we’re going to keep going along with…The bigger picture stuff that I just mentioned.

Swapnil Bhartiya: Jack, thank you so much for taking time out today to talk about AlmaLinux and not only sharing some insights into how the product project is growing and what kind of committee you’re building there, but also that how it’s kind of future proof, so that the thing that happened with CentOS will not happen with the project. And I would love to have you back on the show. Thank you.

Jack Aboutboul: Yeah. Awesome. Swapnil, thank you so much as always and glad to be here.

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