Rocky Linux 9 brings security enhancements and better performance for enterprise users

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Rocky Linux 9 became generally available today, bringing a number of security and performance updates to users of the open-source operating system.

Rocky Linux is based on the CentOS Linux operating system developed by Red Hat, which is widely used in the cloud and on-premises for running enterprise applications. As of 2020, Red Hat no longer produces a freely available full version of CentOS intended as an enterprise Linux distribution. Red Hat’s decision prompted a number of organizations, including the Rocky Enterprise Software Foundation (RESF) and Alma Linux, to create their own versions of CentOS.

Among the main supporters of the RESF is CIQ, which announced on May 11 that it has raised $26 million to expand its Rocky Linux effort.

CentOS has long been considered a free clone of Red Hat Enterprise Linux, and Rocky Linux aims to be a compatible offering. Red Hat Enterprise Linux 9 was released on May 10th and the new Rocky Linux 9 shares many of its features, including updated cryptographic libraries and security improvements.

“When we created Rocky Linux, it was really about filling that gap of CentOS that suddenly kind of went away,” Gregory Kurtzer, CIQ founder and CEO, told VentureBeat. “From a user perspective, this will be bit-for-bit binary compatible as far as we can get away with it.”

Perhaps more interesting than what’s included in Rocky Linux 9 is how the operating system was built and what it will now enable for businesses. Rocky Linux 9 was compiled with a new build system called Peridot, which could allow companies in the future to compile very customized versions of Rocky Linux for specific use cases.

What Rocky Linux means for business

Prior to 2020, CentOS was developed in a downstream approach from Red Hat Enterprise Linux. In the downstream model, CentOS was built using code repositories used for Red Hat.

Since 2020 there has been an effort called CentOS Stream, which is the upstream code that Red Hat builds its Linux distribution from. Rocky Linux is now also built on top of CentOS Stream, although it was built with a different approach than Red Hat.

Up to version 9.0, Rocky Linux was built using the open-source build tool Koji, originally developed by Red Hat’s community Linux project called Fedora. Kurtzer explained that while Koji is functional, it was designed for physical hardware and not cloud-native systems. The Rocky Linux team recognized early on that a new build system was needed, and that’s what Peridot is all about.

The basic idea is to have a fully reproducible build structure, so any user can reproduce the same steps that the Rocky Linux developers took to build the operating system. The cloud-native approach means the build system can run in the Kubernetes container orchestration system.

For enterprise users, Peridot could also help them build Rocky Linux with packages suited for a specific workload or need.

So far, Rocky Linux relies on using the same Linux kernel that Red Hat uses, but that too could become an option for users in the future. Oracle Linux, also based on Red Hat Enterprise Linux, offers its users a choice of using the standard Red Hat Linux kernel or its own Unbreakable Linux kernel. Kurtzer wants to offer Rocky Linux users a similar choice in the future, to which Peridot should also contribute. Rocky Linux’s kernel efforts also benefit from the support of Greg Kroah-Hartman, who maintains the stable Linux kernel development efforts after a new kernel was released by Linux creator Linus Torvalds.

Growing support for Rocky Linux

Enterprise users tend to have applications certified for use on a specific operating system.

While many enterprise applications are certified to run on Red Hat Enterprise Linux, that doesn’t necessarily mean they’re certified to run on Rocky Linux, although the two distributions are broadly compatible.

“We want to support enterprise organizations and enterprise use cases, and in many cases they need some certification,” Kurtzer said. “What we found is that customers are now pushing vendors to actually support Rocky Linux.”

Among the organizations now certifying their applications on Rocky Linux is Nvidia with its CUDA parallel computing development toolkit. Rocky Linux is now also supported on Google Cloud. Kurtzer indicated that there will be numerous announcements of further certifications in the coming months.

The Rocky Enterprise Software Foundation benefits from the support of Google as well as Amazon Web Services (AWS), Microsoft Azure and VMware.

“If you look at the sponsorship and partnership pages for the RESF, you will see a number of organizations, many of them very large, that are now behind Rocky to ensure Rocky Linux will be successful,” Kurtzer said.

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