Oracle Linux (OL), Red Hat Enterprise Linux (RHEL) and CentOS

Oracle isn’t always evil. And I personally never understood why not everyb0dy is on Oracle Linux (OL) already. It’s free, it gets extremely well maintained. And some issues my customers saw with Red Hat Enterprise Linux (RHEL) were fixed with OL literally more than a year before RHEL did. No blame to anybody – but that is my experience when customers tell me about issues over the past two years. But what is the future of Oracle Linux (OL), Red Hat Enterprise Linux (RHEL) and CentOS? And why am I writing this blog post?

The past

Oracle is active in the Linux community for the past 25 years. Still, it took until 2006 when we released our first Linux, Oracle Enterprise Linux (OEL) – which we later renamed into simply Oracle Linux (OL). It is compiled from the Red Hat sources – and it was and is always available for free. Certainly, you could get support from one party: Oracle. Which many see as an advantage while others fear the dependency on one single company.

I remember that I built my first VMs with RHEL – and then later switched to OEL. I had to smile a bit in the early days since to me – in my naive thinking – only the splash screen and the desktop background looked different between the two drops. But I learned later that there were more differences. One of the most remarkable ones: We fixed issues tied to the database or other products in our stack really fast.

Still, there was (and potentially is) a lot of great knowledge on the Red Hat side, too. At Collaborate (IOUG) conference in Las Vegas many summers ago I attended a tech talk from a Red Hat engineer – and I was blown away by all the tips and recommendations I took with me, especially in regards to running an Oracle Database server on a RHEL box. Later, from customer’s SR and feedback I learned that some changes, adjustment and fixes especially to memory setup but also other things took longer to find its way into the RHEL distributions.

In October 2018 IBM announced to acquire Red Hat at a steep price of $34 billion USD.


The present and the future

We certainly install and deliver OL on our Engineered Systems such as Exadata and ExadataC@C. And of course, it is the state-of-the-art OS in our cloud as well. I personally have not used any other Linux for years. Still, I know that some of you use(d) CentOS, a free alternative to RHEL. I remember running a full day upgrade workshop in the Oracle office in Munich, my home base. A customer discussed an issue he had in the open auditorium. I replied, we exchanged some facts and tips. And then he shocked me by saying: “We have Enterprise Edition licenses for the Oracle database, and we operate more than 50 production databases on CentOS.”. Why was I scared? We never certified Oracle Database on CentOS. But it operates nicely of course. He told me that he rather won’t mention CentOS when he needs to open an SR with Oracle Support to avoid the “Not supported – goodbye!“.

You may ask yourself now: Why am I writing all this?

The reason is a recent change. On June 21, 2023, IBM announced to not release Red Hat code publicly anymore.

You can read the entire history of announcements and blog posts made by Mike McGrath, Vice President of Core Platforms Engineering at Red Hat, by yourself if you are interested (see the Further Links and Information section at the end of this article).

I’d rather like to share this summary with you written by Wim Coekarts, Head of Oracle Linux Development, and Edward Screven, Chief Corporate Architect. Especially the commitment, we, Oracle give here is important to recognize and understand.

Let me quote the important parts of the commitment we give:

As for Oracle, we will continue pursuing our goal for Linux as transparently and openly as we always have while minimizing fragmentation. We will continue to develop and test our software products on Oracle Linux. Oracle Linux will continue to be RHEL compatible to the extent we can make it so. In the past, Oracle’s access to published RHEL source has been important for maintaining that compatibility. From a practical standpoint, we believe Oracle Linux will remain as compatible as it has always been through release 9.2, but after that, there may be a greater chance for a compatibility issue to arise. If an incompatibility does affect a customer or ISV, Oracle will work to remediate the problem.

And further:

We want to emphasize to Linux developers, Linux customers, and Linux distributors that Oracle is committed to Linux freedom. Oracle makes the following promise: as long as Oracle distributes Linux, Oracle will make the binaries and source code for that distribution publicly and freely available.

That is the really important part for all of you, regardless of whether you are using already Oracle Linux or whether you are thinking about moving to Oracle Linux now.

I’d just like to encourage you to read the full blog post by Wim and Edward here. It is a 2 minute read worth it.

Oracle Linux (OL), Red Hat Enterprise Linux (RHEL) and CentOS


Further Links and Information


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