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Rocky Linux 9 became generally available today, providing users of the open-source operating system with a series of security and performance updates.

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

Among the primary supporters of the RESF is CIQ, which announced on May 11 that it had raised $26 million to help it grow its Rocky Linux efforts.

CentOS was long viewed as 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 10 and the new Rocky Linux 9 shares many of its capabilities, including updated cryptographic libraries and security enhancements.

“When we created Rocky Linux, it was really to fill that gap of CentOS all of a sudden kind of going away,” Gregory Kurtzer, founder and CEO of CIQ told VentureBeat. “So from a user perspective, this is going to be binary compatible bit for bit, as much as we can get away with.”

Perhaps more interesting than what’s in Rocky Linux 9, is how the operating system was built and what that will now enable for enterprises. Rocky Linux 9 was put together with a new build system called Peridot that in the future could allow organizations to assemble very customized versions of Rocky Linux for specific use cases.

What Rocky Linux means for enterprises

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 that were used for Red Hat. 

Since 2020, there is an effort called CentOS Stream, which is the upstream code from which Red Hat builds its Linux distribution. Rocky Linux now also builds from CentOS Stream, though it is built with a different approach than Red Hat.

Until the 9.0 release, Rocky Linux had been built using the open-source Koji build tool, which was 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 realized 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, such that any user can reproduce the same steps that Rocky Linux developers have taken, 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 to fit a particular workload or a specific requirement.

To date, Rocky Linux has relied on using the same Linux kernel that Red Hat uses, but that could also become an option for users in the future. Oracle Linux, which is also based on Red Hat Enterprise Linux, offers its users a choice of the default Red Hat Linux kernel, or its own Unbreakable Linux kernel. Kurtzer aims to give Rocky Linux users a similar kind of choice in the future, which Peridot will also help to enable. Rocky Linux’s kernel effort also benefits from the support of Greg Kroah-Hartman, who maintains the stable Linux kernel development effort, after a new kernel is released by Linux creator Linus Torvalds.

Growing support for Rocky Linux 

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

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

“We’re looking to support enterprise organizations and enterprise use cases and, in many cases, they do need a level of certification,” Kurtzer said. “What we found is customers are now driving vendors to actually bring in support for Rocky Linux.”

Among the organizations that now certify their applications on Rocky Linux is Nvidia, with its CUDA development toolkit for parallel computing. Rocky Linux is now supported in Google Cloud as well. Kurtzer hinted that in the coming months there will be a host of announcements about additional certifications. 

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’re going to see a number of organizations, many of them very large, that are now standing behind Rocky to ensure that Rocky Linux is going to have success,” Kurtzer said.

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