August 25, 2004

SysAdmin to SysAdmin: The Red Hat end-of-life debacle

Author: Brian Jones

Many admins who got the OK to get Linux in the door a few months ago have had to face a lot of people with ties on and arms folded standing outside their cubicle after Red Hat made its
end-of-life announcement: Red Hat would no longer release updates
for Red Hat Linux 9 and would no longer distribute free ISO images of its
releases. The alternative, Red Hat Enterprise, costs money, which invalidated one argument
that was useful in getting Linux in the door in the first place.

What made the problem worse was that, if you were called into a meeting on the
day of the announcement to explain what you were prepared to do in response to
this, you likely didn't have a solid answer. The choices available were
mind-boggling. Is Gentoo ready yet? Mandrake, SUSE, and Debian all have
automated installs, but how long would it take to figure them out and get
things in place? In the case of SUSE, you also can't download ISO images, and
in the case of Debian or Gentoo, you'd have to adjust to their way of doing
things ... and oh by the way, all the RPMs you've built to cusomize things for
your environment are now useless. Would you still have the flexibility of
kickstart? How do you evaluate all of these things and do your job before
the cutoff?

Conspicuous by its absence in the above paragraph is the Fedora option.
Fedora isn't an option for production services, because administrators don't want
to have to do a full upgrade every six months or so. We like the idea of
installing a machine once, and updating packages only as needed for the
next two or more years. Fedora might be OK for non-critical things or for
machines you normally upgrade often anyway, but for your core services, it's
not the option that's on the top of most administrators' lists.

Red Hat does distribute the
Enterprise line in the form of source RPMs. As a result, a number of groups
have popped up that simply rebuild the entire distribution from the SRPMs,
remove the Red Hat logos and anything else that would infringe a Red Hat
copyright, and release it. Some of these groups are internal to a company or
campus. Others are as public as can be. Check out CentOS and White Box Enterprise Linux for examples
of publicly available rebuilds of Red Hat's otherwise commercial offerings.

Certainly there are other options available. In addition, there are probably
challenges some have faced that are interesting, so I urge you to share them
with us all!

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