Red Hat takes more active role in CentOS, funds developers

Red Hat's involvement will assure future of the community distribution, says project chair

Red Hat plans to take a greater role in the community developing CentOS, in the hope of attracting more paying customers to Red Hat Enterprise Linux (RHEL), the distribution on which CentOS is based.

Red Hat will take a more active role in the CentOS Project to strengthen its development and broaden the reach of projects such as OpenStack, an open source cloud operating system that can be built on CentOS, and to which Red Hat also contributes, it said Tuesday.

CentOS is a community initiative that fills the gap between RHEL, a stable distribution with enterprise support available for a fee, and Fedora, a community-supported distribution that incorporates newer or more innovative open source technologies. CentOS, based on RHEL source code, changes more slowly than Fedora, but has the same level of community support.

Among the changes that Red Hat's involvement will bring are the creation of a new governing board for the project, funding for key project leaders who will become Red Hat employees, and support for variants of CentOS, allowing external groups such as OpenStack to customize CentOS for their own projects, simplifying development and installation.

Growth in the use of OpenStack and of RDO, a packaged distribution of OpenStack for users of CentOS, RHEL, and Fedora, will improve the maturity of the code and increase the prominence of the project, in turn driving demand for RHEL OpenStack Platform subscriptions, Red Hat said on a web page explaining the move.

Working more closely with Red Hat will allow the CentOS project to address two major challenges, project chair Karanbir Singh wrote in a personal blog post about the collaboration.

While people have used CentOS to develop a vast set of solutions, "momentum around the platform has been in silos, away from the core," Singh wrote, meaning that the community was unable to come together in one place. Every silo had to create its own community, leading to what he considers "the biggest failure of the CentOS Project -- the failure to grow organically beyond the platform."

"The second biggest challenge we've faced has been the question of what if the tap gets turned off," he wrote, referring to the possibility that Red Hat might stop freely sharing the source code to RHEL, preventing further development of CentOS. Red Hat's closer involvement in the project makes that less likely.

As part of the new collaboration, Red Hat is hiring some of the key members of the CentOS community, including Singh, to work full time on the project, and they and other Red Hat employees will form the majority of the new CentOS governing board.

"This should not have any impact to our ability to do what we have done in the past, it should facilitate a more rapid pace of development and evolution for our work on the community platform," he said in his official announcement to the CentOS community.

As part of the deal, Red Hat is also offering to sponsor some of the build system and initial content delivery resources, Singh said, adding that it still has to be decided how this will work.

The CentOS project will also have access to the Red Hat legal team, which means that efforts like CentOS-QA (a group that finds bugs in the CentOS releases) doesn't have to operate behind closed doors anymore, Singh wrote. The deal should enable to make the entire build, test, and delivery chain open to anyone who wishes to come and join the effort, he said.

While some things will change, the CentOS Linux platform itself isn't changing, although the process and methods built up around the platform are going to become more open and transparent due to the collaboration, Singh wrote.

In the coming days, CentOS will host several Google Hangouts to talk to the community face to face about the changes, Singh said. There will also be an event in Brussels on Jan. 31, he added.

Loek is Amsterdam Correspondent and covers online privacy, intellectual property, open-source and online payment issues for the IDG News Service. Follow him on Twitter at @loekessers or email tips and comments to loek_essers@idg.com

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