Is Oracle Linux a valid replacement for CentOS?

Jack Wallen took on the task of kicking the tires of Oracle Linux to see if it's a worthy replacement for CentOS. The end result might surprise you.

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Image: Oracle

By now you're probably suffering from CentOS exposure--it's been all over the place. Every day, someone is writing about what Red Hat did to the beloved Linux distribution that powers so many data centers and services. The reaction has been so sharp, that many forks of CentOS have begun to pop up. Some of these forks look seriously promising, even drop-in 1:1 binary compatibility with RHEL 8. When those forks appear, the landscape will most likely shift. However, until then, where's a business to turn?

Do you go with CentOS 8 Stream? Some might. Others, on the other hand, see Stream as an impossible option, due to cPanel pulling support, which is a very big deal. 

What do you do? You could turn to Oracle Linux. Before you protest, I didn't say you should turn to Oracle Linux; I said you could

Why did I feel the need to make that clarification?

Let me explain, and then I'll get into why Oracle Linux is a viable choice.

SEE: Kubernetes security guide (free PDF) (TechRepublic)

The vitriol toward Oracle

Oracle and open source have always had a love/hate relationship--mostly hate. Every time Oracle says or does something positive about or for open source, it's followed up by something negative. For example, back in 2017 Oracle joined the Cloud Native Computing Foundation. That was a good move. Then it followed up by saying to the US government:

"There is no math that can justify open source from a cost perspective as the cost of support, plus the opportunity cost of forgoing features, functions, automation, and security overwhelm any presumed cost savings."

Larry Ellison describes Oracle as a profit-seeking corporation, not a peace-loving charity. In fact, Ellison has a long history of making offers to donate millions and then retracting said offers with little to no explanation.

Then there's OpenOffice. You remember that. Oracle buys OpenOffice, but then offers zero patches, no timelines, no community communication, and the only attention given was to Fortune 500 contributors. Oracle's failed management of OpenOffice led to LibreOffice.

What about MySQL? Same thing happens. Oracle buys the software and kicked it to the curb, hoping to drive users to Oracle DB. That led to the creation of MariaDB.

Why would you trust Oracle Linux?

If I'm being honest in doling out my opinion, you probably shouldn't, but if you're desperate for a CentOS replacement, Oracle Linux is an option. Although Oracle Linux is free to use on as many machines as you like (for as long as you like), you'll have to pay for support. To find our more about support costs, visit the Oracle Support site.

It had been some time since I kicked the tires of Oracle Linux, so I downloaded an ISO and spun up a virtual machine.

Surprisingly impressed

I can't lie, I didn't hate it. I wanted to. I wanted to spit at the screen and shout, "Traitor!" However, truth be told, I couldn't. Oracle Linux ran really well as a virtual machine. The one caveat is that I had to install the kernel headers to get the Guest Additions to install which is done with the following command: 

sudo dnf install kernel-uek-devel-`uname -r`

Of course, not hating something is a far cry from actually recommending something. To those looking for a distribution for cPanel, keep looking, as the hosting platform doesn't support Oracle Linux. That's a big hard pass for a lot of admins. 

I still, however, haven't answered the only important question:

Outside of the distaste for Oracle and the lack of cPanel support, is Oracle Linux a viable distribution?  

Performance and stability

If you're not looking to host cPanel, here's where the proverbial rubber meets the metaphorical road. If there's one thing Oracle Linux has over CentOS, it's performance. Out of the box, I immediately noticed how well the server distribution performed. 

For example, one of my biggest complaints with CentOS was how long updates and software installation could take. Compared to the likes of Ubuntu, CentOS was painfully slow. Given that Oracle and CentOS are quite similar in pedigree, I assumed the same issue would hold true. 

I was pleasantly surprised. Updating Oracle Linux is on par with Ubuntu. In fact, I've never seen a RHEL-based server distribution upgrade this quickly. Even upgrading the kernel is fast--applications and services perform very well. A full LAMP stack was on par with any I'd ever used.

As for stability, Oracle Linux is rock solid. In the month I kicked the tires, the only hiccups I experienced were:

  • Getting the kernel headers installed for the VirtualBox guest additions. 

  • Forgetting to enable network connections to automatically enable.

That's pretty impressive, given that I'd frequently run into various types of issues with CentOS, such as networking randomly failing. 

Truthfully, during my testing of Oracle Linux, it was an absolute rock. Because I wasn't looking to host cPanel, there were zero complaints I could register, and trust me, I was prepared for all sorts of complaints. They just didn't happen.

So, to answer the question "Is Oracle Linux a valid replacement for CentOS?," I would have to say this:

If you need cPanel, it's a hard pass. If you need a general server operating system that'll feel as much like CentOS as you'll find available for free and perform like a champ, Oracle Linux might be just what you're looking for…until the forks start arriving. Or not.

That darned caveat

I get it--we're all supposed to hate Oracle. I've held plenty of disdain for the company over the years. I've spoken out against them, assumed the failures of the software in the portfolio was 100% due to project mismanagement, and avoided much of what they offer. With the latest CentOS kerfuffle, we find ourselves with the uncomfortable task of introducing "rock" to "hard place." As much as I want to, there's no denying that Oracle Linux is a solid option for your data center.

So it is with a slight stain on my open source soul that I recommend Oracle Linux as your replacement for CentOS. So long as you do not need cPanel and you don't really care about Oracle's reputation, this Linux distribution will serve you and your business quite well. 

It's lightning fast, rock solid stable, and as easy to use as any RHEL-based operating system. Of course, if you're already invested in the Oracle ecosystem, Oracle Linux is a no-brainer. This platform will perform on Oracle Cloud as if it were made to be there (fancy that) and will run Oracle Database better than any on the market.

End result? Oracle Linux is most certainly a viable option for your data center--so long as you can get past their history with open source and you don't need cPanel. 

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