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Rocky Linux sponsor CIQ secures $26m funding for CentOS successor

RHEL, RHEL, RHEL, how about that? We talk to founder about HPC, open source and more

Interview CIQ, founding sponsor and services partner of Rocky Linux – a community build of Red Hat Enterprise Linux (RHEL) – is to receive a $26m injection of private funding led by Two Bear Capital.

The announcement comes after Red Hat finally announced RHEL 9 this week, with general availability in the "coming weeks." The milestone is significant since Rocky Linux emerged in the wake of Red Hat's confirmation that it was dropping CentOS in favour of CentOS Stream as 2020 drew to a close.

As we highlighted at the time, CentOS Stream is free community distribution but it is a development build that is only just slightly ahead of the production release of RHEL, which renders it unsuitable for live production usage.

The Register spoke to CentOS project co-founder, Gregory Kurtzer, who kicked off Rocky Linux with the goal of complete compatibility (warts and all) with RHEL. Kurtzer is also CIQ's founder and CEO.

"The first thing that we focused on was not building the operating system, but building the infrastructure to build the operating system," Kurtzer explains to The Register, "because that infrastructure is so critical.

Rocky Linux has since put out a pair of releases, version 8.4 and 8.5, each time reducing the gap between RHEL's release date and its own. There was, however, a lengthy gap between Rocky Linux's latest announcement and that first release.

"We built up the infrastructure from scratch, all within the Rocky Enterprise Software Foundation, all completely owned, and managed by the community," he says.

"CIQ, of course, helped," he adds, "but we helped mostly with funding, and then basically, you know, in some engineering time, but most of it was actually from the community."

Rocky Linux is built in cloud-native fashion (rather than with the on-premises cluster approach of old) using a build system dubbed Peridot. "We're going to be open-sourcing that and releasing that all at the same time as the operating system," says Kurtzer.

Which is great, but we're pretty sure the investors led by Two Bear Capital will want something more for their money rather than the warm fuzzy feeling that comes with supporting a worthy open-source endeavor.

"We're building the next generation of customer service," says Kurtzer. Rather than a slavish focus on tickets and entitlements, "we prefer to focus on the people."

"We believe in helping the customers and helping them solve problems and working with them," he says, adding that it is "not an organization looking at 'What do we need to do to get the contract?'"

We can't imagine who Kurtzer might be thinking of. That said, Kurtzer is keen to emphasize the community ownership of Rocky Linux. The cash is, however, going to be helpful.

"Where are we going to be putting this money?" he asked, "Are we going to be helping in terms of helping the community? Are we going to putting this back into Rocky?

Rocky Linux 8.4

CentOS Stream: 'I was slow on the uptake, but I get what they are doing now,' says Rocky Linux founder


"And the answer is yes, to pretty much all of the above."

CIQ is also a player in the High Performance Computing (HPC) world, with a stack that goes from bare metal provisioning through to containers, orchestration and federated computing.

It recently buddied up with Google Cloud to make Rocky Linux a direct, first-party Google offering.

As for Two Bear Capital, Michael Goguen, founder and managing partner at Two Bear Capital (and now a member of CIQ's board of directors) said: "We see the enterprise Linux landscape changing, with customers demanding the best technology from the open-source community without sacrificing highly responsive support and enterprise-grade security." ®

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