SUSE CTO talks about OpenELA and keeping customer trust

Head in the sand about the end of CentOS? Have a few more years of support... for a fee

Interview SUSE is serious about Linux in the enterprise, so much so that the veteran penguin-botherer is willing to risk the ire of Red Hat with OpenELA and the offer of CentOS support for users who just can't let go of the soon-to-be end-of-life operating system.

Despite the company's efforts to show off updates made to Rancher, the formation of the Open Enterprise Linux Association (OpenELA) has continued to grab the limelight.

Speaking to The Register at the North America Kubecon event, SUSE chief technology and product officer Thomas Di Giacomo Di Giacomo says of the company's motivations for the move: "We believe in open source and making the software available to everyone.

"We could have done that by ourselves. I mean, we know how to do Enterprise Linux … But from the start, we also wanted to have more than just one company."

SUSE is one of the big three companies, along with CIQ and Oracle, behind OpenELA. The association was formed after Red Hat decided to restrict access to the source code.

OpenELA doesn't give you the binary; it gives you the source code. You still need to download and build your own Linux - brand your own Linux...

The trio make curious bedfellows. SUSE is a veteran Linux vendor and has gone through several upheavals in recent years - Di Giacomo told us that the company would be fully private again within the next two weeks. CIQ and its Rocky Linux distribution appeared following Red Hat's decision to axe CentOS in favor of CentOS Stream. And Oracle is... Oracle. A company that has found itself in the unusual position of being a knight in shining armor for Linux despite some of its less-than-friendly licensing practices for other products.

"It's been working well," says Di Giacomo, "I think the high level motivations are the same: providing the source code to everyone.

"OpenELA doesn't give you the binary; it gives you the source code. You still need to download and build your own Linux - brand your own Linux. Oracle will take source code, eventually, from OpenELA to create Oracle Linux. CIQ for Rocky potentially. SUSE will take that to create SUSE Liberty distributions…"

Will this not spread resources a little thin at SUSE? Di Giacomo does not think so. The company adding enterprise support options for the soon-to-be end-of-life CentOS 7.

He says: "The reality is that the CentOS ecosystem is dominant in the world. We have customers and communities that are left in mid-2024 in a very bad situation. And we can help ... we're helping the community and helping customers with CentOS 7. We can help with patches and security fixes."

The company's altruism only goes so far. While CIQ, as an example, has recently announced a collaboration with Google Cloud to get CentOS orphans to migrate to Rocky Linux, SUSE will keep CentOS 7 installations running a little longer for a fee.

Di Giacomo did not specify how long the support will go on. "We can do that for many years. We need to finalize that, but at least two or three years to give people time to decide what to do. Companies have businesses to run, and they shouldn't have to make those kinds of decisions."

He has a point, although we'd contend that the 2024 end-of-life date has been known for a while now, and a well-run IT department should have plans to deal with it. And the cost?

Di Giacomo says: "TBD … but tomorrow they cannot get what they were getting for free." He did say, however, that prices would not be so high that a move to SLES would be a better bet.

We asked Red Hat how it feels about all this and will update should the company respond.

It's not a good time... except with AI. Then you get more VC money! But that's the only way to get VC money today!

The community response to Red Hat's changes around access to the sources for Red Hat Enterprise Linux - including the creation of the OpenELA itself - should give other open source companies pause for thought as venture capitalists begin expecting returns on investment.

Di Giacomo notes that while much of today's innovation has its roots in open source, "The business model side to me is very different."

He says of startups and the license changes happening: "I can understand why those - some of them - do what they do. They need to survive. They need to pay people. They need to pay the VC [Venture Capitalist] back.

"It's not a good time... except with AI. Then you get more VC money! But that's the only way to get VC money today!"

In common with other technology veterans, Di Giacomo notes that the critical thing is to decide on a business plan and monetization strategy from the outset rather than waiting to see what happens with adoption and then arbitrarily decide what might go into a commercial enterprise version and what might stay open source.

He says: "You need to think about that from day one. Not the end of the process."

Nothing is stopping any company from making a license change. Still, Di Giacomo cautions that care must be taken to avoid potential pitfalls: "You lose customer trust, you lose potentially the community, and you lose the adoption, and you're left with nothing."

"And the beauty of open source is that if the community doesn't like it, or customers don't like it, then they can fork and do something else." ®

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