In December 2020, we covered Red Hat severely constraining CentOS 8 support. Just after CentOS 6 was end-of-life, Red Hat changed the lifecycle of CentOS drastically, moving the end of support timeframe from 2029 to 2021. At the same time, the company effectively said the CentOS project as we know it is done. We have an article and video on this change as it absolutely shook the markets that had seen Red Hat as a community-friendly organization. With the purchase by IBM, that posture is changing. During that article and video, we opined that since CentOS was often an onramp to RHEL, Red Hat needed to come up with a new offering. We also noted it was a bit strange to discontinue the current version without offering a replacement. It seems like Red Hat has an answer and that is in the form of a new developer program perk.
Analyzing Red Hat Developer Program Changes
Red Hat has had its no-cost Developer Program subscription for many years. This was a primary entry point to using RHEL without having to pay for a subscription. Frankly, Red Hat needs a program like this because there is a lot of work by the developer community on any OS, including RHEL.
Before we get too far, we have a video version of this if you would prefer to listen instead:
One of the key challenges has been that the Developer Program terms formerly limited its use to single-machine developers. When we told Red Hat at conferences “we would use RHEL for server testing, but frankly licensing is too expensive for what we do.” The answer was to use the Developer Program. We, of course, could not because that limited us to a single machine while we usually have one or two dozen systems in the review production pipeline at any given time. A single machine license is great, but we are not just producing today’s content, but rather content that will go live 60-90 days from now.
Red Hat recognizes this and is making a big change:
We’re addressing this by expanding the terms of the Red Hat Developer program so that the Individual Developer subscription for RHEL can be used in production for up to 16 systems. That’s exactly what it sounds like: for small production use cases, this is no-cost, self-supported RHEL. You need only to sign in with a free Red Hat account (or via single sign-on through GitHub, Twitter, Facebook, and other accounts) to download RHEL and receive updates. Nothing else is required. This isn’t a sales program and no sales representative will follow up. An option will exist within the subscription to easily upgrade to full support, but that’s up to you.
You can also use the expanded Red Hat Developer program to run RHEL on major public clouds including AWS, Google Cloud Platform, and Microsoft Azure. You have to pay only the usual hosting fees charged by your provider of choice; the operating system is free for both development and small production workloads. (Source: Red Hat)
Sixteen production systems may seem like a lot, but I have more than sixteen Linux instances in my house just to run services such as managing WiFi, network storage, security cameras, and such. I need them to work 24×7 to keep the house running, but the main value is in the application stacks, so even a small incremental cost would cause me to switch. There is effectively no value of RHEL versus Ubuntu or Debian there. So the idea that one of my “production” licenses could be consumed by applications like those means this limitation is quite scary.
At least Red Hat is saying that it is not a sales program and that no sales representative will follow-up. We take that to mean that if you sign up for the Developer Program, per Red Hat’s language, no sales representative will reach out to you. That seems a bit strange that Red Hat would never have a sales representative follow-up on contacts in its Developer Program, but that is going to be welcome by many.
Red Hat is also extending its solution to teams through Red Hat Cloud Access to address shared development environments.
We recognized a challenge of the developer program was limiting it to an individual developer. We’re now expanding the Red Hat Developer program to make it easier for a customer’s development teams to join the program and take advantage of its benefits. These development teams can now be added to this program at no additional cost via the customer’s existing subscription, helping to make RHEL more accessible as a development platform for the entire organization. Through this program, RHEL can also be deployed via Red Hat Cloud Access and is accessible on major public clouds including AWS, Google Cloud Platform and Microsoft Azure at no additional costs except for the usual hosting fees charged by your cloud provider of choice. (Source: Red Hat)
Overall, this is good for the program irrespective of CentOS being discontinued. Great for Red Hat on enabling this.
Red Hat is acknowledging that it has more to go to address CentOS use cases:
We know that these programs don’t address every CentOS Linux use case, so we aren’t done delivering more ways to get RHEL easily. We’re working on a variety of additional programs for other use cases, and plan to provide another update in mid-February. (Source: Red Hat)
It is great to hear that Red Hat is looking at other options, but why is it communicating this in such a piecemeal fashion? Users are effectively in “limbo” with CentOS and every day of uncertainty sees more transition away from the RHEL ecosystem. As with the first announcement where a big company discontinued a line and did not announce its replacement, the communication on these changes is bizarre. Either this is going to go down as a business case study in how not to communicate a product transition, or we are seeing a symptom of Red Hat not having a plan and this is all being hastily put together.
That brings us to a heading that caught our attention. Bolded is the text we see:
Today we’re sharing details about some of the new no- and low-cost programs we’re adding to RHEL. These are the first of many new programs. (Source: Red Hat)
The term “low-cost’ is not in the remainder of the announcement. Every other “cost” is being preceded by “no” after this passage.
One could argue that the “low-cost” is referring to upgrading a subscription to full-support but in an announcement trying to qualm the community feedback from the CentOS announcement, it does not seem like the audience would deem “full-support” RHEL as “low-cost.” I may see a $1.50 bagel at my local shop as “low-cost” but it would be foolish to assume that a huge portion of the world would not see that as a lavishly expensive price.
It almost feels like RedHat had a low-cost option in this announcement, then pulled it and will announce it in February. They just forgot to change the heading. As someone who is a poor editor himself, I empathize with this, but it feels to me like it is a clue.
This is one of the strangest series to see from a big tech company in recent memory. About a month-and-a-half after effectively discontinuing CentOS, Red Hat is expanding a developer program. Moving folks that wanted to use a download and install experience to a download, install, activate license experience where one needs to count the number of instances that are available.
What is perhaps the strangest part of this announcement is that Red Hat is slowly leaking information. For example, why did Red Hat not say in December that the Developer Program would be expanded in this fashion effective February of 2021? If there were technical limitations, then even saying Q1 2021 would have been reasonable and given some cushion. To be clear, that is effectively what Red Hat is doing today with the availability of the updated Developer Subscription being available on February 1, 2021. It is promising to bring RHEL to new use cases in mid-February 2021. If we are already setting the model where something is announced today and delivered in February, why not just announce the plans now and give an ambiguous target date.
In the meantime, to our readers, this is an absolutely awesome announcement. The expansion to 16 production systems will cover a number of use cases. Even with this coverage, Red Hat is effectively changing the interaction model for its platform from a “download and go” to a subscription model. That adds extra steps and complexity. It also means that it is putting the entire ecosystem under the control of Red Hat’s subscription services. One can take Red Hat’s word that it is going to provide these for free perhaps if you are an individual with a personal use case, but if you have anything more than that, it is much harder. Subscriptions are a recurring revenue source, but you have to trust the provider that is providing the subscription. Right now, Red Hat gutted the trust of the CentOS community it is trying to migrate.
Why this is an awesome announcement for our readers is simple. This is a massive opportunity. Red Hat is showing that it is transitioning from the old Red Hat that was admired into a more classic IBM model that is perhaps less community-friendly, despite the tone of its PR announcements. If I were a Linux admin or consultant, I would build an entire firm out of finding organizations using CentOS and helping them to transition to Ubuntu, Debian, or even OpenSUSE. That is an absolute gold mine of opportunity. I would not stop there, I would go directly after Red Hat’s RHEL once I had the process down. With CentOS seemingly discontinued at a whim, there is going to be a subset of RHEL customers that are going to be nervous, especially if they used a mixed environment.