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31 January 2012, 17:20

Ten year support for Red Hat Enterprise Linux

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Red Hat has announced that it intends to maintain versions 5 and 6 of its Red Hat Enterprise Linux distribution for ten years, rather than the previously planned seven. Previously, only customers who had added the optional Extended Life Cycle Support (ELS) to their RHEL subscription would receive ten years' support and updates, but then only for selected parts of the software, and not for RHEL as a whole. Customers with the additional three year Extended Lifecycle Support will now also receive additional support beyond the standard ten year period, meaning that RHEL users can now receive up to 13 years' support.

Following this extension, RHEL 5 will now come to the end of its life cycle in March 2017 and RHEL 6 in November 2020, with ELS coming to an end three years later. The policy for RHEL 4, due to reach the end of its regular life cycle in four weeks' time – with a further three years of updates for ELS customers – remains unchanged.

Details can be found on Red Hat's Red Hat Enterprise Linux Life Cycle web page. The company distinguishes three RHEL support phases. During the initial phase, which currently lasts around five and a half years, RHEL updates are released with version numbers such as 5.6 and 6.2, and contain bug fixes, new features and improved drivers.

Zoom Planned life cycles for RHEL 5 and 6
Source: Red Hat

In the second phase, Red Hat scales back its efforts and only adds support for new hardware, usually where this can be achieved without requiring too many changes. This phase lasts for about a year and is followed by a third phase, under the new scheme lasting around three and a half years, during which updates are limited to fixes for security vulnerabilities and serious bugs. Since RHEL major updates are released every two and a half to three years, RHEL 8 is likely to have been released by the time RHEL 6 enters this third phase.

Whether free RHEL clones such as CentOS and Scientific Linux will follow Red Hat's lead remains to be seen. Previously, they have stopped providing fixes after seven years when the parent RHEL version has come to the end of its life cycle. CentOS recently explained that this was because Red Hat does not publicly distribute source code for updates released as part of its ELS.


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