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On December 1, 2013, version 6.5 of the Community Enterprise Operating System (CentOS) was made available to the general public. This iteration supports both i386 and x86_84 system architectures and also improves several existing functions. But for a business already running CentOS, is this release worth the upgrade?

Here’s what you need to know about version 6.5.

A Brief CentOS Overview

CentOS got its start in 2004, as an offshoot of the Red Hat Enterprise Linux (RHEL) distribution, or distro, according to the CentOS Blog. It began as an artifact in the CAOS Linux build but gained popularity for its ability to effectively collaborate with other RHEL clones, and in 2006, another distro, Tao Linux, chose to roll in its functionality with CentOS. The operating system offers 100 percent binary compatibility with RHEL, meaning it’s almost identical — upgrades to RHEL are typically followed by similar CentOS upgrades within a few months. In the case of version 6.5, Red Hat released its version on November 21, 2013; CentOS followed suit 10 days later.

Red Hat and CentOS have the same version numbers and virtually identical features, since CentOS is derived entirely from publicly available Red Hat source code. All branding is removed, however, and Red Hat provides no consumer support.


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Competition and Community in CentOS

CentOS has made a mark for itself in the business-technology community. By July 2010, the operating system surpassed Debian as the most popular Linux distribution for web servers around the globe, owning nearly 30 percent of the market. In spite of relinquishing the top spot to Debian in 2012, CentOS remains the most common OS for web-host control panels.

Although CentOS receives no support from Red Hat — financially or otherwise — the distribution is known for its superior customer support. In large measure, this stems from an active, interested community that provides feedback on every version.

While the bulk of OS development is handled by a small team of experts, a host of system administrators, network administrators and enterprise users help improve each CentOS build. As a result, the distro has gained notoriety for being quickly built, rebuilt, tested and available on countless mirror networks.

Decoding CentOS Version 6.5

As noted by Tecmint, upgrading to version 6.5 from any earlier 6.X version is simple: Just run the “yum update” command from the command line. Based on your network speed, you’ll have to wait 15 to 30 minutes for the process to finish. While no serious issues during upgrading have been reported, it’s always a good idea to back up any critical files or network configuration data. Once the upgrade is complete, run “# cat /etc/redhat-release” to make sure you have the right version.

According to the official CentOS wiki, there are several notable improvements to version 6.5, starting with driver updates for Hyper-V and VMware virtualization tools. In addition, Evolution and LibreOffice get an update, while kernel-based virtual machines (KVMs) get improved read-only support for VMDK and VHDX files. Perhaps the most interesting upgrade, however, is for the Precision Time Protocol (PTP).

PTP allows local area network (LAN) computers to be synchronized to within 100 nanoseconds under the IEEE-1588 standard. Although previewed in an earlier release, this feature is now fully supported. There are some issues with the release — for example older AMD video cards are not compatible with the new X server version, and some users report that Ethernet interfaces do not start with the new NetworkManager tool. But overall, these bugs are minor.

The Bottom Line

Dedicated hosting customers who are running CentOS and who are not subscribed to one of a managed hosting services should check to see whether they are running the latest version of CentOS. HostLabs customers on shared servers should already be on operating on CentOS 6; if not, they will soon be migrated from CentOS 4 to the latest version of the OS.

While this release offers better LAN time-stamping support and upgrades to other existing functions, companies won’t suffer by holding on to 6.4 or another 6.X version for a few more months. But based on the reliable build structure and superior technical support channels of CentOS, there’s no reason to wait.

This enterprise RHEL clone is popular with good reason, and its newest upgrade is another solid build.

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