Rancher Launches Tiny Linux Distro

Craig Matsumoto
News Analysis
Craig Matsumoto, Editor-in-Chief, Light Reading
4/12/2017



Rancher Labs is announcing general availability today for RancherOS, the stripped-down version of Linux that the company uses with its own container management platform.

The container management platform, called simply Rancher, is what the startup is best known for, and it doesn't even have to run on RancherOS. It can run on any variety of Linux.

But the company has found that the minimalism of RancherOS appeals to customers; in fact, the company has had paying customers for the OS for "a little less than a year," CEO Sheng Liang says. By declaring general availability for the software, Rancher Labs is saying RancherOS is now a grown-up product that's suitable for use in production environments -- not just in test and development.

"It forced us to get our act together and become a proper Linux distro," Liang says.

Linux has been around long enough to be a fact of life in settings such as data centers and the cloud. And it can be had for free. And it's open source. So, "you wouldn't think a mature space like Linux distributions would have opportunities," Liang says.

And yet, Rancher isn't the only company to come out with a new or relatively new Linux distribution. VMware Inc. (NYSE: VMW), for example, has a distribution called Photon OS, which was announced in 2015 and released to general availability in June.

The difference, of course, is the rise of containers. If your applications are going to run in containers, the underlying Linux OS can be stripped down substantially.

RancherOS leaves out everything in Linux user space -- that is, all the code that's not running in the Linux kernel itself. Anything that's not in the kernel gets put into a container running on the kernel. Rancher provides a few of these containers -- one runs the Dynamic Host Configuration Protocol (DHCP), for instance -- as part of the RancherOS product.

"Even before it was fully baked -- [version] 0.1, basically -- people liked it because of the philosophy," Liang says.

VMware had a slightly different angle. The company wanted to keep its vSphere franchise relevant in the era of containers, so it created Photon OS to make sure there was a smooth way to run containers on the VMware hypervisor.

Craig Matsumoto, Editor-in-Chief, Light Reading

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