June 6, 2017

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Amazon Linux versus CentOS

Since its first release in May of 2004, CentOS has grown into a respected Linux distributor, providing a stable and reproductable platform. With the growth of cloud computing, CentOS has seen its fair share of challengers. However, none have provided quite the threat as Amazon Linux AMI.

With the rapid rise of AWS in itself, it makes sense that AWS would have their own Linux distribution. But it begs the question, is there an advantage for using Linux in an AWS environment? If you look at the surface level, both Amazon Web Services and CentOS seem incredibly similar.

What Amazon Linux AMI and CentOS Have in Common

Amazon Linux and CentOS share a relationship with Red Hat. CentOS falls directly under the Red Hat umbrella, as it’s derived from the source material of Red Hat Enterprise Linux (RHEL). It is basically Red Hat with different branding. Amazon Linux AMI feels more like a branch of RHEL, it shares the same roots, but is reaching out to follow its own course.

Beyond the code, both Amazon Linux AMI and CentOS also have similar goals. Both are free and designed to bring security and high performance to server platforms for small and medium-sized businesses. Amazon Linux and CentOS are even mostly compatible with each other. Looking under the hood, though, the differences begin to emerge.

The Integration of Amazon Linux AMI

It should be no surprise that if you’re already using AWS, you’ll enjoy seamless integration with Amazon Linux AMI. Amazon Linux was specifically built for AWS. Its advantages include management tools and AWS-related command line tools that are installed by default.

Amazon Linux supports use cases that RHEL – and CentOS by extension – does not, including multiple versions of Ruby and PHP. Amazon also includes tools allowing developers to build scalability into their platforms from the get-go.

Additionally, Amazon Linux features pre-configuration for in-cloud yum repositories. These benefits can significantly reduce downtime dedicated to the integration, and eliminate many problems stemming from the workarounds often involved in getting a non-native Linux distribution to work properly in AWS.


When we talk about compatibility, Amazon Linux AMI again has the edge. Beyond the seamless integration, Amazon Linux makes it easy to upgrade to new versions or new releases.

CentOS stumbles in this category as it’s not compatible between major versions. For example, there is no upgrade path from CentOS 6 to 7. So, unless you want to continually buy and fully install new platforms at every release, Amazon Linux is the clear choice for compatibility.

The Word on Security

CentOS is a popular choice for businesses for a reason. It has a solid reputation in the community for stability and security. One advantage is that CentOS has less frequent updates when compared to competitors like Ubuntu. This means that CentOS software is tested over time, so stable versions are regularly released. CentOS launches aren’t rushed affairs riddled with bugs, which cuts down on the number of initial patches.

However, Amazon Linux AMI is no slouch. It is secure right out of the box, with no root login allowed by default. In the age of Mirai and similar botnets that utilize factory default usernames and passwords, this is an important security aspect.

Amazon Linux provides automatic updates of critical packages on first launch, so newly provisioned instances will have the latest security patches without the need of any additional patching. Critical CVE fixes are pushed within 24 hours, and there is a regular cadence of repository updates. Amazon Linux also includes SSH key pairs for added security, and provides reduction of non-critical packages.

Disk Expansion

In this category, Amazon Linux AMI clearly wins as it’s able to mount disks dynamically. If you need to expand a disk from 20 to 40 gigs, it’s an easy process with Amazon Linux. CentOS, by contrast, can be quite a bear, as it doesn’t provide the capabilities to mount disks dynamically. The workarounds involved for CentOS can eat up both time and budget.

Support Services

Due to CentOS’s longevity and popularity as a community-driven free software platform, there are extensive networks of community support. However, there is no “official” or corporate support.

By contrast, Amazon provides free technical support for Amazon Linux AMI users. As the Amazon Linux community continues to grow, you will be able to find more and more peer support. Right now, though, it is really a matter of preference. If you want peace of mind with access to a technical expert backed by the company on the case, Amazon Linux is your choice.

The Growth of AWS

In Q4 of 2016, AWS posted $3.53 billion in revenue, up 47 percent from the prior year. There is no slowdown of its growth on the horizon. If you’re looking to utilize AWS, Amazon Linux AMI makes perfect sense.

Edge Hosting can help ease the burden on your IT staff when implementing both Amazon Linux AMI and AWS solutions. Edge has joined the AWS Partner Network as a Standard Consulting Partner and Channel Reseller by Amazon Web Services. We specialize in helping businesses find the right hosting solutions, especially businesses in highly regulated industries.

We have teams of migration experts, cloud engineers, and technical support staff available 24/7, to answer any questions and ease you into an Amazon Linux/AWS solution, reducing the risks of cloud migration and saving you money with a custom-tailored solution to your needs.

For more information about Edge Hosting’s AWS services, visit our page on managed hosting for AWS or download our eBook – Working with Edge.

If you would like to talk to an Edge Hosting AWS Specialist, please call 888.428.2752.

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