Install RHEL 8.3 for free production use in a VM

In January 2021, Red Hat announced that Red Hat Enterprise Linux can be used at no cost for up to 16 production servers. In this article, I want to provide step-by-step instructions on how to install RHEL 8.3 in a VM.

First off, download the official and updated QCOW2 image named rhel-8.3-x86_64-kvm.qcow2 (the name will likely change later as RHEL moves to higher versions). Creating an account on the Red Hat Portal is free, there is an integration with 3rd party authorization services like GitHub, Twitter or Facebook, however for successful host registration username and password needs to be created.

To use RHEL in a cloud environment like Amazon, Azure or OpenStack, simply upload the image and start it. It’s cloud-init ready, make sure to seed the instance with data like usernames, passwords and/or ssh-keys. Note that root account is locked, there is no way to log in without seeding initial information.

To start RHEL in QEMU/KVM, libvirt or oVirt (Red Hat Virtualization), several steps must be performed: root password should be set, cloud-init must be uninstalled and optionally user account(s) with password or ssh key should be created.

$ virt-customize -a rhel-8.3-x86_64-kvm.qcow2 --root-password password:redhat --uninstall cloud-init --hostname rhel8-registered
[   0.0] Examining the guest ...
[  11.5] Setting a random seed
[  11.5] Setting the machine ID in /etc/machine-id
[  11.5] Uninstalling packages: cloud-init
[  28.7] Setting passwords
[  45.2] Finishing off

The utility virt-customize, available in Fedora, RHEL and most other Linux distributions, is extremely flexible allowing pretty much any change from creating users, installing packages, applying updates. We will stick with setting up the root password and hostname for now. Note the utility performs actions on the original image, make sure to have a copy just for case.

$ sudo virt-install \
  --name rhel8-registered \
  --memory 2048 \
  --vcpus 2 \
  --disk /var/lib/libvirt/images/rhel-8.3-x86_64-kvm.qcow2 \
  --import \
  --os-variant rhel8.3

Once the host boots up, login and register the system. Use the same credentials as for accessing the Red Hat Portal:

rhel8# subscription-manager register --username lzap
Password: **********
The system has been registered with ID: XXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXX

This step can be also done via the virt-customize utility or automated via Ansible. And that’s it! Start installing software or updating the node:

rhel8# dnf update; dnf install vim-enhanced

It is worth nothing that subscription-manager runs a deamon which periodically checks-in and uploads installed packages and some hardware facts about the system. You can review registered systems on the Subscription Portal. From there, package and errata information can be displayed (security vulnerabilities) as well as repositories, modules and system facts. Note that it is not possible to manage hosts via Red Hat Portal, nodes can be unregistered tho.

Although I haven’t tested this, to convert QCOW2 image to VMWare, perform the following after the image was modified via virt-customize:

# qemu-img convert -f qcow2 -O vmdk rhel-8.3-x86_64-kvm.qcow2 rhel-8.3-x86_64-kvm.vmdk

To install on a bare-metal node, download one of the installation DVDs, attach it to the CDROM device or burn and insert physical copy (who does that in 2021 really) and follow the on-screen instructions. Use Red Hat Portal credentials when asked to register the system.

If you plan to manage fleet of RHEL servers, check out Foreman project which is the upstream for Red Hat Satellite management platform. Note that content management features provided by Katello plugin will not work on zero-cost accounts, but other features like provisioning, remote execution and configuration management will work perfectly fine with self-supported Red Hat Enterprise Linux nodes registered directly to Red Hat Portal.

Red Hat Enterprise Linux is a reliable and trusted Linux operating system available free of charge for up to 16 production instances. Feel free to ask on the discussion forums. By the way, Red Hat Portal contains ton of curated and useful stuff, documentation, articles, howtos, discussion and video content.