Before pursuing any IT certification, you should make sure it has value for you. One of the easiest ways to do this is to look for the qualifications required for a position that you would like to have – whether in your existing company or with another firm. Once you’ve identified the requirements, then you should investigate the costs associated with them (single exam, series of exams, labs, and so on) and – if the potential benefits outweigh the costs - pursue them.
What follows is the first in a series of articles comparing similar IT certifications. This entry focuses on those for the Linux operating system, and will be followed by a look at those for security, networking, project management, and hardware.
The first decision to make when deciding to acquire a Linux certification is whether to go after one that is vendor neutral (not focused on any one particular distribution) or vendor specific. Within those two categories, we will look at the most popular certifications and briefly outline methods for studying to obtain them.
As the name implies, “vendor-neutral” certifications are not associated with a particular Linux distribution and center themselves on the overarching areas of knowledge that apply to all standard Linux distributions. The two biggest players here are CompTIA and LPI (Linux Professional Institute).
CompTIA Linux+ Powered by LPI
CompTIA made news in April 2010 when it partnered with certification leader Linux Professional Institute (LPI) to combine the two most prominent entry-level certifications on the market: Linux+ and LPI’s LPIC-1. Linux+ applicants can now choose to have their exam scores forwarded directly to LPI and are eligible to receive both entry-level certifications upon passing the test. The partnership and revised Linux+ exam assuage the concerns of many in the industry that the original exam was too easy and vague to compete with the depth of knowledge tested by LPI exams.
CompTIA’s Linux+ Powered by LPI targets system administrators with at least 12 months of experience with Linux systems and tests candidates on vendor-neutral knowledge in the areas of systems architecture, installation and package management, the Filesystem Hierarchy Standard, and more. The certification requires completion of two 90-minute exams, LX0-101 and LX0-102, consisting of 60 questions each. The test costs $160 for non-members of CompTIA.
The Linux+ certification exam prior to CompTIA’s partnership with LPI, exam XK0-002, will be retired on October 31, 2010. Individuals certified with previous Linux+ exams are not eligible to apply for LPIC-1 certification unless they complete the new tests.
For more information on CompTIA’s certifications and partnership with LPI, see http://www.comptia.org/certifications.aspx.
While partnering with CompTIA, the Linux Professional Institute has retained its own Linux certifications: LPIC-1, 2, and 3. While the LPIC-1 exams are still available, the double-certification awarded for passing the Linux+ exams isn’t offered for those choosing to take the LPI tests, so skipping the LPIC-1 exams themselves in lieu of Linux+ makes sense if you are looking to add entries to your resume as quickly as possible.
After completing LPIC-1 (or Linux+ Powered by LPI), candidates are eligible to take exams 201 and 202 required for the LPIC-2 certification. LPIC-2 places emphasis on system maintenance and troubleshooting. For a detailed breakdown of the topics and weighting of the exams, see http://www.lpi.org/eng/certification/the_lpic_program.
The LPIC-3 certification requires passing a single exam to receive LPIC-3 “Core” designation. After this initial exam, multiple optional exams may be completed to receive specialty designations including “Mixed Environment,” “Security,” and the newest entry “Virtualization.”
Exams for completion of LPIC-1 and LPIC-2 are 90 minutes in length and cost $160 each. Exam 301 for the LPIC-3 “Core” designation costs $260.
To learn more about certifications provided by the Linux Professional Institute, see http://www.lpi.org/eng/certification.
The three big leaders in the Linux distribution arena within the United States are Red Hat, SUSE (from Novell), and Ubuntu. The following sections look at each of their offerings.
The Red Hat Certified Engineer (RHCE) certification leads the IT world as one of the most rigorous and well-recognized certifications in the industry. The certification process formerly consisted of two exams, but was consolidated into one 3.5-hour performance-based test. This exam varies greatly from the multiple-choice CompTIA or LPI exams because it requires candidates to perform hands-on installations, maintenance, and troubleshooting of Linux systems and to be graded based on the performance of these systems.
Red Hat offers the Red Hat Certified Technician (RHCT) certification in addition to the RHCE. The RHCT consists of a 2 hour performance-based exam that tests more basic knowledge of system administration than the RHCE. All the competencies tested for the RHCT are included in the RHCE, so it is possible for an RHCE candidate to not pass the exam but still receive RHCT certification.
Additionally, the Red Hat Certified Architect (RHCA) certification is offered as a capstone to the RHCE and requires completion of five additional exams. Candidates looking to expand their Red Hat expertise can also pursue Red Hat Certified Datacenter Specialist and Red Hat Certified Security Specialist certifications.
The RHCE exam costs $799. The multiple exams required for the RHCA or “expertise” certifications such as the RHCDS cost $749 each but are reduced to $549 when purchased with a corresponding training course. To learn more about all of Red Hat’s available certifications and recommended courses for each, visit http://www.redhat.com/certification.
Novell’s entry-level certification, the Novell Certified Linux Administrator (CLA), can now be attained through a simple application process without exams or fees by all LPIC-1 certified individuals. To view the application on Novell’s website, see http://practicum.novell.com/LPI2CLAForm.php. After receiving the CLA, candidates can move on to the Certified Linux Professional (CLP) certification, which validates and expands on the administrative skills tested in the CLA.
Above the CLP is Novell’s Certified Linux Engineer (CLE) certification. The CLE is targeted at “engineer-level” architects and managers. The latest version of the CLE tests skills on systems based on SUSE Linux Enterprise Server 10 or 11. The CLP and CLE are awarded through single 150-minute exams for a price of $195.
The plethora of certifications offered by Novell extends well beyond these choices. To see a complete listing of certifications and requirements for each, see http://www.novell.com/training/certinfo/.
In yet another expansion of the Linux Professional Institute’s array of certifications, the LPI now offers the Ubuntu Certified Professional (UCP) certification. To receive the certification, candidates must complete LPI 101 and 102 exams (or already be LPIC-1 certified), as well as the Ubuntu 199 exam. The $155 exam applies the administrative skills tested for LPIC-1 certification to Ubuntu-based systems specifically. The Ubuntu-specific exam may be taken before or after the general exams. For additional information, see http://www.lpi.org/eng/certification/ubuntu_certified_professional.
When considering how to study and prepare for certification exams, it is important to first evaluate your reason for obtaining certification. If you are working toward a specific certification required by an employer or organization and don’t plan on expanding your certification repertoire in the future, devoting your studies to the particular skill and knowledge expectations of that exam may be the most effective means of preparation.
If you are using certifications as a guided path for increasing your Linux expertise or are starting to build a large body of certifications, working through exams in a logical order will end up saving you time and effort. With LPI’s expansion and partnership with various other certification providers, starting off with CompTIA’s Linux+ Powered by LPI will get you going in the right direction (multiple directions, actually). With the Linux+ cert in your hand, you can immediately receive LPIC-1, apply for Novell’s CLA, and be just one exam away from the Ubuntu Certified Professional. As you can see, starting with a good foundation can expedite and simplify your progress through the world of certifications.
While every certification organization offers training courses to prepare you for their exams, none of those listed in this article requires completion of coursework to obtain certification. The necessity of hands-on experience is stressed heavily by every certification provider, however, so candidates should always recognize the value of day-to-day work on Linux systems in regard to their certification pursuits.