Some certifications are more valuable than others. IMO, those certifications that demand hands-on interaction with systems, services, and devices deliver more value because they require their holders to demonstrate their understanding and skills rather than just recounting some laundry list of important facts and details.
I've been working the certification patch since the late 1980s, when I had the good fortune to stumble into developing what would become the networking fundamentals course for the Novell certification curriculum. In the many certification exams I've taken, analyzed, reviewed, and even occasionally contributed to in the meantime, I've observed that those exams that put test-takers in hands-on situations create the most enduring and valuable learning experiences. These not only heighten the value of the exam and the credential, but they also translate into more utility on the job, where hands-on is the metier whereby work gets done.
In looking at the credentials with the most cachet and the biggest ROI — take the Cisco Certified Internetwork Expert, or CCIE as an example — it's the lab exam that really gives the credential its punch (and, of course, which also makes it fiendishly difficult to pass; even some of my smartest friends who hold CCIEs had to try two or three takes at $1,000-plus a pop to get past this formidable hurdle). The same thing goes for other credentials with hands-on lab or practicum exam requirements, including Red Hat's RHCE, Cisco's CCDE, BSD Professional, Juniper Networks credentials, and even various Microsoft MCP exams for MCTS and MCITP.
There's just something about rolling up your sleeves, firing up a console or utility, and working your way through real or simulated problems that sparks the learning process, and cements that learning into your brain. I've found that what I learned by drilling hands on and working through the steps necessary to handle installation, configuration, maintenance and troubleshooting tasks has stood me in very good stead when repeating the same tasks for real. Others who've been through this experience swear by its utility and value as well.
This leads me to three strong recommendations about certifications and hands-on experience: