Currently there are several major Linux certifications on the market. But which one is right? It seems that there has not yet been an agreement on which one is the de facto standard. The four program providers I will discuss here are the Linux Professional Institute, Novell, Inc., Red Hat, Inc. and CompTIA. This information is current as of April 2007. All prices are in US dollars.
Linux Professional Institute (LPI)
The Linux Professional Institute was founded in 1999 and is a non-profit organization with the goal of delivering vendor neutral Linux certifications for system administrators and programmers. It is a Canadian company whose exams are available in almost every country in the world. They provide 3 tiers of certification covering the scope from Junior to Senior Level Administration. The first two tiers consist of two exams each and the last tier consists of only one exam. Each exam currently costs around $150.
Junior Level Linux Professional (LPIC-1) The first tier consists of two exams, 101 and 102 – they are both required to obtain the certification. Exams are designed to verify that you can work at the Linux command line. They also test to see that you are capable of performing easy maintenance tasks: help out users, add users to a larger system, backup & restore, shutdown and reboot. You are also expected to be able to install and configure a workstation (including X) and connect it to a LAN, or a stand-alone PC via modem to the Internet. This tier requires that the candidate be familiar with two package management systems – RPM and Debian. According to their website, for an extra $100 you can become an Ubuntu Certified Professional on top of the LPIC-1 Certification.
Advanced Level Linux Professional (LPIC-2) Requires that you have already attained LPIC-1 status and you must two exams – 201 and 202. This tier focuses on administering a small to medium site and checks that you can plan, implement, maintain, keep consistent, secure and troubleshoot a small mixed (MS, Linux) network, including a:
- LAN server (samba)
- Internet Gateway (firewall, proxy, mail, news)
- Internet Server (webserver, FTP server)
Senior Level Linux Professional (LPIC-3) This is the newest tier that has just become available in 2007. You can choose either the Core or Specialty path. You must have LPIC-2 status and pass one exam to obtain the Core certification. The Specialty path requires that you pass the Core exam and also pass a respective Specialty exam. This tier assumes that you have several years of experience with installing and maintaining Linux on a number of computers for various purposes. It also requires knowledge of Bash or Perl scripting and experience utilizing LDAP. Though I could not find explicit pricing information on this tier's exams, it is assumed that too are around $150 apiece. There was no immediate information to indicate otherwise.
This set of certifications is geared towards the mastery of Novell's Linux distribution – SUSE Linux Enterprise. They offer two approaches: Novell Certified Linux Professional and Novell Certified Linux Engineer.
Novell CLP This route is intended for people interested in being Linux administrators. It does not have any mandatory course work and only requires the passing of one exam – the Novell Practicum. This exam is scenario based and is meant to see if you can apply your knowledge to real world problems. Successful candidates are expected to possess the following skills:
- working with and creating scripts in the shell
- administering users, groups and file permissions
- administering virtualization with Xen
- configuring and using Samba
- configuring network connections
Novell CLE This route is intended for people seeking to master advanced SUSE Linux Enterprise Server administration skills. This certification requires two exams – you must pass the Novell CLP program first and then take one additional exam to attain the Engineer standing. This certification requires that you have a more in-depth understanding of networking services and security.
Each exam will cost approximately $195.
Red Hat, Inc.
Perhaps the most well known set of certifications is offered by Red Hat, Inc. Their certifications are geared towards the use of their Linux distribution – Red Hat Enterpise Linux. They offer four different certifications: Red Hat Certified Technician, Red Hat Certified Engineer, Red Hat Certified Architect and Red Hat Certified Security Specialist. Each of these certifications is valid until after the next major release of Red Hat Enterprise Linux. For example, if you are certified while RHEL 5 is current, then your certification is valid until RHEL 7 is released.
RHCT Their base level certification is intended for entry-level admins and focuses on the administration of a single system and attaching it to a network. There is only one test to pass in order to obtain this certification but is a 3 hour, hands-on lab exam administered at a Red Hat facility. It will cost approximately $350.
RHCE This is Red Hat's intermediate certification. This certification has been the closest to a standard in the Linux certification community. It is designed to test administrators with several years of experience and deals more extensively with services and security. While this is a great credential to have – it is pricey. At around $750, this certification may not prove a possibility for someone who is currently on the job hunt. Again, there is only one exam required.
RHCA It has been rumored that there are less than 100 IT professionals with RHCA status. This is not hard to believe due to the program's requirements. You must pass a 2 or 3 day performance-based live lab exam The fees for this program are very high. There is a total of 5 exams at $750 each, so you are looking at a minimum of $3750.
RHCSS This program consists of 3 exams, again at around $750 apiece. This level is meant to emphasize a proficiency in security. The focus of the exams is on using SELinux and Red Hat Directory Server to meet security requirements. This seems like a highly specific designation. Not all organizations are going to utilize this type of LDAP management and not all distributions are as eager to utilize SELinux as Red Hat is.
CompTIA is well known for their entry level certifications – most notably the A+ Certification. Their Linux certification is designed for people with between 6 and 12 months of Linux experience. It is vendor neutral and focuses on using the command line, user administration, file permissions and the management of Linux-based clients, servers and security. There is one exam to pass that costs about $200, but the certification is valid for life.
Being that there is no set standard of certification in the market, you can likely use any of them effectively on your resume and during the interview process. The Red Hat certifications are going to be more geared towards someone who works for a company that is already utilizing that specific distribution and will likely be paid for by said company. As a Linux user who is looking to get into Linux administration as a profession, then you should really look at how much experience you have. If you are relatively inexperienced, then you could probably study a bit and obtain the Linux+ Certification without much effort. With more Linux confidence and experience you could climb the LPI tiers or go with Novell. Novell is strong here because they have had years at the top of the certification food chain and have great name recognition in the IT world. Their program also requires fewer exams to obtain their highest credential. Although Novell is not a vendor neutral certification, a competent employment candidate should have little problem explaining how the knowledge can be carried over to different distributions. The key in obtaining one of these certifications is being able to use it to back up claims of your Linux knowledge to a prospective employer and also give you a bit more confidence during the interview process.
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