Linux Certification Can Boost Your Value

Whether you're a Linux guru or newbie, there are career advantages to earning certification in the open-source operating system.
By Anne Martinez

The Linux operating system continues to gain market share, which means there is an increasing number of systems that need people who can install, administer, and tune it.

If you're already a Linux guru, certification can provide the official evidence that will convince potential employers of your expertise. If you're a Linux newbie, the process of earning certification can bring you up to speed on this increasingly popular operating system.

Since the Linux operating system is free, this is one of the less expensive certifications to add to your professional repertoire. You can download Linux from several Web sites (see resource sidebar), or for a small fee request to have it sent to you on CD.

Resources: Getting Your Hands on Linux
Mandrake Linux

Red Hat Linux

SuSE Linux

And even thought it's an operating system, you don't have to dedicate a computer to running it while you're studying (though you might want to). Instead you can create a dual boot system that enables you to keep your existing operating system and get your hands-on Linux practice too.

Another reason to consider Linux certification is the portability of the associated skills; Linux shares a lot of functionality and features with UNIX. Although they are distinct operating systems, expertise in one provides skills in the other, giving you double the bang for your training and credentialing efforts.

The Computing Technology Industry Association (CompTIA), The Linux Professional Institute (LPI), Red Hat, and SAIR offer viable Linux certification options. Their offerings are quite diverse in requirements, expense, and focus.

For example, Red Hat's certification program is specific to the popular Red Hat distribution of Linux, while the others are vendor-neutral, avoiding allegiance to a particular Linux vendor or distribution. The vendor-neutral offerings were all built on a cooperative basis, drawing upon the expertise and resources of the Linux community and large and small sponsors. Each of the programs is summarized below:

CompTIA Linux+
This is an entry-level, vendor-neutral certification intended to demonstrate foundation level proficiency with the Linux operating system. Earning it requires passing a single exam covering seven domains: planning & implementation; installation; configuration; administration; system maintenance; troubleshooting; and identifying, installing, and maintaining system hardware. The exam is in multiple-choice format and consists of 95 questions. It's available through Prometric and VUE testing centers. Exam vouchers must be purchased through CompTIA and cost $149 for CompTIA members and $199 for everyone else.

Starting with its successful A+ service technician certification, CompTIA has established a reputation for creating entry-level computer certifications and then getting industry vendors to recognize them within other certification programs. Vendor-specific certification programs, including those of IBM, Microsoft, Novell, have begun to incorporate or accept CompTIA certifications as meeting requirements for toward their own (vendor-specific) titles. Linux+ is already accepted by IBM as meeting a requirement toward IBM Certified for e-business -- Solution Technologist certification.

Linux Professional Institute Certified (LPIC)
The Linux Professional Institute Inc. (LPI) is a non-profit organization formed specifically for the purpose of creating a vendor-neutral certification program for Linux. The group began organizing in late 1998 and officially incorporated on Oct. 25, 1999. The first exams became available in October 2000.

The LPIC program is designed to offer three certifications signifying increasing skill level, with each certification requiring two exams. The first two tiers are fully operational; Level 3 has yet to be developed.

The two exams required for Level 1 certification are titled General Linux I and General Linux II. They cover such topics as: GNU and UNIX commands; devices; Linux file systems; boot, initialization, shutdown, and run levels; documentation; installation and package management; hardware and architecture; and additional subjects.

At Level 2 (again, two exams) candidates will be queried on advanced administration and networking topics, including how to track and solve problems, kernel administration, and mail and news services, among other subjects.

Each LPIC exam costs $100. They are available through VUE and Prometric testing centers. As with CompTIAs Linux+, LPIC level I certification is accepted by IBM as meeting a requirement toward IBM Certified for e-business -- Solution Technologist certification.

Sair Linux/GNU Certified (LCP/LCA/LCE/MLCE)
Sair (pronounced zair) is an acronym for Software Architecture Implementation and Realization. Sair Inc. started out in 1992 as a software development firm, only turning its attention to building a Linux certification program in 1999.

In a familiar dot-com story, Sair was acquired by Wave Technologies, which was in turn acquired by Thomson Learning, which is the current owner/operator of the Sair certification program.

Sair certification was originally created with three levels: Linux/GNU Certified Administrator (LCA), Linux/GNU Certified Engineer (LCE), and Master Linux/GNU Certified Engineer (MLCE), each requiring passage of four exams. The original design was cleanly organized around four system usage areas (thus the four exams at each level): Linux installation; network connectivity; system administration; and security, ethics, and privacy.

Each of the areas further broken down into six categories: theory of operation, base system, shells and commands, utilities, system services, and troubleshooting. Exams are multiple choice and consist of 50 questions. A score of 74% or better is required to pass. They cost $99 each.

After the original program development, a fourth designation was added: Linux/GNU Certified Professional, which is not billed as a certification in its own right, but rather is bestowed upon candidates as they pass their first exam on the Sair LCA track. The second level (LCE) was also modified to require a single core exam plus three elective courses. Thus the current program deviates substantially from the original design. According to company officials a bit over 2,400 Sair certifications have been issued.

Red Hat Certified Engineer (RHCE)
Red Hat Inc. has been a favorite in the Linux marketplace virtually since its inception. It's also a leader in the world of Linux certification. The first RHCE exam was administered in February 1999, when the vendor-neutral Linux certification vendors were just getting organized.

To date more than 5,000 people have earned the RHCE title. While not an astounding number, when you consider that in order to sit for the exam candidates must travel to a Red Hat testing center and pay $749 in fees, it's very respectable.

Unlike the other certification vendors, Red Hat doesn't offer an entry-level option. There is one track and one exam, aimed at intermediate to advanced users of the Red Hat distribution of Linux. The exam is a three-part affair that includes a written test (1 hour); a server install and network services configuration lab (2.5 hours); and a diagnostics and troubleshooting lab (2.5 hours). It must be taken at a Red Hat facility.

The exam covers installing and configuring Red Hat Linux; understanding limitations of hardware; configuring basic networking and file systems; configuring the X Windowing System; basic security, common network (IP) services, basic diagnostics and troubleshooting, and Red Hat Linux system administration.

Choosing A Certification
As you decide which Linux certification to pursue, consider the skill level you ultimately wish to have as well as your current abilities. It may be necessary to hop from one program to another to meet your long-term goals. Neither of the multi-level programs has their advanced certifications up and running yet. This doesn't reflect lack of progress, but rather a shortage of people who have yet to attain lower-level certifications. When there are more LPI Level 2 certified individuals and Sair LCEs you can expect the next levels of those programs to roll out.

Though candidates can self-train for any of these certification exams, Red Hat and Sair both offer certification curriculums closely tied to their certification objectives. If you're looking for classroom instruction, one of these may be the way to go.

For more advanced certification, give the RHCE and LPI Level 2 a serious look. For basic Linux certification, either Linux+, LPI Level 1, or Sair's LCA program should do the trick. CompTIA and LPI leave the training component (including self-study options) entirely to third-party vendors, but there are plenty of options available.

Interestingly, none of these certification programs have continuing requirements. Once certified, always certified.

Summary Table

Program	          Skill Level	    # of Exams      Exam Cost	    Exam Availability

CompTIA	          Entry-level	        1	      $199	     Through Prometric 
                                                                    and VUE test center
                                                                         networks

LPI	           3 levels        2 per level      $100 each        Through Prometric
                  (First two                     ($200 per level)      centers soon
                  currently 
                  available)

Sair	           4 levels        4 per level       $99 each         Through Prometric
                 (entry-level      (except LCP)   ($396 per level)   and VUE test center
               through advanced)                                          networks

Red Hat	         Intermediate           1             $749          At Red Hat authorized
                 to advanced                                           facilities only
                     

Anne Martinez is founder of GoCertify.com, a provider of IT certification information, resources, and articles.






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