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Build Your Skills: CompTIA steps up hardware certification with Server+

Prove your server skills with this new certification

Since its inception, CompTIA’s vendor-neutral A+ certificate program has been the de facto certification for entry-level service technicians working with computer hardware and Microsoft operating systems. However, for a long time, there was no logical “next-step” certification to achieve. Many individuals, after obtaining the A+ would move on to vendor programs such as Novell’s CNE, Microsoft’s MCSE, or Compaq’s ASE, as their careers progressed.

Fortunately, that has changed with the release of CompTIA’s Server+ certificate. This program provides IT professionals with the opportunity for a higher-level certification that closely maps their abilities to configure, troubleshoot, and manage advanced server hardware. In this article, I will cover the following items:
  • Overview of the Server+ certification
  • Benefits for individuals
  • Benefits for companies
  • Training
  • Costs

Overview of the cert
The Server+ exam covers a number of high-level topics. Its primary audience is mid- to upper-level technicians who are responsible for more mission-critical hardware than an entry-level technician. Obviously, experience in the industry and experience specifically with server hardware is recommended. According to CompTIA, this certification is also applicable to service managers, network administrators, system architects, system analysts, system integrators, and database administrators. CompTIA is hoping that Server+ will become the standard certification for advanced technicians working on server hardware in the same way that A+ has become the standard for entry-level techs working on desktop PC hardware.

This exam covers seven major areas and four major operating systems. I have listed the objectives below with a brief synopsis of what each objective covers:
  • Installation: Here, you will be required to know about hardware compatibility with a specific operating system, and you’ll need to know how to install and configure a UPS. This area of focus also requires knowledge of rack-loading (such as 1U and 2U racks).
  • Configuration: In this area, the focus is on much broader topics, such as RAID (very in-depth), hot-swapping of hard drives, SCSI, adapter teaming, and adapter fault tolerance. There is also coverage of 10/100BaseT Ethernet wiring and its pin-outs.
  • Upgrading: For this objective, you must know how to upgrade CPUs and handle processor stepping, and you need to understand what electrostatic discharge (ESD) is and what it can do to components. You’ll also need to know the difference between unbuffered memory and registered memory.
  • Proactive Maintenance: This section covers performance monitoring and optimization. The methodology is to take what you have, create a baseline, do some more monitoring and analyzing, find the problem areas, and fix them. You will need to know where to find bottlenecks, how to fix them, and how to prevent them. Also covered is the SNMP protocol and SMART software.
  • Environment: We are talking about security here—and mostly physical security. From locking a server room and providing the appropriate ventilation to handling humidity and placement of rack fans, this section hammers on the aspect of controlling the physical environment where your servers reside.
  • Troubleshooting and Problem Determination: The focus for this objective is, “What is the right course of action when faced with a high-level hardware problem?” You can assume that there will be a lot of “reasoning” type questions in this area.
  • Disaster Recovery: Backups, backups, and backups are covered here. As you might have figured out from the title, this objective deals with the ability to prevent, prepare for, and handle disasters. You will need to know the difference between a differential, incremental, and normal backup and the order in which you need to restore them when faced with a catastrophe. You will be required to understand “hotsites” and “coldsites” and when you should use one. Media life expectancy and complex tape rotation are also covered.

All in all, CompTIA holds true to its form by maintaining vendor independence, with coverage of four major operating systems: Windows NT/2000, Novell NetWare, UNIX/Linux, and OS/2 (that’s right, OS/2—it is covered, but you can expect it will be light).

Benefits for individuals
So what are the benefits of having Server+ certification? What will it do for a resume? CompTIA says that many large companies, including 3Com, Adaptec, Compaq, EDS, and Sybex, are all on board to support the Server+ cert. As a person holding the Server+ certification, you can tout your abilities to understand, use, configure, and troubleshoot complex hardware.

As these bigger companies take the lead in supporting Server+, it is almost inevitable that all companies throughout the industry will begin to realize its potential and begin to require their staff to hold this cert. What usually follows are job opportunities and a potential pay increase for an IT professional that holds the certificate. You can certainly do yourself no harm by obtaining this cert, and as you will see below, it is not very expensive to obtain. If the popularity of CompTIA’s A+ cert is a barometer, Server+ will be a certificate to have if you are an advanced IT professional working with mission-critical hardware.

Benefits for companies
Hiring Server+-certified workers may also pay off for employers. According to CompTIA, companies that hire and employ Server+ staff will benefit in a couple of different areas.

First of all, they’ll know what they’re getting. The Server+ exam is not an easy one to pass. Those who do pass will have demonstrated a strong understanding of the concepts of server hardware management. Of course, there will be still be those who can brain dump the exam without actually working with the products. However, I think there will be fewer of these than we’ve seen in other certifications.

A second benefit to companies is that certified employees typically require less training, so they can get the job done right the first time and hit the ground running more quickly in a new job. The employees are likely to be better equipped to handle larger, more complex hardware issues and will have a strong foundation in the knowledge of the server hardware field. Companies with Server+ staff on board can also advertise that fact to prospective customers, who may view the certification as a symbol of quality, knowledge, and expertise.

Training
Where do you get training for the certification? Sybex, McGraw-Hill, Coriolos, Microsoft Press, and others are preparing to release training products for the Server+ exam. There are currently numerous providers of Server+ training in the United States, and a recent search on www.amazon.com revealed 10 books offering information about the Server+ exam. I would expect that as the Server+ cert begins to pick up speed, many other training centers across the world will begin to offer training on the exam.

Costs
Currently, this exam costs U.S. $190. As always, there are discounts available for CompTIA members. Other expenses that may be associated with this exam include the cost of training and materials, as well as any practice test software.

Final thoughts
The A+ certification began a certification revolution that altered the IT industry. Thousands of individuals became A+ certified, demonstrating their expertise in entry-level hardware. It’s great that there’s now a certification that tests advanced server hardware skills. IT professionals and companies should benefit from its entrance into the IT world.

Are you considering Server+ certification?
We look forward to getting your input and hearing about your experiences regarding this topic. Join the discussion below or send the editor an e-mail.


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