Enterprise Software

Talking Shop: Will a Sun certification bring you in from the cold?

Explains the steps required to obtain both the Sun Certified System Administrator and Sun Certified Network Administrator certifications


Since the early 1990s, Sun Microsystems’ Solaris has been one of the most popular UNIX operating systems on the market. Sun has been offering the Sun Certified Solaris Administrator (SCSA) certification since Solaris 2.4. As Solaris has gone through 2.4, 2.5, 2.6, 7, and now 8, the SCSA has grown in popularity. The SCSA is also the base requirement for the more advanced Sun Certified Network Administrator (SCNA) certification. I will show you the requirements for attaining these certifications, provide a list of topics for the SCSA exams, and recommend a number of resources to help you study for the SCSA exams.

The SCSA and SCNA requirements
While the Solaris 8 track is still fairly new, I will focus on that track for the purposes of this article. The Solaris 7 track is still available and its information appears alongside the Solaris 8 information on the Sun Web site. For the Solaris 8 track, a candidate must pass two tests to achieve SCSA status: Sun Certified System Administrator for the Solaris 8 Operating Environment—Part I, test 310-011 and (you guessed it) Sun Certified System Administrator for the Solaris 8 Operating Environment—Part II, test 310-012. Of course, Part I is a prerequisite of Part II.

The tests are a combination of multiple choice, free response, and drag and drop. Both exams are taken at a Sylvan Prometric testing location, cost $150 each, and last a maximum of 90 minutes. The Part I test consists of 57 questions with a minimum passing score of 66 percent. The Part II test includes 61 questions and has a minimum passing score of 70 percent. Sun provides a nice flowchart of the classes it recommends, their corresponding tests, and the order in which they should be taken to become an SCSA and/or SCNA (see Figure A).

Figure A
Sun’s recommended certification path (courtesy of Sun Microsystems, Inc.)


Once you have passed both the SCSA Part I and II exams, you can move on to the Sun Certified Network Administrator (SCNA) certification test, number 310-043. Like the SCSA tests, it is taken at a Sylvan Prometric testing center, is a combination of multiple choice/free response/drag and drop, and costs $150. Unlike the others, it has 58 questions, requires 67 percent to pass, and lasts for a maximum of 120 minutes.

As with any certification, there are the general benefits of certification: possible job advancement, monetary gain, personal satisfaction, professional recognition, and educational advancement. But you will also gain these specific benefits with the SCSA and SCNA:
  • Demonstrated knowledge of the Sun Solaris operating system. For newcomers to the UNIX world, a SCSA certificate could help move your resume to the top of the pile. For seasoned UNIX pros, documenting your UNIX knowledge is worthwhile, especially in this time of economic uneasiness in which you don't know when you may end up looking for a job.
  • The needed requirements to obtain many Solaris UNIX jobs. If you type in "SCSA" or "Solaris Certified System Administrator" in many of the online job sites, you will find that a lot of employers are now requiring or preferring persons with these certifications when hiring Solaris Administrators.
  • A solid foundation of UNIX. All of the UNIX operating systems are similar, and knowledge of Solaris will transition very well to other UNIX operating systems like Linux, IBM's AIX, and other System V UNIX variants.

Topics to study for SCSA exams
The SCSA tests cover the topics from the Sun Educational courses (referenced in the resource section, below).

Part I covers:
  • Solaris features
  • User administration
  • System security
  • Directories and files
  • Device configuration
  • Disk administration
  • The Solaris UFS filesystem
  • Filesystem administration
  • Process scheduling
  • Print administration
  • The boot PROM
  • System initialization
  • Software installation
  • Software patch administration
  • Backup and recovery

Part II builds on Part I and covers:
  • Solaris Networking (TCP/IP, OSI Layers)
  • Syslog
  • Virtual disk management
  • Swap space
  • NFS
  • CacheFS
  • Automount
  • Name service
  • NIS
  • Solstice AdminSuite
  • JumpStart

Resources for studying
When I prepared for the SCSA test, the only resources I could find were the official Sun operating system manuals and the online "man pages." Today, there are numerous resources available and a great many more coming soon specifically for the Solaris 8 track.

Here are some currently available resources I found for preparing for the exam:

Here are some upcoming books that look as though they’ll be helpful in preparing for the exam:

Exam insights
Although it has been a while since I took the SCSA exams on Solaris 2.x, from what I hear and read from other IT professionals, the experience of taking the Solaris 8 tests is still the same. I found the tests followed very closely with the Sun classes and documentation. The exams were moderately difficult and were a good judge of an intermediate-level system administrator's knowledge. Unlike other certification tests I have taken, there were not many tricky questions or questions with confusing language. I noticed that the authors of the Brainbuzz cramsessions rated both SCSA tests (I and II) as a difficulty of 2 out of 5. Most people on Internet message boards agreed that if you either took the Sun Educational courses or had approximately a year of experience with some self-study, passing the test was manageable. As with preparing for any technology certification, there is no replacement for obtaining hands-on experience using the technology you are testing on.

Are you planning to get a UNIX certification?
Are you going to go for the SCSA or another cert? 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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