Now that the corporate world is paying significant attention to Linux, more and more IT professionals are looking to gain knowledge and experience on the penguin operating system. Results of a recent NetAdmin poll (Figure A) indicate that a large number of IT pros are also considering Linux certification. To help you sort out your options, we’re going to take a look at the somewhat confusing Linux certification landscape and provide details on the top four Linux certification choices.

Figure A

Linux Professional Institute
Currently, the Linux Professional Institute (LPI) offers the Linux Professional Institute Certified—Level 1 (or LPIC-1) certification. There are plans in the works for levels 2 and 3 to be offered in the future. To achieve LPIC-1 status, you must pass two 90-minute exams—101 (LPI General Linux, Part 1) and 102 (LPI General Linux, Part 2). LPI has aimed the LPIC-1 certification at systems administrators who have about a year of real-world Linux experience.

The exams include multiple-choice and fill-in-the-blank questions and can be taken only at VUE testing centers. They cost $100 each and cover a wide breadth of Linux topics, including basic command-line tasks, managing processes, backing up data, managing users and groups, Linux networking with TCP/IP, working with XWindows, and more. To its credit, the LPI certification does not simply require knowledge of the meaning of Linux terms and topics but also tests on how to properly implement them.

As far as the current Linux community is concerned, the LPI certification programs appear to have the most support. This seems to stem partly from the fact that the LPI programs are developed in much the same way that the Linux OS and open source software is developed by committee, with broad input from people and companies throughout the Linux community. LPI’s certifications are also vendor-neutral, and the company itself is a nonprofit organization.

Sair Linux and GNU
In terms of exam objectives and intended audience, the certification programs of Sair Linux and GNU are very similar to those offered by LPI. However, the Sair organization is a commercial, for-profit entity, and if you examine its Web site and promotional materials, you will quickly see that Sair has a much more polished image than LPI.

Like LPI, Sair intends to offer three levels of certification:

  • Level 1—Sair Linux & GNU Certified Administrator (LCA)
  • Level 2—Sair Linux & GNU Certified Engineer (LCE)
  • Level 3—Master Sair Linux & GNU Certified Engineer (MLCE)

Also like LPI, level 1 is currently the only Sair certification that is fully developed.

To achieve LCA status, a candidate has to pass four multiple-choice Linux exams:

  • Installation & Configuration
  • System Administration
  • Networking
  • Security, Ethics, & Privacy

These exams are offered at both VUE and Prometric testing centers and cost $100 US each. The topics covered in the LCA exams are similar to the LPI level 1 exams, although they are spread out over four 60-minute exams rather than two 90-minute exams.

For a couple of years now, there have been frequent rumors that LPI and Sair were going to merge their two certification programs. The advent of the next certification program that we’re going to look at—Linux+—may finally push Sair and LPI to join forces.

The newest entrant into the Linux certification market is CompTIA’s Linux+, which went live on Sept. 21, 2001, and is already generating considerable interest. Nearly every major certification publisher is bringing a book to market on Linux+, and many IT training centers are readying Linux+ programs.

Like other certifications in CompTIA’s popular “Plus” line, Linux+ is achieved by passing a single exam (taken at a VUE or Prometric testing center), and once you achieve the Linux+ designation, you are certified for life. The Linux+ exam costs $190 US and is a 120-minute multiple-choice test that covers many of the same topics as the Sair and LPI certifications, albeit in much less depth.

While the LPI and Sair programs are aimed at Linux network and system administrators with solid experience, the Linux+ program is aimed at individuals with only six months of Linux experience who want to show a basic competency in Linux. CompTIA specifically mentions help desk professionals, entry-level service technicians, technical sales, and application developers as good candidates for this exam, although administrators seem to be taking quite an interest in it as well.

CompTIA has intended the Linux+ certification to be “a stepping-stone toward higher-level Linux certification tracks from LPI and Sair,” according to the CompTIA literature. However, in reality, it will probably compete aggressively with those two programs for mindshare in the Linux certification market.

Red Hat Certified Engineer
While Linux+ represents the lower end of Linux certification, the higher end has long been locked up by the Red Hat Certified Engineer (RHCE) program. The RHCE involves the most challenging set of tests and, arguably, also delivers the most valuable Linux certification.

An RHCE candidate has to take a one-day, six-hour exam that has three components, which include:

  • A Debug Exam involving two to four challenges; the exam is performance-based and has a 2.5-hour time limit (worth 100 pts).
  • A Multiple-Choice Exam with 40 to 50 technical questions and a one-hour time limit.
  • A Server Install and Network Services Setup Exam, which is also performance-based and has a 2.5-hour time limit (worth 100 pts).

To pass the exam, a candidate must score an average of 80 percent for all three components and cannot score less than 50 percent on any single component. The exam can be taken only at Red Hat certified training centers, and it costs $750 US a pop. At the time of this writing, there are 21 of these training centers throughout the United States and Canada.

Obviously, Red Hat’s hands-on lab exam demands extensive experience on Linux in general and the Red Hat distribution specifically. Only administrators who have worked in a Linux production environment for at least one to two years should consider the RHCE. It is definitely a certification for administrators and experienced technical staff, rather than entry-level IT professionals.

Selecting the right Linux certification
Reviewing the four main Linux certification options naturally begs the question, “Which one is right for you?” The answer, as you’ve probably guessed, depends heavily on your level of Linux experience and your job description.

For those with under a year of exposure to Linux and those with less technical job descriptions, CompTIA’s Linux+ is the clear choice. For advanced Linux professionals and those with years of Linux experience, the RHCE is definitely the best resume-builder.

The gray area comes when we talk about administrators with moderate Linux experience—probably the largest group currently seeking Linux certification. There’s no clear choice between LPI and Sair. LPI can be knocked out in only two exams and seems to be enjoying more momentum from the Linux community in general. However, Sair’s LCA exams are broken up into better topical chunks.

But ultimately, Linux+ may be a better option than either LPIC or Sair for most administrators because:

  • It’s more easily recognizable and has the weight of CompTIA behind it.
  • It can be completed with a single exam.
  • It’s less expensive than LPI and Sair offerings.
  • Most employers are not going to see a considerable benefit of a candidate having LPIC-1 or LCA over Linux+ certification.

Thus, for IT professionals who work with multiple platforms and simply want to add Linux certification to their resumes, Linux+ is probably the best option. For those who work primarily on Linux or who work for Linux companies, the LPIC-1 or LCA may be a better choice.

A recent NetAdmin poll (Figure B) shows which Linux certifications IT professionals are most interested in obtaining. As you can see, there still seems to be a lot of uncertainty about which designation to pursue. I hope this article has clarified the choices and will help you pinpoint the program that’s right for you.

Figure B

Which Linux certification are you going to pursue and why?

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.