Understanding the Landscape of Linux Certifications for Junior and Senior Systems Administrators

August 12, 2019 in Training Tips and Insights Articles

Written by Cody Hilton


Understanding the availability and viability of current Linux certifications for systems administrators can be a challenge. Because Linux is an open source project this means no single company or organization can claim exclusive authority to validate the Linux skills of an IT professional. Intense competition has led to the arrival and departure of many certification programs through the years (here's looking at you SAIR, Novell, and Ubuntu). Some certifications have remained a staple in the marketplace and others are offering good alternatives. Here is a breakdown of certification organizations/companies and their offerings.

LPI - Linux Professional Institute

The Linux Professional Institute has its roots in the open source community as a non-profit certification organization. LPI's certifications have always been vendor neutral in nature. This is a blessing and a curse as LPI certified professionals will be well versed in the breadth of open source technologies that are not tied to any particular Linux distribution. The curse can be than an employer may need specific certification credentials based on vender mandated technologies. With an LPI certification a professional will have the credentials for a generalized and versatile still set, but not specific to a vendor. Look for the LPIC-1 certification for junior administrators and LPIC-2 for senior administrators. Each certification requires the completion of two exams and the exams can be completed at a Pearson Vue testing center.

LPI is known for a focus on the system administrator. Recently the LPI certification portfolio has expanded into a new certification called DevOps Tools Engineer certification. This certification validates skills for use of tools in the workflow of systems administration and software development.

Linux Foundation

The new kid on the block for Linux certifications. The Linux Foundation has been a solid figure in the open source project space for many years. They host well over a hundred of open source projects. Some of these projects are well known including Kubernetes, Prometheus, NodeJS, Jenkins, and many other small and large projects. Arguably the most famous of projects they host is the development of the Linux kernel. This project is at the core of what everyone knows and loves Linux to be.

The Linux Foundation has leveraged its long-standing relationship with the Linux kernel developers by offering to the public a unique catalog of certifications. Directly related to Linux systems administration are two certifications. The junior level certification is the LF Certified SysAdmin and the senior level is the LF Certified Linux Engineer. These are unique in the method used for the candidate to sit the exam. Unlike all the other vendors there is no need to go to a testing center, kiosk location, or classroom. The exams are administered online using a variety of tools and remote proctoring. Similar to the Red Hat exams these exams are performance-based where candidates are faced with a simulation of real-world tasks and scenarios.

The online exam delivery format that the Linux Foundation has pioneered has been expended to other technologies in the open source space.  Be on the lookout for certifications related to Kubernetes, Cloud Foundry, and Hyperledger.

Red Hat

Although a for-profit corporation Red Hat has been a big friend to the open source community. Red Hat has recently been acquired by IBM which cements their quest to keep expanding open source software into the enterprise. Their M.O. seems to be a precise ability to have a very healthy relationship with the open source community all the while profitably monetizing those technologies. This respect can also be seen in Red Hat's IT certifications. They have maintained a respected status amongst industry experts, the rank-and-file systems administrators, and the open source community at large. Red Hat's exams are "performance-based". This term in Red Hat parlance requires the examinee to perform actual systems administration tasks on a working system. The completion of these tasks is then checked, validated, and scored. A theoretical knowledge will only get you so far in a Red Hat exam. Arguably the most respected Linux certification is the RHCE – Red Hat Certified Engineer. The little brother RHCSA – Red Hat Certified Systems Administration is a prerequisite to receiving the RHCE. Taking Red Hat exams can be logistically challenging as candidates must locate, schedule, and travel to a limited number of kiosk and classroom locations. This logistical tension has made other certifications viable competitors.

CompTIA

An association of industry and IT professionals CompTIA is a juggernaut for IT and professional certifications. Up until this year CompTIA and LPI have partnered together to offer the Linux+. Now LPI and CompTIA have parted ways and CompTIA offers the Linux+ that is now *not* powered by LPI. This means that the reciprocal agreement is no longer in place. It used to be that if you received your CompTIA Linux+ powered by LPI then LPI would automatically give you the credentials for the LPIC-1 certification. Essentially the question bank for the two certifications exams were the same. Now they have diverged and CompTIA Linux+ is a different set of questions than the LPIC-1. CompTIA Linux+ is now just a one (1) exam test instead of two like the LPIC-1.

Other Less Popular Linux Certifications

You would think that with these four main players in the Linux certification space this would be sufficient competition for the need. However, there are even more players and options for vendor based certification. Here are a few:

  • Oracle Certified Associate (OCA)
  • Oracle Certified Professional (OCP)
  • SUSE Certified Administrator (SCP)
  • SUSE Certified Engineer (SCE)
  • GCUX: GIAC Certified Unix Security Administrator

Junior and Senior Level Linux Certification Comparison

(listed in order of perceived popularity)


CERTIFICATION

LEVEL

EXAM COST

EXAMINATION LOCATION

RHCE - Red Hat Certified Engineer

Sr. Systems Administrator

$400

Classroom, Kiosk

RHCSA – Red Hat Certified Systems Administrator

Jr. Systems Administrator

$400

Classroom, Kiosk

CompTIA Linux+

Jr. Systems Administrator

$319

Testing Center

LPIC-1: Linux Professional Institute Certification Level 1

Jr. Systems Administrator

$200 x 2

Testing Center

LPIC-2: Linux Professional Institute Certification Level 2

Sr. Systems Administrator

$200 x 2

Testing Center

LFCS - Linux Foundation Certified SysAdmin

Jr. Systems Administrator

$300

Online

LFCE - Linux Foundation Certified Engineer

Sr. Systems Administrator

$300

Online

LPIC-2: Linux Professional Institute Certification Level 2

Sr. Systems Administrator

$200 x 2

Testing Center


Written by Cody Hilton

Cody Hilton is the Director of Training at Guru Labs. His first exposure to Linux was in the late 90's with curiosity in a box of Red Hat software at the computer store. His love for Linux hasn't waned with 17 years in the IT training industry with a focus on open source technologies.



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