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Best Linux Certifications

Best Linux Certifications
Credit: Shutterstock/JarasolavMachercek

More than 20 years after Linus Torvalds developed Linux, this operating system remains a genuine force in the computing industry. While Linux is not widely used on desktops (making up about 3 percent of the overall desktop operating system market share in October 2017, according to NetMarketShare), it is extraordinarily strong on the web server side, where it enjoys a market share of more than 50 percent (W3Techs).

IT professionals invest considerable time learning about server computing for everything from installation, configuration, maintenance and virtualization to application support and so forth. This also means that many IT professionals are working with and around Linux operating systems daily, often alongside Windows and various UNIX OS brands as well.

The best of the Linux certifications vie for considerable mindshare among IT professionals and present an interesting mix of distribution (or brand) agnostic credentials alongside some pretty formidable vendor-specific credentials. There are multiple well-elaborated certification ladders available to those interested in learning, using and mastering the Linux operating system environment and all the many bells and whistles it supports.

The results of a job search we conducted on several popular job posting sites show which Linux certifications employers are looking for when hiring new employees. While results vary from day to day (and job board to job board), this recites those Linux-related certifications that employers were seeking.

Certification

SimplyHired

Indeed

LinkedIn Jobs

Linkup

Total

GCUX (SANS GIAC)

35

42

36

31

144

Linux+ (CompTIA)

760

924

19

476

2,179

LPIC (LPI)

26

33

96

69

224

Oracle Linux OCA

21

21

24

11

77

Oracle Linux OCP

46

53

62

33

194

RHCA (Red Hat)

62

67

163

32

324

RHCE (Red Hat)

377

479

526

212

1,594

RHCSA (Red Hat)

339

402

430

200

1,371

Linux system administrators and engineers can expect average earnings in the low-70s and upward, depending on the job role. PayScale lists $70,194 as the average salary for Linux system administrators ($49,000/low and $100,000/high). Average earnings for Linux system engineers were reported at $78,571 ($61,000/low to $100,000/high), while senior Linux system engineer salaries averaged $101,097, with low earnings at $77,000 but some receiving more than $140,000 on the high end. Glassdoor reports earnings for Linux system administrators averaging $71,144, Linux system engineers at $103,312 and senior Linux system engineers at $128,022.

 

The Global Information Assurance Certification (GIAC) program is part of SANS, a highly regarded source of instruction and research in the information security field. SANS also provides breaking news, operates a security alert service and serves on all kinds of government, research and academic information security task forces, working groups and industry organizations.

The SANS GIAC program encompasses more than 35 information security certifications across several categories, such as cyber defense, penetration testing, incident response and forensics, management, audit, legal, developer and industrial control systems. The GIAC Certified UNIX System Administrator (GCUX) falls under the Cyber Defense category, and aims at professionals who install, configure, monitor and audit both Unix and Linux systems.

GIAC certifications must be renewed every four years by earning 36 continuing professional experience (CPE) credits. In addition, credential holders must pay a certification maintenance fee of $429 every four years.

Certification Name

GIAC Certified Unix Security Administrator (GCUX)

Prerequisites & Required Courses

None; SEC506: Securing Linux/Unix training recommended (classroom, on demand, self study or private; $6,210)

Number of Exams

One exam (75 questions, two hours, minimum passing score 68 percent)

Cost per Exam

$1,699 without training (called a GIAC certification attempt; includes two free practice exams)
$729 as part of a training course
$729 retake fee
$429 certification renewal

Exams administered by Pearson VUE.

URL

https://www.giac.org/certification/certified-unix-security-administrator-gcux

Self-Study Materials

Practice tests available on the GIAC exam preparation page (two tests included in exam fee; additional practice tests are $149 each). No GCUX-specific study guides found; GIAC recommends searching for self-study materials based on the GCUX objectives' knowledge areas and getting practical experience.

 

CompTIA exercises extraordinary certification clout at the entry level in many IT niches. This non-profit organization has shown itself as willing to team up with more focused IT organizations, associations and consortia to combine their own market reach and visibility with niche smarts and subject matter expertise on loan from various partners.

One great example is the organization's partnership with the Linux Professional Institute (LPI), which resulted in the CompTIA Linux+ Powered by LPI credential. This unique certification replaced the original CompTIA Linux+ certification in 2010 and uses the same two exams required for LPIC-1 certification.

As a result of this partnership, IT professionals who are serious about Linux can earn both the Linux+ credential and the LPIC-1 at the same time. Candidates must first earn the Linux+ credential and then submit a request to CompTIA asking that their results be sent to LPI to obtain the LPIC-1 certification. CompTIA exam records are confidential, so candidates must request that their records be forwarded to LPI when taking the CompTIA Linux+ Powered by LPI exams.

Earning the CompTIA Linux+ Powered by LPI requires candidates to pass two exams. The first covers system architecture, installation and package management, GNU and Unix commands, devices, file systems and standard file system hierarchies. The second exam digs into command shells, scripting and data management, user interfaces and desktops, administrative tasks and activities, basic system services, networking fundamentals and security topics.

The Linux+ credential is valid for life.

Certification Name

CompTIA Linux+ Powered by LPI

Prerequisites & Required Courses

None required

Recommended: CompTIA A+, CompTIA Network+ and 12 months of Linux administration experience

Number of Exams

Two exams: LX0-103 and LX0-104 (60 multiple-choice questions each, 90 minutes, 500 required out of 200 to 800 scale to pass)

Cost per Exam

$200 per exam; prices vary by geography

URL

https://certification.comptia.org/certifications/linux

Self-Study Materials

CompTIA maintains a list of training materials and additional study options including links to study guides, exam crams, practice tests, online and classroom training, CertMaster and more. Additional third-party review materials may be found on Amazon.

 

The Linux Professional Institute (LPI) came into being in October of 1999, almost one decade after Linus Torvalds began his pioneering efforts on the Linux kernel. Since then, LPI has become one of the leading certification providers on Linux topics and technologies. Given the organization's distribution-agnostic approach to Linux, it offers excellent coverage of a platform that's available in many forms and flavors in today's marketplace.

The LPI Certification (LPIC) program is available in three distinct levels:

  • LPIC-1: Linux Administrator —A junior-level Linux certification with no prerequisites. Candidates must pass two exams that cover basic Linux skills, including installing and configuring Linux on a workstation, working at the command line, performing basic maintenance tasks, and making LAN or internet connections. While you can obtain the LPIC-1 credential directly from LPI, candidates should consider obtaining the CompTIA Linux+ Powered by LPI credential first, which qualifies you for both the Linux+ and LPIC-1 credentials.
     
  • LPIC-2: Linux Engineer — An advanced-level Linux certification that requires an active LPIC-1 certification. Candidates must pass two exams that cover significant Linux skills and topics. The first exam covers the kernel, system startup, file system and devices, advanced storage administration, network configuration, system maintenance and capacity planning. The second exam covers web services, file sharing, network client management, email services, system security and troubleshooting, and domain name servers.
     
  • LPIC-3: Linux Enterprise Professional Certification — A senior-level Linux certification that requires an active LPIC-2 and passing any single exam in the 300 series. Valid exam IDs currently include 300: Mixed Environment, 303: Security and 304: Virtualization and High Availability. The Mixed Environment exam covers Samba (domain integration, user and group management, name services, share configuration and so forth), plus OpenLDAP and working with Linux and Windows clients. The Security exam covers network, operations and application security, as well as cryptography and access controls. High availability cluster storage and management, along with virtualization, are covered in the Virtualization and High Availability exam.

In addition to the LPIC-1, 2 and 3 credentials, LPI also offers an entry-level credential, the Linux Essentials Professional Development Certificate (PDC). Linux Essentials focuses on foundational skills, such as creating and running simple scripts, restoring compressed backups and archives, working with the command line, Linux operating system basics, FOSS, and users/groups and file permissions for public and private directories. Linux Essentials is a great way to get started while gaining the skills and knowledge needed for the more challenging LPIC credentials.

LPI's newest certification is the LPIC-OT DevOps Tools Engineer, which recognizes the effective use of tools for collaboration during system and software development. There are no prerequisites, and the single exam lasts for 90 minutes and has 60 questions.

The LPIC credentials are worthwhile for IT pros whose chosen Linux distributions do not warrant their own certification programs, and for those seeking broad, vendor- and distribution-neutral coverage of Linux topics, tools and technologies. They are popular among IT staffers and in some demand among IT employers.

Certification Name

LPIC-1: Linux Administrator

LPIC-2: Linux Engineer

LPIC-3: Linux Enterprise Professional

Prerequisites & Required Courses

LPIC-1: None, Linux Essentials recommended
LPIC-2: Active LPIC-1 certification
LPIC-3: Active LPIC-2 certification plus completion of one of the 300 series specialty exams
Training is recommended but not required

Number of Exams

LPIC-1: Exam 101-400 and Exam 102-400

LPIC-2: Exam 201-450 and Exam 202-450
LPIC-3: One of the 300 series exams:

Cost per Exam

$200 per exam. Exams administered by Pearson VUE. Linux ID required to register.

URL

http://www.lpi.org/our-certifications/summary-of-certifications

Self-Study Materials

Study guides, courseware knowledge packs, eLearning courses, exam crams, practice tests, online and classroom training, Linux Academy subscriptions and more are available at LPI Exam Preparation, LPI Marketplace and Amazon.

 

When Oracle bought Sun Microsystems in 2010, it acquired a rich and deep Unix tradition. Oracle started phasing out Solaris pretty much immediately after finalizing the Sun acquisition.

Today, Oracle offers associate- and professional-level certifications based on Linux rather than harking back to any kind of Unix roots. These certifications retain enough of their Sun roots, however, so that courses are not mandatory preambles to taking the exams for the two Oracle Linux certifications currently available.

As with other vendor-specific Linux certifications, Oracle's are most appealing to those who work with or around that distribution, or who wish to work for employers who use those distributions.

Certification Name

Oracle Certified Associate (OCA), Oracle Linux 5 and 6 System Administrator
Oracle Certified Professional (OCP), Oracle Linux 6 System Administrator

Prerequisites & Required Courses

OCA: No prerequisites. Recommended training: Oracle Linux System Administration
OCP: OCA Linux 5 and 6 System Administrator or Linux Administrator Certified Associate (now retired). Recommended training: Oracle Linux System Administration

Number of Exams

OCA: One exam, 1Z0-100 Oracle Linux 5 and 6 System Administration (150 minutes, 80 questions, 61 percent to pass)
OCP: One exam, 1Z0-105 Oracle Linux 6 Advanced System Administrator (150 minutes, 97 questions, 61 percent to pass)

Cost per Exam

OCA: $245
OCP: $245

URL

education.oracle.com/pls/web_prod-plq-dad/db_pages.getpage?page_id=458&get_params=p_track_id:LIN6OCA

Self-Study Materials

Oracle offers online and in-class training for its credentials, with hit-or-miss coverage for them on the aftermarket. Start with Amazon searches — check exam IDs 1Z0-100 and 1Z0-105 to get a sense for what's available.

 

If there's one major star in the vendor-specific Linux certification firmament, it's got to be Red Hat. The company has major market presence and serious duration as a commercial provider of Linux platforms and technologies.

Red Hat offers a typical administrator > engineer > architect certification ladder. Unlike many other such programs, however, it offers highly regarded and valued credentials at each rung, along with demanding and hands-on oriented exams and an excellent training curriculum to match. All exams for the following Red Hat certifications are performance based and last two hours or longer.

The giveaway for Red Hat certifications is that all come with acronyms that start with RH, as follows:

  • Red Hat Certified System Administrator (RHCSA) — This foundation certification vets essential skills in handling files, working at the command line and using system documentation, along with managing systems (boot-up, identifying processes, start/stop virtual machines, controlling services), configuring storage partitions and logical volumes, and more.
     
  • Red Hat Certified Engineer (RHCE) — This cornerstone certification is designed to test and validate the skills and knowledge necessary to work as a senior-level Linux system administrator. Topics covered include advanced IP routing and services, managing runtime kernel behavior, working with iSCSI, automating maintenance tasks with shell scripts and working with networking services for Web, FTP, NFS, SMB, SMTP, SSH and more. An RHSCA is a prerequisite for the RHCE.
     
  • Red Hat Certified Architect (RHCA) — Red Hat's pinnacle certification takes the RHCE or Red Hat Certified JBoss Developer (RHCJD) as a prerequisite, and also requires candidates to earn at least five certificates of expertise within one of the concentrations: Datacenter, Cloud, DevOps, Application Platform or Application Development. Expertise areas include OpenStack, hybrid cloud storage, JBoss administration, platform as a service (PaaS), deployment and systems management, virtualization, clustering and storage management, server hardening and performance tuning. Each certificate requires passing a performance-based exam, which lasts up to six hours. Candidates who pass six or more exams earn the designation of RHCA Level II. This is a grueling, expensive and time-consuming credential to earn, but it's valued highly.

Because Red Hat Linux is widely used in the business world, it makes an excellent choice for those interested in a more platform-focused path into the Linux world. Of course, for those who already work with or around Red Hat, it is a natural certification choice as well.

Certification Name:

Red Hat Certified System Administrator (RHCSA)
Red Hat Certified Engineer (RHCE)
Red Hat Certified Architect (RHCA)

Prerequisites & Required Courses

RHCSA: No prerequisites
Recommended training:

  • Windows system administrators: Red Hat System Administration I (RH124) (5 days, $3,200) and II (RH134) (4 days, $3,200)
  • Linux/Unix Administrators, RHCSA Rapid Track Course (RH199) (4 days, $3,500)

RHCE: RHCSA credential
Recommended training:

  • Same as for RHCSA, plus
  • Red Hat System Administration III (RH254) ($3,200)

RHCA: RHCE or RHCJD, plus at least five certificates of expertise (for the DevOps concentration, the Red Hat Certified Developer may be substituted for RHCE) Recommended training varies by concentration.

Number of Exams

RHCSA: One exam, EX200 Red Hat Certified System Administrator (RHCSA) exam (2.5 hours)

RHCE: One exam, EX300 Red Hat Certified Engineer (RHCE) exam (3.5 hours)

RHCA: Five exams total depending on whether you start as an RHCE or RHCJD (see below)

An RHCE must pass five exams from the following to achieve the RHCA:

  • EX210 — Red Hat Certified System Administrator in Red Hat OpenStack
  • EX220 — Red Hat Certificate of Expertise in Hybrid Cloud Management
  • EX236 — Red Hat Certificate of Expertise in Hybrid Cloud Storage
  • EX248 — Red Hat Certified JBoss Administrator (RHCJA)
  • EX270 — Red Hat Certificate of Expertise in Container Administration (retired)
  • EX276 — Red Hat Certificate of Expertise in Containerized Application Development
  • EX280 — Red Hat Certificate of Expertise in Platform-as-a-Service
  • EX310 — Red Hat Certified Engineer in Red Hat OpenStack
  • EX318 — Red Hat Certified Virtualization Administrator
  • EX342 — Red Hat Certificate of Expertise in Red Hat Enterprise Linux Diagnostics and Troubleshooting
  • EX401 — Red Hat Certificate of Expertise in Deployment and Systems Management
  • EX403 – Red Hat Certificate of Expertise in Deployment and Systems Management exam
  • EX405 — Red Hat Certificate of Expertise in Configuration Management
  • EX407 — Red Hat Certificate of Expertise in Ansible Automation

Cost per Exam

$400 each ($2,000 total RHCA exam costs)

URL

www.redhat.com/training/certifications/#certifications

Self-Study Materials

Red Hat skills assessments and other materials can be located on the training page. Red Hat Training includes multiple training options (online, classroom, self-paced, virtual, video and more). Red Hat Learning Subscription includes all online courses in one package; prices vary by geography, candidates can expect to pay $5,500 for a Basic Subscription and $7,000 for a Standard Subscription. Study guides are on Amazon.

 

Outside the top five Linux credentials and programs covered in this article, there are other Linux certifications worthy of your time and attention.

The Linux Foundation, a membership-based organization, promotes the development of the Linux kernel through collaboration, conferences and education. The organization's small but respected certification program includes the Linux Foundation Certified System Administrator (LFCS) and the Linux Foundation Certified Engineer (LFCE).

IBM continues to offer a handful of Linux-related certifications. One certification of interest is the Certified Advanced Database Administrator, which continues to be in demand for those running DB2 on Linux, Unix and Windows systems.

HPE offers a few certifications based on UNIX (which is similar to Linux) — the HP ASE –HP-UX 11iV3 Administrator V1 and the corresponding HP ATP credential. The HPE Certification and Learning website maintains a complete list of requirements and training for these and other HPE credentials.

In addition, HPE also offers a comprehensive Linux System Administration curriculum path consisting of courses for Linux/Unix administrators, fundamentals for Linux and Unix, enterprise system administration, network services, enterprise security administration and Linux troubleshooting. Candidates completing the HP Linux System Administration educational curriculum are prepared for the LPI Level 1 and 2 exams, SairLinux/GNU Level 1 exam and the Red Hat Certified Engineer (RHCE) exam.

Many industry experts, including Steven J. Vaughn-Nichols, a long-time user and expert on Linux and Unix operating systems, say that certifications can be an important ingredient in a job candidate's qualifications. But interviewers should also pay close attention to how many Linux systems candidates have set up, managed or used to get a sense of the scale and scope of their experience.

In other words, when you see a web hosting service advertising for Linux jobs, they're not looking for people who've installed and used Linux at home or in a small business setting; they're looking for professionals who've set up and managed Linux in a highly distributed and virtualized data center environment, with lots of complex networking and services coming into the mix.

As other Linux certifications pop up, or as old ones fade and new ones appear, IT pros would do well to remember that, along with their certifications, they should also have compelling stories to tell about how they've deployed and managed Linux, and establish a significant sense of scale and scope for their on-the-job efforts.

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