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Best System Administrator Certifications for 2019

Network architect

When it comes to managing computer systems, whether in an office environment, on a campus or in an enterprise data center, there's a long list of tools and technologies SysAdmins need to master. There are numerous certifications can help validate knowledge and skills in those areas.

In addition to server and client configuration and maintenance, many system administrators must understand access controls, network services and resource requirements for applications. They often find themselves working with directory and name services as well as network addressing, database services, web and desktop applications, email, and more.

Making sense of all these different system administrator roles and accompanying certifications is no easy task. After examining various credentials, we came up with a list of our five favorite system administrator certifications for 2019.

The following chart shows the results of an informal job search we conducted that gives you an idea of the relative frequency with which our top five certifications appear in actual job postings. While all the certifications are popular, the CompTIA Server+ stands out as the clear favorite.

Certification

SimplyHired

Indeed

LinkedIn Jobs

Linkup

Total

MCSE: Cloud Platform and Infrastructure (Microsoft)

112

247

253

151

773

Oracle Linux System Administrator (Oracle)

311

377

124

304

1,116

RHCE (Red Hat)

507

625

864

286

2,282

Server+ (CompTIA)

98

111

165

25

399

VCP6.5-DCV (VMware)*

219

275

169

192

855

*When searching for VCP – Data Center credentials, we found most job descriptions didn't indicate a specific version.

Although employers tend to pay SysAdmins less than some of their IT peers, such as network engineers and data architects, a career in system administration is still worth pursuing. SimplyHired reports $77,296 as the national average salary for SysAdmins, in a range from $49,746 to $120,102. Indeed.com pegs averages at $75,967 for plain-vanilla, and $88,032 for senior systems administrators.

The Microsoft Certified Solutions Expert (MCSE) certification has long ruled the hearts and minds of those who work on Microsoft-based systems, servers and clouds. MCSE certifications focus on the latest technologies for business applications, cloud infrastructures, data management and analytics, mobility, and productivity.

But when it comes to system administration certifications in general, the brightest lights are those that address Windows Server at the enterprise and server administrator levels. While these credentials don't all specifically use "system administrator" in their descriptions, they all fall well inside the roles and responsibilities of system administration jobs. They're also in high demand in job postings and classified job advertisements.

The MCSE: Cloud Platform and Infrastructure targets IT professionals seeking to promote careers such as information security analysts or computer support specialists. Those obtaining the certification will find that the MCSE: Cloud Platform and Infrastructure credential is designed to validate the skills necessary to effectively run a data center, including networking, storage, systems management, virtualization and identity management.

Note: The Microsoft Certified Solutions Associate (MCSA) is Microsoft's prevailing mid-range IT certification. It covers most administrative job roles, including system administration at both the desktop and server levels, as well as more specialized job roles that include SQL Server and Office 365. MCSA: Cloud Platform is a gateway certification that feeds into these MCSE certifications.

System administration candidates might also want to take a close look at the MCSE: Productivity credential, which garners nearly as many hits on job boards as the MCSE: Cloud Platform and Infrastructure cert. The MCSE: Productivity focuses on Microsoft Exchange, SharePoint or Skype For Business. Because communications systems and services of all kinds are so important to business, these are good areas for aspiring and practicing system administrators to specialize in.

The Microsoft Certification Program underwent extensive changes in September 2016. Once you earn one of the latest MCSE credentials, you do not have to recertify within three years as used to be the case. However, by passing an elective exam each calendar year, you add an entry to your transcript that indicates your commitment to staying current on technologies and expanding your skillset.

Certification Name

Microsoft Certified Solutions Expert (MCSE): Cloud Platform and Infrastructure

Prerequisites & Required Courses

Any one of the following MCSAs is required:

MCSA: Windows Server 2016

MCSA: Cloud Platform

MCSA: Linux on Azure

MCSA: Windows Server 2012

Number of Exams

One additional elective exam is required to earn this MCSE. Valid electives include:

70-532 Developing Microsoft Azure Solutions

70-533 Implementing Microsoft Azure Infrastructure Solutions (exam retires December 31, 2018)

70-473 Designing and Implementing Cloud Data Platform Solutions

70-475 Designing and Implementing Big Data Analytics Solutions

70-744 Securing Windows Server 2016

70-745 Implementing a Software-Defined Datacenter

70-413 Designing and Implementing a Server Infrastructure

70-414 Implementing an Advanced Server Infrastructure

70-537 Configuring and Operating a Hybrid Cloud with Microsoft Azure Stack (coming soon)

Candidates are encouraged to check the certification web page for the most current list of qualifying exams.

Cost per Exam

$165 per exam in the USA

URL

https://www.microsoft.com/en-us/learning/mcse-cloud-platform-infrastructure.aspx

Self-Study Materials

Visit the certification web page and Microsoft Learning for practice tests, free online training, Microsoft Official Curriculum in-classroom and on-demand course offerings, books, online resources and more.  Candidates will find links to training resources including practice exams, books, video, and formal training on the exam web page.

 

Although known for its database products and solutions, Oracle also has its own distribution of Linux, geared for the enterprise and designed to support cloud environments. In fact, Oracle Linux is optimized for various Oracle products and platforms, such as Oracle Exadata Database Machine, Oracle Exalytics In-Memory Machine, Oracle Exalogic Elastic Cloud and Oracle Database Appliance.

To support Oracle Linux, the company offers the Oracle Linux System Administrator certification at Associate and Professional levels. A single Oracle Linux Certified Implementation Specialist credential is also offered. We focus on the Oracle Certified Professional (OCP) version in this section.

The OCP Oracle Linux System Administrator certification, currently at version 6 (although version 7 should be coming soon), covers a lot of details. Candidates must be well-versed on the Btrfs file system, control groups, Linux containers, advanced storage administration techniques, Oracle cluster management and package management. The certification also tests for knowledge of dump analysis, dynamic tracing, network and security configuration and more.

The OCP Oracle Linux System Administrator certification requires that candidates first obtain the Oracle Certified Associate (OCA) Oracle Linux 5 and 6 System Administrator certification and pass one exam.

SysAdmins who support Oracle Solaris might be interested in the Oracle Solaris System Administrator certification, which Oracle offers at the Associate and Professional levels. Oracle also offers several server-related certifications for SPARC and Fujitsu servers.

Certification Name

Oracle Certified Professional, Oracle Linux 6 System Administrator

Prerequisites & Required Courses

Prerequisite certification:

Oracle Certified Associate, Oracle Linux 5 and 6 System Administrator

or

Oracle Linux Administrator Certified Associate (retired)

Training is recommended but not required: Oracle Linux 5 & 6 Advanced System Administration, on demand ($3,400).

Number of Exams

One exam: Oracle Linux 6 Advanced System Administration (1Z0-105) (97 questions, 150 minutes 61 percent to pass)

Cost per Exam

$245 per exam. Exams administered by Pearson VUE.

URL

https://education.oracle.com/oracle-certified-professional-oracle-linux-6-system-administrator/trackp_252  

Self-Study Materials

The Exam Preparation and Exam Details sections of the exam page list recommended training and detailed exam topics. Amazon lists only a few books on Oracle Linux.

In the realm of Linux system administrator certifications, Red Hat certs really stand out. Red Hat's more senior-level certifications are especially popular among IT professionals as well as the employers who hire them. Those holding the Red Hat Certified Engineer (RHCE) credential qualify for job roles such as senior Linux administrator, senior UNIX administrator, senior systems engineer, infrastructure systems engineer, IT analyst and the like.

The RHCE is regarded as a high-level credential that's not easy to obtain. Candidates must first obtain the Red Hat Certified System Administrator (RHCSA) credential and then pass a three and a half hour, hands-on, performance-based exam that's intense and demanding. Those who earn the RHCE can go on to earn the Red Hat Certified Architect (RHCA) in Infrastructure credential.

The current RHCE exam is based on Red Hat Enterprise Linux (RHEL) 7. RHCE certification is valid for three years from the date the certification was achieved. To maintain the certification, a credential holder must pass any RHCA exam or pass the RHCE certification exam again before the end of the three-year period.

Note: In October 2018, IBM announced that it was acquiring Red Hat for the princely sum of $34 billion. It's too early to tell what impact this may have on Red Hat certification offerings, if any.

Certification Name

Red Hat Certified Engineer (RHCE)

Prerequisites & Required Courses

Red Hat Certified System Administrator (RHCSA) certification (does not have be on the same Red Hat Enterprise Linux version). RHCSA requires one exam: EX200 — Red Hat Certified System Administrator (RHCSA).

Note: Courses recommended but not required

Number of Exams

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

Cost per Exam

$400 (RHCE exam fee only)

URL

https://www.redhat.com/en/services/certification/rhce

Self-Study Materials

Red Hat Training offers multiple training options, including classroom, virtual, online, video and private onsite. The Red Hat Learning Subscription offers online and video courses, including cloud-based labs, in Basic and Standard subscriptions. Prices vary by geography. Candidates in the U.S. can expect to pay $5,500 (or 19 training units) for the Basic tier and $7,000 (or 24 training units) for the Standard tier.

CompTIA offers a long list of entry-level certifications, such as the A+ for hardware technicians, Network+ for network admins and Security+ for security specialists, all of which are highly regarded in the computing industry. The CompTIA Server+ certification is no exception. Companies such as Intel, HP, Dell, Lenovo, Xerox and Microsoft, as well as the U.S. Department of Defense, recommend or require that their server technicians earn CompTIA Server+.

The Server+ certification exam focuses on foundational server-related topics that are vendor-neutral in nature, including server hardware, operating systems, storage systems, networking, the IT environment (documentation, diagrams and best practices), security and disaster recovery, virtualization and troubleshooting.

The Server+ credential, along with sufficient experience, is a great asset for individuals seeking a position as a server or network administrator, systems engineer or website administrator. You can also consider it as a stepping stone to a more focused certification, such as the Microsoft Certified Solutions Associate (MCSA) or the Red Hat Certified System Administrator (RHCSA).

Server+ certification requires one exam, SK0-004. CompTIA recommends that candidates have at least 18 months of experience and A+ certification before sitting for the exam.

Certification Name

CompTIA Server+

Prerequisites & Required Courses

Required: None
Recommended: CompTIA A+ certification plus 18 to 24 months of IT experience

Number of Exams

One exam: SK0-004 (90 minutes, 100 multiple-choice questions, 750 on a scale of 100-900 required to pass)

Cost per Exam

$319. Purchase vouchers through CompTIA Marketplace. Exam administered by Pearson VUE.

URL

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

Self-study Materials

Links to practice questions, exam objectives, eBooks, and other training resources are available on the certification web page. Exam study bundles including eBooks and CertMaster practice are available from the CompTIA Marketplace.

The VMware family of certifications are must-have credentials for IT professionals interested in the field of virtualization. Offering a comprehensive certification program that encompasses all skills levels, VMware credentials are recognized globally as best in class.

The latest incarnation of the VMware vSphere product is Version 6.5. VMware currently offers two credentials which target vSphere V6.5 users: the VMware Certified Professional 6.5 – Data Center Virtualization and the VMware Certified Advanced Professional 6.5 – Data Center Virtualization (Design and Deploy). It's anticipated that the VMware Certified Design Expert (VCDX-DCV) will be available soon.

Although Version 6.5 is the newest version of the vSphere product, interested candidates can still certify on vSphere V. 6. The VMware Certified Professional 6 - Data Center Virtualization (VCP6-DCV) is one of VMware's most popular credentials with more than 100,000 certified credential holders. The VCP6-DCV prepares credential holders for more advanced certifications, including the VMware Certified Advanced Professional (VCAP6-DCV) and the pinnacle cert, VMware Certified Design Expert (VCDX-DCV). For this article, we chose to concentrate on the requirements for the VCP6.5 – DCV since it's based on the newest version of vSphere.

Training is required for non-credential holders seeking to obtain the VCP6-DCV. VMware offers a variety of training options to meet the training prerequisite: self-paced (on demand), live online and live classroom, some of which include virtual labs. Those possessing a valid VCP5-DCV or VCP6-DCV credential need only pass a delta exam to obtain the credential.

Certification Name

VMware Certified Professional 6.5 - Data Center Virtualization (VCP6.5-DCV)

Prerequisites & Required Courses

Path 1 (non-VCP credential holders):  Gain vSphere 6.5 experience, attend a required training course, pass either the vSphere 6 or 6.5 Foundations exam, and pass the current VCP6.5–DCV exam

Path 2 (active VCP5-DCV or VCP6-DCV credential holders): Gain vSphere 6.5 experience, pass the VCP6.5–DCV or VCP6.5–DCV Delta exam. Training is recommended but not required.

Path 3 (expired VCP-DCV): Gain vSphere 6.5 experience, attend a required training course, pass either the vSphere 6 or 6.5 Foundations exam, and pass the current VCP6.5–DCV exam

Path 4 (active VCP 6, 6.5 or 7 in a different track): Gain vSphere 6.5 experience and pass the VCP6.5–DCV exam. Training is recommended but not required. 

See the VCP6.5-DCV web page for list of current approved training courses.

Number of Exams

One or two exams depending on certification path.

Foundation exams:

vSphere 6 Foundations Exam, 2V0-620, 115 minutes, 65 questions

vSphere 6.5 Foundations Exam, 2V0-602, 105 minutes, 70 questions

VMware Certified Professional 6.5 – Data Center Virtualization exams:

VMware Certified Professional 6.5 – Data Center Virtualization, 2V0-622, 105 minutes, 70 questions

VMware Certified Professional 6.5 – Data Center Virtualization Delta, 2V0-622D, 106 minutes, 70 questions

Cost per Exam

vSphere Foundations exam (V6 or V6.5), $125

VMware Certified Professional 6.5 - Data Center Virtualization exam, $250

VMware Certified Professional 6.5 – Data Center Virtualization Delta exam, $250

URL


VCP6.5-DCV:   https://www.vmware.com/education-services/certification/vcp6-5-dcv.html

Self-Study Materials

A link to an exam guide, training and a practice exam (if available) appear on each exam page (see the How to Prepare tab). VMware Learning Zone offers exam prep subscriptions. Numerous VCP6-DCV study materials are available through Amazon.com. MeasureUp offers a VCP6-DCV practice tests and a practice labs.

Beyond the five system administrator certifications featured in this article, there are many other certification programs that can help to further the careers and professional development of IT professionals who work in system administration.

It makes sense to investigate the plethora of vendor-specific programs available for those who work with systems from companies such as Brocade, Dell EMC, HPE, IBM, NetApp, Symantec and so forth. Many of them play into key system specialty areas, such as storage, security or virtualization, while others offer a broad range of platforms for these and other technology areas. Here are some examples:

  • IBM Certified System Administrator (and Advanced Administrator), for WebSphere Application Server Network Deployment, AIX, DB2, Connections, Sametime, Lotus Notes, Informix, IBM i and more
  • NetApp Certified Data Administrator (NCDA), geared toward professionals who manage NetApp data storage controllers running the ONTAP operating system
  • ServiceNow Certified System Administrator, aimed at professionals who are adept at configuring, implementing and managing ServiceNow systems

Likewise, vendor-neutral certification programs also offer a variety of interesting and potentially valuable credentials. For example, the LPI LPIC certifications, which had been in our top five list for several years, are well known and widely recognized in IT shops and operations that depend on Linux servers to handle their workloads. It's best to think of our top five certifications as a good place to start, while also realizing that there are many other options to consider as well.

Business News Daily Editor

Business News Daily was founded in 2010 as a resource for small business owners at all stages of their entrepreneurial journey. Our site is focused exclusively on giving small business advice, tutorials and insider insights. Business News Daily is owned by Business.com.

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