1. Get the Job
  2. Get Ahead
  3. Office Life
  4. Work-Life Balance
  5. Home Office
Product and service reviews are conducted independently by our editorial team, but we sometimes make money when you click on links. Learn more.
Build Your Career Get Ahead

Best System Administrator Certifications

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. Also, 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 2018.

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)

268

278

170

203

919

Oracle Linux System Administrator (Oracle)

413

437

29

313

1,192

RHCE (Red Hat)

492

539

455

209

1,695

Server+ (CompTIA)

2,207

2,401

109

913

5,630

VCP6-DCV (VMware)*

28

29

51

3

111

* Despite higher results for a few certifications we considered – namely, the IBM Certified System Administrator (409), ServiceNow Certified System Administrator (341) and LPI's LPIC (193) – searching for VCP Data Center resulted in more than 900 hits. Those job descriptions revealed employers prefer or require a VCP data center certification, but don't indicate the specific version. The latest VMware certification  ̶  VCP6.5-DCV  ̶  is too new to generate significant hits in job board results.

Although employers tend to pay SysAdmins at a lower rate than some of their IT peers, such as network engineers and data architects, a career in system administration is still worth pursuing. SimplyHired reports $73,697 as the national average salary for SysAdmins, in a range from $47,540 to $114,246. Indeed.com pegs the average at $67,444, and Glassdoor's average is $67,617.

 

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 the 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 was the case in the past. 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
  • 70-534 Architecting Microsoft Azure Solutions
  • 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
  • 70-246 Monitoring and Operating a Private Cloud
  • 70-247 Configuring and Deploying a Private Cloud

Cost per Exam

$165 per exam in the USA; prices vary by location elsewhere. Exams administered by Pearson VUE.

URL

MCSE: Cloud Platform and Infrastructure: https://www.microsoft.com/en-us/learning/mcse-server-infrastructure-certification.aspx

All MCSE certifications: 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.

 

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. 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), classroom ($3,875) and live virtual ($3,675)

Number of Exams

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

Cost per Exam

$245 per exam. Exams administered by Pearson VUE.

URL

http://education.oracle.com/pls/web_prod-plq-dad/db_pages.getpage?page_id=654&get_params=p_id:251

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 certifications 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 both intense and demanding. Those who earn the RHCE can go on to earn one of the Red Hat Certified Architect (RHCA) credentials, including:

  • RHCA: Cloud
  • RHCA: Datacenter
  • RHCA: Application platform
  • RHCA: Application development
  • RHCA: DevOps

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.

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 on-site. 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 for the Basic tier and $7,000 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 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

Number of Exams

One exam: SK0-004, 90 minutes, 100 multiple-choice questions

Cost per Exam

$294. Purchase vouchers through CompTIA Marketplace. Exam administered by Pearson VUE.

URL

 

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.

VMware offers candidates an entry-level cert in the form of the VMware Certified Associate 6 - Data Center Virtualization (VCA6-DCV), followed by the next tier on the certification ladder, the VMware Certified Professional 6 - Data Center Virtualization (VCP6-DCV). 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).

Note: VMware certifications are geared toward the VMware vSphere product, the latest incarnation of which is Version 6.5. As of the writing of this article, VMware is still rolling out Version 6.5 exams. Currently, Version 6.5 exams are offered for the Professional and Advanced Professional (Design only) levels. We anticipate that Version 6.5 exams and credentials at the Associate, Advanced Professional Deploy and Expert levels will follow soon.

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. Candidates who have prior vSphere 5.x training but aren't VCP certified must complete the "what's new" (V5.5 to V6) training course and pass the associated exams. Those possessing a valid VCP5-DCV credential need only pass a delta exam to obtain the credential.

Certification Name

VMware Certified Professional 6 - Data Center Virtualization (VCP6-DCV)

Prerequisites & Required Courses

1. Candidates who are new to VMware Data Center Virtualization technology: Six months' vSphere 6 experience plus one of the following training courses:

  • VMware vSphere: Install, Configure, Manage [V6 or V6.5]
  • VMware vSphere: Optimize and Scale [V6 or V6.5]
  • VMware vSphere: Install, Configure, Manage plus Virtual SAN Fast Track [V6]
  • VMware vSphere: Optimize & Scale [V6 or V6.5]
  • VMware vSphere: Bootcamp [V6]
  • VMware vSphere: Fast Track [V6 or V6.5]
  • VMware vSphere: Design and Deploy Fast Track [V6]
  • VMware vSphere: Troubleshooting [V6]
  • VMware vSphere: Troubleshooting Workshop [V6.5]
  • VMware vSphere: Install, Configure and Manage plus Optimize and Scale Fast Track [V6 or V6.5]
  • VMware vSphere: Optimize and Scale plus Troubleshooting Fast Track [V6]

2. Candidates with vSphere 5.x training who are not VCP certified: vSphere What's New [V5.5 to V6, or V5.5 to V6.5] training
3. Existing candidates:
    a. Valid VCP5-DCV certification: No prerequisites
    b. Valid VCP for any solution track that has not expired: No prerequisites
    c. Expired VCP for any solution track: Complete one of the required training courses (see above)
    d. Expired VCP5-DCV certification: What's New [V5.5 to V6, or V5.5 to V6.5] training or any other qualifying course

Note: The cost of VMware training varies; expect to pay from $4,125 for classroom training to more than $6,000 for Bootcamps and Fast Track courses.

Number of Exams

New candidates, those with vSphere 5 training only, those with an expired VCP in a different solution track or those with an expired VCP5-DCV certification (two exams):

or

and

Candidates with valid VCP5-DCV certification: one exam: VMware Certified Professional 6 – Data Center Virtualization Delta exam, 2V0-621D, 105 minutes, 65 questions

Candidates with valid VCP certification, any solution track: one exam, VMware Certified Professional 6 – Data Center

Exams administered by Pearson VUE.

Cost per Exam

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

VMware Certified Professional 6 - Data Center Virtualization exam, $250

VMware Certified Professional 6 – Data Center Virtualization Delta exam, $250

URL

VCP6-DCV: https://mylearn.vmware.com/mgrReg/plan.cfm?plan=64178&ui=www_cert

VCP6.5-DCV: https://mylearn.vmware.com/mgrReg/plan.cfm?plan=100942&ui=www_cert

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:

  • HP ASE - HP-UX 11i v3 Administrator V1, for technical professionals with advanced skills in installing, configuring and maintain HP-UX servers in mission-critical environments
  • IBM Certified System Administrator (and Advanced Administrator), for 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.

build-your-career
See All