A new Gartner report cites a shift to open-source software among the factors expected to bring major disruption to data centers, with ever more being stored in the cloud.
While that suggests fewer on-premise jobs for systems administrators, demand for skilled Linux pros continues to grow. Seventy-six percent of hiring managers in a Linux Foundation/Dice poll ranked hiring Linux talent among their priorities for 2014.
The role of the sys admin is changing, though, and IT pros need to be thinking ahead, Randy Russell, director of Certification at Red Hat, advises. Adding a new certification can help you, he says, though it won’t protect you from trends in the marketplace, such as outsourcing.
To increase your value as an employee, he advises focusing on emerging technologies such as OpenStack and what’s coming next – technologies such as infrastructure-as-a-service and platform-as a service.
“You need to be ready for the next paradigm shift,” he said.
Meanwhile, employer interest in certification overall is on the rise. Foote Partners’ quarterly IT Skills and Certifications Pay Indexreported increases in pay premiums in all the certification categories it tracks, including systems administration/engineering.
In forging your path forward, here are certifications to consider:
1. New Linux Foundation Certifications
The just-announcedLinux Foundation Certified System Administrator (LFCS) exam covers skills to do basic to intermediate system administration from the command-line for systems running Linux, while the Linux Foundation Certified Engineer (LFCE) focuses on design and implementation of system architecture. Both are performance-based certifications allowing candidates to choose the distribution in which they wish to certify.
"Linux is growing faster than any platform in the history of computing – has been for many, many years – and the supply of labor just isn't keeping up with it," Foundation executive director Jim Zemlin said in announcing the new certs.
Pay premiums – the extra money employers are willing to pay above base salary – have increased 20 percent in the past six months, for IT workers certified with CompTIA Linux+, an entry-level cert, Foote Partners reports.
“CompTIA Linux+ Powered by LPI” allows candidates to be certified at the same time with the LPIC-1, the base certification offered by the Linux Professional Institute.
3. Linux Professional Institute
Both the LPIC-2, focused on small to medium sized, mixed networks, and LPIC-3 (up 25 percent in the past year) have experienced rapid gains in pay premiums of late, Foote Partners reports.
Bonuses for LPIC-Level 2 have grown 33 percent in the past three months, with Level 3 up 25 percent in the past year.
In addition to its partnership with CompTIA, those who complete the LPIC-Level 1, a prerequisite of the other two, also can receive the SUSE Certified Linux Administrator (CLA) certification with no additional cost or exams to take.
4. Red Hat
Red Hat’s certifications are focused on system administrators, engineers and architects as well as virtualization and cloud pros. Its certification program has drawn praise for being performance-based – candidates must solve real-world problems -- rather than answer multiple choice questions.
Red Hat Certified System Administrator (RHCSA) and Red Hat Certified Engineer (RHCE) are required for employment at some organizations working under U.S. Department of Defense Directive 8570, which lays out required certification and training for specific jobs.
With experience and position being similar, a Red Hat Certified Engineer (RHCE) makes 10.35 percent more than an IT pro without the certification, according to a recent PayScale analysis.
However, premium pay for that certification has been falling, according to Foote Partners.That could indicate that the labor pool is catching up with demand. It lists Red Hat Certified Technician, however, among the big gainers in premium pay.
The Microsoft Certified Solutions Associate (MCSA)is theprerequisite toMicrosoft Certified Solutions Expert (MCSE), the mid-range cert for systems administrators.
Microsoft has been taking heat for retiring some its top-level certifications -- Microsoft Certified Master (MCM), Microsoft Certified Solutions Master (MCSM), and Microsoft Certified Architect (MCA) -- last year. It said only a few hundred people reached that pinnacle of certification and that it planned to revamp the MCSE and Microsoft Certified Solutions Developer (MCSD) certifications to add to their technical rigor.
Microsoft's head of certifications Tim Sneath told The Register it won’t be replacing those top-level certs, but will make the MCSD and MCSE “harder for everyone.”
A buyout is underway for Attachmate, the parent company of Novell, which itself had acquired the SUSE line of Linux-based enterprise software in 2003. There’s no word yet on how the company or its certifications will be affected.
SUSE Cloud 4, an updated version of its private cloud solution based on OpenStack Icehouse, has just been released. And it has paired up with Microsoft on Hyper-V node management using SUSE Cloud for mixed environments. A TechRadar Pro article notes employer difficulty finding and hiring this talent, pointing to opportunity for skilled pros.
Novell/SUSE certifications have been highly regarded for the curriculum and performance based testing. There are four:
SUSE Certified Linux Administrator (CLA) focused on SUSE Linux Enterprise Server environments
SUSE Certified Linux Desktop Administrator focused on deploying and maintaining SUSE Linux Enterprise Desktop 10
SUSE Certified Linux Professional (CLP) focused on admin tasks associated with the SUSE Linux Enterprise Sever 11 platforms
SUSE Certified Linux Engineer (CLE) focused on engineering skills for complex environments.