October 12, 2001

New Linux certification focuses on systems integration skills

Author: JT Smith

- by Tina Gasperson -
Michael Yu Chak Tin was running the CPU Training Centre, a Hong Kong-based computer training school that offered Windows, Unix, and Linux certifications. "Almost all of our courses were full, with the exception of Linux," Tin says. He set out to discover why, and his research produced some interesting results."Most enterprises are reluctant to deploy Linux as an alternative to Win NT, because of issues such as user interface,
hardware compatibility and support costs ... etc," he says. "To them, deploying Linux requires a separate full time staff, which is not cost effective. They'd rather spend a little more to buy NT, so that less support and training cost is introduced. With this, we started to think about some 'crazy,' yet exciting, new ideas."

One thing led to another, and after exploring the efficiency of other Linux business models, Tin decided the free operating system's strength lay in custom configurations. "The beauty of Linux is the possibility of developing our own custom version for specific functions without the need to start
developing a system from scratch. And to be able to do this, general Linux admin skills won't do the trick."

So Tin and his colleague, Lawrence Yiu Tak Lung, created the Linux System Integration Certification Project, or OpenCERT for short. The Web site's background information sheds additional light on the OpenCERT philosophy:

"There has been much hype about Linux in the past
couple years. Today, we have to believe that, Linux
is not going to be able to replace Windows, both in
the server market and the desktop market.

According to the report released on July 24, 2000 by
IDC, titled "Server Operating Environments Market
Forecast and Analysis, 2000-2004," Linux shipment
growth will outpace all other server operating
environments through 2004. Despite this high
growth, Linux server operating environment
revenues will barely exceed $85 million in 2004, and
total Linux server shipments will remain a far second
to Microsoft's Windows Server product family.

According to Dan Kusnetzky, vice president of
System Software at IDC: "While there has been
much hype about Linux, our research indicates the
total market for Linux operating system software in
1999 was about $67 million -- or about the same
amount of revenue that Microsoft's operating
systems business generated by noon on the third
working day of January 1999."

So, how do we survive by implementing Linux? Our
belief: Going Specific. Linux is the OS of choice if we
want to develop a lean and stable system to provide
specific services. We can customize and trim the
kernel and the modules. We can easily develop our
own distribution, with the minimal efforts, compare
to using other OS. And Microsoft is not going to be
able to get into every market."

OpenCERT offers certification in embedded Linux skills and systems integration on three levels. Tin says there is no charge for most of the exams, though some carry a small fee to cover manual grading of projects. Tin and Lung have spent over a year developing the examinations. "In terms of
defining the skill sets, we did a comparative analysis of all the existing Linux certifications' objective lists against our goals
of systems integration. By doing this, we found out what objectives can be applied to our exams, what objectives need to
be enhanced / enriched, and what objectives need to be added," says Tin.

"We distributed surveys through the major training centres/test centres in our region, and conducted focus groups, to find out how the candidates think about/react to the certification test items they
encountered. We also investigated the exam formats of Cisco CCIE and Sun JAVA Architect, as they require LAB/Project Assignment respectively."

"We then proceeded with creating the test questions. During this phase, some psychometric techniques were used.
Items were created, small scale beta processes were performed, and statistical methods were used to identify the proper
questions/topics to include, their weights, and the cut scores. Of course, since we have very limited resources, we could not
yet perform a full scale exam development effort."

Tin wants his new certification company to remain non-profit. "We do not have to to be driven by the
pressure to
make money," he says. "Of course, things will go slower without the profit
driving
factors, but we believe that, we want to treat this project as
most of the
open Linux projects found on the Web, that everyone can
participate and
provide inputs and feedback freely.

"Also, we are the 'small guys.' I do not think we are powerful
enough to
provide things that are of the highest commercial quality as yet."

Once test-takers have progressed through Tin's planned third level of Linux systems integration certification, he plans to invite them to work with him to "jointly develop new Linux distributions to serve specific functions."

Those interested in registering for one of the free certification exams should visit www.systemreview.net/examreg.htm, or send email to michael@systemreview.net.

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