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 also a number of certifications that can help validate knowledge and skills in those areas.
In addition to server and client configuration and maintenance, many system administrators must also understand access controls, network services and the resource requirements of applications. They often find themselves working with directory and name services in particular, as well as network addressing, database services, web and desktop applications, email and a whole lot more.
Making sense of all of the 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 certs for 2017.
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 servers, private clouds, business intelligence, messaging, communication and collaboration, SharePoint, enterprise devices and applications, and data platforms (SQL Server). Microsoft made some changes to its certification program in 2016, resulting in four new credentials for cloud platform and infrastructure, mobility, data management and analytics, 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 (though many do, or refer to servers instead), 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 closer look at the MCSE: Productivity credential. It focuses in 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 MCSE: Cloud Platform and Infrastructure certifications exams, and most other MCSE credentials, focus on Windows Server 2016. Candidates who hold older MCSE credentials, set to expire on March 31, 2017, should investigate their options to upgrade to one of the four new-version MCSE credentials — namely: MCSE: Cloud Platform and Infrastructure, MSCE: Mobility, MSCE: Data Management and Analytics and MSCE: Productivity — by taking a current and relevant elective cert exam.
Though it will take time for organizations and enterprises to catch up with those new versions, there will be more opportunities for system administrators to add to their cert portfolios as a result.
Although Windows rules the desktop and has widespread use in businesses and data centers, Linux is important for cloud-based operations and for serving up applications, the web and much of the internet. This makes Linux system administration skills both extremely valuable and in high demand.
Linux platform suppliers and Linux distribution vendors, such as Ubuntu, Mint and Debian, offer their own training and often certifications. However, the Linux Professional Institute (LPI) excels at providing a high-quality set of Linux certifications for system administrators that are relatively distribution-neutral.
LPI candidates must usually possess the LPIC-2 Certified Linux Engineer or one of the LPIC-3 credentials to be successful in the workplace. However, we include the LPIC-1 Certified Linux Administrator certification, a junior-level credential, in our list because it's a necessary prerequisite to the LPIC-2, which in turn leads to the LPIC-3.
Both the LPIC-2 certification and the LPIC-3 are well known and widely recognized in IT shops and operations that depend on Linux servers to handle their workloads. Although the LPIC-3 specialties are somewhat less frequently referenced in job postings, they do provide relevant coverage of key topics for Linux system administrators. This goes double in the areas of security and virtualization — both in very high demand right now.
All LPIC-1, LPIC-2 and LPIC-3 certifications are valid for five years from the date the certification is achieved.
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 3 years from the date the certification was achieved. To maintain the certification, a credential holder must earn an eligible Red Hat Certificate of Expertise or pass the RHCE certification exam again before the end of the 3-year period.
The VMware family of certifications are must-have credentials for IT professionals interested in the field of virtualization. Offering a complete certification roadmap encompassing all skills levels, VMware credentials are recognized globally as best in class.
VMware's V5 credentials were widely recognized for several years, but they are being phased out and replaced with credentials based on VMware vSphere 6. 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 is a professional-level certification that prepares credential holders for more advanced certifications, including the VMware Certified Advanced Professional (VCAP6-DCV), VMware Certified Implementation Expert (VCIX6-DCV) and the pinnacle cert, VMware Certified Design Expert (VCDX-DCV).
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.
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. Such companies as Intel, HP, Lenovo and Microsoft 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.