Prove What You Can Do: Inside RHCT and RHCE

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It’s been almost five years since Red Hat launched the Red Hat Certified Engineer (RHCE) certification. The Red Hat Certified Technician (RHCT), launched in January 2003, is also growing fast and creating opportunity for a new cadre of IT pros. Here’s a rapid market overview and tour inside RHCT and RHCE.

Milestones: Annual IT salary surveys in Certification Magazine, CRN and others have shown salary growth for RHCEs even in the tough times over the past three years. CertCities.com has named RHCE one of the “10 hottest certifications in IT.” Many articles have testified to the value of RHCE. Most recently, UnixReview.com wrote a glowing review of RHCE and the new RHCT certification.

What’s the Buzz?
The success of RHCE and RHCT and of those who earn them is due largely to one thing: Red Hat’s steadfast adherence to performance-based testing (PBT). Your performance is evaluated based on whether the live systems you have modified or configured actually perform, as measured by objective criteria. You receive credit for things that work, and no credit for things that do not. It is simple, direct, fair and realistic. You cannot cram your way through. There is no “gaming the system.” The most important “test-taking strategy” is to acquire the skills, knowledge and experience necessary for working with production Red Hat Enterprise Linux (RHEL) systems. Proof of competency is key.

Perhaps this explains why, almost five years since inception, we do not see companies complaining that their RHCE- or RHCT-certified employees are not up to the job. Quite the contrary: When employers see what RHCEs can do, they often make RHCE a benchmark for those who have the combination to the server room. Employers know they can depend on RHCEs to configure and manage rock-solid Linux servers. Cool. But is all this just talk, or are there publicly visible examples?

RHCEs at Rackspace
At Rackspace Managed Hosting, RHCEs manage Red Hat Enterprise Linux servers for 99.999 percent up-time managed hosting services and level-three support available 24×7! Rackspace Managed Hosting is one of many companies that have made a substantial strategic investment in Red Hat training and RHCEs to manage Red Hat servers and provide award-winning support to customers. Rackspace provides data-center managed services as an MSP to major businesses. Reliability, availability and top-of-class service-level agreements (SLAs) are critical.

To achieve these goals, Rackspace’s Red Hat Enterprise Linux systems are maintained by RHCEs. RHCEs are able to use Red Hat Network to set up automated deployment of updates, patches and new technology to RHEL servers. The combination of RHEL servers, set up and managed by RHCEs using Red Hat Network, providing data services and level-three support to the most demanding of customers, is absolutely unbeatable. RHCE is a key part of the total Red Hat Enterprise solution.

Some Stats on RHCE and RHCT
More than 9,000 people have earned RHCE, more than 2,200 have earned RHCT, and over 20,000 have taken these exams. More than 11,200 persons worldwide hold a Red Hat certification. RHCT was launched in January of 2003 and is already growing twice as fast as RHCE. This is to be expected, since RHCT is easier to obtain, requires fewer courses and addresses a larger market.

Why Was RHCT Developed?
Deployment and maintenance of large numbers of Linux systems at a departmental level and as development workstations requires a larger group of certified technicians. Hence, the RHCT certification. An RHCT has proven skills at setting up a new Linux system and attaching it to a production network and configuring client-side networking and file system access. RHCTs can provide first- and second-level help-desk services and can determine how and when to escalate issues to the RHCEs. The RHCEs back up this larger pool of RHCTs.

RHCT is thus the ideal first Linux certification for those with no prior UNIX experience or who are transitioning from non-Linux/non-UNIX operating systems. While RHCTs will see lower salary ranges than RHCEs, on balance, there will be more slots for RHCTs as Linux systems multiply inside big organizations. Once you have RHCT, you are in a good position to learn more while on the job, and of course, one day you can go for RHCE.

How Big Is the Linux Market?
Linux is big and getting bigger. Linux adoption is driven by a combination of strategic factors such as price and performance, security, scalability, open architecture, interoperability, hardware-independence, ease of application development, integration and life-cycle management, and the list goes on. Absence of lock-in. Absence of bad.

Forrester Research’s March 2003 study “The Linux Tipping Point,” shows 72 percent of IT managers plan to increase Linux usage between now and the end of 2004. Goldman Sachs’ September ’03 “IT Spending Survey” found that Red Hat Inc. ranks first among software companies gaining share of IT dollars among CIOs. Linux is moving beyond early adoption into the center stage of IT. Amazon.com, Morgan Stanley, AOL and other major businesses have gone public about their switch to Linux for enterprise computing. Linux market data from IDC, Gartner, Giga Information Systems and other IT market analyst groups appear in leading IT publications.

Linux Job Roles Now and In the Future
Linux today is primarily used for Internet infrastructure, Web server, database, applications and high-transaction server roles in data centers. Thus the largest demand for Linux professionals is for systems engineers, systems administrators, network administrators and technicians who can deploy and manage Linux systems at the mid and high end of IT infrastructure.

The market will continue to expand at the mid and top end for quite a while. To address this, Red Hat has developed an enterprise-computing curriculum, covering advanced systems administration, systems management, directory services, authentication, security and performance tuning. Courses RH401 and RH423 require RHCE or equivalent. Additional 400-level courses are planned for 2004. Earning RHCE and taking these advanced offerings prepares you to deploy and manage the advanced high availability and performance capabilities of Red Hat Enterprise Linux across the enterprise.

What’s the Cost?
Certifications on other operating systems now involve as many as seven or more multiple-choice tests, each costing at least $139. That’s almost $1,000 total. In contrast, you can take the RHCT exam (three hours) for $349 or the RHCE exam (six hours) for $749. One exam, one fee, a lower total cost, and you get performance-based, hands-on tests, using live equipment.

What about when training is included? For $3,780 (“JumpStart”), you get a bundle of two courses (RH033 and RH133) that go from zero experience to attempting RHCT. To go all the way to RHCE, choose from two bundles, depending on how much prior UNIX/Linux experience you have and how much training you need: $4,511 (“Midway”) or $6,084 (“Works”).

Structure of the Exams
RHCT is three hours long, in two sections. Section I is one hour of troubleshooting and maintenance. You are given four scenarios and must identify what is broken and fix it. Then there is a break. Section II is two hours. You start with a naked system and must install and configure Red Hat Enterprise Linux and configure it to attach to the network and function properly. This includes setting up users, groups, permissions, networking and performing other standard system administration functions on the Linux client system, based on how the network is set up. Just as you would be asked to do inside a company on your first day as a system administrator.

Certain tasks on the RHCT Exam are compulsory, meaning if you get one of them wrong, you cannot pass regardless of your total score.

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