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Certification Path Breakdown: The Red Hat Certified Engineer

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Certification Path Breakdown: The Red Hat Certified Engineer
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Achieving The Red Hat Certified Engineer (RHCE)Certification

It's no secret that Linux has made huge inroads into the corporate enterprise over the last decade, and continues to establish itself in corporate IT environments all over the world. And the really exciting part is that it's just getting started. In a February 2012 survey of over 2000 IT professionals conducted by the Linux Foundation, approximately 8 out of 10 respondents indicated that they had added Linux-based systems into their environments in the last 12 months, and that they further intend to add more Linux-based systems over the next 12 months.

There are numerous types of Linux out there, such as Fedora, Ubuntu, Debian and SuSE, but the clear favorite to emerge in corporate America is Red Hat Linux. Red Hat established an early dominance in the corporate world partly because of its stability and performance, and partly because of the Red Hat support model, which made it easier for corporations to implement and support their Linux-based systems. And as Red Hat has grown they've continued to innovate, adding features and improvements at a fairly rapid clip, and further cementing their place as the go-to 'flavor' of Linux in the enterprise.

All of this points to increasing Red Hat adoption over the coming years. And that, in turn, means that the skills required to support Red Hat are likewise very much in demand. That makes certifications like the Red Hat Certified Engineer (RHCE) a very hot commodity in the IT marketplace, with recent surveys indicating that Linux skills in general, and Red Hat knowledge in particular, are among the most in-demand skills for 2012 and beyond, with RHCE certification holders among the best-paid IT professionals in the industry.

Step One: Achieving the Red Hat Certified Systems Administrator (RHCSA)

Before you can even sit for the RHCE exam, however, you need to have achieved the Red Hat Certified Systems Administrator (RHCSA) certification. The RHCSA is a valuable and challenging certification in its own right, and obtaining it requires no small amount of effort. The RHCSA covers a range of Red Hat systems administration skills, including installation and configuration of the Red Hat operating system, maintaining different user account levels, stopping and starting virtual machines, setting up file storage and filesystem parameters, and managing security within the operating system.

The RHCSA Exam

The RHCSA exam is 2.5 hours long, and it's different from many exams in that you don't simply sit down and answer a bunch of multiple-choice questions. Rather, the test challenges you to complete a series of tasks in a live Red Hat environment, just like you will when you're actually on the job. Scoring is based on how well you perform those tasks, with the idea being that there is more than one way to complete some tasks, and some methods are better than others.

Once you pass the RHCSA test, the certification is good for three years, and you have the option to extend the certification period by either re-taking and passing the RHCSA exam, or by earning your RHCE.

Step Two: Achieving the RHCE

Once you've successfully completed the RHCSA and are holding a valid certification, you're eligible to sit for the RHCE exam.

The RHCE exam is similar to the RHCSA in that it's a practice-based test, meaning that you're given a set of tasks to complete via a live system, rather than a by answering a series of multiple choice questions. And, like the RHCSA, you're scored on how well you complete those tasks and meet certain key objectives within each task.

The RHCE Exam

The RHCE is shorter, at two hours in length (as opposed to 2.5 hours for the RHCSA), and it requires both a broader range of knowledge and a deeper understanding of both systems administration and configuration activities, along with a wide range of network-related activities, such as the configuration and troubleshooting of protocols like HTTP/HTTPS, DNS, FTP, NFS, SMTP and NTP, to name a few.

The RHCE is a challenging exam, and like most exams at this level, it's almost required that you have significant hands-on experience to go with the knowledge you've acquired via study. Because of the nature of the test, and the breadth and depth of knowledge that you're expected to have in order to successfully complete it, you won't have time to puzzle your way through every step of every task you're given, and you'll need to know how to perform many of the steps automatically, without needing to think about them.

Once you have the RHCE, the certification is valid for three years. The RHCE can be renewed by either achieving the Red Hat Certified Architect (RHCA), re-taking the RHCE test, or by taking additional specialization tests on particular subject areas such as virtualization or security.

While it's not easy, achieving the RHCE is very possible, and worth the effort it takes to gain the certification. As stated previously, IT professionals holding the RHCE certification are typically on the upper end of the pay scale for IT professionals, and enjoy a wide range of opportunities and job prospects. Remember, no one was ever fired for earning a certification – but many have been promoted for it.

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