Objective certification of professionals is a time-honored tradition in many fields, including medicine and law. As small computer systems and networks proliferated over the last decade, Novell and Microsoft produced extremely popular certification products for their respective operating system and network technologies. These two programs are often cited as having popularized a certification market where products that had previously been highly specialized and relatively rare. These programs have become so popular that a huge training and preparation industry has formed to service a constant stream of new certification candidates.
Certification programs, offered by vendors such as Sun and Hewlett-Packard, have existed in the Unix world for some time. However, since Solaris and HP-UX aren't commodity products, those programs don't draw the crowds that the PC platform does. Linux, however, is different. Linux is both a commodity operating system and is PC-based, and its popularity continues to grow at a rapid pace. As Linux deployment increases, so too does the demand for qualified and certified Linux system administrators.
A number of programs -- the Linux Professional Institute, Sair Linux and GNU Certification, the Red Hat Certified Engineer (RHCE) program, and CompTIA's Linux+ -- have formed over the last few years to service this new market. Each of these programs seeks to provide objective measurements of a Linux administrator's skills, but they approach the problem in different ways.
The RHCE program requires that candidates pass a hands-on practical skills test, solving problems and performing configuration tasks. Though more involved from an exam delivery point of view, this type of test is very thorough and difficult to beat using purely good study habits. The Sair program is provided by Sair, Inc., a for-profit company that is also a vendor for courseware and texts. The Linux+ exam, scheduled for deployment in 2001, is an entry-level certification, which brings us to the LPI.