Get yourself ahead, Part 2: Operating Systems

Fred Ferrell

This blog is the second of a four-part series that will cover certification in networking, virtualization, operating systems, and storage.  The series will review what’s available from a few different providers and look at the benefits and requirements for each.

If you missed my first article on networking certifications, please check it out at /blog/get-yourself-ahead-part-1-network-certification.

Other than just networking, I also cover additional topics such as how to study, reasons to pursue certification, and the challenges you will face.  I highly recommend that you take a look at it.

Without further a do, let’s get into OS (operating system) certifications.

As you may know, there are many different operating systems out there.  We will take a look at OS’s from Microsoft (Windows), Apple (Mac OS X), and Red Hat (Linux) all of which have certifications available. All three also have server and desktop versions that you will be tested on.

When it comes to deciding which one to pursue it is my opinion that you should work on what gives you the best immediate return on investment.  This is probably likely to be the Microsoft certification, since those operating systems are the most common. The certificates will cover foundational topics that will help you learn technologies even outside of Microsoft.

If you stay on the server side of things, Red Hat is the next logical path to take and if you focus more on desktop support, I would work on the Apple certifications.

The certifications I will cover are below, click on each one to go straight to the in-depth explanations:

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Microsoft Certified Solutions Associate

mcsaThere are three disciplines to the MSCA (server, desktop, and database), but we will focus on the desktop and server tracks since that applies more to an enterprise network IT professional. We will cover the 2012 versions of the test since that is the latest.

If you have no experience with Windows 7 or Windows 8, I would recommend you start in the desktop track, but I have to say that this is rarely the case. If you already use a Windows desktop at home and know your way around pretty well, then the server track should be fine.

Benefits
This is the best place to start for certification with operating systems and probably IT certifications as a whole. Most support professionals are able to land a position after they achieve this. You will learn about basic services such as DHCP, DNS, and File permissions and sharing.

Requirements: There are three tests to pass. All these tests will also count towards your MCSE.
https://www.microsoft.com/learning/en-us/certification-overview.aspx

Study material
MCSA Windows Server 2012 R2 Complete Study Guide: Exams 70-410, 70-411, 70-412, and 70-417
by William Penak

How to study
To pass this test you should read the book above and go through all the exercises. I would do them multiple times to the point where you don’t even need to look at the book. Remember that this stuff is fundamental, and if you don’t learn it now, it will be harder to understand more advanced topics in the future.

When it comes to equipment, you have a couple of options. The first thing you can do is virtualize the required instances (VMs/servers/installs) on a desktop/laptop. I only recommend this if you have a solid-state drive and 8 GBs of memory, though. Regular rotating hard drives just don’t have the I/O needed (meaning the data can’t be accessed fast enough by all instances).  I personally like VMware’s Workstation (Windows) or Fusion (Mac).

The second option is to buy a used server with about 16 GBs or more of memory and three 300 GB hard drives or more (put drives in RAID 5). This is my favorite option, because you will be putting your hands on real hardware. I understand that this is a little pricey when first starting out, but you will make many times more your money back when you get your next raise or job. If you are currently working for an IT company see if there is old hardware lying around or if they will cover the costs for you. You never know if they can help if you don’t ask!

As for a copy of the OS, Microsoft provides free trials for 120 days on both the server and desktop versions so no need to spend money on that.

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Microsoft Certified Solutions Expert

mcseThere are six tracks you can pursue if you complete the MCSA Server route. At this point there are so many options that my head is spinning, but the best one to get is Server Infrastructure. This covers the vast majority of the skill set that IT leaders are looking for. If you're interested in others, I would look at Messaging (Exchange) and SharePoint since they sit well with larger businesses.

Benefits
Having this certification means you have knowledge of the vast majority of services that run in an enterprise environment. When it comes to professional level certifications, this is one of the most fundametal and pretty much ensures employment.

Requirements: https://www.microsoft.com/learning/en-us/certification-overview.aspx

Study material
Exam Ref 70-413 Designing and Implementing a Server Infrastructure (MCSE) (2nd Edition)
by Paul Ferrill and Tim Ferrill

How to study
The same recommendations apply as the MCSA. Read the book and do all the labs until you don’t need the book anymore to complete them.

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Apple Certified Support Professional (ACSP)

Apple Certified Technical Coordinator (ACTC)

apple-certified-2The ACSP is a single test exam that covers the material in the Support Essentials Exam. This material includes items within the desktop operating system such as setup, configuration, recovery, user accounts, security, and file systems.

The ACTC has an additional test on Server Essentials. This covers things that include DHCP, DNS, SSL certs, Open Directory, and various other Apple server technologies.

My recommendation is if you want to be Apple certified, get the ACTC. Also, I would only pursue this if you’re in a role supporting desktops for the enterprise network and after you have your MCSE.

Benefits
Very few desktop support administrators will go further than an MCSE so if you work in that space, this would be a good differentiator. If you are looking to get hired based just on this cert, I would look to Apple or Apple Specialists. I worked for one in the past, so I can say there are definitely opportunities here.

Requirements: http://training.apple.com/certification/osxyosemite

Study material
Apple Pro Training Series: OS X Support Essentials 10.10: Supporting and Troubleshooting OS X Yosemite
by Kevin M. White and Gordon Davisson

Apple Pro Training Series: OS X Server Essentials 10.10: Using and Supporting OS X Server on Yosemite
by Arek Dreyer and Ben Greisler

How to study
When it comes to hardware, I would look at a Mac Mini as your cheapest option. It is recommended that you own a Mac laptop or desktop as well so you can work with the two together.

Also, same recommendations apply as the MCSA. Read the book and do all the labs until you don’t need the book anymore to complete them.

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Red Hat Certified System Administrator (RHCSA)

Red Hat Certified Engineer (RHCE)

red_hat_linux_logoRed Hat has a tiered system for their certifications similar to Microsoft going from the RHCSA to the RHCE.  For the RHCSA you will take the EX200 exam and to get the RHCE you need to take the EX300 as well.  For only two exams to get the RHCE is a pretty good deal.

Benefits
This certification will carry a lot of weight in the OS certification arena if you are looking to work with very large companies that specialize in software hosting. Think Google, Facebook, and Rackspace.

Requirements:
http://www.redhat.com/en/services/certification/rhcsa
http://www.redhat.com/en/services/certification/rhce

Study material
RHCSA & RHCE Red Hat Enterprise Linux 7: Training and Exam Preparation Guide (EX200 and EX300), Third Edition
by Asghar Ghori

How to study
The same recommendations apply as for the MCSA. Read the book and do all the labs until you don’t need the book anymore to complete them.

As far as a lab goes, Linux probably takes the least amount of resources needed for any OS. Also, it is free. I would follow the lab recommendations I gave earlier in the MCSA discussion to study for this test.

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