With the Office of Government Commerce testing Linux-based systems across the civil service and in the NHS, central government has shown there is a future for staff with Linux skills. In addition, the likes of Powys Council in Wales, Central Scotland Police and the BBC are testing or have adopted Linux-based systems.
Laurent Lachal, analyst at Ovum, said, "Although there are still relatively few IT staff certified in Linux, both supplier-specific product training and bodies that supply generic training are seeing a big increase in demand because there is a salary premium for Linux.
"What would give Linux further impetus would be more support in the universities and colleges [both in terms of using the software and offering training courses]. They were previously reliant on Unix systems and now they are reliant on Windows. Further support for Linux in education would be good promotion for the technology."
Red Hat now has the biggest Linux training programme in the UK. However, worldwide the number of people certified by Red Hat is just 10,000, illustrating the fledgling nature of the technology.
Jasmine Huxtable-Wright, European training manager at Red Hat, said the company has been providing training since 1999. The most established qualification offered by the company is "Red Hat certified engineer".
One step down in the Red Hat training programme is "certified technician", a newer qualification passed by 2,500 people worldwide.
Huxtable-Wright said Red Hat's training compares well with other bodies because it is purely performance-based. Candidates are not given multiple-choice questions and are evaluated on their practical abilities with real systems, combined with theoretical knowledge.
The Red Hat certified engineer training course is usually completed over three four-day sessions for candidates with no prior Linux or Unix experience. Huxtable-Wright said IT professionals with Unix experience may be able to take the Linux certified engineer exam after just one four-day session.
Those wanting to be a Linux certified technician have to complete a four-day course.
The cost of Red Hat training in the UK is £1,295 plus VAT for each four-day session, with about 80% of courses taking place in classrooms and 20% at customer sites. A small number of people take the courses online.
The main rival to Red Hat is the Canada-based Linux Professional Institute (LPI), which is gaining ground in the UK with its generic Linux-based training. The LPI exams include multiple-choice questions and are theory-led.
IBM is also starting to increase its Linux training options, said Lachal. After its acquisition of SuSE Linux, Novell too is building up a training presence in the UK, including application-based training on Netware running Linux, for example.
As SuSE was a German company before it was bought by Novell, SuSE's courses are already well-established in Germany, and Novell is now attempting to put together a more even offering across Europe.
Most industry predictions about the use of Linux in the enterprise envisage mixed environments where IT professionals will be heavily involved in integration projects linking Windows and Linux environments.
Where there are shared databases using both operating systems - such as a Microsoft SQL database and an Oracle Linux database - the integration may prove to be tricky, although there are established workarounds.
Web servers should be less tricky as Linux-based Apache systems power the majority of internet traffic.
Key Linux skills
Integrating Windows and Linux
Transferable Unix skills
Openoffice and Staroffice desktop application suites
Mozilla web browser
SuSE Linux, Red Hat, and other forms of Linux operating system
Java Linux desktop system
IBM z/VM Linux for mainframes.
This was first published in June 2004