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As Linux has gradually moved closer to the heart of the data centre, IT directors have been anxious to ensure they have access to trained workers who know the operating system inside out and can be brought in to make any planned transition a success.
A number of groups are now providing Linux certification, including the non-profit Linux Professional Institute; global IT trade group CompTIA; the Linux Professional Group, which does Sair Linux certification; and Linux vendor Red Hat.
Evan Leibovitch, president of the Linux Professional Institute, said interest in getting Linux-certified workers has been " staggering" in recent months. As Linux has been adopted for more tasks by large Wall Street firms, including Merrill Lynch and Credit Suisse First Boston, more Linux-certified workers are needed to keep the systems operating smoothly.
The non-profit institute does not supply training but does give certification exams that test an applicant's knowledge and mastery of Linux systems. Some 57% of the exam takers fail the test, Leibovitch said. The failure rate indicates that the certification has real value, he added.
Junior and intermediate levels of certification are already available, with an advanced certification still under development. Each certification requires two exams, which cost $100 (£62) each to take.
The exams are created by teams of Linux experts who are paired with teams of test-preparation experts, Leibovitch said. The group began certifications in 2000 and had granted 20,000 certifications worldwide by December 2002.
The group is considering other Linux certifications, including Linux security, database administration, enterprise-level administration and even desktop Linux administration.
The certifications are supplier-neutral to try to avoid the problems experienced in the Unix world in the past, Leibovitch said. "We do believe there have been some lessons learned."
Eva Chen, Linux+ certification manager for CompTIA, said the group had certified 2,000 IT workers.
Dan Kusnetzky, an analyst at IDC, said certification programs are good for IT professionals who want a security blanket.
"Organisations looking at Linux for the first time often feel more comfortable having people with certification" in their midst, he said. "The comfort comes from the feeling ... that this particular individual has enough knowledge to pass the certification."
Similar strategies of creating certifications have proved successful for Microsoft, Novell and Cisco Systems, Kusnetzky said, as they have rolled out new products and created pools of qualified workers to support them.
"It seems the Linux people have picked this up as well," he said. "It has a tendency to be good all around."