Like a 1960s hippie who now wears a conservative business suit and works for a big investment firm, Linux has matured from a cult-embraced operating system to a real-world, cost-saving option for business.
But how Linux fits into a business' IT plan isn't the only issue IT managers face. Also important to IT leaders taking a look under Linux's hood is whether trained workers who know the operating system inside out can be brought in to make any planned transition a success.
Fortunately, as Linux has gained wider use in IT, certification programs have been developed to test and certify IT workers who have adequate skills and training. The certification issue is one that will be prominent next week at the LinuxWorld Conference & Expo in New York, the major trade show for Linux.
A number of groups are now providing Linux certification, including the nonprofit Linux Professional Institute; global IT trade group CompTIA; the Linux Professional Group, which does Sair Linux certification; and Linux vendor Red Hat Inc.
Evan Leibovitch, president of the Toronto-based Linux Professional Institute, said that interest in getting Linux-certified workers has been "just staggering" in recent months. As Linux has been adopted for more tasks by large Wall Street firms, including Merrill Lynch & Co. Inc. and Credit Suisse First Boston Corp., more Linux-certified workers are needed to keep the systems operating smoothly, he said.
The nonprofit institute doesn't supply training but does give certification exams that test an applicant's knowledge and mastery of Linux systems. About 57 percent of the exam takers fail the test, Leibovitch said.
"We actually like that," Leibovitch said. "It indicates to the world that this is not an easy exam to pass" and that the certification from the group has real value. "When you pass the exam, it means you know your stuff," he said.
Junior and intermediate levels of certification are already available, with an advanced certification still under development. Each certification requires two exams, which cost $100 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 through December.
"These are pretty good numbers, considering we've come out of nowhere," Leibovitch said.
Other Linux certifications are being considered by the group for the future, including Linux security, database administration, enterprise-level administration and even desktop Linux administration.
The certifications are vendor-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," he said.
Eva Chen, Linux+ certification manager for Oakbrook, Ill.-based CompTIA, said the group's certification testing costs between US$100 and $200. Some 2,000 IT workers have been certified so far by the organization.
Other certification programs come from Raleigh, N.C.-based Red Hat, which has its own Red Hat Certified Engineer program for certification with the company's products; and Spring, Texas-based Linux Professional Group, which does Sair Linux certification. Linux Professional Group was one of the earliest providers of Linux skills testing.
Dan Kusnetzky, an analyst at IDC in Framingham, Mass., said certification programs are good for IT professionals who want a security blanket as they consider bringing Linux inside their shops.
"Organizations 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 Corp., Novell Inc. and Cisco Systems Inc., 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."