The Red Hat Certified System Administrator (RHCSA) credential is Red Hat’s entry-level certification for system administrators. It’s also one of the most popular certs on the market — constantly making everyone’s list of top system admin certifications.
Originally launched as Red Hat Certified Technician (RHCT) back in 2002, and renamed as RHCSA eight years later, the certification is gaining in popularity. It’s a great entryway to higher-level and more prestigious certifications like Red Hat Certified Engineer (RHCE). This is a certification that every system administrator, engineer and architect should consider earning.
In this article I’ll take a look at the RHCSA certification objectives and exam structure, as well as share a few tips from my personal experience in preparing for and clearing the exam.
The past few years have seen a tremendous growth in the Linux server market in India. In fact, according to a PayScale salary report, more than 96 percent hiring of hiring managers want to have some sort of Linux experts on their team.
One reason for RHCSA’s growing popularity in India (and globally) is that it meets the requirements set by the U.S. Department of Defense Directive 8570. The directive mandates that individuals involved in information assurance functions carry an approved certification for their particular job classification.
RHCSA-certified IT professionals can easily find a position as a Linux System Administrator, Jr. System Support Engineer, or Information System Engineer. Linux administrators with RHCSA certifications are not only recognized as having expertise confirmed by the world’s leading open source organization, they also have plenty of opportunity for greater career prospects and responsibilities.
On top of those advantages the pay scale for a Linux specialist in India is a handsome amount. On average, the annual salary for a Linux System Administrator, depending on experience, ranges from ₹150,000 to ₹800,000.
An RHCSA possesses the skills and knowledge to perform the following tasks:
- Identify and troubleshoot problems related to SE Linux policy
- Configure and manage logical volume Swap partitions
- Manage user and group Administrator with ACL
- Set up central LDAP authentication with LDAP and Kerberos
- System resource and process management
- Configure and maintain systems with Yum repositories
- Manage basic firewall settings, SE Linux file context and Boolean settings
- Understating of IPV4 and IPV6 networking and know how to implement them
- Network share like NFS and Samba client share configuration
- Time management configuration and troubleshooting
- Task scheduling
To earn the RHCSA, one must clear the EX200 exam, a 2.5 hour, performance-based challenge for which candidates are tested on their knowledge and skill in common areas of system administration across a wide range of environments and deployment scenarios. The skills tested are the foundation for system administration across all Red Hat products.
The exam is entirely hands-on. Candidates must perform between 10 and 15 assignments that mimic the real-life tasks of administrators of Red Hat Enterprise Linux servers in a professional environment. Be aware that time management is crucial on the exam. You have to prioritize assignments to ensure that all can be completed within the specified time. Also, take care to carefully read each question as this will help you prioritize which to answer first. A score of 210 out of 300 is required to clear the exam.
While candidates are required to sign a non-disclosure agreement regarding the exam questions, Red Hat does recommend general areas of preparation. Additionally, since Red Hat updates the exam objectives regularly, it’s a good idea to check their site for anything new.
An RHCSA certification is valid for 3 years, unless an additional Red Hat certification like RHCE is or RHCA is earned within the 3 years. For the full recertification requirements, click here.
The exam itself costs $400 (U.S.). The official training from the Red Hat University will cost you another $2,000-$3,000 (U.S.) depending on the instruction medium. While there is no prerequisite to undertake the EX200 exam, Red hat does recommend 1-to-2 years of full-time, hands-on Linux experience.
Official RHCSA training centers are located in major Indian cities. To locate a center near you, click here. One can also self-study for the exam. If you do, then I personally recommend building your own Linux machine on your workstation or hosted in a cloud like AWS or Google Cloud. Centos is the free OS which most closely resembles the RHEL7 system that the actual RHCSA exam will be tested on. One Centos machine should be sufficient to practice all the RHCSA exam objectives.
If you are interested in utilizing a book for your preparation, there are a number of useful guides widely available. The quality guides have review questions and practice exams. I recommend RHCSA/RHCE Red Hat Linux Certification Study Guide (Exams EX200 & EX300), 6th Edition (Certification Press), by Michael Jang.
There are also a number of useful web sites like Github and CertDepot which contain practice questions and exams, and links to helpful communities of like-minded professionals. Many of these folks have already cleared the exam.
There are a number of videos that can also help you prepare. These do cost extra money, and you do have to be careful to make certain that they adequately cover new content. I suggest you seek guidance from other IT pros who have used them.
Also, take time to search for and watch free RHSCA webcasts. These often give great advice on topics. Because the RHCSA exam is live, just memorizing the certification objectives won’t do you much good. So take time to do a little research before you begin your studying.
Here are a few tips from my experience with taking the exam:
- If you use a book to prepare, do all of the end of the chapter questions.
- Complete all practice exams under timed conditions.
- Read the question carefully before jumping onto the actual configurations. Try to picture the whole scenario and what is being asked of you. This will help you to prioritize tasks.
- Never assume you have the correct answers, always double-check your solutions.
- Make sure you reboot the system time-to-time so that your solutions can survive system reboots.
- Review your answers on the last half-hour of your exam.
- If you get stuck with one task, do not waste time on getting it right. Instead, mark it and move on. You can come back to the incomplete task later.
- And last of all, practice, practice, and then practice some more.
If you feel you need additional grounding in Linux there are several other well-known entry-level certifications like CompTIA’s Linux+, LPIC-1 and LPIC-2 and SUSE’s Certified Administrator. RHCSA is, however, in my opinion, the most respected.
An RHCSA is well worth your time and effort, and while certification doesn’t guarantee a job, you can rest easy knowing that Linux system admin skills are always in demand. IT is full of talented and credentialed people. At the end of the day an RHCSA certification might be the difference-maker.