OpenStack Foundation certification looks beyond vendor-specific skills

The Certified OpenStack Administrator program aims to broaden IT pros' skills beyond vendor-specific knowledge. But what do employers covet more: certifications or experience?

As enterprises look to tackle OpenStack deployments, they seek employees with the necessary skills and certifications related to the open source platform.

Despite the challenges associated with OpenStack adoption, it has increased -- both in terms of on-premises and hosted deployments -- among organizations with over 1,000 employees, according to 451 Research. To enable organizations to find the skills they need to support those deployments, the OpenStack Foundation developed an official certification program.

The second version of the Certified OpenStack Administrator exam recently launched and is currently the only vendor-independent OpenStack exam from either the OpenStack Foundation or its training partners. Since the test was established last year, over 1,000 people have taken it. According to the foundation, the exam is administered virtually around the globe on either Ubuntu or SUSE.

A need for neutral OpenStack certifications

The lack of trained engineers and operators with the skills to handle OpenStack production environments has been an ongoing concern for enterprises, said Al Sadowski, research vice president for the infrastructure practice at 451 Research. While several vendors offer training programs, they all structure them differently to gear the content toward their own OpenStack distributions or systems, he said.

While vendor certifications will remain valuable to enterprises that need product-specific skills, not all those skills are transferable. That is why the OpenStack Foundation created its own Certified OpenStack Administrator program.

"There has been a need for consistency," Sadowski said.

There's been strong support for the certification effort so far -- some 4,000 training seats were filled at a recent OpenStack Summit, he said.

IT professionals who receive the OpenStack Foundation certification can pursue various roles in cloud computing, including cloud architect, cloud administrator and infrastructure-as-a-service engineer, as well as positions related to cloud capacity planning or security, said Ganapathi Domal, team lead on continuous delivery and infrastructure engineering for Barclaycard US, a payment services provider based in Wilmington, Del.

"I want to stress that OpenStack-certified people can fill many roles in a technology organization and will be able to work with numerous OpenStack cloud computing services," Domal said.

As for OpenStack-specific skills, certified professionals should be able to use the OpenStack command-line interface and Horizon dashboard to perform common tasks or resolve issues. Certified individuals should also have knowledge of specific OpenStack cloud computing services, such as Keystone for identity management, Nova for compute, Neutron for networking and Heat for orchestration.

Experience still trumps all

Despite the benefits of the OpenStack Foundation's certified program, some IT pros still see technical experience as the ultimate sign of qualification.

"Certification is fine, but having technical agility is key," said Pedro Aceves, development lead on solutions delivery at Barclaycard US.

Certification is fine, but having technical agility is key.
Pedro AcevesDevelopment lead, solutions delivery, Barclaycard US

Certifications, in general, are only minimally valuable because they just demonstrate competency with common concepts, such as usage scenarios, setup, key technical components and vocabulary.

"Beyond that, what I'm really looking for is people who have technical agility to navigate the full stack," Aceves said. In other words, potential employees should know how to maximize the benefits of OpenStack and understand how it can enable the overall organization to move faster.

"How do we empower ourselves, dev teams or anyone who relies on OpenStack to power the things they care about?" Aceves said. "If a certification could guarantee the holder could operate in that manner, then it would be immensely valuable. However, that has not always been my experience."

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