Every profession has its own requirements around training, and the web hosting industry is no exception. But, in spite of the variety of technical roles in the hosting industry, there are no certifications that are absolutely required to operate a hosting business.
There are many certifications offered by hardware and software vendors like Microsoft, Red Hat, and Cisco. A few new vendors have introduced their own certification programs including cPanel and Parallels, which are useful in that they are more targeted and specialized around hosting. Both of these vendor programs are helping make certification more relevant to the hosting space, and web hosts turn to these experts more regularly for training and certification.
Ultimately just about any classroom effort or certification an employee can obtain is going to benefit your business, but as a hosting provider, it can be difficult to identify the best uses of that time.
“The Internet was built by college dropouts, and when it comes right down to it, that fact pervades much of how the Internet continues to run,” says ServInt chief operating officer Christian Dawson, in a conversation with the WHIR. “It is recent history that anything beyond a Microsoft (MCSE) or Cisco (CCNA/CCNP) has been relevant in our industry. Frankly, that’s because most vendors to the hosting industry haven’t reached a maturity and size level to justify and sustain certification programs.”
Red Hat, has delivered a broad collection of open source certifications for quite a few years, but has been mostly alone in doing so. The program offers multiple levels of certification, including Red Hat Certified System Administrator, and the more advanced Red Hat Certified Engineer – both valuable credentials for a hosting company running systems based on Red Hat Enterprise Linux.
The organization offers an extensive course catalog (both online, and delivered in-print via snail mail), and its training methods include classroom activities, live access labs, on-site team training, remote classroom training, and self-paced online learning.
Red Hat’s website offers a free, three-minute skills assessment test that can help an individual determine what sort of training might best suit their needs.
Microsoft offers organizational “competencies” to partner companies that employ people who have completed its in-house technology training and certification. The company offers Silver and Gold partner competencies based on the level of involvement with Microsoft, and the number of Microsoft Certified Professionals within the organization.
Silver Competency requires a host to employ or contract with two MCPs, while Gold Competency requires a web host to employ or contract four unique MCPs with credentials not assigned to any other gold competency. Other requirements include signing the SPLA and reporting usage every month. Gold competency also requires a host to hit a minimum for monthly revenue.
Microsoft (the biggest software company in the world) offers a broad range of individual certifications ranging from expertise in its office software, to software developer credentials and “Architect” certification for building and operating IT systems.
The company’s training programs are extensive enough to warrant their own Microsoft Learning website, which contains an overview of the Microsoft certification courses, and many links to more specific content, as well as an introductory FAQ on Microsoft certification.
Like Red Hat and Microsoft, Cisco operates a large, extensive, and widely-recognized program for certifying IT professionals, the Cisco Learning Network, and like Red Hat, the company offers a free self-assessment that enables a user to determine what kind of training might best suit their experience and goals.
Cisco IT certifications cover five levels of training and testing, and a very wide range of specific technologies. Many of its certifications are tied directly to career paths, job descriptions and advancement levels in traditional IT organizations, but most of them are pretty specifically applicable in a hosting context, even at a company that lacks some of the regimented organizational structure of a large enterprise.
Cisco Certified Network Associate, for instance, is a second-level Cisco career certification (one of dozens) that validates the ability to install, configure, operate, and troubleshoot medium-size routed and switched networks.
Parallels has only been delivering training and certification for a short time, in comparison to the companies mentioned above, but the company has developed a pretty broad set of software tools over the years, and around them has developed certifications to demonstrate competency in their operation.
Built on a model fairly similar to the Microsoft program, the Parallels certification program offers two levels (professional, and the more advanced engineer) along two tracks (automation and virtualization), closely tied to its products.
The company offers a combination of on-site and online course material. The prices for individual classes range from $500 to $2,000, based on the configuration.
The program is divided between tech support and sales specializations, and divided again between the Linux and Windows versions of the company’s control panel software. CPanel offers 10 levels of certification in each program, with the early levels being testable online, and later levels requiring in-class or on-site in-person testing.
The cPanel training program information and course material is collected at the cPanel University website.
Certification Does Not Necessarily Equal Technical Success
Ultimately, the goal for any hosting business should be to acquire knowledge applicable to their day to day responsibilities and practices, and not merely to collect certifications. Dawson says ServInt tries to be an organization that grows and learns on an ongoing basis, and allows certifications to play a part in that process where the company feels they can provide value.
Certifications have an inherent value, but not an absolute one, or an exclusive one. There is no guarantee that a certified employee is more expert than a self-taught one.
“I’ve interviewed many hundreds of technicians, and can promise there is no direct correlation between certification and ultimate success in a technical role,” says Dawson. “So the big certification programs from places like Microsoft, Cisco and even Red Hat aren’t hard requirements, even when looking for deep experience and capabilities within the technical fields that those certification programs represent.”
Costs for Certification Programs
Certification programs can vary from a few hundred dollars to a few thousand. Ultimately, it is up to the web host to decide which specific vendor certifications they feel is a beneficial to invest in for their employees.
“We don’t set budgets, we ask employees or their managers to build value propositions,” says Dawson. “If somebody is free to make a case that sending them to a lengthy or expensive program would be valuable to the organization, and depending on the pitch and the circumstances we might be prepared to make that happen.”
Certifications Renewal and Reassessment
Many technology certifications require reassessment at some point, because they’re intended to convey knowledge of an evolving technology. An out-of-date certification doesn’t tell you much about that knowledge.
Talk back: Have you pursued any particular certifications for hosting employees in the past? Have you personally acquired any hosting-related certification? Do you value technical certification in hiring new employees? Let us know in the comments section.
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