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The Linux Professional

The RHCE Experience

by Jeff Dean

In the the second article of The Linux Professional series, Jeff Dean covers the Red Hat Certified Engineer course and exam. In the first page, he explains the prerequisites and the coursework that you can take before the exam. On page two, he details the parts of the exam itself. On the third and final page, he offers his impressions and some tips on helping get through it.

In last month's column, we examined some of the Linux certificate options available for system administration, along with potential motivations for pursuing one. This month we'll focus on the Red Hat Certified Engineer program from Red Hat Software, Inc.

The RHCE consists of a four-day, instructor-led training class and a one-day, hands-on exam, offered together for the hefty sum of $2,498 (US). If you're not interested in the training, the exam is available separately for $749. The RHCE is a well-known option, and the strong Red Hat brand may make it attractive to you or your employer.

RHCE prerequisites

Red Hat makes it clear that they're not looking for rookies to take their test. As you look over Red Hat's RHCE prerequisites, you may get the sinking feeling that there's just too much there for you to qualify. While it may look intimidating, remember that you're not expected to be an expert in all of the listed topics. Linux or other Unix experience will probably be sufficient, and some reading in advance on the areas you're not directly familiar with will help.

The RHCE training course

I attended the RH300 course+exam bundle in May 1999 at Red Hat's Durham, NC, headquarters. At that time, the program was focused on Red Hat Linux 6.0. (Everyone was buzzing about the upcoming Red Hat IPO, but employees kept what they knew to themselves.) The course currently features Red Hat Linux 6.1, and it's likely to be updated to 6.2 soon after as the new release is ready. There were about 13 students in the classroom representing four or five nations. We were all provided with lots of room, comfortable chairs, and a reasonable mid-range PC. The atmosphere was cordial but not familiar, and we were advised to remain within a few designated areas of the office. Everyone was initially disappointed that no Internet access was available in the classroom, but this limitation is a wise choice by Red Hat, keeping everyone focused on the material. The training fee includes a catered lunch.

The course is reasonably paced and consists of traditional presentations delivered via a browser. The material is divided into eight presentation units, each with its own hands-on lab exercises. Here's a brief overview (see Red Hat's course outline for detailed information):

  • Introduction. This unit includes typical introductory fare, along with some discussion about the origin of Open Source, the GPL, and Red Hat, Inc.
  • Unit 1 -- Installation on Intel Architecture. Although Red Hat provides a SPARC installation option, it is not part of the RHCE course, which concentrates on Intel PCs. This section is an overview of PC hardware, disk partitioning, and Red Hat Linux installation. The lab consists of configuring a PC BIOS, partitioning a disk, and installing Linux to deliver a working installation.
  • Unit 2 -- Basic Configuration and Administration. This unit is true to its title, and there should be no surprises for anyone who has run even a single Linux system in a production environment. Covered are file systems, users, RPM, basic networking, PPP, and a few other items. The lab drilled administrative topics such as adding users.
  • Unit 3 -- Advanced Installation. In this unit, multiboot configurations, kickstart scripted installs, and some laptop basics are covered. Laptop video has come a long way over the last year, so this unit may have changed somewhat. The lab introduces some additional installation topics, such as creating boot disks, installing via NFS, and setting up a dual-boot system.
  • Unit 4 -- Advanced Configuration. This unit describes setup for the bash shell, cron, disk quotas, and system initialization. It touches on the linuxconf system configuration utility, though Red Hat's own utilities were also used in presentations. Software RAID configuration is given a cursory description. The kernel section of this unit briefly describes modular vs. monolithic kernels, kernel compilation, and installation, including LILO setup. The lab covers the important procedures for compilation and installation of a custom kernel. The RHCE requirement for kernel setup is for a custom kernel of the same version as was provided with the distribution, not a new kernel version.
  • Unit 5 -- X Window System. This unit covers X setup, primarily using Red Hat's Xconfigurator. A general X overview is also provided. The lab includes some interesting multi-machine X setup and configuration.
  • Unit 6 -- Standard Networking Services. This unit covers typical network services and their open source servers, such as Apache, NFS, DNS, FTP, printing, and Samba. A cursory description of Squid and News servers is also provided. Labs for this unit included Apache, NFS, Samba, and a pre-built DNS configuration.
  • Unit 7 -- Systems Administration and Security I. Here a number of typical system administration functions are introduced, including using TCP Wrappers with inetd, NIS, and a glimpse at firewall setup using ipchains. While the Pluggable Authentication Modules (PAM) concept is introduced, little practical PAM configuration is covered. The labs mainly covered TCP Wrappers configuration.
  • Unit 8 -- Systems Administration and Security II. This final module ties up some loose ends. It introduces routing and network address translation (i.e., masquerading), the Red Hat default user private group scheme, shadow passwords, syslog, and a little bit of debugging. The brief lab covers management of groups. Of course, by this time everyone was stressed about the upcoming exam and glad to go back to the hotel!

The overall pace of the presentation was reasonable, and adequate time and support was available to complete the labs. Sharing between students was encouraged where appropriate. The instructor was knowledgeable and eager to help. The use of time was better than the average of technical courses I've attended. After-hours study was not allowed on site, and it was clear that students needed to hit the road at the end of the allotted instruction time.

Sharing between students was encouraged where appropriate.

To prepare students for portions of the RHCE exam, the course included four quizzes with multiple-choice answers. The quizzes had nothing to do with certification results, and were used mainly to keep us thinking. Ample time was allowed to discuss the answers to the quizzes and to handle any questions they raised.

In the next section, I'll walk you through the parts of the exam and how long each takes.

Pages: 1, 2, 3

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