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DBA Certifications Compared: Oracle vs. DB2 vs. SQL Server

By: Howard Fosdick
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If you’re looking into DBA certification, you’ve got to decide with which product to certify. Which DBA certification is most marketable? Which best fits you? How do the vendors’ certification requirements vary, and what are the costs and the time involved?

This article compares the DBA certifications for the three products that dominate the commercial DBMS market: Oracle, DB2, and SQL Server. The goal of this comparison is to give you some vendor-neutral information to orient you and launch you successfully on your certification quest.

Which Certification?
If you see your career mated to a particular product, you’ll likely want to certify with that product. Or, maybe you’ll want to expand your skillset by certifying with some other database.

One point to consider carefully in today’s tight job market is which DBA certification is most marketable. Get on some of the DBA job boards (monster.com, dice.com, justoraclejobs.com, justsqlserverjobs.com, and justdb2jobs.com) and see if the want ads specify DBA certification. I’ve found that some Oracle ads do, but few DB2 or SQL Server ads do. From this perspective, the DBA certification from Oracle appears to be the most generally marketable. But depending on the job and the company, having that DB2 or SQL Server certification on your reésumé just might be the credential that squeezes you past non-certified candidates.

You’ve also got to consider marketability in terms of the platform(s) with which you work. DB2 totally dominates on mainframes and the IBM iSeries™ (formerly the AS/400). It has a strong presence on UNIXs and Linuxes and runs on all significant platforms. SQL Server dominates on Windows Servers, but does not run anywhere else. If you see yourself as a “Windows professional,” it should be your choice. But if you view yourself as a “professional DBA,” SQL Server’s Windows-only restriction limits its value. Oracle has the most balanced presence of the “big three” vendors across all platforms, and it leads market share across all forms of UNIX. Oracle comes in a strong second to SQL Server on Windows. Oracle has traditionally been the most marketable DBA certification.

The Linux platform presents a question-mark. Linux has the greatest growth rate of any operating system, but because of that rapid growth its database market share is up for grabs. Both DB2 and Oracle have good Linux presence and are actively being promoted.

What all this tells us is that different DBA certifications may best suit different people, depending on their goals, where they work, and where they want to work. But there’s much more to selecting the right DBA certification than looking at market share. Let’s briefly describe each of the DBA certification programs and what’s involved in getting certified.

Comparing Certification Requirements
You agree to a vendor’s terms when you certify with their product. Vendors reserve the right to change these terms at any time (in practice, vendors adjust their programs about every new database release). Be sure you agree with the vendor’s terms before you embark on the effort to certify! Table 1 shows where to get this information.

Vendor Certification Information

Oracle http://www.oracle.com/education/certification or www.oracle.co

DB2 http://www.ibm.com/certify or www.ibm.com

SQL Server http://www.microsoft.com/traincert/mcp/mcdba/default.asp or www.microsoft.com

This article is current for Oracle 9i Release 2, DB2 Version 8, and SQL Server 2000. As vendors make certification program changes, your source for updates are the above links.

Table 2 lists exactly what’s required to achieve each vendor’s DBA certification. You pass the exams listed to obtain the successive certifications listed in the right-hand column.

Oracle9i has three progressive “levels” of DBA certification, from the “associate” or OCA level, to the “administrator” or OCP, to the “master” or OCM. You pass two exams to achieve OCA, and two more to become an Oracle-certified DBA (referred to as the OCP). Previously called the OCP-DBA, the OCP has long been considered the “standard” certification level for Oracle DBAs. The OCP also requires that you take one “Oracle-approved course.” The course requirement was added for 9i Release 2, and at this point in time, few courses have been approved other than those given by Oracle Education. The OCM cert is new in 9i. It requires two instructor-led courses from Oracle Education, as well as a lengthy exam that you can only take onsite at Oracle. The differences between the 9i and 8i certification programs are summarized in an article published in Certification Magazine1.

DB2 Version 8 requires only a single exam for each level of DBA certification. Since each test results in a separate certification, they must be taken in the order listed. There is no course requirement. The highest level of certification, that of the “Advanced Database Administrator,” is new in DB2 Version 8. Detailed information on DB2 V7 certification is available in the article “DB2 Certification: Everything You Need to Know.” Read the Version 8 revision of that article by entering the keywords db2 certification everything in the Search box at the DB2 Developer Domain.

Both IBM and Oracle offer DBMS certifications other than the DBA certifications that are the topic of this article. See their respective Web sites in Table 1 for details.

SQL Server 2000 requires four exams to achieve the Microsoft DBA certification (called the MCDBA). The exams can be taken in any order, and there is only this single level of DBA certification. The three required “core” exams include two on SQL Server and one on Windows Server networking. You also must pass one “elective” exam, which you select from a list of about a dozen tests on topics such as .NET, various programming languages, and Windows. Passing any single Microsoft certification exam makes you a Microsoft Certified Professional (MCP). The MCDBA has no course requirement.

Don’t forget that certifications age. As new product releases come out, you’ll have to pass an “upgrade test” to become certified with the new release. For Oracle or DB2, this means you’ll have to take one upgrade test about every two years. For SQL Server, the picture is less clear. In the past, Microsoft has tended to change their DBA certification program rather than offering upgrade tests, so see Microsoft’s certification web site for their current policy.

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