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VMware VCP alternatives: Consider a Microsoft or Red Hat certification

VMware's VCP was the gold standard for years, but as the popularity of other vendors grow, there's new value in a Microsoft or Red Hat certification.

As an IT professional looking to stand out in a crowded field, virtualization certification can help show a potential employer that you have the skills and dedication necessary to succeed. But, it's no secret that popular virtualization certifications, like the VMware Certified Professional, aren't exactly cheap. In the past few years, the popularity of these certifications has increased, creating a new problem. With tens of thousands of VCPs out there, it's becoming more difficult for IT pros to separate themselves from the competition. However, alternatives such as a Microsoft or Red Hat certification could help you land your next job.

The challenge in finding the most useful certification is that there currently is no vendor-agnostic certification. That means if you want to be a virtualization certified professional in this era, you need to choose between one of the major vendors. There are three worth considering.

The clear virtualization market leader is VMware, which offers a number of virtualization-related certifications, including several new certifications based on cloud computing. VMware Inc.'s base certificate, and by far the most popular, is the VMware Certified Professional (VCP). It is widely acknowledged, but it's also expensive. To become a VCP, you not only have to pass the exam, but you must also complete one of the approved courses. Exam plus course fees can easily exceed $4,000.

Over the past year, VMware certifications have become very popular, which means there are already many VCPs. So, if there is a job opening requesting VCP skills, you might find yourself facing a huge opposition. To increase your chances at landing a job, it might be worth looking at other options, where competition is not as heavy.

Virtualization certification options: Microsoft or Red Hat

Number two in the virtualization market is Microsoft, without a doubt. Microsoft includes the Hyper-V virtualization platform for free with Windows Server, allowing it to penetrate into businesses that were previously using VMware. The challenge with Hyper-V is that, right now, there is no Hyper-V-specific certification. With Microsoft, you can opt for a Microsoft Certified Solutions Associate (MCSA) or a Microsoft Certified Solutions Expert (MCSE). In both cases, virtualization is just a part of the overall certification. Upon passing just the Hyper-V exam, you will be rewarded with the title of Microsoft Certified Professional, but this is not a title that is likely to increase your chances on the job market. So if you go for Hyper-V certification, include an MCSA certification as well. That means you'll have to pass four tests, instead of just one. Luckily, with Microsoft you'll just have to pay to take the exam; there's no obligation to sit through the courses as well.

An interesting newcomer to the virtualization certification market is Red Hat Inc., the creator of Red Hat Enterprise Linux. The company now offers Red Hat Enterprise Virtualization (RHEV). RHEV is just a small part of the virtualization market today, but because Red Hat's pricing is rather aggressive, it is growing fast.

For professionals that are looking for a virtualization certification, a Red Hat certification is a valid choice. It's called the Red Hat Certified Virtualization Administrator. The certification is interesting, as there are not many RHCVAs yet. There is no need to sit through the course to earn the certificate; you just have to pass the exam.

The RHCVA costs much less than the VMware VCP, but it's still not cheap. The RHCVA exam is unique in that the candidate works on a real server to create a real configuration that is supposed to work. VMware VCP and many other exams just require a candidate to answer multiple-choice questions. The skills and real-world experience needed to pass an RHCVA exam is what an employer really values, not a candidate's theoretical knowledge.

Several choices exist to prove your virtualization skills. Both Microsoft and Red Hat offer lower-cost certification alternatives to VMware's VCP. There are fewer MCSAs and MCSEs than VCPs, and Microsoft's market share is rapidly increasing. Likewise, RHCVA may also be a good choice for some IT pros as Red Hat grows. In either case, a Microsoft or Red Hat certification will cost less than the VCP.

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