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The Road To Certification: Revisited

Volume Number: 24
Issue Number: 10
Column Tag: Certification

The Road To Certification: Revisited

Increase your knowledge and build credibility on the way

by Doug Hanley

Introduction

In a previous series of articles, we looked at Apple's IT certifications and hardware certifications. We examined reasons for and benefits of getting certified, as well as the testing experience and the changes Apple made to its IT certifications with the release of Mac OS X Leopard. We looked at the new Macintosh Technician certification, designed for technicians at Apple Authorized Service Providers, as well as Apple's Pro Apps certifications for Final Cut Studio and Logic Studio. While we did cover the new Apple Certified System Administrator (ACSA) 10.5 certification, we were not able to look as deeply into the topics covered on each of the exams required for ACSA certification and what resources are available to help you prepare for them. Those resources are finally available including Apple Authorized Training Center classes and books. We will also discuss upcoming Snow Leopard Certification, which should be available after its release next year.

Apple Certified System Administrator

Apple Certified System Administrator (ACSA) is Apple's highest IT certification. An ACSA is recognized as having an in-depth knowledge of Mac OS X's technical architecture, and the ability to design and maintain networks. An ACSA should be able to enable, customize, tune and integrate Mac OS X, Mac OS X Server and other Apple technologies within a multi-platform environment.

ACSA certification has undergone a few changes over the years. When the certification first launched for Mac OS X 10.2, it required passing two exams that were based on concepts covered in two five-day classes - one focused on client and one on server. With Tiger (Mac OS X 10.4) it became a credit-based system with a minimum of 7 current credits required to be an ACSA. Now with Leopard (Mac OS X 10.5), there has been a change that I believe is for the better. To achieve ACSA 10.5, you now need to pass four exams: Server Essentials, Directory Services, Deployment, and Advanced System Administration. I feel this is a more challenging and rewarding certification. In this article, I will tell you about the courses and books available to help prepare for those exams.

Preparing for the Exams

The best way to prepare for any of the ACSA exams is to take the associated class at an Apple Authorized Training Center (AATC). You can find the nearest AATC at: http://training.apple.com/locations. You could also prepare by reviewing the Apple Training Series book published by Peachpit for the particular course, but you will be more thoroughly prepared by participating in a class. The classes are a combination of lectures and hands-on exercises designed to reinforce the concepts covered in the course. All of the exams are now available as well as the associate books and courses. Also available are the Skills Assessment Guides and Sample Tests, which can be downloaded as PDFs at:

http://training.apple.com/certification/acsa

Directory Services

In January's issue we discussed in detail what is involved in the Server Essentials course. Now we will look at the other three areas of study: Directory Services, Deployment, and Advanced System Administration.

In the four-day Mac OS X Directory Services v10.5 (Leopard 301) course, students learn how to effectively configure Mac OS X computers to access directory services, and how to configure Mac OS X Server to provide directory services in a mixed-platform environment. The course itself focuses on both Mac OS X as a directory service client, and Mac OS X Server as a directory server. Cross platform solutions will be emphasized in both instances. Students using Mac OS X learn how to use network accounts and Kerberos authentication with any common directory service, such as Apple's Open Directory, Microsoft's Active Directory, or an industry-standard LDAP server. In working with Mac OS X Server, students learn how to run a robust, scalable directory system using Apple's Open Directory service. Students also learn how to use Mac OS X Server to augment an existing directory service infrastructure.

The following is an overview of how your time will be spent in the class. You begin by examining the Local Directory Service, and move on to accessing an Open Directory System. Open Directory is the LDAP directory service model implementation from Apple. You will learn how to properly bind to an Open Directory Server and troubleshoot authentication issues. The class then covers working with 3rd party LDAP servers, including Active Directory from Microsoft because it is important to learn the different ways you can integrate your Mac clients into other directory systems. By the third day, you are configuring your own Open Directory system and learning how to distribute the load through replicas of your system. Finally by the fourth day, you are connecting your server into Open Directory and other directory systems. All along the way, you are learning more about the underlying services and processes involved.

Having a solid understanding of directory services and how they are implemented and integrated in Mac OS X is crucial to deploying multiple servers offering varying services all tied to the same directory structure. You will need this deeper understanding if you want to move beyond stand-alone deployments of Mac OS X Server.

The reference guide used in the class is Apple Training Series: Mac OS X Directory Services v10.5, by Arek Dreyer (ISBN: 978-0321509734).

Deployment

Speaking of Deployment, there has to be a better way to install the operating system and software on multiple machines on your network than using a DVD or CD, right? Well that is exactly what is covered in the three-day Mac OS X Deployment v10.5 (Leopard 302) course. The first section of the course focuses on solutions for deploying software, ranging from individual files to complete system images to multiple machines. Students get hands-on experience using tools such as Apple Remote Desktop, Disk Utility, PackageMaker, and System Image Utility, and leave knowing the pros and cons of various deployment solutions. In the second section of the course, students apply what they have learned and create a full deployment plan that includes testing, deployment, auditing, and maintenance. How to create a multi-tiered Software Update Server, and third party solutions are also discussed to augment your deployment plan.

One of the key concepts covered in this course are modular images. Currently, many large institutions, especially school districts do what can be referred to as monolithic imaging. In other words, they build and install everything needed on one machine and image it. Then they deploy that image. Modular imaging allows you to update parts without having to go through the entire install processes again. This has become a critical strategy for Mac OS 10.5 Leopard. Even a Leopard client machine has a local KDC, or a Kerberos key distribution center. You will run into many problems if you clone and deploy monolithic images because you now have a number of machines which all think they are the same local KDC. Because of this, you may decide the modular imaging section alone is worth the cost of the class.

The reference guide used in the class is Apple Training Series: Mac OS X Deployment v10.5, by Kevin White (ISBN: 978-0321502681).

Advanced System Administration

The Mac OS X Advanced System Administration v10.5 (Leopard 401) course builds on the foundations established in the Support Essentials and Server Essentials courses, and is designed to empower students to meet the challenges faced by administrators deploying Mac OS X Server in today's complex and dynamic data centers. This challenging five-day course equips students with in-depth and practical skills in Mac OS X technology. The course's task-based focus enhances the learning process through the use of practical examples in a relevant context.

Tasks are organized into several key knowledge domains: implementation, networking, administration, and optimization. Implementation tasks focus on aspects of installing, upgrading, configuring, and migrating existing legacy systems to more recent versions and configurations. Networking tasks concentrate on establishing solid foundations for network services, as well as connecting private and public networks securely. Students gain experience with monitoring tools and automation technologies that form the core of the administration tasks necessary to effectively administer large deployments on a daily basis. An exploration of tools and techniques relating to performance-based tasks such as optimizing services, scaling systems, and establishing high availability of services, data, and components, helps build students' confidence in their administration skills. The course concludes with vital maintenance tasks that address aspects of maintaining a system's availability and preserving the integrity of critical data.

If you are not comfortable with the command line, I strongly suggest you become familiar with it ahead of time. There is a great deal of typing required, however you do learn the underlying systems and procedures hidden behind the GUI of Mac OS X. You will definitely learn how to harness the power of UNIX in Mac OS X. The extensive use of the command line interface reveals a deeper scope of the course's subject material and prepares students to become more efficient by taking advantage of the wide variety of automation technologies built into Mac OS X and Mac OS X Server. This is a long, but worthwhile class. Combined with the other ACSA classes, the depth of knowledge and experience you will gain in supporting a Mac OS X-based network is priceless.

The reference guide used in this class is Apple Training Series: Mac OS X Advanced System Administration by Edward Marczak (ISBN: 978-0321563149).

Hitting the Road

Having sat through the instructor preparations for the Leopard courses, I am very excited about the quality of the ACSA level classes. I strongly recommend taking courses at an AATC, where you not only get hands-on experience and access to the additional materials, but also the valuable expertise of an Apple Certified Trainer and your industry peers. The other advantage is that you have access to enough computers to implement the exercises and test new ideas in a safe environment. The best trainers are the ones who actually do this type of integration in the real world. I suggest you use these criteria as you select a trainer and training center.

The Near Future of Apple Certification

Certification is a journey, and for Mac OS X, the journey continues with each new release of Mac OS X. It was announced at WWDC 2008 that Snow Leopard (expected to be Mac OS X version 10.6) will be released next year, although we don't know when exactly. One of the unique features of Snow Leopard is that the focus is less about new features and more about refinement and stability of the operating system. If you already hold a Leopard certification for ACTC or ACSA, there will only be an Update Exam for each. This creates a strong incentive to achieve your ACSA sooner than later, especially if you have started on the path.

More information about ACSA certification, classes and other preparatory materials is available on Apple's training & certification website:

http://training.apple.com/certification/acsa


Doug Hanley owns MacTEK Consulting & Training, an Apple Authorized Training Center in Las Vegas, NV. His time is divided between teaching classes and wrangling servers. He has been providing support on the Mac since the early 90's. To track him down, go to http://www.mactektraining.com or email doug@mac-tek.com.

 
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