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Data center managers struggle to fill Linux admin jobs

Linux talent is in high demand, with organizations willing to pay big bucks for those with the right qualifications. Do you have what it takes?

It's a great time to be an IT pro with Linux skills.

The rise of open cloud platforms has had a positive impact on the Linux admin jobs market, with data center managers doing their best to attract and retain Linux talent.

Nearly all of the over 1,000 IT managers surveyed by Dice, an IT career website, and The Linux Foundation said they plan to hire professionals with Linux skills.

Half of respondents to the March 2015 Linux Jobs Report said they'll hire more Linux talent this year than last year, and Linux skills have furthered 90% of respondents' careers.

To find these prospective candidates, 70% of hiring managers incentivize to retain Linux talent with more flexible work hours, telecommuting and raises, according to the survey.

Although this year's findings are similar to the 2014 Linux report, some major technologies are changing the Linux jobs game.

Linux skills for success

The most important Linux skill to have right now is general systems administration, said Jack Wallen, a Kentucky-based Linux expert and avid promoter and user of the Linux OS.

But there is a major shift happening that will lead to specialization in certain areas of Linux, although not as much on the distribution.

"Everything will be less platform-specific. It's hard to specialize on a specific platform, except if you're a sys admin," Wallen said.

Big data, databases, cloud and mobile are among the important skills to acquire to succeed in Linux, said Wallen.

Only 6.5% of respondents said a majority of their time is dedicated to database administration, according to The TechTarget 2014 Salary survey, which surveyed over 1,000 IT respondents in North America, not just Linux pros. Mobile technology is believed to be most important, according to 14.5% of the TechTarget survey respondents. A number of respondents -- 14.5% -- are concerned with application development and design for 2015.

Everything in the future will be accessible through mobile technology, and those seeking positions in Linux need to develop skills associated with mobile. Linux professionals will retool websites, services and systems to work on mobile devices.

Linux staffing in the last year was driven by the rise in open cloud platforms, security and software-defined networking.

Linux is "getting more of a security focus from the OS makers themselves, third-party applications and staff maintaining these systems," said Adam Fowler, IT operations manager for a law firm in Australia.

The sys admin role is the most sought after position to fill, with 66% of managers looking for Linux talent to fill this job, according to The Linux Report. The most promising Linux-based technologies for a sys admin are security, databases, cloud, Openstack and containers, Wallen said. When you put all of the pieces together, he said, you have a cohesive sys admin role.

Cloud computing will be a primary focus for 20.9% of respondents in 2015; cloud occupies 8.1% of respondents' time.

Experience or knowledge of OpenStack and CloudStack is a major consideration in the hiring process, and 49% of Linux pros say that open cloud will grow significantly in 2015.

"We cannot exist or evolve without cloud," Wallen said. "Look at the services they offer-- VoIP, VPNs, SNS recording, etc. [Open cloud vendors] are so much better than others with open source technology."

Part of the reason for open cloud's success is how it works with mobile services, he said. Open cloud is great at deploying mobile services. The biggest market is mobile, and open cloud will eventually own that.

But open cloud is not without fault. For example, Linux-based clouds use the Java-based Rhino tool, which is considered slow and insecure, Wallen said.

Those with skills to secure and advance essential infrastructure projects will do particularly well in the Linux job market, due mostly to the security breaches such as Heartbleed that enterprises experienced in 2014. In the TechTarget 2014 Salary Survey, 22.3% of respondents said that security filled most of their time last year.

Winning Linux certifications

If you've got the cert, you've likely got the job.

According to the Linux Report, 44% of managers said they are more likely to hire an applicant with a Linux certification. When hiring a sys admin, 54% expect a certification or formal training.

Red Hat and SUSE certifications are the highest valued, Wallen said. Ubuntu is also a valid certification since it pushes the Linux desktop further, but Red Hat and SUSE are on the forefront of the technology shift.

Linux certifications are also incentivized: 38% say they will help employees with the cost of certification or help them continue their education to get certified.

The struggle for talent

Demand for Linux talent outweighs supply, and data center hiring managers struggle to find professionals with the proper Linux skills. The Linux Report states that 88% of respondents find it very or somewhat difficult to find such candidates.

The improved economic climate has allowed organizations to offer more money and hire more talent. In 2014, 49.2% of respondents received a raise; only 2.8% experienced a pay-cut, according to the TechTarget 2014 Salary Survey.

Most administrators still focus on learning Microsoft skills since its products have been the standard in the industry for many years.

A fear of change exists in those who hesitate to move from Microsoft to open source, Wallen said. Some are fearful, and others just don't know about it, Wallen said.

Fowler acknowledges the demand for better Linux talent -- his law firm only uses blackbox style devices that run on Linux. Everything else in the data center runs on Windows for budgetary reasons.

"[We are] already heavily invested in Microsoft, so it doesn't make much financial sense to find alternate solutions," Fowler said. "Training of staff is the other factor -- although we wouldn't discount a Linux-based solution, it spreads us thinner across even more technologies that would give us less opportunity to deliver a good, reliable service."

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