Sunday, March 9, 2014

Should I attempt the Oracle RAC certification exam?

I was recently sent the following question about RAC certification by a colleague:

"I don't have hands on experience with Grid and RAC 11gR2 (I last did RAC in 9i 9.2 on Tru64 and Linux). I am quite competent with the core database itself. 
I have been reading the recommended material (e.g. books suggested on your certificationprep site). Do you think it would be worthwhile to attempt the exam without hands-on experience?"

My answer to the question is 'Yes'.  I realize that completely kills any possibility of generating suspense in this post. The more cynical readers might well think that asking that question of me is much like asking a car salesman if now is a good time to purchase a new vehicle. In this case, though, I have no conflict of interest since there is no Oracle Certification Prep study guide for either of the 11g RAC exams.  The two possible options are:

1Z0-058 -- Oracle Real Application Clusters (RAC) 11g Release 2 and Grid Infrastructure Administration
1Z0-593 -- Oracle Real Application Clusters (RAC) 11g Essentials

The Essentials exam covers background information on the 11g RAC solution and how to install it. It is not a deep-dive intended for people planning to administer a Real Application Cluster system. I believe his intended exam is the one for Grid Infrastructure Administration. The topics on this test get into the nuts and bolts of configuring, monitoring, and diagnosing an 11g RAC database environment.

The base question that I am answering is "Would be worthwhile to attempt the exam without hands-on experience?" In this context, "Worthwhile" can be read in a couple of different ways.  It can be taken as "Would I pass the exam?" or as "Would pursuing the exam be worthwhile to my career?" The two are very different things.

In terms of passing the exam, I am confident, based on what I have seen from forum postings of the individual who asked the question, that he will invest sufficient preparation time required to learn the exam topics. Even without a study guide specifically for that exam, there is a wealth of relevant information available. He is correct, however, in being concerned about not having hands-on experience. Having worked with Oracle RAC in 9i is a plus, but there have been a lot of changes in the technology between 9i and 11g.  That said, if he is really serious about acquiring the required skills, it is certainly possible to set up a RAC test environment to obtain that hands-on experience.  Tim Hall has an excellent example about setting up an 11g RAC system using VMWare. It requires a computer with a hefty amount of RAM, but that should not be an impossible obstacle. Even if you have to skimp on memory and the system is dog-slow once setup, the process of installing and configuring it will provide much of the hands-on experience that will be useful for the exam.

In terms of being worthwhile from a career standpoint -- that is a harder question to answer. To answer it well involves knowing a great deal about the career goals of the person asking (which I do not), and being able to predict the future (which I cannot). However, I am a firm believer that it is almost always worthwhile for an Oracle professional to learn more about the Oracle database -- even if it is regarding a particular technology that they are not currently using. I have found it extremely useful in my own career to have a very broad knowledge of the Oracle technology stack.

Summing up, my advice is specifically to use the topic list from the exam as a checklist. Use the resources listed at my website to research the various topics.  Try to locate other resources on the Web -- it is extremely unlikely that I found everything out there (if you find some good links, please pass them on to me and I will add them to the site so others can benefit). I highly recommend setting up a test system.  You can download and use the software for the purposes of preparing for the exam, so the only potential expense is the hardware. I am confident that you can pass the exam and that the knowledge you gain will prove useful to you in the future.