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

by Howard Fosdick

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 (,,,, and 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 or
DB2 or
SQL Server or

Table 1: Vendor certification information.

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.

   Requirement:  Certification:
Oracle 9i Rel 2    Exam 1Z0-001- Intro to Oracle9i: SQL and PL/SQL ---or---Exam 1Z0-007 – Intro to Oracle9i: SQL  
  Exam 1Z0-031- Oracle9i DBA Fundamentals I   Oracle Certified Associate (OCA)
  Exam 1Z0-032- Oracle9i DBA Fundamentals II  
  Exam 1Z0-033- Oracle9i Performance Tuning  
  One instructor-led class approved by Oracle Corp.   Oracle Certified Database Professional (OCP)
  Two instructor-led classes only available at an Oracle facility          Oracle Certified Master (OCM)
  One hands-on exam that can only be taken at an Oracle facility  
DB2 V8 Exam 700- DB2 Family Fundamentals Database Associate
  Exam 701- DB2 Database Administration Database Administrator
  Exam 704- DB2 Advanced Database Administration Advanced Database Administrator
SQL Server 2000   Exam 70-x28 - SQL Server Administration  
  Exam 70-x29 - SQL Server Design  
  Exam 70-29x or 70-215 - Windows Networking Systems  
  Exam elective – you select 1 exam from a list of 12 exams on topics like .NET, programming, Windows, and so on. Certified Database Administrator (MCDBA)

Table 2: DBA certification requirements.

Comparing the Costs

Certification costs vary widely, according to how you approach the process. Computerworld once estimated typical certification costs between $4,000 and $10,0002, yet some clever DBAs certify for only a few hundred dollars. Table 3 summarizes the minimal costs you must sustain to obtain the three DBA certs.

  Exam Fees Course Expenses

Oracle — OCP
1st test is $903 tests are $125$90 + 3 * $125 = $465 total fees. You must take one Oracle-approved course. Typical in-class fees are roughly $500 per day (plus hotel and travel, if necessary). Oracle offers a few online courses that eliminate hotel and travel expenses. Typical total expense: $1,000 to $3,000.

DB2 — Database Administrator
$120 per test.2 * $120 = $240 total fees.

Testing fees are waived if you take the tests at conferences held by the International DB2 Users Group or the IBM DB2 Technical Conferences.

None required.
SQL Server — MCDBA $125 per test.4 * $125 = $500 total fees. None required.

Table 3: DBA certification — minimal cost comparison.

There are several ways to reduce your certification costs. The best is to get your employer to pay the bill. According to an informal survey by Certification Magazine, about half of employers pay either all or most certification costs3. The three vendors’ Web sites offer professionally-written substantiation about why you should certify. Download this information, clip it to an email, and send it to your manager. Let the vendors’ marketing pros convince your manager that the company should pay for your certification!

Even if your employer won’t pay for taking exams, buying books, or vendor courses, many will still give you some study time at work. This pays off — the buzz at sites like and Certification Magazine indicate that candidates typically take two to five weeks to study for each exam. Doing this on company time could preserve your personal life. Even saving a vacation day to sit for the exam is a nice favor, if your company will allow it. The key to convincing your employer to pay for certification is that it represents a measurable increase in your skill level. Companies are much more likely to budget for skill improvement if it is quantifiable. Certification fits the bill.

Now let’s compare the costs of the three DBA certifications. Oracle’s is most expensive, due primarily to the mandated instructor-led course requirement. See Oracle’s Web site for current costs, but in most cases, we believe this requirement will set you back $1,000 to $3,000. An important factor in this expense is whether hotel and airfare must be included. To address this concern, Oracle allows certain courses to be taken via the Web. Add in the exam fees for the OCP’s four tests, which total $465.

IBM offers the least expensive DBA certification. The standard DBA certification requires only two tests, for total exam fees of $240. You can even avoid the exam fees by taking the tests for free at the International DB2 Users Group conferences or the DB2 Tech Conference. A major advantage to the IBM program is that they offer free, downloadable study materials. Some are interactive, GUI-based courses, others are certification-specific study guides. They are excellent. Get them from these Web addresses:

These free certification study materials make DB2 the clear cost-leader among the DBA certifications.

SQL Server requires four tests for a total exam fee of $500. A nice feature of Microsoft’s program is that if you’ve passed Microsoft exams for other certifications, you might be able to apply them towards the MCDBA. For example, if you’ve already passed the Windows Server Networking exam, you can directly apply this to the MCDBA. This reduces both your total exam cost and your study time. Like DB2, the MCDBA has no course requirement.

All three vendors give you a reduced exam testing fee when you take “beta” exams. This is how the vendors verify new exams, for example, when they pilot-test new “release upgrade” exams. But this approach is only for the most-committed DBAs, since the beta test period typically precedes the availability of any study materials.

You will not need to absorb certain costs. For example, you’ll need hands-on experience to pass any of the DBA certification exams. If you cannot get this at work, you’ll need to install the product on your home PC. All three vendors allow you to download free trial versions of their DBMSs from their web sites. Many certification books also come with bundled limited-time versions of the products.

You’ll increase your chances of passing the exams by taking “practice tests” prior to testing. All three vendors’ web sites (and many of the certification study guides) contain practice tests. Some candidates prefer to buy comprehensive practice tests for the exams from companies like Transcender or Self-Test Software, but such purchases are optional.

Comparing the Certifications

Table 4 summarizes some of the advantages and weaknesses of each vendors’ DBA certificationification program.

Oracle’s OCP-DBA has always been the most marketable DBA credential. It requires passing four exams, but it might be worth it. Oracle greatly improved the 9i certification program over the 8i program by awarding the OCA certification after you pass the first two exams. (Previously, you only achieved your first certification after passing all the OCP exams). This benefits candidates because it allows them to gain an Oracle certification without committing to the full OCP path. Another improvement is that only four exams are now required for the OCP, instead of five.

Oracle introduced the instructor-led course requirement in 9i release 2. This significantly increases the cost of the DBA certification. The new “master level” or OCM certification goes so far as to require two more courses. Given that Oracle represents their certification exams as valid measurements of skill, why are such courses required? Experienced DBAs don’t need them. The ironic result is that the most experienced Oracle DBAs won’t become OCMs. Requiring Oracle-approved courses for certification gives the unfortunate appearance that the vendor is trying to enhance revenue at the expense of the IT professional.

IBM’s DBA certification program is highly modular – you achieve a certification for each test you pass. You must only pass two exams for the standard certification, and three for the advanced DBA certification. This means it should take you half the time to obtain the standard DBA certification for DB2, versus the four tests required for Oracle or SQL Server. Whether you measure by time or money, this fact, plus the lack of a class requirement and the many free study materials IBM offers make DB2 the least expensive certification. All you really must buy are a few certification books, as you may even test for free at various conferences.

The DB2 Version 8 certification is greatly improved over that for Version 7 by adding the “Advanced Database Administrator” level. This cleaned up a hodge-podge of advanced exams offered in Version 7, and provides a clear, three-level path for V8 DBA certification.

The DB2 certification is where you want to be for mainframe and iSeries™ database certification, and there is substantial evidence that DB2 UDB is increasing its market share against Oracle on other platforms (refer to table 4). We believe this will become an increasingly important credential.

SQL Server certification should be your choice if you see your career as strictly defined by Windows. Since SQL Server only runs on Windows, the certification only applies to that platform. The MCDBA credential fits nicely with other Microsoft certifications, as you may be able to apply one of those tests to your DBA certification. Another plus to this certification is that here are a plethora of third-party study materials for the MCDBA tests. Microsoft itself sells excellent, inexpensive certification training kits.

On the downside, the only database-oriented certification Microsoft offers is the MCDBA, and it has only one level (although the first Microsoft certification exam you pass does make you a Microsoft Certified Professional or MCP). Oracle and IBM offer multiple-level DBA certifications. They also offer numerous database-related certifications this article does not cover (for database developers, operators, and the like). Microsoft offers only the MCDBA, and two of the four exams candidates may pass to achieve it do not have anything to do with databases!

Our biggest concern with the MCDBA is Microsoft’s constant program changes. Before committing to this program, understand that Microsoft frequently alters the MCDBA requirements. Microsoft is the only company to have ever de-certified professionals who do not upgrade their certifications on the company’s mandated time-table. This gives the appearance that Microsoft uses their certification programs as another lever to force customers to software upgrades. We strongly believe that DBAs themselves should time when they upgrade their certifications to newer product releases. If they fail to upgrade, the marketplace naturally addresses the problem as their certifications age and gradually become obsolete.

  Advantages Disadvantages
      • Most marketable certification
      • Leads market share on Unixes, popular on Linuxes and Windows, runs everywhere
      • Other related DBMS certifications available
      • Requires one course for OCP
      • OCM is prohibitively expensive
      • Dominant DBMS on mainframes and iSeries™, decent market share elsewhere
      • Earn a certification for each exam you pass
      • Many free study materials available
      • Inexpensive
      • Other related DBMS certifications available
      •  Marketability?
SQL Server
      • Dominant DBMS on Windows Servers
      • Great fit with other Microsoft certifications
      • Marketability?
      • Only runs under Windows
      • Only 1 database certification available (no levels)
      • Requires four exams to achieve the DBA certification
      • No other related DBMS certifications available
      • De-certification?
      • Frequent program changes

Table 4: DBA Certification Programs — Advantages and disadvantages.


No one vendor’s DBA certification is “better,” across the board, than the others'. Nor is there a single answer to the question: “Which DBA certification should I go for?” The many factors involved in pursuing DBA certification ensure that different certifications are most appropriate for different DBAs. This article gives you the information to make an intelligent choice.


      1. Certification Magazine 01/03.
      2. Computerworld 03/01.
      3. Certification Magazine posted online 10/03.

See articles in eWEEK from 05/26/03, 03/17/03, 05/08/02 and 07/07/02; InfoWorld, 05/08/02; Database Trends and Applications, 07/02 and 06/02; Intelligent Enterprise 06/28/02. Gartner Dataquest statistics are in eWEEK, 05/26/03. Linux marketshare is in The RDBMS Top Ten: License Sales Analysis and Market Forecast, 2001-2006. Document #28096. International Data Corp. (IDC), 10/02.


Howard Fosdick is both an Oracle-certified DBA and an IBM-certified DB2 UDB DBA. He has written many technical articles and is a popular conference speaker, and he has worked hands-on as an independent DBA contractor since 1989. Reach him at

Contributors : Howard Fosdick
Last modified 2005-04-12 06:21 AM
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