• 07/30/2014
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Cisco Certifications Confront Changing Skills Needs

New certs focused on network programmability, IoT, and IT/business skills will help steer IT pros toward emerging technologies. They could also help Cisco keep its hold on the market.

If you asked me to describe my number one fear about the rapid changes in the networking industry, I'd tell you that I'm worried my skill set will become stale. As network programmability, the DevOps movement, and software-defined networking slowly mature, they are affecting organizations in very real ways.

These changes lead to questions: What do I need to do to stay current? How can I remain confident when recommending a networking strategy to my organization? How do I know that I'm keeping up with the latest best-practices? What new technology exists that I don't know about but should?

One of the gaps in the new network has been official vendor training and certifications. Training has been the go-to strategy for many network engineers over the years. Whether this training has been via self-study or instructor-led classes, I've gone through hundreds of hours of vendor-oriented training in my nearly 20-year IT career.

Training is, in fact, how I gave my IT career a jump-start at its very beginning. You remember Novell, don't you? I landed my first IT support contract as a Certified Netware 3 Administrator. Yes, indeed.

Cisco has been phenomenally successful with its certification programs for many years now. A common strategy for network engineers has been to improve their network careers by climbing the Cisco certification ladder from CCENT/CCNA (the foundational "technician" and "associate" certifications) to CCNP (the mid-tier "professional" certification) to CCIE (the engineering "expert" certification).

Those familiar with the content of those programs know that Cisco has seemed slow to react to the market changes of recent days. However, that's not because the Cisco Learning Network (CLN) has been idle. Rather, CLN has been developing, not only new certifications, but also new training options to address where the market is headed. Let's take a look at the key things Cisco has done.

Updates to CCNP: Routing & Switching 2.0
The CCNP program has placed a stronger emphasis on purely routing and switching technologies. For a long time, CCNP included several topics -- such as wireless, video, and voice over IP -- that were not really core route/switch topics. These topics have now been eliminated and CCNP re-branded as CCNP Routing & Switching. This is now in line with the rest of the CCNP-level certifications, each of which has a specific focus such as Data Center, Security, and Voice.

This new CCNP Routing & Switching version 2.0 places a stronger emphasis on IPv6, including running dual-stack IPv4 and IPv6 networks. Cisco's logic is that now that public IPv4 address space has been very nearly exhausted in the North American market, IPv6 demand there will begin to match global IPv6 demand, especially as the oft-discussed Internet of things (IoT) comes to exist in the form of manufacturing sensors, household gadgets, and other devices that require network reachability.

Cisco is also requiring candidates to learn StackWise and Virtual Switching Service (VSS) technologies, both of which have been in the Cisco portfolio for years and seen broad customer adoption. Both technologies are used to make multiple physical switches behave like a single switch, but there are a number of design considerations and implementation details that impact their behavior in production networks.

Dynamic multipoint virtual private network (DMVPN), a technology that creates an overlay of secure tunnels across public or leased networks, has also been added to the CCNP Routing & Switching track, again emphasizing the renewed focus on routing and switching technologies that Cisco customers have in their production environments.

Three training courses exist for CCNP Routing & Switching, and Cisco has announced a new e-learning option for these three courses. Cisco wants to provide candidates with more study options, recognizing that in-person, instructor-led courses are difficult for busy network engineers to attend.

Next page: Specialist certs for SDN, IoT, and business


Read Three Early Chapters from the new CCNP Official Cert Gui...
Per Cisco's CCNP announcement yesterday, wanted to let you know that Cisco Press has new CCNP Routing and Switching materials forthcoming and readers can download three early Chapters from the new Official Cert Guides for ROUTE, SWITCH and TSHOOT. Plus we do have a special 40% offer on 642-series retired materials.
Re: Read Three Early Chapters from the new CCNP Official Cert...

Thanks for this information Jamie!

Will Cisco succeed in the indoctrination of a whole new gener...

I guess the first thing to recognise is that they have managed to get their SDN certs out faster than both Juniper and VMware, albeit half-baked and something they promised almost 12-months ago, at least now the Cisco faithful know SDN is real. The other thing I noticed is that they came to their senses and removed the CCIE requirement, but any CCNA or any CCNP does raise eyebrows (though in fairness have stipulated programming skills in python and/or C). A sign of desperation? Interpret it as you will.

Whilst interesting the Cisco Enterprise IT Business Specialist looks about 20 years too late, especially for those who are already well versed in frameworks such as COBIT, ITIL, TOGAF & PRINCE2 etc, very hard to see what value can be derived from it. As a member of the BCS I thought it was rather comforting to see them recommend our Business Analysis Foundation Certificate.

As for pursuing the Cisco Industrial Networking Specialist, good luck! Just a pity they haven't taken it as an opportunity to get rid of the dead wood i.e. CCIE SP Ops would be a good start. 

Re: Will Cisco succeed in the indoctrination of a whole new g...

Mus, what are your thoughts on the Industrial Networking Specialist? I am really interested to see what they decide to focus on. It seems to me that a cert in that area could be split into several different industries (or might need to be, to learn anything useful).

Re: Will Cisco succeed in the indoctrination of a whole new g...

It does seem like the Industrial Networking Specialist cert would need to be tailored for specific industries to be practical. I also wonder about the Enterprise IT Business Specialist. Aren't infrastructure architects always supposed to be aligning with the business? Would a Cisco cert really help on that front?

Re: Will Cisco succeed in the indoctrination of a whole new g...

Hi Sue,

My first thoughts were impractical and somewhat premature, however do acknowledge that Cisco have placed a big bet on this market being worth around $14 trillion, which sort of reminded me of the big bet they placed on Video.

I'm sure the cert itself equates to more than learning how to set up a ruggedized router, but to understand their insertion point appears to require an understanding of the business of Rockwell Automation, perhaps a Cisco acquisition target, who knows?

I know they've recently concocted an IoT stream for business partners, so very suprised to see it in the public domain already.

Either way I'm not sure a single cert does the potential of IoT any justice 

Re: Will Cisco succeed in the indoctrination of a whole new g...

The world according to Cisco.  Drink the kool-aid its good for us.

Re: Will Cisco succeed in the indoctrination of a whole new g...

@ReturnoftheMus.  I think you pose a good question.  I also wonder if technology has the same allure to today's HS grads as it did during the days of the internet bubble.  That's not to say that there's less cool technology out there, but the salaries are certainly not what they used to be, relative to the amount of training that is now required.