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Cisco Certifications Confront Changing Skills Needs

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

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