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7 IT Infrastructure Certifications Gaining Value

  • IT professionals often wonder whether the time and expense involved in acquiring a certification is worth it. And if it is, which certification should they pursue?

    Foote Partners recently released its 2018 IT Skills Demand and Pay Trends Report, which helps answer those questions. Based on data from 3,188 North American employers, the report found that the average market value for the 446 IT certifications it tracks climbed 0.3% in the first quarter of the year. While that doesn't seem like much, the study also found that on average, having a single certification was worth 7.6% of an IT worker’s base pay.

    Drilling down into the data, the report also found that a select group of certifications had gained 10% or more in market value during the six months ending April 1. Several of those certifications are related to IT infrastructure, and those are the certifications highlighted on the following slides.

    However, the fact that a given certification has recently increased in value doesn’t necessarily mean that demand is increasing for a given skill or that the trend will continue. The report rightly points out that a lot of different factors can influence supply and demand for certifications, including factors people don’t often consider, such as vendors aggressively marketing certain certifications or overhauling their certification programs.

    Foote Partners’ data also revealed that market value volatility for tech skills is leveling out.  The analysts attribute the decreasing fluctuation in pay for various skills to “something more urgent”: the arrival of “game-changing emerging technologies” like blockchain, the internet of things, artificial intelligence, automation, data analytics, and new cybersecurity advances. These areas could see some of the highest employment demand in coming months and years, and vendors haven’t yet created certifications related to some of this newer tech.

    Still, for IT professionals who follow career trends, it’s worth noting which certifications are seeing sharp upticks in demand. And according to Foote Partners, the following certs from the networking and communications and systems administration categories gained significant value.

    Note: Certifications are arranged in alphabetical order, not in order of relative value.

  • Cisco Certified Design Expert

    The Cisco Certified Design Expert (CCDE) credential was designed, as described by Cisco, for "expert-level network design engineers, expert-level network leads of IT infrastructure teams, and expert-level network leads of architecture teams working in job roles that require them to translate business needs, budget, and operational constraints into the design of a converged solution." It has no prerequisites, but you'll need to pass both a written and a practical exam. The written exam takes two hours and has 90 to 110 questions. The practical exam lasts eight hours and asks candidates to accomplish network design tasks related to given scenarios. It has four separate sections of 25 to 35 questions each, and each section relates to a different scenario.

    Cost: $450 for written exam, $1600 for practical exam

  • Cisco Certified Network Associate

    Cisco’s Certified Networking Associate (CCNA) comes in multiple varieties: Routing and Switching, Cyber Ops, Wireless, Cloud, Data Center, Security, Collaboration, Industrial, and Service Provider. The requirements, prerequisites and costs are slightly different for each. The Routing and Switching certification is probably the most popular. It doesn’t have any prerequisites, but candidates must pass either the CCNA exam or both part one and part two of the Interconnecting Cisco Networking Devices (ICND) exam. The CCNA exam comprises 60 to 70 questions and lasts 90 minutes. ICND 1 takes 90 minutes and has 45 to 55 questions; ICND 2 takes 90 minutes and has 55 to 65 questions. A CCNA Routing and Switching Cert remains valid for only three years, and to re-certify, candidates will need to pass the same or another Cisco test.

    Cost: $325 for CCNA exam or $165 for ICND part 1 and $165 for ICND part 2

  • CompTIA Server+

    A vendor-neutral certification that is particularly popular with IT infrastructure pros, the CompTIA Server+ certification requires knowledge about virtualization, storage, security and troubleshooting in both cloud and in-house data center environments. To take the exam, you’ll need to have 18 to 24 months of IT experience, and most candidates also have the CompTIA A+ certification. The 90-minute test has 100 multiple choice questions, and to pass, you’ll need a score of 750 out of 900. The certification is valid for life. CompTIA also sells test study prep materials, as do many third-party training providers.

    Cost: $302

  • Dell EMC Storage Administrator

    All three of the levels of the EMC Storage Administrator certification — Associate, Specialist and Expert — gained at least 10% in market value in the six months ending April 1. These are product-specific credentials at the Specialist and Expert level, so for example, you can take a test specific to VMAX, Isilon, XtremIO, or other Dell EMC storage products. At the Associate level, every product track requires the same Information Storage and Management Exam. The 90-minute test has 60 questions, and to pass, you must get a score of 61. The exam is typically structured as follows: 15% on data center infrastructure; 29% on storage systems; 20% on storage networking technologies; 23% on backup, archive and replication; and 13% on security and management replication.

    Cost: $200 for Associate level exam; other levels vary

  • HP Accredited Integration Specialist (AIS)

    This is one certification program that may have experienced a surge in demand for an unusual reason. HP has reorganized its certification programs under the HPE brand. Based on its recently updated Certification Paths document, it appears that the Accredited Integration Specialist is becoming the Accredited Technical Professional certification. Although some third-party vendors appear to still be offering the AIS exam, HP/HPE no longer actively promotes it on its website.

  •  Juniper Networks Certified Internet Professional/Expert

    The Juniper Networks Certification Program (JCNP) has four different tiers: Associate, Specialist, Professional and Expert. The two highest tiers — Professional and Expert — saw pay increases of 10% or more, according to the Foote Partners report. Those two certifications come in several different flavors: Data Center, Enterprise Routing and Switching, Junos Security and Service Provider Routing and Switching. The requirements for each tier and track are slightly different. By way of example, the Professional certification for Enterprise Routing and Switching requires candidates to have first completed all the requirements for the Associate and Specialist levels. They must then pass a two-hour, multiple-choice test that includes 65 questions. Expert certification requires a hands-on lab.

    Cost: $400 for Professional, $1,400 for Expert

  •  NetApp Certified Data Administrator, ONTAP

    In order to qualify for the NetApp Certified Data Administrator, ONTAP, certification, candidates must pass one of two tests: the NetApp Certified Data Administrator, ONTAP exam (NSO-159) or the NetApp Certified 7-Mode Data Administrator exam (NSO-155). The NSO-159 exam lasts 90 minutes, and test takers must get 38 of the 60 questions correct in order to pass. It covers architecture, core ONTAP features, high availability, front-end client protocols, networking, storage provisioning, performance, security and compliance, and data protection. The NSO-155 exam also lasts 90 minutes and has 60 questions, but you must get 48 questions correct to pass. It convers SAN introduction, FCP components and configuration, iSCSI components and configuration, CIFS, MP, NFS, aggregate reallocation, Windows support, deduplication, large aggregates, high availability and data protection MP.

    Cost: $150