Prior to the release of the Cisco Certified Entry Networking Technician (CCENT) Certification, the first-entry level Cisco Certification was the Cisco Certified Network Associate (CCNA). Often considered the gold standard in entry-level networking certifications, the CCNA certification covered a vast array of topics. Over the years, these topics ranged from Token Ring, AppleTalk, IPX/SPX, IP, and RIPv1. Now topics covered on the CCNA certification include variable-length subnet mask (VLSM), wireless, security, VPNs, DHCP, and troubleshooting. Often one would find daunting all the topics covered on the CCNA exam; for one would not only need to have an understanding of the topics but have a good working knowledge of each topic. Now with the recent addition of the CCENT Certification, one has several options for entry-level networking certifications.
With the addition of the CCENT Certification, many students and professionals have wondered which certification to pursue. Do you pursue the CCENT or the CCNA? Also, what is the difference between the CCENT and CCNA? This article will compare and contrast the differences between the CCENT and CCNA certifications with the goal to shed light on the different topics covered by each certification and the value of each certification.
What’s the Difference?
Many potential test takers have wondered what the differences are between the CCENT and CCNA certifications. Questions often asked include, “Which one should I purse?” “What are the different topics of each exam?” “Are the tests different?” “Should I take the path of obtaining the CCENT and then the CCNA, or just the CCNA?” and “Which is the easiest path?” These questions, all valid, present the quagmire facing many test takers today.
So what really are the differences between the CCENT and the CCNA certifications? From a high-level, the primary difference between the two exams is depth of scope. The CCENT certification is an entry-level certification designed as the starting point for those going into networking. The topics covered in the CCENT exam provide enough knowledge to give one the knowledge to install, operate, and support small branch networks. Also, the topics covered in the CCENT exam give one a solid foundation in networking.
The CCNA is considered an associate-level certification and adds onto the foundational knowledge covered in the CCENT certification providing one the knowledge to install, operate, and support medium-sized internetworks. The scope and skills required for the CCNA certification are larger and deeper than the CCENT and go into intermediate topics such as advanced dynamic routing protocols, VPN protocols, and Rapid Spanning-Tree (RSTP).
A Deeper DiveThe Topics and Exams
Let’s go into a deeper dive, outlining the differences between the CCENT and CCNA certifications, starting with the CCENT.
As stated earlier, the CCENT is an entry-level certification designed to give one the foundational knowledge to start a career in networking or provide one the required networking skills to understand how networking affects applications or operating systems. For example, a system administrator, database administrator, or a programmer might be interested in studying for the CCENT exam to provide a better understand on how networking impacts them and the applications or systems they are working on. Many times there have been battles back and forth between networking teams and system admin or programing teams on where an IT problem lies. A solid understanding of networking will help minimize such instances. Lastly, the CCENT exam is the first step towards obtaining the CCNA certification.
The CCENT certification consists of one exam- 640-822 ICND1. The recommended course for the CCENT exam is Interconnecting Cisco Network Devices 1 (ICND1). The exam fee for the CCENT certification is $125. The exam duration is 90 minutes and ranges between 40 to 50 questions. The topics covered on the ICND1 exam include:
- Networking fundamentals
- Connecting to a WAN
- Basic Security
- Basic Wireless Concepts
- Routing and Switching fundamentals
- OSI and TCP/IP models
- IP Addressing
- WAN technologies, connections, and encapsulation
- Configuring and operating Cisco router and switch IOS devices
- Static routing and dynamic routing with RIPv2
- Network Address Translation (NAT) and DHCP.
New to the CCNA exam series, and included in the ICND1 and ICND2 exams, is basic troubleshooting. Since troubleshooting networks of any size is a fundamental skill for any network administrator, Cisco has introduced troubleshooting topics and questions in both exams. An understanding of how to identify and correct common network problems is important to know to successfully pass the ICND1 and ICND2 exams. As such, it is important to understand how the OSI model works, what network problems occur at each layer, and various show and debug commands.
Also included in the ICND1 exam is the topic of wireless fundamentals. Since wireless LANs are abundant in today’s internetworks, Cisco felt it was important for entry-level technicians to understand the basics of wireless LANs. Wireless topics covered include: understanding wireless standards, components of wireless networks (such as SSID, BSS, and ESS), various ways to secure wireless networks, and issues with implementing and managing wireless networks.
The CCNA certification can be achieved by either taking one composite exam- 640-802 CCNA or by taking two exams- 640-822 ICND1 and 640-816 ICND2. The recommended training for the CCNA certification is ICND1 v1.1 and ICND2 v1.1. The CCNA composite exam consists of 45-55 questions and has a time limit of 90 minutes. The cost the exam 640-802 CCNA is $250.00.
If you go the route of taking ICND1 and ICND2 exams to achieve the CCNA certification, you will have to take the 640-816 ICND2 exam in addition to the 640-822 ICND1 exam mentioned earlier. 640-816 ICND2 consists of 40 to 50 questions with a time limit between 75 and 90 minutes. The time limit is dependent on the number of questions on receives. The costs for 640-816 ICND2 is $125.
In addition to the topics covered in the CCENT certification, the CCNA certification exam topics include:
- IPv6 addressing
- Extending switched networks with VLANs
- Configuring, verifying, and troubleshooting VLANs
- Layer 2 Protocols- VTP and RSTP
- Dynamic Routing Protocols- EIGRP and OSPF
- Implement, verify, and troubleshoot NAT
- Security with access-lists
- Establishing point-to-point and Frame Relay WAN connections
- VPN protocol basics
- Troubleshooting the above protocols
Although the ICND1 exam covers NAT and DHCP, the coverage is on a basic level. One is expected to know the basic uses and operation of NAT and DHCP in a small network and how to use Security Device Manager (SDM) to configure NAT and DHCP. In ICND2, one is expected to have a great understanding of NAT, how to use the CLI to configure NAT and DHCP, and troubleshooting both protocols.
Ultimately, the path taken is up to the test taker and their end goal. The CCENT certification is an entry-level certification and it is a great certification for one who does not want to have a career in networking but wants to understand the fundamentals of networking. The CCENT is also a great way to take stepped approach to the CCNA certification. The CCNA certification is an associate certification and provides a broader and deeper knowledge of networking. This certification is great for those beginning a career in networking.
If you want to achieve the CCNA exam, is it better to take ICND1 and ICND2 or the composite exam? There is no correct answer to this and once again is up to the individual. Financially, the cost is the same by taking ICND1 and ICND2 compared to the composite exam. The only difference is the number of questions, time, and topics. Going the route of taking both ICND1 and ICND2 will consist of 80 to 100 questions; the CCNA composite exam is only 45 to 55 questions. The composite exam requires you to know all the topics on both the ICND1 and ICND2 exams. As such, you have to study more topics at once for the composite exam than if studying individually for ICND1 and ICND2 exams. This said, is it fair to say that since the CCNA composite exam contains approximately half the questions as both the ICND1 and ICND2 exams, you may not be tested as deeply on each topic as you will be by taking both exams individually.
In summary, the CCENT and CCNA certifications are both excellent certifications for those looking to gain a deeper understanding of networking. The CCENT certification provides an entry-level networking foundation and also provides a stepping-stone to the CCNA certification. The path taken is up to each individual’s goals and comfort level with taking exams.