- History of Cisco Data Center Certifications / Cisco Data Center Certifications: Networking and Computing / CCNA Data Center and the DCICN 640-911 Exam
- Exam Details / Preparation Hints / Recommended Study Resources
- Exam Objectives / Where to Go From Here
The DCICN 640-911 exam serves as the very first exam in a journey toward any Cisco Data Center certification. To put CCNA Data Center in context, this article reviews the history of the Cisco Data Center certifications. It then discusses one of the biggest differences between the Cisco Data Center certs and other tracks: The fact that the CCNA Data Center certification includes both networking and computing content. The rest of the article then focuses on the CCNA Data Center certification, the DCICN exam in particular, and how to prepare for that exam.
History of Cisco Data Center Certifications
Networking has been an important part of Data Centers for almost the entire history of Information Technology (IT). The earliest computer networks connected user terminals and printers to the applications running in the Data Center. Over time, the details of what makes up a Data Center have progressed tremendously, and networking's role has progressed as well—in both importance and complexity.
Data Centers have been transformed by virtualization and cloud computing. Today's virtualized Data Centers allow great flexibility, for example: applications to move between server OS instances; server instances (virtual machines) to move to new server hardware; and server resources (CPUs, RAM, etc.) to be reallocated to the needs of the VMs. Storage, formerly sitting on a disk drive inside a physical server, sits on a storage area network (SAN), also allowing great flexibility. To make all these Data Center features work, network technology has progressed by adding networking features unique to the needs of Data Centers.
Cisco has long been the leading company in traditional networking, but it has established a leadership position in storage networking and a highly competitive position in server computing technologies. Cisco began offering SAN products in the early 2000s, helping lead the transition from separate SANs to converged products that support both storage and more traditional networking with Ethernet LANs.
Cisco also launched its Unified Computing System (UCS) family of products in 2009: server hardware built with virtualization in mind, with an eye toward easier integration with the storage and networking features required in every Data Center. (And in June 2014, the Cisco UCS achieved the #1 market position in the x86 Blade server market.)
The tremendous growth in Data Center technology over the previous decade has led to a much greater need for skilled engineers with a skillset geared towards Data Centers. Cisco actually had a CCIE Storage certification for those early years of Cisco's SAN products. Then, in 2012, Cisco morphed CCIE SAN into CCIE Data Center. That same year, Cisco added the CCNA Data Center and CCNP Data Center certifications as well. The result: a traditional complete CCNA/CCNP/CCIE certification track for Cisco Data Center technology.
Cisco Data Center Certifications: Networking and Computing
The Cisco Data Center certification track as a whole, from CCNA through CCIE, requires about as much attention to the compute features in Cisco UCS as it does for networking features. As evidence for this relative equality between coverage of networking vs. computing:
- The CCNP Data Center certification requires that you pass four exams: you must choose two exams that happen to focus on networking and two that happen to focus on computing.
- Cisco lists a percentage weight for each major section of the exam (per the list of exam topics). If you look at the CCNP Data Center and CCIE Data Center exam topics in particular, those weightings work out to roughly the same for networking topics and computing topics.
Note that this comparison puts both storage networking and traditional networking together.
However, the CCNA Data Center certification focuses much more on networking than on computing. In fact, the DCICN exam has no real coverage of compute or storage; the DCICT 640-916 exam (typically the second of the two CCNA Data Center exams that you would take) introduces compute and storage while still covering more networking (at least per the weighting information in Cisco's exam topics.)
CCNA Data Center and the DCICN 640-911 Exam
The CCNA Data Center certification requires that you pass two exams with no other prerequisites. Although you can pass the exams in either order, most people start with the DCICN 640-911 exam because DCICT relies on knowledge obtained in DCICN.
DCICN focuses on networking—no storage networking and no compute—as implemented on Cisco's Nexus family of Data Center switches. The major topics include these:
- Layer 2 Ethernet switching
- Layer 3 IPv4 routing
- General networking concepts
- Spanning Tree Protocol
- Virtual LANs and VLAN Trunking
- IP Routing Protocols and OSPF
- IP Access Control Lists
- Implementing and verifying these features on Nexus switches
Note that the end of this post lists the now-current DCICN 640-911 exam topics as of the time this article was posted. However, you should always check www.cisco.com/go/ccna and navigate to the correct exam to check the latest exam topics.
One big difference between the Cisco Data Center certifications, including the DCICN exam, is the focus on the Nexus switch product line and its operating system, NX-OS. The Cisco Nexus product line supports layer 2 Ethernet switching, layer 3 switching (IP routing), storage networking, various advanced protocols to support Data Center functions, and with virtual switch options to help create virtualized Data Centers. The DCICN exam includes details of NX-OS support of layer 2 Ethernet switching and layer 3 IP routing, plus related protocols.
Unlike many of Cisco's other CCNA certifications, the CCNA DC certification does not require the CCENT or CCNA Routing and Switching certification as a prerequisite. One reason Cisco does not require any prerequisite is that the DCICN exam topics have a large amount of overlap with the CCNA R/S exams. In fact, the ICND1 100-101 exam (which earns you the CCENT certification) sets the foundational skills for a career in networking using Cisco routers and Cisco Catalyst switches, whereas the DCICN 640-911 does the same, for many of the same concepts, but with the implementation on Nexus switches.
The following figure shows the current CCNA certifications with the minimum prerequisites. Note that CCNA Data Center, CCNA Video, and CCNA Service Provider are currently the only ones that do not require at least a CCENT certification as a prerequisite.