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CCNA Voice: Everything’s Changing... Again!

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The Cisco CCNA Voice certification has been somewhat mysterious over the last couple of years. Initially it started as as a required stepping stone to the coveted CCVP certification, then it changed to an optional step, and finally it caused a divide into the CCVP Commercial and CCVP Enterprise certifications. Once again, Cisco is moving CCNA Voice back into a required objective…but why? Jeremy Cioara, author of CCNA Voice Official Exam Certification Guide (640-460 IIUC), discusses the new CCNA Voice certification, its role in your CCVP journey, and what to expect in your studies.
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It almost sounds like the Apple iPhone slogan, but once again Cisco Voice certification changes are here. Personally, I think these changes are going to make the voice certification program much easier to understand, albeit more difficult to complete!

Why Change?

Creating a certification program for Cisco VoIP had to be a major challenge simply because the landscape of products and technologies covered by Cisco voice technology. Often, when speaking with people about the previous CCVP certification, common questions would be, “What about voice mail? Isn’t there any certification exam for Cisco Unity?” Yes indeed, Cisco Unity has always been left out of the mix—not because it’s not important, but simply because it wasn’t as important as all the other VoIP topics.

What VoIP network can communicate with the PSTN without voice gateways (CVOICE)? How can an IP Phone even get dial tone without Cisco Unified Communications Manager (CIPT1 and CIPT2)? Likewise, everything quickly falls apart without Quality of Service (QoS). So you can see the challenges facing Cisco—how do you cram more stuff into an already packed certification program?

What’s Up with the CCNA Voice?

Explaining this topic again and again was becoming almost painful to me. So here’s the conversation:

  • Student: “I’ve read online that I don’t have to have a CCNA Voice to get the CCVP—is that true?”
  • Me: “No, actually you do have to have a CCNA Voice to get the CCVP certification. However, you automatically get a CCNA Voice after passing one of the CCVP exams.”
  • Student: “Huh?”
  • Me: “There are actually two ways to get a CCNA Voice now: Passing the IIUC exam, which focuses on Cisco Communication Manager Express, or passing the CVOICE exam, typically the first exam of the CCVP.”
  • Student: “Ahhhhh. So if I pass the IIUC exam I can skip the CVOICE exam.”
  • Me: “No. You still have to take it.”
  • Student: “Huh?”

Somewhere around here is where the conversation typically digresses into ramblings of CCVP Enterprise versus CCVP Commercial, how no one really knows the difference, how most people just skip IIUC and take CVOICE, and how I’m not really upset even though I wrote a book to prepare people for the IIUC exam. Really, I’m not…

So here we have this mystery exam that is required, but not really, for CCVP certification. Sounds like the perfect place to start revising!

CCNA Voice Takes a Lesson from CCNA

CCNA is, without a doubt, the coolest certification anyone has ever developed. Think about it: you’ve got one certification that covers the foundations of networks, VLANs, distance vector and link state routing protocols, network address translation, access-lists, and even WAN links (including the dreaded Frame Relay). As a matter of fact, the CCNA covers so many topics, you have to spend the entire CCNP filling in all of the gaps left by CCNA. Does that mean the CCNA doesn’t do its job educating Cisco network folks? Not at all, it does its job perfectly, clipping off the “tip of the iceberg” on a variety of topics (Figure 1), making technicians proficient in many core network skills while getting their taste buds wet for more depth.

Figure 1 Core Topics of CCNA

This naturally leads people to the CCNP certification…something the older CCNA Voice never did.

CCNA Voice (based on the IIUC exam) was focused around one product line: Cisco Unified Communication Manger Express (CME), a product designed to allow a small- to mid-size business to run their entire phone system off of a Cisco ISR router. While this is an awesome product, it reaches a small business segment not everyone has to deal with, thus the creation of CCVP Enterprise: a certification allowing testers to “skip over” the CME-focused material and jump straight into the CCVP enterprise-focused content. Likewise, IIUC focused on granting you a virtual mastery over CME. It does not “lead you” into the CCVP at all, and if you did choose to continue into the CCVP you would not see CME mentioned again.

Can you see where this is going? Cisco has brilliantly revised CCNA Voice to become just like the core CCNA certification. Working through the CCNA Voice material now covers four major topics:

  • Cisco Unified Communications Manager Express (CME)
  • Cisco Unified Communications Manager (CUCM)
  • Cisco Unity Connection
  • Cisco Unified Presence Server (CUPS)

Now I must admit, when I first saw this outline for the CCNA Voice, my jaw dropped. I thought, “There’s no way you can cover all that material in a single certification!” However, once I began to look through the ICOMM content, I realized Cisco is once again taking the same “tip of the iceberg” approach they did with CCNA (see Figure 2)

Figure 2 Core Topics of the CCNA Voice

Where This Leaves Us

You might be tempted to look at this and think, “So Cisco’s now requiring an additional certification exam for the CCVP (now CCNP Voice)?” I suppose you could look at it that way, but it’s a certification exam that should have been required from the beginning anyhow. In addition, by requiring this certification exam, Cisco is creating a natural step into the CCNP Voice. The content in the CCNP Voice will no longer be completely new as it was in the CCVP days. As you’re learning CUCM (through CIPT), you’ll be coming across topics where you’ll think, “I already know this—I learned it back in CCNA Voice,” only to realize that the CCNP Voice takes you far deeper into the topic than you thought possible. The CCNA Voice now will be like learning basic arithmetic math skills before you move into algebra.

I’m quite excited about this new direction Cisco has chosen for its CCNA Voice certification—excited because it makes more sense and gives you a better experience as you move into the CCNP Voice. Likewise, I’ll never need to have another conversation about the difference between CCVP Commercial and CCVP Enterprise. Finally, I won’t have to pretend that I’m not upset about my CCNA Voice book being optional. And I’m not upset…really…

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