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Networking Certification Roundup

IT certification expert and Anderson College professor Emmett Dulaney describes both vendor-neutral and vendor-specific networking certification options and offers tips for exam preparation.
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There are a number of certifications available for those wanting to authenticate their networking skills. As with most other certifications, they fall into two camps: vendor neutral (not focused on any one particular distribution) and vendor specific. Within those two categories, we will look at the most popular certifications and briefly outline methods for studying to obtain them.

Vendor-Neutral Certifications

There are a number of possibilities for vendor-neutral certifications in the networking discipline. The following discussion looks at the market leaders.

CompTIA Network+

We talked about CompTIA's Linux and Security certifications earlier in this series, and the organization's second most popular certification (behind A+) is Network+. This entry again represents a leader in entry-level certifications. Targeting networking professionals with nine months of experience or more (although this isn't required), the exam's primary areas of focus are networking technologies, devices, media and topologies, and management. Questions concerning network tools and securities are also included, but these topics are covered less extensively.

In addition to being well-recognized among entry-level certifications within the IT industry, CompTIA's Network+ is also included in the networking certification paths of other companies including Cisco, Novell, Microsoft, and HP. This makes Network+ a valuable starting point for network professionals planning on obtaining multiple certifications in the field.

Network+ was originally offered in 1999, and the most recent version of the test was released in early 2009. The 90-minute exam consists of 100 questions, with a score of 720 out of 900 required to pass. For network professionals certified with a previous version of the Network+ exam, recertification can be obtained by either passing the newest exam in its entirety or by taking the Network+ bridge exam. The abbreviated bridge exam consists of only 50 questions and covers the areas of assessment new to the 2009 exam.

To learn more about CompTIA's Network+ certification and to find testing information, visit http://www.comptia.org/certifications/listed/network.aspx.

SNIA Storage Network Certification Program

The SNIA offers multiple levels of storage networking certifications beginning with Certified Storage Professional (SCSP). The 73-question SCSP exam covers foundational vendor-neutral knowledge of storage networking management and troubleshooting. The Certified Storage Engineer (SCSE) exam builds on these foundational topics with 60 questions that assess familiarity with networking standards and protocols and also verify knowledge of network upgrades and modifications. SNIA also offers the Certified Storage Architect (SCSA) certification, which focuses on the planning and design of storage network systems. Both the SCSE and SCSA require Certified Storage Professional certification as a prerequisite.

SNIA's top-tier certification, Certified Storage Networking Expert (SCSN-E), partners with approved vendor-specific certification providers including Cisco, HP, and Hitachi to provide a thorough evaluation of storage networking expertise. To obtain the certifications, candidates must receive SNIA's three other certifications and one from an approved partner.

All SNIA exams last 90 minutes and cost $200 within the United States ($225 in outside countries). Candidates looking to expand their SNIA certification repertoire may have to retake exams if their prior certifications were obtained using earlier versions of exams. To learn more about all their certifications and exam policies, visit SNIA online at http://www.snia.org/education/certification.

Cisco Certified Internetworking Expert (CCIE)

Cisco's CCIE certification represents the gold standard for certification in the networking field. While many would argue that it is not truly vendor neutral (and thus belongs in a later discussion here) because it requires substantial knowledge of IOS and Cisco products, I would argue that every "neutral" certification requires some specific knowledge, and it is almost impossible to have a network of any size without Cisco components.

Globally, less than 1% of networking professionals have obtained the certification, which tests candidates' networking knowledge and abilities through both written and hands-on exams. The written portion of the CCIE exam lasts two hours, costs $350, and can be completed online at approved testing centers. The exam features multiple question types and goes well beyond most certification exams to test knowledge of the subtleties of network administration and troubleshooting. Upon completion of the written exam, candidates are eligible to take the lab portion of the CCIE assessment. This hands-on exam lasts eight hours and requires participants to configure and troubleshoot networks in real time.

While obtaining CCIE certification, candidates can follow one of seven tracks, each focusing on a different area of network expertise. The most popular track is routing and switching, while other tracks feature concentrations in security, storage networking, and wireless networks. CCIE certifications must be renewed every two years to maintain active status. To achieve recertification, candidates may choose to complete one written exam from any of the CCIE tracks, any CCIE lab-based exam, or the Cisco Certified Design Expert exam. Recertification of CCIE also recertifies any lower-level Cisco certifications.

For network professionals wanting to obtain CCIE certification but lacking the experience or expertise to pass its rigorous exams, Cisco offers entry-level, associate, and professional certifications to help candidates work up to expert-level certification. These beginning certifications are recommended for individuals pursuing any of the seven CCIE tracks. For more on recommended certification paths and exam information, check out http://www.cisco.com/web/learning/le3/learning_career_certifications_and_learning_paths_home.html.

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