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The Growing CCNA Family

CCNA Certified

Cisco’s CCNA certification, and once upon a time it did start out just as one, has become one of the most readily recognized and desired tech certs out there. As I begin my preparations for my CCNA Data Center studies, I became curious as to what other new CCNA specializations had been added since I first started to get into tech certifications a few years ago. When I obtained my CCNA there were also a few specializations that you were able to obtain. At that time you had to obtain your CCNA Routing and Switching before you were able to obtain one of the CCNA specializations: Wireless, Security, Video, Voice, and the newly added Service Provider among them. When the ICND1 exam was expanded to include more topics, essentially making it “tougher,” the policy changed to allow one to challenge for most of the CCNA specializations after just obtaining your CCENT. Nowadays, they aren’t even really thought of as specializations, they are simply CCNA certs covering a different topic than Routing and Switching. And the available topics to obtain a CCNA in began to expand even further, take a look for yourself. There are currently ten current CCNA certifications, eleven if you include CCDA, that’s certainly enough to keep you busy for a while!

CCNA Service Provider was still very new, only having been around for about a year, when I obtained mine. One of the things I worried about as I worked towards obtaining the cert was if I was spending time on a cert that’s right for me. I think everyone will have that moment, or many moments, of doubt at some point during their cert studies about if they are focusing on the right thing. I’ve had this happen a good month or two into my studies, and once, I actually decided to drop that topic and change over to something else entirely. Was it wasted time? I try not to think of it that way, it’s true I didn’t obtain a cert from that time, but I still gained some useful knowledge that I can apply to my work.

Another thing to keep in mind when pursuing a relatively new cert is that there will not be a wide variety of study material for it. If you are not able to obtain training from a provider like Global Knowledge, assuming they even have a course for the new cert, you often have limited options: one or two study guides, and maybe video training. This can be a bit of shellshock after you leave the safe, warm confines of CCNA Routing and Switching training, where there is absolutely no shortage of study guides, practice labs, and training videos from a multitude of vendors. When I started CCNA SP, the only material available was the training guides from the classroom-based courses I was fortunate enough to attend, and the Cisco recommending reading of two of their Cisco Press books: MPLS Fundamentals and Cisco IOS-XR Fundamentals. There was also no way to effectively sim IOS XR for home studies (some limited options have seen come around), so only my limited time with in-class labs and poking around (very carefully!) with our production routers at work.

It’s also interesting to see existing certifications can change in response to changes in the IT world, the obvious example is that CCNA Voice and CCNA Video have now been rolled into CCNA Collaboration, and those who possessed either one of those certs will need to complete a new Collaboration exam to move to the new exam, while those that have completed both previous certs will be awarded the new one. The latest newcomers to the family are CCNA Cloud and CCNA Industrial. CCNA Cloud, much like Service Provider, does NOT list CCENT as a prerequisite, it requires that you complete two exams specific to it. It also will likely attract the attention of those who are hoping to get their skillset ready for the jobs that will make themselves available as more knowledgable people are required to design and maintain cloud infrastructure. CCNA Industrial is a bit of a curiosity to me, after reading the synopsis I have a hard time imagining there is a large target audience for such a cert. On the other hand, I can’t imagine that Cisco planned, developed, and released the cert and its material in a vacuum. It’s a cert I can safely say that I will never acquire.

Another topic that I foresee starting to become more popular is Software Defined Networking. Large vendors such as Cisco and Juniper already have implementations of SDN available for sale, and Cisco has some SDN certifications available. I expect that this topic will start to move more toward the mainstream of networking, with more study material and certs to be made available as the need for SDN experts begins to grow. I’m going to guess that it won’t be long before we see a CCNA branded Openflow or SDN cert!

A new section of CertManiacs launches, introducing Study Guides!

One of my early ideas for this site was to upload the study guides that I create for myself as I prepare to write a certification exam, today I’m ready to begin fulfilling that part of my vision and I hope it serves you all well!

Without any further ado, I present the first in my series of study guides, one that was created as a final study reference for the Cisco CCNA Service Provider SPNGN1 640-875 exam, it and any further guides can be found at the Study Guide link at the top of the navigation bar, or just follow this link.

Interesting White Paper About Cisco Certifications

Just a quick link today to a white paper that I found to be quite an interesting read for anyone wanting to learn a bit more about the history of IT certifications. The paper focuses on the history of Cisco’s certification and where they all stand today. Global Knowledge, the company publishing the paper, is an IT training firm that I’ve had positive experiences with in my professional career. This isn’t a comment on the company either way, but I should mention that their training is generally priced out of the range of the beginning learner who’s cautious about investing too much into the process early on, especially when they might not yet have a plan as to where they want to ultimately take their studies.

Follow the link below to obtain the PDF file of the white paper, be aware that Global Knowledge will ask for some registration information (name, business address, email address, and more) to complete the download, so fill out the form as you see it fit:

Global Knowledge White Paper About Cisco Certifications by Johnny Bass

Why Network+?

Network Plus Certified

When considering a cert to study, you need to make decisions on what you hope to learn and accomplish as a result of your studies. But sometimes I think a little more meta and I wonder, “Why does this certification exist?” Network+ is one of those certs that I have pondered that exact question. Do we NEED Network+? I mean, think about, we have our Cisco certifications, we have our Juniper certifications, and there are plenty of more networking vendors of all shapes and sizes that also offer their own certification program. So if I can just push forward and get my CCNA, not wasting my time with these “lesser” certs, then why wouldn’t I?

Well, if you have got the motivation and means to jump past Network+ and CCENT, then you should do it. In my experience, however, I think that some people underestimate how big an endeavour getting their CCNA cert is, especially if you are completely green in the networking field. It covers a lot of ground, and even though the depth of some of the topics only goes down an inch or two, the combined pool of them is a mile wide. I have worked with people that have failed the test(s) anywhere from once to over a dozen times, those people that have had to reattempt the exams multiple times clearly made errors in their judgment of whether or not they were actually prepared to write the exam. In truth, many of those people would have been better served by focusing on learning networking basics, protocols and standards, before even worrying about the ins and outs of any particular vendor.

So that’s a really long winded way of saying that yes, I think that Network+ has a place in the certification world. CompTIA is a vendor-neutral cert organization, a fact that they quite proudly tout, and if you follow the Network+ curriculum, it will walk you though the basics of things like Spanning Tree Protocol or the seven layers of the OSI model. When you are comfortable with these concepts and can apply them to vendor specific procedures, things will fall into place that much easier for you. Network+ is an achievable exam, I don’t mean to imply that it is easy, but it can be a milestone in your cert study path that you can reach in a reasonable time frame and build off of.

One bit of advice I would like to include in this article is to try and think ahead in your cert study pathway, that is to say, what are the next two certs that you study for going to be after you obtain your currently targeted one? Network+ gets you quite far allow the path to your CCENT, and with the increased difficulty of the ICND1 (the exam to obtain your CCENT) in the 2013 update , if you pass it you will be well on your way to the full CCNA. Network+ is less likely to be a specific requirement for many IT jobs out there than say, CCNA would be, but it is a way to validate networking knowledge to recruiters, and in my case, helped develop the specific knowledge I needed to obtain my current position in my industry.

CompTIA’s landing page for Network+ information

My next series of articles will take a look at Network+ study resources, both paid and free, that are available out there.