Cisco Certification Programs
Cisco offers five levels of IT certification: Entry, Associate, Professional, Expert, and Architect. In addition, you can choose among eight different tracks:
- Routing & Switching
- Network Security
- Service Provider•Service Provider Operations
- Storage Networking
Within these eight tracks and five levels is also the option of pursuing specialized certifications. For example, you can obtain a CCNA Security certification, become a Cisco Routing and Switching Solutions Specialist, or become a Cisco Data Center Unified Computing Design Specialist.
Entry-level Cisco Certifications: The Cisco Certified Entry Networking Technician (CCENT) certification is the starting point for many successful careers in networking. With a CCENT, you demonstrate the ability to install, operate, and troubleshoot a small enterprise branch network, including basic network security. Usually, the CCENT certification is simply a stepping stone to obtaining either a Cisco Certified Network Associate (CCNA) or Cisco Certified Design Associate (CCDA) certification.
The current CCENT exam is 640-822 ICND1. There is no prerequisite for obtaining a CCENT certification, and it is valid for three years.
Associate-level Cisco Certifications: There are two associate-level Cisco certifications—CCNA and CCDA. According to Cisco training materials, the CCNA certification “validates the ability to install, configure, operate, and troubleshoot medium-size route and switched networks, including implementation and verification of connections to remote sites in a WAN.” The CCDA certification validates “the skills required to design routed and switched network infrastructures and services involving LAN, WAN, and broadband access for businesses and organizations.”
The current CCNA exam is 640-802 CCNA (alternatively, you can take 640-822 ICND1 and 640-822 ICND2). There are no prerequisites for the CCNA exam. Within the CCNA certification, there are four specialist certifications you can obtain: CCNA Security, CCNA Voice, CCNA Wireless, and CCNA SP
Operations. All these specialist certifications require a current CCNA or CCIE certification, as well as passing an additional Concentration exam.
The current CCDA exam is DESGN. Passing this exam requires CCNA-level and BCMSN-level knowledge. The latter refers to the material covered in the Building Converged Cisco Multilayer Switched Networks exam (BCMSN 642-812).
Every three years you will need to renew your CCNA certification. Recertification involves either re-taking (and passing) the CCNA exam, or any of the following Cisco certification exams:
- Current ICND2 exam
- Any current CCNA Concentration exam (Wireless, Security, Voice, or SP Ops)
- Any current 642-XXX professional-level exam
- Current CCDE Practical Exam
- Any current CCIE Written Exam • Any current Cisco Specialist exam except Sales Specialist, MeetingPlace Specialist, or Implementing Cisco Telepresence Installations exams
- Cisco Certified Architect (CCAr) interview and the CCAr board review
In those intervening three years, it is quite likely that networking protocols, security threats, and technology will have changed significantly, because networking is one of the fastest-changing areas of Information Technology. In addition, Cisco is likely to have modified the CCNA and other exams to reflect these industry changes.
Therefore, you will need to invest in continuing education during the three years to stay abreast of what’s new. Not only will this make recertifying easier, but it will make your skill set more valuable to your employer.
There are many avenues for continuing education, including reading books and magazines; attending podcasts, Webinars, symposiums, seminars, workshops, and technical trade shows and conferences sponsored by vendors and professional organizations; joining one of the standards bodies, such as the IEEE 802 LAN/MAN Standards Body; participating in online group discussions; and taking online classes.
- Webinars: These brief (typically two to three hours) online educational opportunities are usually very targeted to a specific audience and topic, and can provide a wealth of information in a short time (assuming the instructor is competent). You can attend the Webinar from your work or home office. Before the Webinar date, make sure you have all the necessary software and files downloaded to your computer, that your firewall won’t block Webinar participation, and you know how to participate in the Webinar (login information, phone number, how to use the Webinar software, and so on). Here are a few sources of computer networking-related Webinars. Professional organizations such as IEEE and ACM and vendors such as Cisco often offer Webinars as well.
- Conferences: Although they can involve quite a bit of travel time and expense, attending technical conferences is a fantastic way to learn how to do your job better and boost your chances of successfully recertifying your CCNA.
- Standards Bodies: Being involved in the organizations that set the standards, such as FTP, TCP/IP, IEEE 802, and so on, is a sure-fire way to stay on top of the most recent developments in the computer-networking industry. Plus, membership looks almost as good on your resume as does your CCNA certification.
Professional-level Cisco Certifications
There are four professional-level Cisco certifications:
- Cisco Certified Network Professional (CCNP) validates the ability to plan, implement, verify, and troubleshoot local and wide-area enterprise networks and work collaboratively with specialists on advanced security, voice, wireless, and video solutions. Obtaining this certification requires you to pass three exams: 642-902 ROUTE, 642-813 SWITCH, and 642-832 TSHOOT, as well as have a valid CCNA or CCIE certification. As with CCNA certification, you can also obtain specialist CCNP certifications in Security, Voice, Wireless, and SP Operations by passing additional exams.
- Cisco Certified Design Professional (CCDP) validates advanced knowledge of network design concepts and principles. Obtaining this certification requires you to pass three exams: 642-902 ROUTE, 642-813 SWITCH, and ARCH, as well as have a valid CCNA, CCDA, or CCIE certification.
- Cisco Certified Security Professional (CCSP) validates advanced knowledge and skills required to secure Cisco networks. Obtaining this certification requires you to pass several exams (the choices are too numerous to list). The prerequisites are currently in transition. By the end of 2011, the prerequisite will be a CCNA Security or any CCIE certification.
- Cisco Certified Internetwork Professional (CCIP) validates advanced knowledge and skills required to manage service-provider infrastructures. Obtaining this certification requires you to pass four exams: 642-902 ROUTE, 642-642 QOS, 642-661 BGP, and 642-611 MPLS (you can combine the last two exams), as well as have a valid CCNA or CCIE certification.
All Cisco professional-level certifications are valid for three years.
Expert-level Cisco Certifications: There are two expert-level Cisco certifications: Cisco Certified Internetwork Expert (CCIE) and Cisco Certified Design Expert (CCDE).
- The CCIE certification is divided into seven specialty areas: Routing & Switching, Voice, Wireless, Security, Service Provider, SP Operations, and Storage Networking. Each specialty area requires passing both a two-hour written exam and an eight-hour lab test.
- The CCDE certification validates advanced network infrastructure design principles and fundamentals for large networks. Obtaining a CCDE certification requires you to pass a two-hour written exam and a practical design-scenario exam that tests your ability to perform design analysis, justify design requirements, and develop a design implementation based on best practices.
There are no formal prerequisites for either the CCIE or CCDE certifications; each is valid for two years.
Architect-level Cisco Certification: A Cisco Certified Architect (CCAr) has achieved the highest level of Cisco certification. This certification indicates the holder has an extensive knowledge of and experience with Cisco technologies and infrastructure architecture. According to Cisco, a CCAr can “effectively translate business strategies into evolutionary technical strategies.” That is, a CCAr can develop functional requirements for a network design based on business parameters and objectives.
CCArs must already have a valid CCDE certification, and must present and defend a proposed network solution before a panel of Cisco-appointed exam committee members. The CCAr certification expires in five years; to recertify, you must participate in future Board Reviews before the certification expiration date.
Specialist Cisco Certifications: Besides the specialty areas within the CCNA, CCNP, and CCIE certifications, Cisco also offers many other specialist certifications in the areas of Advanced Routing & Switching, Data Center, Foundation for Channel Partners, Unified Communications & Video, MeetingPlace, Virtual Classroom Instruction, Wireless LAN, and VPN & Security.