HP has announced a new certification program called ExpertONE (http://h10120.www1.hp.com/certification/expert_one-networking.html). This appears to be the culmination of the acquisition of 3COM/Huawei and the rebranding of Procurve as “HP Networking”. In this new program, they have consolidated their existing tracks and certifications to fall into the familiar 3-tiered system of associate (Advanced Integration Specialist or AIS), Professional (Advanced System Engineer or ASE) and Expert (Master Advanced Systems Engineer or Master ASE). The current tracks include networking, wireless, security, and voice.
What is of particular interest is the “Fast Track” program. This program allows an individual certified in a competitor’s certification system to use these certifications to achieve an equivalent HP certification level. For instance, if you hold a valid CCNA, you can take the HP2-Z04 Building HP Procurve Campus LANs exam and achieve the HP AIS: Networking certification. Taking the same test and submitting a valid CCIE: R&S gives you the Master ASE: Networking certification. While I can say that I like the approach that HP has taken by allowing existing vendor certifications to count towards their certification track, I do have a couple of problems with it.
1. It’s a major modification from the existing track. My reasoning for this? In the previous track, you could take one test that covered the convergence aspect of Procurve switches (basically multicast routing and QoS) and you could achieve the ASE: Convergence certification. In order to become a Master ASE: Convergence all you needed to do was submit a valid CCVP certificate. (http://h10147.www1.hp.com/training/certifications/technical/convergence.htm) That’s what I did. And for the next 11 days, I am still a Master ASE: Convergence. I even have the shirt to prove it. But as of November 1st, that track will expire and there is no current projected replacement for it. In an effort to realign their business tracks, HP has expired all previous certifications in favor of the new ExpertONE program. No option to recertify in a track. In fact, it appears the ONLY way to become a Master ASE is to hold a CCIE (or perhaps JNCIE) and take this one online test. No other major vendor has ever expired all of their certification tracks at once, to my knowledge. When Novell moved from Netware 5 to Netware 6, if you were certified on Netware 5 you could still claim to be a CNE, but Novell would inform those that asked that you were not certified on the current OS. I’m still a MCNE on Netware 6. I’m an MCSE on Windows 2000. All expired tracks, yet the certification is still valid. But with HP? Nope. No ASE for you unless you have the current certification. But that’s not the most concerning thing about this.
2. HP seems to be trying to attract Cisco talent out of spite. It’s no real secret that HP and Cisco in the last year have gone from friendly rivals to outright war with each other. From the Cisco “California” UCS product line to the acquisition of 3COM/Huawei, the pitched battles keep getting fought over and over. In fact, the announcement of the ExpertONE certification track was released at the same time Cisco announced changes to the CCIE Service Provider, CCNP: Voice, and CCNP: Security tracks. HP has done everything in its power to pick as many fights with Cisco as it can. And this new certification track is no different in my mind. By claiming that anyone with a valid Cisco certification can now hold an equivalent HP Networking certification, HP is telling networking professionals they value the learning that those professionals have accomplished, even if they don’t care much for the logo on the certificate. One test could certify me in 3 or 4 different tracks for HP due to my Cisco certifications.
This appears to me to be an effort by HP to win over a large portion of the networking professional community by giving them a head start in the HP certification program. I can say that the idea of being able to gain some nice HP certifications because of my standing with Cisco is a nice idea. But at the same time, I wonder what is going to happen in the future. The Fast Track program won’t last forever. HP is already prepping new tests and tracks for the November – January timeframe. In my mind, that says that if you want to take advantage of the Fast Track program, you’d best do it now. It may not be long before HP decides to ‘expire’ the Fast Track option in favor of new, developed coursework. I’m also curious how long the CCIE will be a prerequisite for the Master ASE. While you could be very certain that you are getting the cream of the crop by requiring a CCIE as a prerequisite for any certification, given HP’s previous actions of excising any trace of Cisco they can find makes me wonder how long it will last. Perhaps until HP can implement their own lab program similar to the CCIE or JNCIE. But those programs take time to develop and properly implement. Until that time, I think HP is viewing the CCIE as a necessary evil. And, quite possibly, HP will use the numbers of CCIEs gaining Master ASEs as a marketing tool to justify how advanced their certification program is becoming.
In the end, I think that HP has got the right idea. While the prospect of losing my Master ASE due to reorganization does chafe somewhat, I think the program realignment was necessary to make the certification program have some prestige and level the playing field. However, I’m couching my opinion until I see exactly how long the Fast Track program lasts. And I hope that this isn’t just another example of the networking professional community being dragged into a vendor war.