Right before I left for Cisco Live, I had a big post about the rumored CCIE Data Center certification exam that I was going to publish. I held off at the last second because I wanted to gather some more information at Cisco Live from the army of Cisco people that would be there. I’m glad I waited.
Speculation has been rampant that Cisco is readying an update to the CCIE Storage Area Network (SAN) lab certification exam to better align their position with the new Unified Computing System (UCS) hardware and various other technologies like Wide-Area Application Services (WAAS) and the Application Control Engine (ACE). These items are heavily utilized in modern datacenters to provide the best customer experience with large scale computing deployments. Since the focus inside of Cisco for the past few months has involved UCS to a large degree, there is a lot of support in the partner community for top-tier certifications to recognize the investment that partners make in UCS training for their employees. Also, having a program with the prestige of the CCIE attached to your data center learning gives the engineers working on the product an aura of intelligence when it comes to product.
During Cisco Live, there was even an overview of the CCIE SAN program in the breakout session BRKCCIE-1001. Curiously, it was titled CCIE Data Center/Storage Certification. I’m sure that people flooded into the class hoping to hear whether or not the data center CCIE would be coming out soon. However, the majority of the class dealt with CCIE SAN and the methodologies and topologies of that exam. Only in the last few slides are any hints of the future of data center certification, and even then it is just a suggestion of updates to the existing blueprint. What follows in this article are my ideas about what a proposed CCIE Data Center might involve. They are based on conversations I had in the past week, but in no way represent the official position of the CCIE program or any person inside of Cisco, so don’t go quoting me as the gospel truth.
I think the CCIE Data Center program is still 12-15 months out. Why? Well, there is still a lot of life left in the SAN program. The announcement of the removal of the Core Knowledge/Open Ended Questions slated for August 15th proved it. Why bother mentioning SAN if it’s not going to be around for a while? There are still a number of students in the CCIE SAN track today and announcing changes this soon would wreck all their hard work and study. This is also a requirement that any major changes to a track or blueprint must be preceded by a 6-month notice. As we haven’t heard any announcement yet, the data center CCIE couldn’t possibly arrive earlier than next January.
There is a lot of hardware that could go into a CCIE Data Center exam. UCS, MDS, WAAS, ACE, load balancers, and even FC/FCoE storage arrays must be considered at a minimum. What about focus? There are lots of different areas that you could exam for track focus, from simple UCS deployments to more of a service provider, hosted cloud type integration. How to cover all of those bases in one exam? Especially if you have to shoehorn it all into 8 hours? I’m pretty sure that we might end up seeing some form of tracks in the CCIE Data Center after it launches, similar to the way the CCIE Service Provider used to be subdivided.
What about all those SAN folks that busted their butts learning about MDS switches and figuring out crafty ways to configure fibre channel? Are they going to be left out in the cold just like the old CCIE ISP Dial guys? Relics of a bygone era? I doubt it. MDS switches are still on the proposed blueprints that I’ve seen being kicked around, and even the rumors say that the SAN program is being upgraded, not retired. Don’t be shocked if the SAN guys get some kind of “bridge” program to take what they’ve learned about storage and apply it to a Data Center track. My guess would be something like running the two tracks parallel for a few months after launch and then allowing SAN CCIEs and candidates a single free shot at the Data Center lab exam.
It’s time for Cisco to come out with a CCIE for the modern data center. The other vendors that play in this space love to tout their expertise building multivendor networks and implementing large scale server/storage/switching deployments. But let’s face it: they aren’t CCIEs. Once someone gets the digits, they take on a different aura. Having CCIEs focused on servers and storage would give Cisco a competitive advantage in the data center market, where it appears the battle for supremacy will be waged for the next couple of years. I think Cisco is going to take their time and get this one perfect before releasing it to the public, both to be sure that it covers their goals for where they want the Cisco data center brand to go as well as to ensure they don’t alienate those CCIEs who have diligently studied SANs and taken the battle standard thus far. Just remember to have a little patience, since the CCIE is a marathon that pays off in the end.