Last week, Cisco finally plugged a huge hole in their certification offerings. Cisco has historically required its partner community to study for specific certifications related to technologies before offering them as specialized tracks for all candidates. It was that was for voice, wireless, and even security. However, until last week there was no offering for data center networking. I think this is an area in which Cisco needs to concentrate, especially when you look at their results for the first quarter of their fiscal year that were just released. Cisco grew its data center networking business by 61% and their UCS success has vaulted them into third place in the server race easily, though some may argue they are a tight contender for second. What Cisco needs to solidify all that growth is a program that grows data center network engineers from the ground up.
Cisco’s previous path to creating a data center network engineer involved getting a basic CCNA with no specialization and then focusing on the Data Center Networking Infrastructure certifications. After the networking is taken care of, there is a path for UCS design and support as well. But that requires a prospective engineer to pick up NX-OS on the fly, not having started with it in the CCNA level. Thankfully, Cisco has now addressed that little flaw in the program.
CCNA Data Center
Cisco now has a CCNA Data Center certification that consists of non-overlapping material. 640-911Introduction to Data Center Networking DCICN is square one for new data center hopefuls. It tests over the basics of networking much like the CCNA, but the focus is on NX-OS devices like the Nexus 7k and Nexus 5k. It’s very much like the ICND1 exam in that is focuses on the basics and theory of general networking. 640-916 Introducing Cisco Data Center Technologies DCICT is the real meat of data center technology. This is where the various fabric and SAN technologies are tested along with Unified Computing as well as virtualization technology like the Nexus 1000V. Of these two tests, the DCICT is going to be the really hefty one for most candidates to chew on. In fact, I’m almost sure that most CCNA-level engineers can go out and pass DCICN without any study beyond their CCNA knowledge. The DCICT will likely require much more time with the study guides to get past. Once you’ve gotten through both, you can now proudly display your CCNA: Data Center title.
CCNP Data Center
Once you’ve attained your CCNA Data Center, it’s time to delve into the topics a bit deeper. Cisco introduced the CCNP Data Center certification track to compliment the entry level offering in the CCNA DC. Historically, this is where the various partner-focused Data Center specializations have focused. With the CCNP Data Center, you have to start with the Implementing Data Center Unified Computing DCUCI and Implementing Data Center Unified Fabric DCUFI exams. Right now, you can take either version 4 or version 5 of these exams, but the version 4 exams will start expiring next year. Once you’ve passed the implementation exams, you have a choice to make. You can go down the path of the data center designer with Designing Cisco Data Center Unified Computing DCUCD and Designing Cisco Unifed Data Center Fabric DCUFD. Those two exams also have a choice between version 4 and version 5, with similar expiration dates in 2013 for the version 4 exams. If you fancy yourself more of a hands-on troubleshooter, you can opt for the Troubleshooting Cisco Unified Data Center Computing DCUCT and Troubleshooting Cisco Unified Data Center Fabric DCUFT exams. Note that these exams don’t have a version 4 option. There seems to have been some confusion about which exams count for what. You must take the Implementation exams. After that you can either take the Design exams or the Troubleshooting exams.
I’ve spent a lot of time in the last year talking about the CCIE Data Center. One of the things that struck me about it was how focused it was in its present state on currently trained engineers. Unless you work with Nexus and UCS every day, you won’t do well on the CCIE DC exam because there isn’t really a training program for it. Now, with the additions of the CCNA DC and the CCNP DC, aspiring data center rock stars can get started on the road to the CCIE without needing to worry about learning IOS first. I’m sure that Cisco will eventually retire the data center partner specializations and make the requirement for the Data Center Architecture focused around the CCNA DC and CCNP DC. There’s no better time to jump out there and get started. Just remember your jacket.