Cisco Certifications

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Introduction

I've been reviewing the Cisco certifications program, and thought that summarizing the program might be of general interest. If you think you know the program, you might want to skim this article, because Cisco is making changes. There may also be new certification programs posted within the next few months, reflecting new technology and new course offerings.

I'd like to apologize to anyone who might be offended: this article contains definite Marketing Content which is not technical. I've tried to approach this from the point of view of what each certification entails, with listings of relevant courses so you can tell what's involved in each certification. (Either that, or I've spent too much time teaching classes and think the world revolves around classes.) I've provided links wherever possible, to try to make it easier for you to drill down and get more information.

The next section contains some of my opinions about the best way to get certified. If you don't like the opinions, just skip ahead. But I'm including the advice since I've seen a lot of people trying to learn Cisco technology over the years, and I think I know what works well, and what doesn't work so well. And I'd like to share that with you.

Why Get Certified

Money. More is considered good. Resume and job potential and all that, too. And you can prove to your boss you really know your stuff.

Having said that, lately enough people are pushing for Cisco certification that we're hearing more about paper certifications. This has been a real problem in the PC world, where people take courses expecting to be given the answers to all the questions on the test. Memorize and you may not have to actually know anything!

That's not quite the way the Cisco certifications work. Yeah, you can memorize with one of the cram or course study books. I'd like to think the Cisco-certified training classes provide real value above and beyond that. (And of course, Mentor's provide exceptional value). If you haven't taken one yet, be aware the Cisco-certified courses are much more technical than some of the PC administration courses out there. They pack a lot of information into the week. So quite experienced people may find it useful to start at the beginning -- we've seen some folks just get overwhelmed by trying to skip to the intermediate level. This is because although they had some prior Cisco experience, they're not "fluent" enough in Cisco configuration to be able to just pick up and go.

I'm mentioning this because I think there's a bit of a tendency lately to read "cram books" or study guides, instead of taking an instructor-lead class. If you're on a tight budget, that makes a lot of sense. If you are reading the book because the instructor-lead training you tried wasn't much better -- well, maybe you went to the wrong company! Some of the non-Cisco-certified training can be pretty crude! (And I'm not just saying that, I know several folks that used to do such training.)

Overall, our experience has been that hands-on time with Cisco equipment is the key factor in all the certifications. If you're taking a class, make the most of the hands-on labs. Explore, see what works and doesn't work. In general, you should be putting in substantial lab time outside the classes. You may be able to pass the test without it, but you sure won't impress your employer for long if you just memorized answers.

I'll note in passing that one of our competitors has a $12000-plus CCNP Boot Camp. Let's see, they charge you extra for four classes, then blast through them in 12 days instead of 20. I can see why that's great for them. More money, less instructor/room/equipment time. What puzzles me is: why is this good for the student? You must be getting less instructor and lab time. Mentor's instructors add to the standard Cisco labs to try to make the most of your time in our training classes. We've thought about offering Boot Camp packages. We don't, because we don't think it's a good thing for our customers.

The reason I'm cautioning you about this is that we generally find lower satisfaction and less retention among people that try to take the regular, non-compressed classes all in a row, back-to-back. The issue is retention of material: it's just too much, too fast. Now speed it up some -- that just doesn't work for most folks.

For several years, our sales staff has been recommending that classes be spread out, ideally with a gap of a month or more between classes. The gap isn't just to "allow your brain to cool down", it's time when you should be hands-on with Cisco routers and switches, locking in that knowledge. Then when you take the next class, you'll be ready, you'll know the pre-requisite material solidly, and you'll get a lot more out of it. The need for hands-on time is also why we developed the VLAB product.

Books are of course the other great resource. And they definitely should play a role in your learning about Cisco technology and studying up for certification. Be careful, however, there are a lot of books that were just slapped together quickly. Ask around, check email lists, and use resources like http://www.groupstudy.com/ to make sure you spend your book dollars (and reading time) wisely! No, you do not want to buy/read every book published by Cisco Press. Life's too short! (Note: we bundle certain books with purchase of specific classes, see our web page for details.)

The following has links to Mentor Technologies (MT) pages for training courses we do offer. For information about other training courses, Cisco e-learning, etc., see http://cisco.com/pcgi-bin/front.x/wwtraining/CELC/index.cgi?action=CourseList .

Recertification

Cisco is now requiring recertification for all career certifications. Information is at http://www.cisco.com/warp/customer/10/wwtraining/certprog/recert/ . CCNA, CCNP, CCDA, CCDP and Specializations are valid for 3 years. CCIE requires recertification every 2 years. Recertification in all cases involves taking an exam (no lab).


Cisco Career Certifications

See http://www.cisco.com/warp/customer/10/wwtraining/certprog/ for the official info (important, as time goes on and Cisco makes changes in the certification program).

The Network Installation and Support area contains CCNA, CCNP, and CCIE levels of certification. For Service Providers, there are the WAN Switching variants of these.

For Network Engineering and Design Certifications, there are the CCDA, CCDP, and CCIE Design certifications. There is currently also a CCDP WAN Switching.

There are also Cisco Qualified Specialist Designations in Cable, Security, and SNA/IP.

CCNA

The CCNA exam covers basic level networking and knowing your way around basics of Cisco gear. It requires more thorough knowledge of networking than a CNE or MCSE exam, which apparently have more of server/software focus. The reason I'm mentioning this (at some risk of inadvertantly insulting someone) is that a number of people apparently expect to walk in and take the CCNA test as a "no-brainer". It isn't. Subnetting and routing protocols are crucial for this exam. Reasonable knowledge of the Cisco IOS interface and a little bit of switching are also appropriate.

Recommended courses:

  • ICND, Interconnecting Cisco Network Devices.
If you haven't had much prior technical exposure, you might want a review of TCP/IP and what a router and switch are. If so, you might consider Mentor Technologies' introductory networking course:
  • TCP/IP, TCPIP - TCP/IP Network Essentials.

CCNP

CCNP certification begins with CCNA, and adds the knowledge from several training courses. CCNP's are supposed to be substantially more knowledgeable and experienced than CCNA's. A solid CCNP is a pretty capable person who can probably do a good job implementing routing, switching, and dial backup in a moderately large network. Ideally, getting to what I'd call "solid" requires experience and hands-on time with the gear. You don't get that by reading or taking the classes in rapid sequence. Classes with 1-2 months in between for hands-on time on the job (or VLAB on your own time) provide the seasoning you need for the information to really stay with you. Another word of experience: there is a LOT of routing in BSCN. So you'll want to make sure you really know your ICND material before taking it. It might be a good idea to take BCMSN first, get some hands-on time, then take BCRAN and season some more, before taking BSCN.

Recommended courses:

  • BCMSN, Building Cisco Multi-Layer Switched Networks
  • BSCN, Building Scalable Cisco Networks
  • BCRAN, Building Cisco Remote Access Networks
  • CIT, Cisco Internetwork Troubleshooting
Extremely good books that I've read and that I recommend reading for CCNP (and CCIE) prep: I'll note that of the above, Kennedy Clark, and Kevin Hamilton work for Mentor Technologies.

CCNP Specializations

There were CCNP Specializations, but they are being dropped ("retired") as of 5/14/2001. Some may reappear as Cisco Qualified Specialist designations. See http://www.cisco.com/warp/customer/10/wwtraining/certprog/special1/course.html .

Two of these are already Cisco Qualified Specialist programs, no longer requiring CCNP:

Security Specialist

Recommended courses:
  • MCNS, Managing Cisco Network Security
  • CSPFA, Cisco Secure PIX Firewall Advanced (watch for this on our Web page!)
  • CSIDS, Cisco Secure Intrusion Detection System
  • CSVPN, Cisco Secure Virtual Private Network

SNA/IP Specialist

Recommended courses:
  • SNAM, Cisco SNA Configuration for Multiprotocol Administrators
  • SNAMI, SNA to IP Migration
  • DLSW, Data Link Switching Plus
  • FRAS, Frame Relay Access Support
  • APPN, Advanced Peer-to-Peer Networking
  • CIP, Channel Interface Processor

Cable Specialist

CCIE

What can I say? The CCIE has become a very well-known certification. Possession of a CCIE indicates deep knowledge about Cisco products, routing, switching, and network protocols. Generally, a CCIE can find a way to get things working, if there is one. The lab test is amazing, in that you have to configure a fair number of devices quickly, while not falling into deliberate pitfalls and finding workarounds for known difficulties and bugs. (For details, follow the above link.)

Advice I've been giving now for several years: think of the CCIE as a marathon. It's nice to be a marathon winner, and that's a good long term goal. If you try to sprint in a marathon, you just end up with shin splints, and probably don't even finish. The practical application of this to CCIE: if you try to sit a lot of classes, and if you don't take time to read, understand, and above all, work hands-on with equipment ... well, all you may have to show for that is butt blisters, and not a CCIE. We'd love to have you in classes, but that's only 50% or less of what it takes to prepare. Training companies that even imply anything else are doing you a disservice.

The same goes for taking and retaking the lab until you pass. I've seen people do this. Generally, it is self-defeating. You spend a lot of time and money traveling and testing, that you could have spent learning something. And your relatively thin knowledge is visible to your employer or potential employers later, even if you pass the test.

The following material covers the most popular enterprise CCIE certification, Routing and Switching.

As far as courses go, the official list differs somewhat from my own personal opinion. My personal list of recommended courses:

  • The courses for CCNP (see above )
  • Mentor's OSPF course
  • Mentor's BGP course
  • Mentor's ECP1 Expert CCIE Prep Class
The OSPF and BGP courses provide detailed hands-on lab work with OSPF and BGP protocols, to advance your understanding of these protocols, their quirks and how to troubleshoot them, beyond the BSCN course level.

No, ECP1 is not the sort of Boot Camp I advised against elsewhere in this article. It is a concentrated lab experience with instructor discussion, using a unique format to prepare you for the CCIE lab. We don't publish the percentage of those who take ECP1 and then pass the CCIE lab. That's because in many cases, taking ECP1 lets folks know they have to go back and do some more preparation before they're ready for the actual CCIE lab. And no one or two week lab can possibly prepare you completely for the CCIE lab.

Officially recommended courses you might find relevant and useful:

  • IMCR, Installation & Maintenance of Cisco Routers
  • CID, Cisco Internetwork Design
  • SNAM, Cisco SNA Configuration for Multiprotocol Administrators
If you're paying for training out of your own pocket, these are the ones where you might instead read a good book or two. If you've read the Doyle book (above), another book that covers the remaining CID material is: When we teach CID, our instructors generally heavily supplement the material from their own experience and with other Cisco materials. There are also group exercises that try to teach the design thought process.

Recommended reading:

(Bruce  and Val work for Mentor and teach the ECP1 class, along with a number of our other CCIE instructors.)

Cisco's recommended CCIE reading list is at http://www.cisco.com/warp/customer/625/ccie/certifications/routing.html#34

Other CCIE Variants

It appears at this moment (March 2001) that some of the Routing and Switching material may become a common core of future CCIE certifications. In general, there appears to be a Cisco review of the entire certifications program, to make sure it is totally up to date and relevant to peoples' and employers' needs.
  • CCIE SNA/IP Integration is being retired July 31, 2001.


Career Design Certifications

CCDA

The CCDA test is based on the DCN course, Designing Cisco Networks. The CID design course provides more comprehensive training and is recommended for the CCDP as well.

CCDP

Recommended courses:
  • BCMSN, Building Cisco Multi-Layer Switched Networks
  • BSCN, Building Scalable Cisco Networks
  • BCRAN, Building Cisco Remote Access Networks
  • CID, Cisco Internetwork Design


Channel Certifications

Cisco recognizes that if it wants to grow, customers will need to be able to use various support avenues. Cisco cannot possibly provide all the support needed, and (I believe) plans to make increasing use of Channel Partners for post-sales support. However, Cisco customers need some way to distinguish between the various partners, and need predictable quality of support.

If you haven't visited http://www.cisco.com/warp/public/765/partner_programs/ recently, you might want to. The two areas we'll look briefly at here are the Certification and Specialization links off this page.

The Certification area is the Gold/Silver/Premium/Authorized Reseller Programs information, http://www.cisco.com/warp/public/765/partner_programs/certification/ . These programs require the different levels of partners to meet various requirements, including number of certified staff. The Program Overview mentions however that there is an increasing focus on areas of specialization. This I presume is a recognition that Cisco technology is now too broad for any individual or small set of individuals to master.

The Cisco Channel Partner Specializations information is at http://www.cisco.com/warp/public/765/partner_programs/specialization/ . The current areas of specialization are listed and briefly discussed below.

They each have requirements for Account Manager, Systems Engineer, and Field Engineer. These involve training and exams. Any training courses mentioned are for the SE or FE requirements.

IP/Telephony

http://www.cisco.com/warp/public/765/partner_programs/specialization/ip_telephony/
 
  • CVOICE, Cisco Voice over Frame Relay, ATM and IP
  • CIPT, Cisco IP Telephony
  • EVODD, Enterprise Voice over Data Design
  • Network Management

    SNA/IP

    http://www.cisco.com/warp/public/765/partner_programs/specialization/sna_ip/

    Courses: unspecified, probably the ones listed for the Career Specialization above .

    Voice Access

    http://www.cisco.com/warp/public/765/partner_programs/specialization/voice_access/
     
  • CVOICE, Cisco Voice over Frame Relay, ATM and IP
  • Security

    http://www.cisco.com/warp/public/765/partner_programs/specialization/vpn_security/
     
  • MCNS, Managing Cisco Network Security
  • CSIDS, Cisco Secure Intrusion Detection System
  • WAN

    http://www.cisco.com/warp/public/765/partner_programs/specialization/wan/

    StrataCom!

    Wireless LAN

    http://www.cisco.com/warp/public/765/partner_programs/specialization/wlan/
      The material for this is currently mostly Video on Demand.


    In Conclusion

    Your comments, preferences and ideas and suggestions for topics are always more than welcome! I enjoy hearing from you!

    Dr. Peter J. Welcher (CCIE #1773, CCSI #94014) is a Senior Consultant with Chesapeake NetCraftsmen. NetCraftsmen is a high-end consulting firm and Cisco Premier Partner dedicated to quality consulting and knowledge transfer. NetCraftsmen has eleven CCIE's (4 of whom are double-CCIE's, R&S and Security). NetCraftsmen has expertise including large network high-availability routing/switching and design, VoIP, QoS, MPLS, network management, security, IP multicast, and other areas. See http://www.netcraftsmen.net for more information about NetCraftsmen. . New articles will be posted under the Articles link. Questions, suggestions for articles, etc. can be sent to This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. .

    3/30/2001
    Copyright (C)  2001,  Peter J. Welcher