[email protected] recently announced some changes to the CCNA routing & switching track to now include a taste of software defined networking, among other emerging technologies. With some consternation, CCNA candidates are scratching their heads, wondering what, exactly, this new tech means to them. After all, SDN “still does nothing,” at least to hear some folks tell the tale. 😉 And yet, here we have Cisco starting to test on this stuff, right down at the associate level of their certification ladder.
Why is Cisco going this direction?
If you’re a CCNA candidate, you are probably wondering why Cisco has started putting SDN and other emerging networking topics onto the CCNA exam. The answer is that they are seeing demands for these specific skills in the marketplace. [email protected] keeps in touch with their customers and partners, and are doing what they believe they must to be sure that the CCNA certification remains relevant. When enough customers are using emerging technologies, then [email protected] deems them relevant.
While I believe that companies really are starting to adopt emerging networking technologies, including SDN, let’s keep in mind that Cisco certified people tend to promote Cisco solutions — it’s what they know. Therefore, if you’re a CCNA, you’re more likely to promote Cisco emerging technology to the organizations you support. That drives sales for Cisco, which is a useful strategy for them.
Arguably, Cisco’s greatest success with their training and certification programs has been the boots they’ve placed on the ground. Ultimately, Cisco training is a sales & marketing tool for Cisco technology. I point this out as long-time Cisco certification holder familiar with the program. It’s a smart system copied by many others in the industry with similar success, including Juniper, HP, VMware, and lately, open source projects.
What does Cisco expect you to know?
So, just what is it you’ll need to know in the oh-so-scary realm of emerging networking technologies to pass your CCNA R&S exams? In a briefing on 1-June-2016, [email protected] emphasized the following to me.
1. Network programmability (APIC-EM). Generally, network programmability means learning how to configure the network with something other than the CLI. That will include Cisco’s APIC-EM platform. I’ve heard mixed reports from inside Cisco about the future of APIC-EM, so this leads me to believe there may be a long-term commitment to the platform.
2. Virtualized network functions and services (NFV). Network functions virtualization is a fancy way to describe virtual (very likely running on an x86-based hypervisor) routers, switches, firewalls, etc. This may also get a little into the ACI platform. I suspect virtualized network function lifecycle management, a specialty of the Embrane Heleos platform Cisco bought a couple of years ago, might also come up.
3. Policy-based network management (QoS policies). It’s unclear to me from the briefing exactly what product set this maps to, but think about creating network policies centrally and distributing them from that central point. Also consider policy compliance – is a device compliant with a specific forwarding policy that’s been assigned to it? The third-party LiveAction product plays here (as well as having a fantastic visualization engine). Cisco IWAN also has some functionality in this area.
4. Network leveraged analytics (flows and applications). The big idea behind analytics is to mine the network more deeply for useful information. The days of RRDtool graphs showing bandwidth utilization and interface errors are ending. Coming are deep analytics that can explain why your voice traffic sounds terrible right this very second considering the end-to-end path the call is traversing. Analytics is not merely about the data, but rather what insights software can give operators about that data.
5. Enterprise VPN technologies for intelligent WAN. I expect this to be focused squarely on the SD-WAN functionality of Cisco IWAN, which is a mix of PfRv3, DMVPN, routing, a hierarchical management system, and a few other Cisco technologies added to the ISR routing platform. Cisco’s install base of ISRs is vast, and some customers have jumped on board the IWAN bandwagon as the path of least SD-WAN resistance. I’m not surprised to see this requirement show up here. Read Denise Fishburne’s IWAN posts, and load up your brain.
6. IPv6 address family and routing to support IoT. Does this mean that 2016 is the year of IPv6? Well, maybe. The problem with IoT devices is the proliferation of them — sensors are going to be everywhere, as apparently lots of people are buying them. The sensors need to communicate, and so the logic goes that since we’re out of IPv4 addresses, then golly gee, we’ll just HAVE to assign the IoT stuff IPv6 addresses. In certain markets, that will be true. In others (like the ones most of you work in), RFC1918 IPv4 is going to work just fine. Even so, get your nose into IPv6 no matter what the reason is. IPv6 might never fully replace IPv4, but it isn’t going away either. IPv6 material is not at all new in Cisco certification programs, although the increased emphasis at the CCNA level might be.
My comments on the official blueprints – don’t get too worked up.
I took a look at the version 3 ICND1 & ICND2 exam topic blueprints, and frankly, I don’t see that candidates need to get too overly excited about these changes. As [email protected] briefed me, they emphasized that a lot of what was being tested was awareness of emerging technologies with less focus on operational specifics.
Consider that Cisco isn’t replacing the entire CCNA track with emerging technology. You still have all the core functions in routing and switching you’ve had for years. No matter how a device is configured, at the end of the day, routing and switching is still being performed. Those are the key technologies you have to have a solid handle on to pass the exams.
In the ICND1 blueprint, I saw nothing that set off my SDN detector, and little that suggested “emerging technologies.” There is a good bit of IPv6 addressing and related fundamentals, but again, that’s not new to the networking world.
The ICND2 blueprint includes fundamentals of IPv6 routing (excluding the more interesting bits), and touches on DMVPN as well as a tiny smidgen of BGP. Beyond that, section 4.2 states, “Describe the effects of cloud resources on enterprise network architecture.” This is a bit of emerging technology. Then there’s also section 4.5, “Verify ACLs using the APIC-EM Path Trace ACL analysis tool.” That sounds straightforward enough if you can get your hands on the tool, but is not going to fail you by itself if it’s the only thing you don’t know.
Relax, my CCNA candidate friends. If you listen to the Packet Pushers shows including Datanauts, we’ve been talking about enough emerging technology to give you adequate background. From there, I’d dig into the Cisco Learning Network and chat up the community to figure out the rest.
You’ll do fine.