Lewis tells us…
- He’s been in IT for 5 years, and a network engineer for half of that time.
- He’s a CCNP interested in SDN.
- He’s thinking about VCP6-NV, but isn’t sure he has a use-case.
- He’s considering CCIE R&S, but also looking into Microsoft & Linux certs.
Q: “There is such a large amount to look at and I guess I’m just a bit inexperienced to pin down what I need to focus on and feel a little lost now. Going back to data center what would you expect of a data center consultant in terms of there skill set and what do you feel should be added to this? I know you guys talk a lot about OpenStack becoming more prevalent.”
Become more well-rounded. You’re already a CCNP. To that strong Cisco networking background, add server expertise to start. Depending on the vertical, Microsoft and Linux are both in wide use as server operating systems. If I had to pick one, I’d pick Linux, but that decision should be driven by the technology typically used by the customers you serve.
Don’t overlook the rest of the IT stack, nor the business needs driving the technology. Certifications by themselves are good, but not good enough.
A deeper answer.
The most valuable data center consultants take a business need and apply an interdependent technology stack to that need. Comprehend the entire IT stack — compute (including public cloud), storage, networking, and security — and then design a system using components from the stack to meet a specific need. The very best consultants will be part of a team taking this approach.
I assert this because you said, “data center consultant,” specifically. That’s a different requirement than being a security practitioner or pure network engineer, although I believe exclusive, deep specializations will be too confining for any IT professional as time goes on.
In that context, I feel that CCNP is deep enough for you, at least for now. CCIE R&S will teach you more intimate networking details along with lesser-used nerd knobs and special use-case technologies, but I question that you’ll require that depth in most consulting engagements. Data center networking should be as simple as the business needs permit. While you might pursue CCIE later in your career, I believe you’ll be a better data center consultant adding non-networking technologies to your skill set right now.
As far as OpenStack specifically, I would only go that direction if you believe you’ll have customers that are likely to need such an orchestration package. OpenStack is complicated. While it solves certain problem, it creates technical debt that makes it troublesome for many organizations to leverage. I do not think that most enterprises will be running OpenStack in the long-term. Familiarize yourself with it, but I wouldn’t spend too much time with it unless you have projects driving it.
To gain some focus, consider the following as a possible approach.
- Get familiar with Linux. Do a RedHat cert, perhaps.
- Get familiar with public clouds and how to run workloads in them. AWS is the safest bet at the moment.
- Get familiar with automation. Ansible is a good place to start.
- Never lose sight of the big picture — the problems these technologies are meant to solve, and how they all fit together. There is never a one-size fits all solution when it comes to technology being applied to business needs.
I published this list of certifications in Human Infrastructure Magazine (subscribe here) that might interest you as you choose a direction. HTH!
Cloud School claims to be a “global provider of vendor-neutral cloud training and certification.” Their certifications appear to be their own, and follow a ladder structure. The entry cert is the Certified Cloud Professional. Building on that are the Certified Cloud Technology Professional and Certified Cloud Architect certs. Various specialist certifications round out the portfolio.
Amazon offers five certifications with focus areas across operations, development, and architecture running on AWS. There are associate level and professional level exams.
A Cloud Guru offers several inexpensive courses focused on AWS. These courses map to the various AWS certifications. There’s even a bundle of courses that cover all 5 AWS certs.
This is the first certification offered by the OpenStack Foundation. The page lists dozens of training partners aimed at helping you with the COA. Examination is performed via virtual proctor system, as opposed to the joyous experience of a Pearson Vue testing dungeon.
Mirantis is an OpenStack vendor, putting a shine on otherwise unadorned OpenStack. They offer a couple of exams as well as bootcamp training for associate and professional level. They promise a master level addition in late 2016. With this approach, you end up with Mirantis certs, but can also level up to a COA cert, as the subject matter is all related to OpenStack.
Published by the Cloud Security Alliance since 2010, the CCSK purports to be, “the industry’s first examination of cloud security knowledge.” I have no sense of how far this one goes, but the seat of my pants opinion is that it doesn’t go that deeply.
Backed by the Cloud Security Alliance as well as ISC2, “the CCSP credential denotes professionals with deep-seated knowledge and competency derived from hands-on experience with cyber, information, software and cloud computing infrastructure security.”
Azure is Microsoft’s public cloud. Public clouds are not all the same. AWS is a distinct offering from Azure, which differs yet again from Google Cloud, etc. Therefore, it might make sense to certify not only in AWS, but also in Azure — different clouds for different problems. In Azure, Microsoft offers the familiar MCSA, MCSE, and MCSD certification tiers that Microsoft cert seekers have been familiar with for a couple of decades or so.
Puppet is a popular agent-based configuration automation tool. The PCP is the companion certification, achievable with a single exam. Puppet isn’t overly popular for networking automation because of the agent requirement. It was trendy a couple of years ago for network vendors to add a Puppet agent to a switch, but there has been no talk of that lately.
SaltStack is another configuration automation tool. In recent talks with networking vendors, I hear that SaltStack is being used for networking automation more and more. According to SaltStack, “the SSCE exam is timed at one hour, is open-book and Internet but not open friend, and includes 80 questions randomly pulled from a list of hundreds.”
Yet another powerful and popular automation tool, Chef offers Certified Chef Developer and Certified Chef Architect certifications. Several training options, including online, are available.
Ansible was its own open source automation tool with a commercial variant that helped pay the bills. Ansible has been absorbed into Red Hat recently, including Red Hat’s long-running education and certification programs. Ansible is, in my opinion, the most popular automation tool used by networkers. If I was most keenly interested in a network automation tool, I would start with Ansible. However, I find Red Hat’s pricing for official training needlessly oppressive for a tool with its roots in open source.
This one would be tough, but I suspect might be quite comprehensive. From Red Hat’s site, “A Red Hat® Certified Architect (RHCA) with a DevOps concentration is a Red Hat Certified Engineer (RHCE) or Red Hat Certified Developer who has attained Red Hat’s highest level of certification, proving their skills and knowledge in technologies and practices that can accelerate the process of moving applications and updates from development through the build and test processes and on to production.”
The most far-afield for those of you reading this, this Udacity nanodegree melds the disciplines of development and operations. I see great value for the modern IT stack in that combination of knowledge. The very best infrastructure engineers understand how applications work, and I think the most competent developers have a clue about infrastructure. For those reasons, this nanodegree appeals to me.