This guest blog post is by Cumulus Networks. We thank Cumulus Networks for being a sponsor.
By Rich Fulton, Sr. Director of Worldwide SE and Services.
With at least 800 different and distinct IT certifications populating the certification landscape, there certainly are plenty of options available to interested IT professionals. As long ago as 2008, a TechTarget survey identified at least 65 IT networking certification credentials (some of them available in multiple versions or flavors) in a contemporaneous Networking Certification Guide. In 2019, there are probably more than 100 such certifications available in the marketplace. Given this landscape, why would Cumulus launch yet another certification? Simple: because what’s out there doesn’t address open, standard Linux-based switching and infrastructure networking. Please read on for more background and an intro to the new Cumulus Certified Open Networking Professional (CCONP) credential.
Slotting certs by category: vendor-neutral and -specific, open and proprietary, standards-compliant
The best way of making sense of IT certs in general, and networking certs in particular, is to lump them into various categories. An important minority of such certifications might be labeled as vendor-neutral: they focus on the underlying concepts and technologies for some specific subject matter (like networking) and attempt to endow those who earn them with varying levels of skill and knowledge that apply in most situations, no matter what kinds of hardware or software may be used to put a network (or other kinds of IT technologies) together.
Key vendor-neutral networking certs are available from providers that include CompTIA (Network+), the Certified Wireless Network Professional (CWNP) program, the Storage Networking Industry Association (SNIA), and many others.
The obvious contrast to vendor-neutral IT certifications are those from specific IT technology vendors that concentrate on that company’s offerings, tools, technologies, and interfaces. Rather than providing general guidance on terms and concepts, such credentials zero in on the specific commands, configurations, and idiosyncrasies of particular platforms, products, and tools. Such credentials seek first and foremost to validate skills and knowledge of cert candidates when using such things in the workplace.
All the big names in proprietary networks have certification programs, some of them gargantuan in coverage and scope, including Cisco, Juniper, Avaya, F5, and many more. Our best guess is that in general—and in the networking field—vendor-specific certifications outnumber vendor-neutral ones by a ratio of 3:1 or higher.
Another axis for comparison of certification plays into the same dynamic. Certifications that cover open tools and technologies—Linux, TCP/IP, OpenStack and so forth—define one of the poles on this continuum. Certs that cover proprietary tools and technologies (the number is legion and includes most of those mega-networking companies identified earlier) define the other pole.
All kinds of IT certifications have value, including vendor-neutral and vendor-specific credentials, as well as those for both open and proprietary tools, platforms, and technologies. But those on the vendor-neutral/open axis are more broadly applicable, and often demonstrate a better general understanding of the subject matter it represents, and the context in which it applies.
Last, to answer the inevitable question, most experts believe that IT certifications still have value. In its 2019 Skills and Salary Report (published July 2019), training company Global Knowledge finds that 85 percent of IT professionals hold one or more certs. They also find that, in any given field, an IT pro who’s certified makes on average about $10K per year more than his or her uncertified counterpart. They assert, and we agree, that certs are worth earning and still offer interested professionals career benefits.
Why Cumulus certification?
While numerous vendor-neutral networking certifications are available, those on general networking topics (for example, CompTIA Network+) give short shrift to Linux networking coverage. In the same way, those that cover Linux topics (for example, the Linux Professional Institute’s LPIC-1, 2 and 3 credentials) provide only partial or tangential coverage of Linux networking. The Cumulus CCONP tackles this subject matter head-on and offers IT pros unique and valuable skills and knowledge. Our primary motivation in offering the CCONP comes, in fact, from a need to fill gaps in existing training and certification program coverage.
In addition, in offering this certification, Cumulus is responding to direct requests for such training and certification from its customer base and its user community. Because Cumulus Networks focuses on open, vendor-neutral Linux based networking tools, topics and technologies, so does the CCONP.
Understanding the CCONP credential
The CCONP is a modern, well-supported IT certification. That means it’s centered around an 80-question exam that candidates have up to two hours to complete. But it also means that it’s supported through a variety of descriptive, preparatory, and training materials (some free, some for a fee). To begin with, there’s a nice set of “Getting Started” materials that provide a program description and overview and the exam blueprint.
In general, CCONP training and materials fits into one of three categories, and are described in this handy flow chart:
- Free content
To get people started there’s a free, friendly and accessible Gorilla Guide ebook available. It’s entitled Linux 101. It covers basic Linux terminology and concepts, history, components, and more. There is also a collection of free how-to videos that include getting started with open networking basics, comparing Cisco vs. Cumulus, and a comprehensive overview of the Network Command Line Utility (NCLU) that underpins open, Linux-based networking.
- Self-paced training
Two courses are available from Cumulus to help candidates prepare for the CCONP. First, there’s the Linux Networking Fundamentals series ($500), a collection of 9 short online courses on concepts (Linux and networking), IP addressing, routing fundamentals (including basics, BGP, OSPF and Linux topics), first-hop redundancy, and configuration and troubleshooting tips. To follow up, there’s also a Cumulus Core series ($800), which covers networking architecture, configuration, routing, network services and security, and troubleshooting in considerably more depth.
- Instructor-led training
Cumulus offers online boot camps, which may also be arranged for onsite participation, to organizations who wish to host their own classes and train staff in some numbers. Boot camps come in two flavors: a regular version for those just starting out with Linux networking, and an XL version for those already in the know seeking to gain more detailed knowledge about Linux networking, Cumulus-style. Boot camps typically run for three days. See the Cumulus Boot Camp information page for more info on content and dates offered. A Boot camp costs $1,300 per person, and teaches everything candidates need to know to pass the exam.
Ready, set, go: take the CCONP
The exam consists of 80 questions to be completed in 105 minutes (1 hour, 45 minutes). A passing score is 80%. The exam is delivered via electronic proctoring through education.cumulusnetworks.com (which requires a valid photo ID and a working screen share on Windows or MacOS; Linux is not yet supported). The cost of the exam is $190. Topics covered include: switching and routing fundamentals, Linux concepts, overlay routing concepts, Cumulus core concepts, design concepts, troubleshooting, and automation concepts.
To get started with the CCONP
Individuals who earn the CCONP are equipped to deal with real-world, hands-on open Linux networking. They’ll find ample opportunities to put their skills to work in modern data centers, and at midsize to large enterprises, cloud and communications providers, and more. For more information visit the CCONP home page, or email [email protected].
Remember, the CCONP addresses skills and knowledge gaps in the areas of open, Linux-based networking. This means that those who earn the credential will gain specific, useful knowledge ready for the workplace. Given the demand for datacenter networking and cloud computing professionals, we expect that those who expend the effort to earn the CCONP will find those efforts rewarded at work – if not in their current job, then for sure in their next one!