IT pros skilled in the many areas of networking remain in high demand in today's job market. Those who are serious about their careers should consider one or more of these best-of-breed networking certs in order to set themselves apart from the competition.
CCNP: Cisco Certified Network Professional
The Cisco Certified Network Professional (CCNP) is a credential that takes square aim at platforms and products from a leading networking equipment vendor found in the majority of communications and Internet service providers, not to mention enterprises and businesses of all sizes, as well as government, research and academia. It's hard to go wrong by earning Cisco certification nowadays, and the CCNP is its leading mid-range credential across a wide variety of specialties.
The Cisco Certified Network Associate (CCNA) is a required stepping-stone to the CCNP. What usually comes after the CCNP for most networking professionals could be another CCNP (different specialty), one or more Cisco Specialist certifications or the advanced Cisco Certified Internetwork Expert (CCIE) -- which is also available in numerous specializations.
CCIE: Cisco Certified Internetwork Expert
Certainly the unparalleled networking certification today is the Cisco Certified Internetwork Expert (CCIE), which comes in a wide range of specialties. The annual production of CCIEs remains small enough that Cisco still claims it could hire all of them itself, with demand and appreciation for this difficult and rewarding certification still extremely high. Over the past few years, the Storage Networking credential gave way to the Collaboration specialty, and the Data Center credential was introduced.
Although the road to obtaining the CCIE is long and hard, it will be well worth the effort, time and money spent. This is a credential that will open doors to plenty of job opportunities and high salaries for networking pros.
JNCIE-ENT: Juniper Networks Certified Enterprise Routing and Switching Expert
Juniper Networks designs and sells routers, firewalls and all kinds of networking solutions aimed mainly at data center environments. Its well-known network operating system for routing, switching and security is called Junos OS, which figures prominently in many Juniper devices and equipment. As such, the company is a top competitor to (that is, engages in fabric wars with) Cisco, Brocade, HP and other networking powerhouses.
Juniper formed the Juniper Networks Certification Program (JNCP) several years ago to ensure a workforce capable of supporting all of the company's hardware and software solutions. The part of the program that focuses on Junos-based credentials includes Associate, Specialist, Professional and Expert levels across three tracks: Service Provider Routing and Switching, Enterprise Routing and Switching, and Junos Security.
There aren't that many entry-level networking IT certifications around, probably because CompTIA's Network+ credential more or less owns this particular certification niche. Many IT and certification pundits, including us, believe the Network+ to be an important early check-box elementin any savvy IT professional's basic certification portfolio. If you're just starting out, this is a cert for you.
CompTIA Network+ is also a vendor-neutral certification and a stepping stone to a number of more advanced networking credentials. Some vendor-specific certification programs even include it as a prerequisite.
WCNA: Wireshark Certified Network Analyst
Founded in 2007 by major networking geeks Gerald Combs and Laura Chappell, Wireshark University offers only a single certification but makes it very much worth your while. The Wireshark Certified Network Analyst (WCNA) recognizes knowledge of network sniffing and analysis using Wireshark, as well as TCP/IP network communications, network troubleshooting and network security. To achieve this credential, candidates must pass one multiple-choice exam.
The WCNA is good for three years, but certification holders must obtain a total of 20 continuing professional education (CPE) credits each year in order to maintain their credentials in good standing. The CPE credits must focus on activities related to the WCNA exam objectives (sniffing, analysis, etc.) and not be tied directly to your job tasks. For example, attending a Sharkfest or black-hat conference, or even reading the Wireshark Network Analysis Study Guide, can net some CPEs.
Outside of the top five networking certifications, there are lots of other choices for networking professionals to investigate and pursue. Many major networking vendors, including Brocade, Alcatel-Lucent, F5 and even HP, offer networking focused credentials that ascend all the way to advanced or expert level credentials. Serious network professionals will also want to check out the certifications offered by Avaya, Citrix and Extreme Networks.