Get up to speed on the top five Cisco certification updates

Don't have time to stay current on all the latest requirements of your Cisco certification program? Don't worry: We'll keep you updated. Find out the top five updates to Cisco certification programs.

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Over the past year, Cisco has made a substantial amount of changes and updates to its certification programs. While you could spend time reading over the last few months of Cisco certification updates to catch up on all of the changes, I'm betting you probably have more pressing tasks. So, in the spirit of taking well-needed shortcuts, here's a list of the top five Cisco certification changes I think you need to know about.

CCNA Prep Center

In mid-December, Cisco announced that it was opening its preparation center pilot program for Cisco Certified Network Administrator (CCNA) candidates. Previously, only those who had taken a Cisco exam could access this center.

The CCNA Prep Center is a free resource, but it does require registration. But if you're currently pursuing your CCNA or considering doing so, this resource could feasibly be all you need. It includes practice questions, tutorials, videos, simulations, and forums.

In my opinion, the CCNA Prep Center's biggest advantage is the fact that Cisco has created it and continues to update it. After all, who knows better what you should study for than Cisco itself?

As an added bonus, the site offers the CCNA Simulation Game, in which you score points based on your ability to quickly perform common administration tasks on a timed basis. You'll also find other games such as the SAN Rover Game and the Cisco Network Defenders Game. While the latter two don't actually apply to CCNA preparation, they make for a perfect study break.

In addition, the site offers free labs and simulations that allow you to practice commands on simulated Cisco routers. I doubt you'll find a better Internet resource to study for the CCNA—even if you pay for it.

New tracks for CCIE

Both CRN Magazine and have ranked the Cisco Certified Internetwork Expert (CCIE) as the hottest certification for 2005. This certification is certainly the pinnacle of all Cisco certifications, and it's possibly the pinnacle of all certifications (in terms of degree of difficulty).

Last fall, Cisco announced the new Storage Networking CCIE certification. Available since November 2004, this new track focuses on testing knowledge in the configuration of Cisco's SAN equipment.

That means that Cisco now offers five tracks for its CCIE certification:

  • Routing and Switching
  • Security
  • Voice
  • Service Provider
  • Storage Networking

In December 2004, Cisco announced modifications to the curriculum for the most popular CCIE track, Routing and Switching. The most significant of these changes focus on the removal of VoIP topics (which moved to the CCIE Voice track) and the addition of new wireless, high availability, and multicast topics.

Cisco Certified Security Professional

Ranked the fourth hottest certification by, the relatively new Cisco Certified Security Professional (CCSP) is a certification on the rise. To earn a CCSP, you must already have a CCNA certification, and you must pass five exams.

I believe this cert will become a legitimate competitor to the relatively new Microsoft Certified Systems Engineer (MCSE) Security certification, even though these certs focus on two completely different products. Both are intermediate-level certifications for two very critical products in most company's IT departments—and no one can argue the relevance of security these days.

Cisco Storage Networking Specialist

In addition to the new Storage Networking track for the CCIE certification, Cisco has also announced three new Storage Networking certifications: Cisco Storage Networking Design Specialist, Cisco Storage Networking Support Specialist, and Cisco Storage Networking Sales Specialist. Like the Storage Networking CCIE, these certifications also focus on knowledge of Cisco's SAN equipment.

Cisco is apparently making a concerted effort to gain market share in the SAN arena. And historically, when Cisco makes a concerted effort to do something, it usually succeeds. So I suspect these certifications will become increasingly popular over the next few years.

New Cisco Qualified Specialist certifications

Last year, Cisco unveiled a number of new Cisco Qualified Specialist (CQS) certifications. There are currently 25 CQS designations available. (The three new Storage Networking Specialist certifications fall under this designation.)

If you already have a CCNA certification, earning one of these specialist certifications can be a great way to enhance your resume. For example, a network administrator who doesn't have the time to pursue a CSSP can beef up his or her security experience by earning the Cisco Firewall Specialist designation, which involves two exams as opposed to five for the CSSP.

Currently, the most popular of these certifications are the IP Telephony series (Cisco IP Telephony Design Specialist, Cisco IP Telephony Express Specialist, Cisco IP Telephony Operations Specialist, and Cisco IP Telephony Support Specialist) and the Wireless LAN series (Cisco Wireless LAN Design Specialist, Cisco Wireless LAN Sales Specialist, and Cisco Wireless LAN Support Specialist), due to increasing demand for knowledge of both of those technologies.

What's your take on Cisco certification?

What do you think about the recent changes to Cisco certification? How do these changes affect your certification plans? Post your comments and questions to this article's discussion, and let us know what other topics you'd like to see covered in this newsletter.

David Davis has worked in the IT industry for 12 years and holds several certifications, including CCIE, MCSE+I, CISSP, CCNA, CCDA, and CCNP. He currently manages a group of systems/network administrators for a privately owned retail company and performs networking/systems consulting on a part-time basis.

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