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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
and CertCities.com
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

Last fall, Cisco announced the new Storage Networking CCIE
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
  • Storage

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 CertCities.com, 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

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

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.