Storage industry certifications are evolving at a steady pace, but there are still questions of real-world relevancy for those who might take the exams.

The tests fall into two categories–vendor-neutral editions from the Storage Networking Industry Association (SNIA), and vendor-specific versions from storage giants such as Brocade, EMC, Netapp, and so on. SNIA exams are revised every three years. The committee is led by SNIA global education director Paul Talbut, who works for a UK-based technology events company.

“It’s been an interesting journey. We’ve been doing our own internal certifications for about 15 years,” Talbut said.

SEE: Data backup policy template (Tech Pro Research)

There were a few years in the mid-2010s when CompTIA ran the storage certification program, but now it’s back in-house at SNIA, Talbut noted. CompTIA hadn’t added anything about flash storage, and Talbut said that there will likely be a need for new subjects such as storage-class memory and maybe even artificial intelligence.

SNIA has three levels of exams. The Storage Professional level means you understand storage networking concepts. If you pass the Professional level, then you’re eligible for the other two. Those are Storage Engineer–indicating you can perform administrative tasks, and Storage Architect–conveying your ability to assess and design a storage network.

“We’re seeing about 1,000-1,200 people take the exams each year, spread across the three certifications,” Talbut said. “It’s growing. We’re seeing more people. It’s partly because we’ve received some endorsements, particularly from Dell,” he added.

Talbut’s group is currently focusing on a new version of the Storage Engineer exam to be released in early 2018. “My expectation is that we will need our subject matter experts to look at how storage is architected and managed in modern data centers, and so technologies such as flash, software-defined, cloud, and hyperconvergence will all be taken into account,” he stated.

“I can’t say for definite how the exam will look because one of the first exercises we do in the refresh is a job task analysis which looks at the way the various job roles have changed and what skills are required in the industry. I suspect that is where we will see the most change in the structure of the exam, and the content will flow from that,” Talbut said.

“What we’re trying to build here is an examination that is testing the generic skills of storage professionals. Walking into a data center today, there isn’t just one brand of storage in there,” Talbut continued.

That’s where the vendor certifications come into play. People who want to become storage managers should probably take the SNIA exams, but those already in the field should take exams for whichever brands their employers purchase, analyst Howard Marks said.

Marks is lukewarm about the SNIA certifications in general. “There’s value in the training. I just don’t think there’s much value in the certifications,” he said. “I remember teaching some of the advanced Novell classes many, many moons ago, and having guys in the classroom who were [Certified Network Engineers] who knew exactly what the test was going to ask but didn’t understand any of it.”

Terry Koppa, a network administrator at Montgomery County Memorial Hospital in Red Oak, Iowa, said his team manages 70 terabytes using an IBM storage network and recently added Commvault backup software after becoming disenchanted with Tivoli being too slow.

Koppa said certifications are important, but he feels they have a fatal flaw. “Everybody is generally lagging behind what we are actually doing in the field,” Koppa said. “I think the biggest gap is certifications are always based on a pefect world.”

Koppa’s personal learning style is simpler: “I read IBM’s white paper and I do it.”