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Best Computer Networking Certifications 2018

Best Computer Networking Certifications 2018
Credit: Shutterstock/hxdyl

IT pros skilled in the many areas of networking are always 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 certifications to set themselves apart from the competition.

When it comes to the care and feeding of modern networks, there's quite a list of tools and technologies that qualified IT professionals must master — especially those who aspire to work as network administrators.

In addition to the servers and clients that make up the endpoints in such environments, there's a lot of network infrastructure to worry about. This includes switches and routers (both physical and virtual), plus a raft of appliances and services, such as unified threat management (UTM), next-generation firewalls (NGFs), WAN optimization, and spam, email and content filtering.

Wrapping your head around all these certification options and specialties can be challenging, but knowing where to start can help. We looked at five networking certifications (in their order of appearance in the job boards table that follows) that we consider to be leaders in the field of networking for 2018.

To pick our leaders, we looked at the state of networking certification, examined various market and salary surveys, and performed an informal job board survey that reveals the number of job posts across the U.S. in which our featured certifications were mentioned on a given day.

Certification

SimplyHired

Indeed

LinkedIn Jobs

LinkUp

Total

CCIE (Cisco)

1,664

1,798

1,988

757

6.207

CCNP (Cisco)

3,708

4,045

4,151

1,684

13,588

JNCIE-ENT (Juniper)*

22

23

17

11

73

Network+ (CompTIA)

547

582

436

219

1,784

WCNA (Wireshark)**

20

22

34

15

91

*Searches for only "JNCIE" resulted in a total of 703 job listings. **Searches for only "Wireshark" resulted in a total of 2,848 job listings.

The featured certifications represent all major tiers of networking job roles, from the entry (Network+) to the expert level (CCIE). A person just starting out in networking, most likely as a technician or junior administrator, can expect to make about $47,000. Mid-tier network administrators and engineers make an average of $66,000 to $84,000, and CCIEs average around $116,000.

An evergreen and high-value networking certification is the Cisco Certified Internetwork Expert (CCIE), which comes in several tracks. The annual production of CCIEs remains small enough that Cisco can still claim to hire all of them itself, with demand and appreciation for this difficult and rewarding certification always stratospheric. Over the past few years, the Storage Networking credential gave way to Collaboration, and a Data Center credential was introduced.

Although the road to obtaining the CCIE is long and hard, it is well worth the effort, time and money. This is a credential that will open doors to plenty of job opportunities and high salaries for networking pros.

Certification Name

Cisco Certified Internetwork Expert (CCIE)

Prerequisites & Required Courses

None. Cisco recommends eight years of relevant job experience.

Number of Exams

Every CCIE track requires both a written and lab exam. Written exam scores are valid for 18 months. Lab exams must be attempted within 18 months of the written exam. CCIE candidates may not schedule a lab exam until receiving a passing score on the written exam. Candidates must retake the written exam if they do not pass the lab exam within three years. All written exams are 90 to 110 questions, 120 minutes.

CCIE Collaboration:

  • CCIE Collaboration Written Exam: 400-051
  • CCIE Collaboration Lab Exam

CCIE Data Center:

  • CCIE Data Center Written Exam: 400-151
  • CIE Data Center Lab Exam

CCIE Routing and Switching:

  • CCIE Routing and Switching Written Exam: 400-101
  • CCIE Routing and Switching Lab Exam

CCIE Security:

  • CCIE Security Written Exam: 400-251 
  • CCIE Security Lab Exam

CCIE Service Provider:

  • CCIE SP Written Exam: 400-201
  • CCIE SP Lab Exam

CCIE Wireless:

  • CCIE Wireless Written Exam: 400-351
  • CCIE Wireless Lab Exam

Cost per Exam

Written exam: $450 or equivalent worldwide
Lab exam: $1,600 or equivalent worldwide
Exam rates vary based on exchange rates and local taxes (VAT, GST).

URL

https://www.cisco.com/c/en/us/training-events/training-certifications/certifications/expert.html

Self-Study Materials

CCIE learning opportunities include study documents, recommended reading, test examples, training opportunities, online communities and study groups, all available through the Cisco Learning Network.

The Cisco Certified Network Professional (CCNP) takes aim at platforms and products from a leading networking equipment vendor found at most 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 midrange credential across a wide variety of specialties.

Cisco offers several flavors of the CCNP: Cloud, Collaboration, Data Center, Routing and Switching (the most popular), Security, Service Provider and Wireless. The Cisco Certified Network Associate (CCNA) is a required stepping stone to the CCNP. What usually comes after the CCNP for 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.

Certification Name

Cisco Certified Network Professional (CCNP) certifications:

  • CCNP: Cloud
  • CCNP: Collaboration
  • CCNP: Data Center
  • CCNP: Routing and Switching
  • CCNP: Security
  • CCNP: Service Provider
  • CCNP: Wireless

Prerequisites & Required Courses

A valid CCNA or CCIE credential is required.

Number of Exams

The primary CCNP certification (Routing and Switching) requires three:

  • 300-101 ROUTE: Implementing Cisco IP Routing (45-65 questions, 120 minutes)
  • 300-115 SWITCH: Implementing Cisco IP Switched Networks (30-40 questions, 120 minutes)
  • 300-135 TSHOOT: Troubleshooting and Maintaining Cisco IP Networks (15-25 questions, 120 minutes)

Other CCNP certifications require four or five exams, depending on the certification path.

Cost per Exam

$300   

URL

https://www.cisco.com/c/en/us/training-events/training-certifications/certifications/professional.html

Self-Study Materials

Recommended training is listed online for each CCNP Certification track. Self-study materials include books, flash cards, practice tests, and virtual and physical labs.

Juniper Networks designs and sells routers, firewalls and all kinds of networking solutions aimed at data center environments. Its well-known network operating system for routing, switching and security is called Junos OS, and figures prominently in Juniper devices and equipment. As such, the company is a top competitor to (that is, engages in fabric wars with) Cisco, Brocade, HPE and other networking powerhouses.

Juniper formed the Juniper Networks Certification Program (JNCP) several years ago to ensure a workforce capable of supporting the company's hardware and software solutions. The part of this program that focuses on Junos-based credentials includes Associate, Specialist, Professional and Expert levels across four tracks: Data Center, Service Provider Routing and Switching, Enterprise Routing and Switching and Junos Security.

We favor the upper-tier Enterprise Routing and Switching-Expert (JNCIE-ENT) certification because of its cachet in the industry and its salary-generating capability. This credential requires candidates to achieve the Professional certification first and then to pass an eight-hour, hands-on exam. Once earned, the certification is valid for three years.

Certification Name

Enterprise Routing and Switching, Expert (JNCIE-ENT)

Prerequisites & Required Courses

Juniper Networks Certified Professional Enterprise Routing and Switching (JNCIP-ENT)

Number of Exams

One: JPR-943 (hands-on lab exam, eight hours)

Cost per Exam

$1,400

URL

http://www.juniper.net/us/en/training/certification/certification-tracks/ent-routing-switching-track/#jncieent

Self-Study Materials

Self-study materials include Junos Documentation and Junos Documentation for EX Series switches. The JNCIE Enterprise Bootcamp is an optional five-day course.

There aren't that many entry-level networking IT certifications around, probably because CompTIA's Network+ credential more or less owns this particular niche. Many IT and certification pundits, including us, believe the Network+ to be an important early checkbox element in any savvy IT professional's basic certification portfolio. If you're just starting out, this is a certification for you.

CompTIA Network+ is also a vendor-neutral certification and a stepping-stone to a variety of more advanced networking credentials. Some vendor-specific certification programs even include it as a prerequisite.

Certification Name:

CompTIA Network+

Prerequisites & Required Courses:

None

Number of Exams:

One: N10-006 (maximum 90 questions, 90 minutes)

Cost per Exam:

$294; prices vary by location and membership

URL:

https://certification.comptia.org/certifications/network

Self-Study Materials:

Exam objectives and sample questions can be downloaded from the certification page (URL listed above). Visit the CompTIA Marketplace for study guides ($50-plus), classroom and elearning training, and the CertMaster online learning tool.

Books include CompTIA Network+ N10-006 Exam Cram (5e) by Emmett Dulaney; CompTIA Network+ All-in-One Exam Guide: Exam N10-006 by Mike Meyers; and CompTIA Network+ Study Guide: Exam N10-006 by Todd Lammle.

Practice exams are available through Certification.comptia.org and Proprofs.com.

Self-paced training includes CompTIA Network+ Certification Kit (Exam N10-006) by Todd Lammle and Bill Ferguson, and CompTIA Network+ Deluxe Study Guide: Exam N10-006 by Todd Lammle.

Other self-paced training is available through Certification.comptia.org.

Founded in 2007 by major networking geeks Gerald Combs and Laura Chappell, Wireshark University offers only a single certification but makes it 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, which is DoD 8570 certified.

The WCNA is good for three years, but certification holders must obtain a total of 20 continuing professional education (CPE) credits each year to maintain their credentials in good standing. These CPE credits must focus on activities related to the WCNA exam objectives (sniffing, analysis, etc.) and not be tied directly to job tasks. For example, attending a Sharkfest or Black Hat conference, or even reading the Wireshark Network Analysis Study Guide, can net some CPEs.
Along with administering the WCNA program, Wireshark University offers self-paced, instructor-led and customized training options for anyone who wants to learn about Wireshark and packet analysis. An All Access Pass is a one-year subscription to all Wireshark University training courses and costs $699.

Certification Name

Wireshark Certified Network Analyst (WCNA)

Prerequisites & Required Courses

None

Number of Exams

One: WCNA-102.x Exam (100 questions, two hours) administered by Kryterion

Cost per Exam

$299

URL

http://www.wiresharktraining.com/certification.html

Self-Study Materials

Online self-paced training, instructor-led training, customized training and exam prep books available at the Wireshark University site. Go to https://www.webassessor.com/wa.do?page=publicHome&branding=PAI for practice exams.


Outside the top five networking certifications, there are lots of other choices for networking professionals to investigate and pursue. Networkers interested in a mostly vendor-neutral certification that includes a vendor-specific component for network management should look at the SolarWinds Certified Professional certification. The certification recognizes general network fundamentals, planning, management and troubleshooting skills, as well as proficiency in using the SolarWinds Orion network performance monitor.

Many major networking vendors, including Brocade, Nokia (formerly Alcatel-Lucent), F5 and HPE, offer networking-focused credentials that ascend all the way to advanced or expert credentials. Serious network professionals will also want to check out the certifications from Avaya, Citrix and Extreme Networks.