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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 in high demand in today's job market. Those serious about their IT careers should consider one or more of these best-of-breed networking certifications to set themselves apart from their 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) and WAN optimization, as well as 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 leaders in the field of networking for 2018 and beyond.

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 revealed the number of job posts across the U.S. in which our featured certifications were mentioned on a given day.

Making its first appearance on the leader board this year is the SolarWinds Certified Professional (SCP). It replaces the Juniper Enterprise Routing and Switching, Expert (JNCIE-ENT) credential. While the JNCIE remains a great credential, the job board numbers for the SCP were stronger, earning it a slot in the top five. The other featured credentials are the Cisco Certified Internetwork Expert (CCIE), Cisco Certified Network Professional (CCNP), CompTIA Network+ and Wireshark's Certified Network Analyst (WCNA).

Certification

SimplyHired 

 Indeed 

 LinkedIn Jobs 

 LinkUp 

Total

CCIE (Cisco)

1,620

2,020

3,194

915

7,749

CCNP (Cisco)

3,568

4,442

6,592

1,864

16,466

Network+ (CompTIA)

527

652

833

78

2,090

SolarWinds Certified Professional 

248

315

468

548

1,579

WCNA (Wireshark)**

25

26

36

17

104

*Searches for only "Wireshark" resulted in a total of 7,432 job listings.

The featured certifications represent all major tiers of networking job roles, from the entry (Network+) to the expert level (CCIE). According to Glassdoor, a person just starting out in networking, most likely as a technician or junior administrator, can expect to make about $67,000. Mid-tier network administrators and engineers make an average of $79,000 to $90,000, while CCIEs average around $119,000.

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 made its debut.

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

CCIE facts and figures

Certification name

Cisco Certified Internetwork Expert (CCIE)

Prerequisites and 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
  • CCIE 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, including government, research and academia. It's hard to go wrong with Cisco certification nowadays, and the CCNP is its most important 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 steppingstone 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), 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 and 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 exams.

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.

There aren't that many entry-level networking IT certifications around, probably because CompTIA's Network+ credential more or less owns this 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 steppingstone to a variety of more advanced networking credentials. Some vendor-specific certification programs even include it as a prerequisite.

Certification name

CompTIA Network+

Prerequisites and required courses

None

CompTIA A+ plus 9-12 months experience is recommended, but not required.

Number of exams

One exam: N10-007 (maximum 90 questions, 90 minutes)

Note: CompTIA retired exam N10-006 on Aug. 31, 2018. Exam N10-006 will still be available until Jan. 31, 2019.

Cost per exam

$302

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 online training, and the CertMaster online learning tool.

Books include CompTIA Network+ N10-007 Exam Cram (6e) by Emmet Dulaney, CompTIA Network+ All-in-One Exam Guide: Exam N10-007 by Mike Meyers, and CompTIA Network+ Study Guide: Exam N10-007 by Todd Lammle.

Practice exams are available through Certification.CompTIA.org and ProProfs.com.

Self-paced training includes CompTIA Network+ Certification Kit (Exam N10-007) by Todd Lammle, Jon Buhagiar and Craig Zacker, and CompTIA Network+ Deluxe Study Guide: Exam N10-007 by Todd Lammle.

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

Our sole newcomer to the top five this year is the SolarWinds Certified Professional (SCP). Headquartered in Austin, Texas, SolarWinds makes simplicity its business. At SolarWinds, businesses and IT professionals will find tools, products, and solutions to improve performance and monitoring and to solve real-world problems in an easy, efficient way. SolarWinds offers product solutions across six areas: network management, system management, security, database management, IT help desk and the cloud.

SolarWinds currently offers a single credential, the SolarWinds Certified Professional (SCP), which is designed to validate a candidate's skill, knowledge and expertise in using either the SolarWinds system management or network management product portfolio. Candidates can choose to test for the SCP on either the Network Performance Monitor (NPM) or Server and Application Monitor (SAM) path. A single exam is required to earn the credential.

SolarWinds is committed to ongoing education and ensuring that SCP credential holders maintain skill currency as new products and technologies are released. To accomplish this, SolarWinds requires SCP credential holders to maintain a SolarWinds subscription and attend events and training. The subscription provides SCPs with webcasts, online training, invitations to in-person and online events, enhanced support, opportunities to study with SolarWinds experts, and more. An annual subscription fee of $200 is required. Credentials expire after three years if a candidate fails to maintain their subscription and attend training.

Certification name

 Solar Winds Certified Professional (SCP)

Prerequisites and required courses

 None listed

Number of exams

One exam (75 questions, 90 minutes)

Cost per exam

$200

Exams administered by PSI Exams.

URL

https://support.solarwinds.com/Success_Center/SolarWinds_Academy/Solarwinds_Certified_Professional

Self-study materials

SolarWinds maintains links to various documentation and exam prep guides on the exam webpage. Additional e-learning opportunities and classes can be found at the SolarWinds Academy. On THWACK, candidates will find a robust SolarWinds IT community, library, support, blogs, webinars and more.

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 and required courses

 None

Number of exams

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

Cost per exam

$299

Practice exams available for $29.

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 Web Assessor for practice exams.

 

There are lots of other choices for networking professionals to investigate and pursue outside of these five. While it didn't make the top five this year, the Juniper Enterprise Routing and Switching-Expert (JNCIE-ENT) remains an excellent credential for candidates interested in Juniper technologies.

Many other major networking vendors, including 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.

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