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5 Best Cloud Certifications

top 5 cloud certifications
Credit: belekekin/Shutterstock

Throughout the past several years, no other area of IT has generated as much hype, interest and investment as cloud computing. Though the term can have different meanings for different users, there's no doubt that the cloud is now a permanent fixture for end users and service providers, as well as companies and organizations of all sizes around the world. As a result, cloud computing attracts considerable coverage and attention from certification providers and companies that offer cloud-related products, such as Amazon Web Services, Microsoft and VMware.

A Forbes article (Roundup of Cloud Computing Forecasts, 2017) summarizes key statistics regarding the current cloud computing landscape along with a look to the future. Amazon Web Services (AWS) is the dominant cloud computing player and achieved an incredible 43 percent year-over-year growth. According to Wikibon predictions, AWS revenue should top $43 billion by 2022. AWS is followed closely by Microsoft Azure and Google Cloud.

According to industry analysts, the cloud has grown much faster than previously predicted. New projections indicate that spending on cloud computing is expected to top $162 billion by 2020, for a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 19 percent from 2015. Spending for enterprise cloud is expected to grow by a CAGR of 16 percent (2016 to 2026) and cloud services by 18 percent in 2017. Those are huge numbers, in an era when the U.S. economy is growing at less than 3 percent and global GDP is at 3.6 percent.

A close examination of what's available to IT professionals by way of cloud-related certifications shows a large and growing number of credentials. For 2018, the best cloud certifications include both vendor-neutral and vendor-specific certification options from some top players in the market. However, certification providers watch technology areas carefully, and seldom jump into any of them until clear and strong interest has been indisputably established.

Cloud professionals should expect to earn a healthy income. SimplyHired reports average salaries for cloud administrators at just less than $78,000, while cloud developers average $118,758 annually. Cloud architects are the big winners, with average earnings coming in at $124,406 and some salaries listed as high as $173,719.

Before you peruse our list of the best cloud certifications for 2018, check out our overview of the relative frequency at which the top five picks show up in job postings. Keep in mind that these results are a snapshot in time.

Certification

SimplyHired

Indeed

LinkedIn Jobs

Linkup

Total

AWS Certified Solutions Architect – Professional (Amazon Web Services)

234

302

170

152

858

CCNA Cloud (Cisco)

1,104

1,217

1,075

486

3,882

CCNP Cloud (Cisco)

774

840

839

394

2,847

MCSE: Cloud Platform and Infrastructure (Microsoft)

288

322

179

121

910

VMware VCP7 – CMA

418

433

389

200

1,440

Amazon Web Services launched its AWS certification program in May 2013. Currently, the program offers three associate-level and two professional-level certifications.

The AWS Certified Solutions Architect – Professional certification aims at networking professionals with two or more years of experience designing and deploying cloud environments on AWS. A person with this credential works with clients to assess needs, plan and design solutions that meet requirements; recommends an architecture for implementing and provisioning AWS applications; and provides guidance throughout the life of the projects.

A candidate for this certification should be highly familiar with topics such as high availability and business continuity, costing, deployment management, network design, data storage, security, scalability and elasticity, cloud migration and hybrid architecture.

Other certifications in the AWS certification program include the following:

With about 40 percent market share, Amazon continues to hold the top spot in the cloud computing services market (Synergy Research). That makes the AWS Certified Solutions Architect – Professional credential a feather in the cap of channel partners for whom AWS is a major part of their business. The credential also distinguishes partners from their competitors, perhaps giving them an advantage in the pursuit of new clients.

Certification Name

AWS Certified Solutions Architect – Professional

Prerequisites & Required Courses

Required:

  • AWS Certified Solutions Architect – Associate
  • Hands-on experience with cloud architecture design and deployment on AWS (two or more years required)
  • Ability to evaluate cloud application requirements and make recommendations for provisioning, deployment and implementation on AWS
  • Skilled in best practices on architectural design at the enterprise, project and application level

Recommended: Advanced Architecting on AWS training course

Number of Exams

One, AWS Certified Solutions Architect – Professional Level (multiple choice, 170 minutes)

Cost per Exam

$300; exam administered by Webassessor
An AWS Certification Account is required to register for the exam.

URL

aws.amazon.com/certification/certification-levels/certified-solutions-architect-professional

Self-Study Materials

AWS provides links to an exam blueprint (PDF)sample questions (PDF), practice exams ($40 each), exam workshops, self-paced labs, an exam preparation resource guide, white papers and more on the certification homepage.

Cisco Systems was founded in 1984, and has become a household name in the realm of IT. Cisco maintains a strong global presence, boasting almost 74,000 employees worldwide and an annual revenue of $48.7 billion.

To support its products and customers, Cisco developed and maintains a strong training and certification program, offering credentials at entry, associate, professional, expert and architect levels. Cisco offers two cloud-based credentials: The Cisco Certified Network Associate (CCNA) Cloud and the Cisco Certified Network Professional (CCNP) Cloud. The CCNA and CCNP enjoy a strong presence in the cloud and are featured in this year's top five list.

An entry-level credential, the CCNA Cloud targets IT professionals working in roles such as network or cloud engineer and cloud administrator. The CCNA Cloud credential validates a candidate's ability to support cloud-based Cisco solutions. Candidates should possess a basic knowledge of cloud infrastructure and deployment models, cloud networking and storage solutions, provisioning, preparation of reports, ongoing monitoring and other cloud administrative tasks.

Two exams are required to earn the CCNA Cloud. Training is highly recommended, but not required. The credential is valid for three years, after which the credential holder must recertify by passing one of the qualifying recertification exams. Credential holders should check Cisco's certification webpage for the current list of qualifying exams.

In addition to cloud, the CCNA credential is available for numerous other solution tracks, including Cyber Ops, Routing and Switching, Wireless, Data Center, Security, Collaboration, Industrial and Service Provider.

Certification Name

Cisco Certified Network Associate (CCNA) Cloud

Prerequisites & Required Courses

None
Recommended training:

  • Understanding Cisco Cloud Fundamentals (CLDFND)
  • Introducing Cisco Cloud Administration (CLDADM)

Number of Exams

Two:

  • Understanding Cisco (210-451, CLDFND)  
  • Introducing Cisco Cloud Administration (210-455, CLDADM)

Both exams have 55 to 65 questions and are 90 minutes in length.
Exams administered by Pearson VUE.

Cost per Exam

$300 each ($600 total)

URL

https://www.cisco.com/c/en/us/training-events/training-certifications/certifications/associate/ccna-cloud.html

Self-Study Materials

Cisco maintains numerous resources for credential seekers, including exam topics, blogs, study and discussion groups, training videos, seminars, self-assessment tools, Cisco Learning Network games and practice exams. Visit the certification webpage and each exam webpage for more information. Books and other training materials are available from the Cisco Marketplace Bookstore.

Cisco certifications are designed to prepare IT professionals working in specific job roles for common challenges they may encounter in the normal scope of their duties. The Cisco Certified Network Professional (CCNP) Cloud credential is designed to validate the skills of administrators, designers, architects, engineers and data center professionals working in a cloud-based environment. In addition to Cloud, the CCNP is available in six other solution tracks: Collaboration, Routing and Switching, Service Provider, Data Center, Security and Wireless.

As the certification name implies, this is a professional-level credential for experienced cloud practitioners. Candidates should be well-versed in cloud-related technologies, such as Cisco Intercloud and Infrastructure-as-a-Service (IaaS), and cloud models (hybrid, private, public). The CCNP Cloud isn't all about theory. Successful candidates should also possess the skills necessary to design and implement network, storage and cloud infrastructure solutions and security policies, troubleshoot and resolve issues, automate design processes, design and manage virtual networks and virtualization, provision applications and IaaS, and perform life cycle management tasks. Candidates must also understand Application Centric Infrastructure (ACI) architecture and related concepts.

The requirements to earn the CCNP Cloud credential are rigorous. Candidates must first obtain either the CCNA Cloud or any Cisco Certified Internetwork Expert (CCIE) certification. In addition, candidates must pass four additional exams covering cloud design, implementing and troubleshooting, automation and building applications using ACI. Training is highly recommended as the best way to prepare for CCNP Cloud exams.

The CCNP Cloud is valid for three years. There are several paths to recertification; most involve passing either a written or practical exam. However, candidates may also recertify by passing the Cisco Certified Architect (CCAr) interview and board review.

Certification Name

Cisco Certified Network Professional (CCNP) Cloud

Prerequisites & Required Courses

CCNA Cloud or any CCIE certification Cisco Certified Internetwork Expert (CCIE) certification
Recommended training:

  • Implementing and Troubleshooting the Cisco Cloud Infrastructure (CLDINF)
  • Designing the Cisco Cloud (CLDDES)
  • Automating the Cisco Enterprise Cloud (CLDAUT)
  • Building the Cisco Cloud with Application Centric Infrastructure (CLDACI)

Number of Exams

Four:

  • Implementing and Troubleshooting the Cisco Cloud Infrastructure (300-460, CLDINF)
  • Designing the Cisco Cloud (300-465, CLDDES)
  • Automating the Cisco Enterprise Cloud (300-470, CLDAUT)
  • Building the Cisco Cloud with Application Centric Infrastructure (300-475, CLDACI)

All exams have 55-65 questions and are 90 minutes in length.
Exams administered by Pearson VUE.

Cost per Exam

$300 ($1,200 total)

URL

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

Self-Study Materials

Cisco maintains numerous resources for credential seekers, including exam topics, blogs, study and discussion groups, training videos, seminars, self-assessment tools, Cisco Learning Network games and practice exams. Visit the certification webpage and each exam webpage for more information. Books and other training materials are available from the Cisco Marketplace Bookstore.

Microsoft retired its MCSE: Private Cloud credential on March 31, 2017, replacing it with the MCSE: Cloud Platform and Infrastructure credential. The MCSE: Cloud Platform and Infrastructure cert recognizes a candidate's ability to manage data centers and validates skills in networking virtualization, systems and identity management, storage and related cloud technologies.

The MCSE: Cloud Platform and Infrastructure credential requires candidates to first obtain one of the following Microsoft Certified Solution Associate (MCSA) certifications:

  • MCSA: Windows Server 2016
  • MCSA: Cloud Platform
  • MCSA: Linux on Azure
  • MCSA: Windows Server 2012

Each MCSA requires two or three exams depending on the chosen path. The MCSA: Linux on Azure credential requires both a Microsoft exam and the Linux Foundation Certified System (LFCS) exam.

Candidates must also pass an MCSE exam. These exams include topics such as developing, implementing and architecting Azure-related solutions; monitoring and operating a private cloud; designing and implementing solutions for cloud data platforms; designing and implementing big data analytics solutions; implementing server infrastructures; and securing Windows Server 2016.

Microsoft Virtual Academy (MVA) offers free courses and training materials on many topics relevant to the cloud development. Microsoft Learning occasionally offers Exam Replay, a program that allows candidates to purchase an exam with a retake (and a practice exam, for a small added cost) at a discount.

As more and more Microsoft technologies are delivered and consumed in the cloud rather than on premises, Microsoft continues to beef up its cloud-related certifications. It does so by offering new credentials or sprinkling cloud topics into existing credentials. If you click the Cloud tab, you can see all the cloud-related certifications on the Microsoft Certification webpage.

Certification Name

MCSE: Cloud Platform and Infrastructure

Prerequisites & Required Courses

MCSA: Windows Server 2016 (three exams), MCSA: Cloud Platform (two exams), MCSA: Linux on Azure (two exams, one Microsoft and the Linux Foundation Certified System Administrator - LFCS) or MCSA: Windows Server 2012 (three exams)

One required exam from the following:
Developing Microsoft Azure Solutions, Exam 70-532
Implementing Microsoft Azure Infrastructure Solutions, Exam 70-533
Architecting Microsoft Azure Solutions, Exam 70-534
Designing and Implementing Cloud Data Platform Solutions, Exam 70-473
Designing and Implementing Big Data Analytics Solutions, Exam 70-475
Securing Windows Server 2016, Exam 70-744
Implementing a Software-Defined Datacenter, Exam 70-745, exam in beta
Designing and Implementing a Server Infrastructure, Exam 70-413
Implementing an Advanced Server Infrastructure, Exam 70-414
Monitoring and Operating a Private Cloud, Exam 70-246
Configuring and Deploying a Private Cloud, Exam 70-247
Configuring and Operating a Hybrid Cloud with Microsoft Azure Stack, Exam 70-537, under development
Implementing Microsoft Azure DevOps Solutions, Exam 70-538, under development
Managing Linux Workloads on Azure, Exam 70-539, under development

Number of Exams

One MCSE, plus two or three prerequisite exams

Cost per Exam

MCSE exam: $165

Prerequisite exams: $165 each (MCSA), $300 (LFCS)

Exams administered by Pearson VUE.

URL

https://www.microsoft.com/en-us/learning/mcse-cloud-platform-infrastructure.aspx

Self-Study Materials

The Microsoft Learning page includes links to online and in-person training options, study groups, forums, blogs, the Microsoft Evaluation Center and more. Microsoft Press offers free downloadable e-books and exam prep books for purchase. The MVA offers free training courses on a variety of topics.

Each exam page typically includes links to recommended training, exam prep videos, practice tests, community resources and books.

If there's a contributing technology that enables the cloud, it must be virtualization, and nobody has done virtualization longer or from as many angles as VMware. The company's newest cloud credential is the VCP7 – Cloud Management and Automation (VCP7-CMA) certification, based on vSphere 6.5 and vRealize, which recognizes IT professionals who can extend data virtualization throughout the cloud.

To earn the VCP7-CMA, candidates need to follow one of these paths:

  • Path 1 (for current VCP6-CMA credential holders): Candidates who already possess a valid VCP6-CMA certification need only complete VMware Certified Professional 7 – Cloud Management and Automation (VCP7-CMA) Exam 2V0-731 to earn the certification.
     
  • Path 2 (for current VCP credential holders): Candidates who already possess a valid VCP credential need only pass Exam 2V0-731: VMware Certified Professional 7 – Cloud Management and Automation.
     
  • Path 3 (for expired VCP credential holders): Candidates who hold any expired VCP certifications must obtain six months of experience on vSphere 6 and vRealize, take a training course and pass Exam 2V0-620: vSphere 6 Foundations Exam or Exam 2V0-602 vSphere 6.5 Foundations Exam, plus complete Exam 2V0-731: VMware Certified Professional 7 – Cloud Management and Automation.
     
  • Path 4 (for non-VCP credential holders): Candidates who are just starting with VCP7-CMA must gain six months of experience with vSphere 6 and vRealize, take the required training course, and pass the required exams mentioned in Path 3 above.

VMware offers additional credentials with strong cloud connections, such as these:

  • VMware Certified Advanced Professional 7 – Cloud Management and Automation Design (VCAP7-CMA Design)
  • VMware Certified Design Expert 7 — Cloud Management and Automation (VCDX7-CMA)

VMware regularly updates and replaces certifications in its program to reflect new technologies, so check the  VMware Cloud Management and Automation webpage and the certification roadmap for the latest information.

Certification Name

VMware Certified Professional 7 – Cloud Management and Automation (VCP7-CMA)

Prerequisites & Required Courses

Possess a minimum of six months' experience on vSphere 6 and vRealize
Complete one of the following training courses:

  • Cloud Orchestration and Extensibility [V7.1]
  • vRealize Automation: Install, Configure, Manage [V7.0]
  • vRealize Automation: Install, Configure, Manage [V7.0] – On Demand
  • VMware Cloud Automation: Design and Deploy [V7.1]

Those already possessing a valid VCP credential are not required to take the recommended training. 

(Training course requirements may change from time to time, so candidates should check back frequently for the current course list.)

Number of Exams

One to three, depending on current VCP certifications held:

  • 2V0-620: vSphere 6 Foundations (65 questions, 90 minutes, passing score 300)
  • 2V0-602: VSphere 6.5 Foundations (70 questions, 105 minutes, passing score 300)
  • 2V0-731: VMware Certified Professional Management and Automation (VCP7-CMA) (85 questions, 110 minutes, passing score of 300)

Cost per Exam

$125 2V0-620 and 2V0-602
$250 for 2VO-731

VMware exams administered by Pearson VUE. VMware Candidate ID required to register.

URL

https://mylearn.vmware.com/mgrReg/plan.cfm?plan=98713&ui=www_cert

Self-Study Materials

Links to courses, communities, exam blueprint, instructional videos, study guides and more are available on the certification page.

There's no overall shortage of cloud-related certifications (nor certificate programs that also attest to cloud competencies).

Although it didn't make the top five list this year, the CompTIA Cloud+ is still an excellent entry-level credential for those looking for a foundation-level credential. More experienced practitioners should check out Dell's EMC Cloud Architect (EMCCA) certifications, which also dropped out of the top five list this year.

You'll find vendor-specific cloud certifications from companies such as Google, HPE, IBM (search for "cloud"), Oracle, Red Hat, Rackspace (CloudU), CA AppLogic and Salesforce. On the vendor-neutral side, the Certified Cloud Technology Professional (CCTP) aims at those just getting started with cloud technologies and aren't tied to any specific platform. Mirantis offers performed-based OpenStack and Kubernetes certifications at the associate and professional levels. And while it's a relative newcomer, the vendor-neutral National Cloud Technologists Association (NCTA) CloudMASTER certification is also worth your attention. Candidates must achieve three prerequisite certifications or pass a challenge exam to earn the CloudMASTER.

The cloud phenomenon is still peaking, and certification providers are jumping on the cloud in a big way. Check out Miroslaw Burnejko's excellent (but somewhat dated) List of Cloud Certifications for an exhaustive catalog of what's available right now.

Ed Tittel

Ed is a 30-year-plus veteran of the computing industry, who has worked as a programmer, a technical manager, a classroom instructor, a network consultant and a technical evangelist for companies that include Burroughs, Schlumberger, Novell, IBM/Tivoli and NetQoS. He has written for numerous publications, including Tom's IT Pro, and is the author of more than 140 computing books on information security, web markup languages and development tools, and Windows operating systems.