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Best Data Center Certifications

Data center certifications
Credit: Alexandru Chiriac/Shutterstock

Owing to software-defined data center technologies, many of today's data center certifications require supplementary skills, including virtualization and cloud computing. Other trends affecting this space include big data, the Internet of Things, network virtualization and more. Here are some of the very best options for data center certifications for 2018.

Because of a significant trend toward virtualized data center networking and software-defined networks, the lines between data center and cloud certifications have blurred. Typically, data center networking skills require knowledge of virtualization and cloud technologies, and supporting data in the cloud usually means managing information housed in a data center and making it available securely.

However, there are still plenty of organizations that offer certifications specific to data center networking and infrastructure, which tend to focus mainly on traditional networking technologies. But as you dig into their details, you'll see virtualization and cloud management skills woven into those requirements, too.

This article explores the top five data center certifications for 2018, which come from Cisco (two different credentials), VMware, Juniper Networks and Dell, and then introduces you to several worthy competitors in the Beyond the Top 5 section at the end of the article. 

Before you examine these certifications in detail, please browse the results of our informal job board search for a birds-eye view of which certifications employers are seeking. (Results vary considerably on different job boards and in different geographies, so think of the numbers in the table as guidelines, not as hard and fast rules.) The BICSI Data Center Design Consultant (DCDC) has been a top five certification for several years, but missed out this year, just by a hair. The DCDC had 118 job hits, while the Dell Administration Engineer (a new entrant to our list) appeared in more than 130 job descriptions.

Certification

SimplyHired

Indeed

LinkedIn Jobs

Linkup

Total

CCNA Data Center (Cisco)

1,419

1,567

771

119

3,876

CCNP Data Center (Cisco)

1,075

1,166

788

116

3,145

JNCIP-DC (Juniper Networks)

35

41

46

8

130

VCE-CIAE (Dell)**

38

39

31

24

132

VCP6-DCV (VMware)***

28

29

51

3

111

**Search results for the generic phrase "VCE data center engineer."

***Searching for the generic phrase "VCP Data Center" resulted in more than 900 hits. Employers prefer or require a VCP data center certification but don't often indicate the specific version. We chose to keep the VMware certification in our top five list. The latest version — VCP6.5-DCV — is too new as of this writing to generate significant direct hits in job board results.

Regardless of which job board you use, there are a lot of employers looking for qualified people to join their data center teams. SimplyHired lists 116,000-plus data center jobs in the U.S., with more than 140,000 on Indeed, 12,000 on LinkedIn Jobs and 40,000 on Linkup. With the right credential(s) in hand, one of these jobs is sure to be yours.

Data center job roles start at the network technician level and advance through senior architect. Most of the certifications covered would fit well with an associate- or professional-level network engineer position. According to SimplyHired, the average salary for network engineer jobs is about $78,000, and $110,000 for senior network engineers. Glassdoor reports a U.S. national average salary of about $77,000 for network engineers, although their average for senior network engineers climbs to $97,000.

Cisco certifications continue to be some of the most recognizable and respected credentials in the industry. The CCNA Data Center certification is a great introductory certification for networking professionals who want to specialize in data center operations and support, and who have one to three years of experience.

Candidates for the CCNA Data Center certification need to understand basic data center networking concepts, including addressing schemes, troubleshooting and configuring switches with VLANs and routers using Nexus-OS, network and server virtualization, storage and common network services such as load balancing.

The CCNA Data Center is valid for three years, after which credential holders must recertify. Recertification requires passing a current version of one of the following exams:

  • Associate-level exam except for ICND1 exam
  • 642-XXX Professional-level or 300-XXX Professional-level exam
  • 642-XXX Cisco Specialist exam (does not include Sales Specialist exams or MeetingPlace Specialist exams, Implementing Cisco TelePresence Installations (ITI) exams, Cisco Leading Virtual Classroom Instruction exams or any 650 online exams)
  • Cisco Certified Internetwork Expert (CCIE) written exam
  • Cisco Certified Design Expert (CCDE) written exam or current CCDE practical exam

Candidates can also sit through the Cisco Certified Architect (CCAr) interview and the CCAr board review to achieve recertification for CCNA Data Center.

Certification Name

Cisco Certified Network Associate (CCNA) Data Center

Prerequisites & Required Courses

None required
Recommended training:

  • Introducing Cisco Data Center Networking (DCICN)
  • Introducing Cisco Data Center Technologies (DCICT)

Cisco offers classroom courses, which run for five days and cost about $4,500

Number of Exams

Two exams:

Both exams are 90 minutes; 55 to 65 questions

Cost per Exam

$300 per exam; $600 total (price may vary by region). Exams administered by Pearson VUE.

URL

http://www.cisco.com/c/en/us/training-events/training-certifications/certifications/associate/ccna-data-center.html

Self-Study Materials

The certification page provides links to self-study materials, including the syllabus, study groups, videos, study guides, Learning Network resources, learning partner content and more.

Networking professionals looking to validate their data center skills and achieve a competitive edge in the workplace can't go wrong with the Cisco Certified Network Professional (CCNP) Data Center credential.

Geared toward technology architects, along with design and implementation engineers and solutions experts, the CCNP Data Center identifies individuals who can implement Cisco Unified Computing System (UCS) rack-mount servers; install, configure and manage Cisco Nexus switches; and implement and deploy automation of Cisco Application Centric Infrastructure (ACI). The CCNP Data Center is designed for candidates with three to five years of experience working with Cisco technologies.

When pursuing the CCNP Data Center, Cisco lets you choose either a design or troubleshooting track. Related data center certifications include the Cisco Certified Network Associate (CCNA Data Center), for those with one to three years of experience, and the Cisco Certified Internetwork Expert (CCIE) Data Center, aimed at professionals with seven or more years of experience.

The CCNP Data Center is valid for three years, after which credential holders must recertify. The recertification process requires candidates to pass a single exam to maintain the credential, or to sit for the Cisco Certified Architect (CCAr) interview and the CCAr board review. Credential holders should check the Cisco website for the current list of qualifying exams before attempting to recertify.

Certification Name

Cisco Certified Network Professional Data Center (CCNP Data Center)

Prerequisites & Required Courses

Valid Cisco Certified Network Associate Data Center (CCNA Data Center) certification or any Cisco Certified Internetwork Expert (CCIE) certification
Training recommended but not required; classes are usually four to five days and start at $3,950

Number of Exams

Four exams:
300-175 DCUCI – Implementing Cisco Data Center Unified Computing

300-165 DCII – Implementing Cisco Data Center Infrastructure
300-170 DCVAI –  Implementing Cisco Data Center Virtualization and Automation
AND

300-160 DCID –  Designing Cisco Data Center Infrastructure
OR

300-180 DCIT –  Troubleshooting Cisco Data Center Infrastructure 

All exams are 90 minutes; 60 to 70 questions

Cost per Exam

$300 per exam; $1,200 total (price may vary by region). Exams administered by Pearson VUE.

URL

http://www.cisco.com/c/en/us/training-events/training-certifications/certifications/professional/ccnp-data-center.html

Self-Study Materials

The certification page provides links to self-study materials, including the syllabus, study groups, webinars, Cisco Learning Network resources, learning partner content and more.

Juniper Networks, based in California and incorporated in 1997, develops and sells network infrastructure equipment and software aimed at corporations, network service providers, government agencies and educational institutions. The company has a large certification and training program designed to support its solutions, which includes Data Center, Junos Security, Enterprise Routing and Switching, and Service Provider Routing and Switching tracks.

The Data Center track recognizes networking professionals who deploy, manage and troubleshoot Juniper Networks Junos software and data center equipment. The single exam (JN0-680) covers data center deployment and management, including implementation and maintenance of multi-chassis link aggregation group (LAG), virtual chassis and Internet Protocol (IP) fabric, virtual extensible LANs (VXLANs) and data center interconnections.

The JNCIP-DC certification is good for three years. To renew the certification, candidates must pass the current JNCIP-DC exam.

Certification Name

Juniper Networks Certified Professional Data Center (JNCIP-DC)

Prerequisites & Required Courses

Required: Juniper Networks Certified Specialist Enterprise Routing and Switching (JNCIS-ENT) certification

Recommended training:

  • Advanced Data Center Switching (ADCX)

Juniper offers classroom, virtual and online training. The ADCX training course runs for five days and costs $2,500 to $4,750. Pricing varies depending on course provider and location.

Number of Exams

One exam; exam JN0-680 (65 multiple-choice questions, 120 minutes)

Cost per Exam

$400 each. Exams administered by Pearson VUE.

URL

http://www.juniper.net/us/en/training/certification/certification-tracks/data-center-track/

Self-Study Materials

The exam page lists various exam prep resources. Candidates can browse the complete set of Junos OS 15.1 technical publications and the Juniper Networks Day One library of collateral. Juniper recommends reading RFC 7348RFC 4760 and RFC 7432, as well as these white papers: Improve Data Center Interconnect, L2 Services with Juniper's EVPN and Clos IP Fabrics with QFX5100 Switches. Several O'Reilly books are also available that focus on Junos and Juniper Networks products.

VCE, short for Virtual Computing Environment, was part of EMC Corporation, which Dell acquired in 2016. The VCE line of converged infrastructure appliances are still being manufactured and widely sold, and the company has a handful of VCE certifications geared toward designing, maintaining and supporting those solutions.

VCE certifications are now part of the larger Dell EMC Proven Professional certification program but have retained some independence. The program currently offers the VCE Certified Converged Infrastructure Associate (VCE-CIA), VCE Converged Infrastructure Administration Engineer (VCE-CIAE) and VCE Converged Infrastructure Master Administration Engineer (VCE-CIMAE) credentials. We focus on the VCE Administration Engineer in this article because it's available to the public, as well as Dell employees and partners and it ranked well on job board searches.

The VCE-CIAE is a professional-level credential that recognizes professionals who manage and support Vblock Systems. The single exam includes topics such as system concepts, administration, security, resource management, maintenance and troubleshooting.

Candidates must recertify every two years to maintain a VCE certification. To renew, credential holders must pass the current VCE-CIA exam (this is the prereq for the VCE-CIAE certification), as well as pass the current VCE-CIAE exam or earn a higher level credential.

Certification Name

VCE Converged Infrastructure Administration Engineer (VCE-CIAE)

Prerequisites & Required Courses

Prerequisite: VCE Certified Converged Infrastructure Associate (VCE-CIA) certification
Recommended: VCE Vblock Systems Administration Management training; available as instructor-led classroom and online (five-day course, $5,000, prices may vary by course provider and location)

Number of Exams

One exam; exam JN0-680 (65 multiple-choice questions, 120 minutes)

Cost per Exam

$300 each. Exams administered by Pearson VUE.

URL

http://www.juniper.net/uk/en/training/certification/certification-tracks/data-center-track/

Self-Study Materials

Candidates can browse the complete set of Junos OS 15.1 technical publications, the Juniper Networks Day One library of collateral and Juniper Learning Bytes. Juniper recommends reading RFC 7348, RFC 4760 and RFC 7432, as well as these white papers: Improve Data Center Interconnect, L2 Services with Juniper's EVPN and Clos IP Fabrics with QFX5100 Switches. Several O'Reilly books are also available that focus on Junos and Juniper Networks products. A free practice test is listed on the certification page but no link is available.

The VCP6-DCV is one of those credentials that sits firmly on the line between traditional data center networking and cloud management. As such, it appeals to a wide networking audience. In fact, the VMware website states that more than 100,000 professionals have earned VMware VCP6-DCV certification, making it one of the company's most popular certifications.

VMware offers an extensive certification program with a rigorous Data Center virtualization track, which includes the VCP6-DCV. Candidates must thoroughly understand Domain Name System (DNS), routing and database connectivity techniques, and know how to deploy, configure, manage and scale VMware vSphere environments and storage. VMware recommends that candidates have a minimum of six months of experience with VMware vSphere 6 before attempting the VCP6-DCV certification.

New candidates must take a VMware training course and pass two exams. Training courses start at $4,125; pricing is based on the specific course selected, delivery format and learning partner.

VMware requires credential holders to recertify every two years. Recertification is achieved by taking whatever exam is most current for the certification, earning a new VCP certification in a different solution track or advancing to the next-level VMware certification.

Note: VMware certifications are geared toward the VMware vSphere product, the latest incarnation of which is Version 6.5. As of the writing of this article, VMware is still rolling out various Version 6.5 exams. Currently, Version 6.5 exams are offered for the Professional and Advanced Professional (Design only) levels. We anticipate that Version 6.5 exams and credentials at the Associate, Advanced Professional Deploy and Expert levels will follow soon.

Certification Name

VMWare Certified Professional 6 - Data Center Virtualization (VCP6-DCV)

Prerequisites & Required Courses

1. Candidates who are new to VMware Data Center Virtualization technology: Six months' vSphere 6 experience plus one of the following training courses:

  • VMware vSphere: Install, Configure, Manage [V6 or V6.5]
  • VMware vSphere: Optimize and Scale [V6 or V6.5]
  • VMware vSphere: Install, Configure, Manage plus Virtual SAN Fast Track [V6]
  • VMware vSphere: Optimize & Scale [V6 or V6.5]
  • VMware vSphere: Bootcamp [V6]
  • VMware vSphere: Fast Track [V6 or V6.5]
  • VMware vSphere: Design and Deploy Fast Track [V6]
  • VMware vSphere: Troubleshooting [V6]
  • VMware vSphere: Troubleshooting Workshop [V6.5]
  • VMware vSphere: Install, Configure and Manage plus Optimize and Scale Fast Track [V6 or V6.5]
  • VMware vSphere: Optimize and Scale plus Troubleshooting Fast Track [V6]

2. Candidates with vSphere 5.x training who are not VCP certified: vSphere What's New [V5.5 to V6, or V5.5 to V6.5] training
3. Existing candidates:
    a. Valid VCP5-DCV certification: No prerequisites
    b. Valid VCP for any solution track that has not expired: No prerequisites
    c. Expired VCP for any solution track: Complete one of the required training courses (see above)
    d. Expired VCP5-DCV certification: What's New [V5.5 to V6, or V5.5 to V6.5] training or any other qualifying course

Note: The cost of VMware training varies; expect to pay from $4,125 for classroom training to more than $6,000 for Bootcamps and Fast Track courses.

Number of Exams

New candidates, those with vSphere 5 training only, those with an expired VCP in a different solution track or those with an expired VCP5-DCV certification (two exams):

Candidates with valid VCP5-DCV certification: one exam: VMware Certified Professional 6 – Data Center Virtualization Delta exam, 2V0-621D, 105 minutes, 65 questions

Candidates with valid VCP certification, any solution track: one exam, VMware Certified Professional 6 – Data Center

Exams administered by Pearson VUE.

Cost per Exam

vSphere Foundations exam (V6 or V6.5), $125

VMware Certified Professional 6- Data Center Virtualization exam, $250

VMware Certified Professional 6 – Data Center Virtualization Delta exam, $250

URL

VCP6-DCV: https://mylearn.vmware.com/mgrReg/plan.cfm?plan=64178&ui=www_cert
VCP6.5-DCV: https://mylearn.vmware.com/mgrReg/plan.cfm?plan=100942&ui=www_cert

Self-Study Materials

Links to an exam guide, training and a practice exam (if available) appear on each exam page (see the How to Prepare tab). VMware Learning Zone offers exam prep subscriptions.
Numerous VCP6-DCV study materials are available through Amazon.com. MeasureUp offers a VCP6-DCV practice test ($129) and a practice lab ($149).

While not featured in the top five this year, the BICSI Data Center Design Consultant (DCDC) is a terrific certification, designed for IT professionals with at least two years of experience in designing, planning and implementing data centers. This vendor-neutral certification is ideal for data center engineers, architects, designers and consultants. Another good vendor-neutral certification is Schneider Electric's Data Center Certified Associate (DCCA), an entry-level credential for individuals who design, build and manage data centers as part of a data center-centric IT team.

CNet's Certified Data Centre Management Professional (CDCMP) and Certified Data Centre Technician Professional (CDCTP) are also worthy of honorable mention. Based in the UK, these certifications don't appear in a lot of U.S. job board postings but still deliver solid results from a general Google search.

IT professionals who are serious about advancing their data center careers would do well to check out complementary certifications from our featured vendors. For example, Cisco also offers a number of certifications in data center design and support, including application services, networking infrastructure, storage networking and unified computing. VMware also offers additional data center virtualization certifications worth exploring, including the VMware Certified Advanced Professional 6.5 – Data Center Virtualization Design (VCAP6.5-DCV Design) and the VMware Certified Design Expert (VCDX6-DCV). And the Dell EMC Proven Professional certification program offers a bevy of data center-focused certifications, including the Dell EMC Implementation Engineer (EMCIE) and the Dell EMC Certified Cloud Architect (EMCCA).

Because of the proliferation of data center virtualization and cloud computing, you can expect the data center networking job market to continue to remain strong soon. Achieving a certification can be a real feather in your cap, and open the door to new and better work opportunities.

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