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Best Training Options for IT Pros

Best Training Options for IT Pros
Credit: Indypendenz/Shutterstock

When it comes to finding IT training companies that teach various IT certification curricula with a focus on helping IT professionals pass one or more certification exams, there is no shortage of options. Though instructor-led training (ILT) remains a favorite option, it is still the most expensive way to prepare for IT certifications. That said, for those with funds to cover costs that usually hover around $1,200 per classroom day, ILT remains one of the best ways to prepare for earning various IT certifications.

But there is an increasingly large array of other options. At the opposite end of the cost spectrum, self-study remains a favorite option to earn credentials. For those who want to pay somewhere between those two options is the increasingly large range of online training options.

Various providers now offer instructor-led online (ILO) training, and online or stand-alone courseware and blended learning offerings, which mix video, text, simulations, labs and other materials to deliver a combination of learning styles for students. E-learning refers to any kind of online instructional encounter where no instructor is actively present, and where students learn at their own pace.

Virtual labs (vLabs) let students obtain hands-on experience over the internet or via software simulations or virtualized and local runtime environments (although online vLabs are the most popular today). Online mentoring from some training providers gives students access to subject matter experts in the certifications they're chasing. As a result, they can get questions answered and assistance with tricky issues or difficult concepts to make sure they master training materials and key topics.

On the following pages, we examine a variety of training organizations, including the following:

  • Big global training companies
  • Major high-tech corporations with certification programs and learning delivery organizations
  • Training companies that specialize in information security and computer forensics

This collection of training organizations concludes with a grab bag of other major certification providers with strong training interests.

Don't let the plethora of options distract you from your mission. Ultimately, the best way to choose what's right for you is to research and compare user experience, rankings, ratings and results.

Chances are good that your peers and colleagues have been both vocal and detailed about their training experiences somewhere online. With a little judicious search engine work, you can uncover this information easily. When you select a final pool of providers, use your search results to pick the training option that's best for you and your budget.

For those planning to take ILT courses, consider who will be teaching the class. Lots of students deliberately delay their classes and even decide to travel away from home for up to a week (for most individual exam classes) or even two or three weeks (for most bootcamps or multi-exam certification training packages), just to benefit from the wisdom and knowledge of esteemed instructors. Names like Todd Lammle or Wendell Odom for Cisco topics, Clement Dupuis for infosec topics, and Mark Minasi for Windows topics come to mind.

Balance your budget against your skills, knowledge and motivation. Even though ILT and ILO options abound, the majority of candidates will still self-study for certifications that don't mandate courses.

My advice is to consider the urgency for earning a certification, your current experience in the topics at hand and your available funds when picking what's right for you.

  • Bootcamps and ILT are usually the fastest path to obtaining a certification.
  • Bootcamps and ILT are the best way to start from behind and still earn your cert, but with enough time and effort, self-study can get you where you need to go.
  • Self-study usually costs about 20 percent less than ILT. This means less for those whose employers provide full or partial funding for training outlays.

Big global training companies certainly offer the most complex, diverse and sophisticated training offerings, most with the mission of providing complete end-to-end training solutions for global enterprise companies.

These organizations will invariably cover all of the major certification programs (such as Microsoft, CompTIA, Cisco, VMware and Oracle) and a great many top-tier, high-demand credentials as well (including CISSP, PMP and CEH).

What differentiates these companies is how well they adopt and implement online training options and how quickly they deliver new training materials to keep up with new, changed or upgraded credentials. Our favorites in this group include Fast Lane, Firebrand and Skillsoft. But Global Knowledge, Learning Tree and New Horizons aren't far behind.

Below are some of the best options for multi-focus IT training.

Company name

Training focus

Online training

Offline training

CBT Nuggets

Most major programs

Online training library, vLabs, coaching

Computer-based video training, vLabs, practice exams, mobile

Computer Generated Solutions (CGS)

All major programs

E-learning, blended learning, online mentoring, vLabs

ILT, blended learning, mobile

Executrain

All major programs

E-learning, vLabs, online mentoring, ILO

ILT, self-paced courseware, custom materials

Fast Lane

Most major programs

ILO, vLabs, blended learning

ILT, custom materials, digital courseware

Firebrand

All major programs

Supplementary e-learning

ILT, bootcamps, courseware, e-books, practice labs and tests, apprenticeships

Global Knowledge

All major programs

ILO, vLabs, blended learning

ILT, blended learning, managed programs, student assessments, custom materials

InfoPro
Learning

All major programs

E-learning, vLabs, blended learning, mobile

ILT, blended learning

Learning Tree

All major programs

ILO, vLabs, blended learning, coaching, bootcamps

ILT, blended learning, onsite training, custom materials

LearnQuest

All major programs

E-learning, blended learning, vLabs, ILO, custom group training, bootcamps, online (project) mentoring

ILT, blended learning

Lynda.com

Most major programs

E-learning, blended learning, vLabs

Blended learning, mobile, custom materials

New Age Technologies

All major programs

E-learning, blended learning, vLabs, ILO

ILT

New Horizons

All major programs

ILO, e-learning, vLabs, blended learning, online mentoring

ILT, blended learning, onsite training

ONLC

Most major programs

Remote ILT

ILT

Pluralsight

Most major programs

E-learning

Online and offline viewing

Skillsoft

All major programs

ILO, e-learning, e-books, vLabs, online mentoring

Courseware, e-books, vLabs, mobile

StormWind

Most major programs

Instructor-led e-learning

None


The big dogs in the high-technology provider sector that invest heavily in certification programs, learning development and delivery include Cisco, IBM, Microsoft and Oracle.

Whereas Cisco follows a partner-centric model for training delivery (the company creates training materials and the curriculum but relies on learning partners for delivery), the other three companies mix their own course developer and instructor-led offerings with partnerships to extend their geographic coverage and reach.

Although these companies have moved into online certification training options, they still resort to traditional testing centers (such as Pearson VUE and Prometric) to deliver their certification exams. However, Microsoft also offers online proctored exams through Pearson VUE in many global locations, including most of North America and Europe and much of Asia for many of its MCP exams.

Of these programs, Microsoft and IBM have some of the most interesting and innovative technology, while Cisco is regarded as having some of the best training curriculum, materials and related study guides around (from Pearson-owned Cisco Press).

Here are some of the major IT companies with large education and certification programs.

Company name

Training focus

Online training

Offline training

Brocade Education

Self-study options and Brocade training partners

ILO, e-learning

ILT (partner training centers), books

Cisco Learning / Cisco Learning Network

Self-study options and Cisco Training Partners

Practice exams, videos, vLabs, learning materials, study groups, study questions

Practice exams, books, vLabs, courseware

Citrix Training

Offline training focuses on partners

Live virtual and self-paced training

ILT (partner training centers), custom training

Dell Education Services

Dell plus Microsoft, VMware and Citrix

E-learning, online training libraries, ILO, vLabs

ILT (at Dell or onsite)

HPE Education Services

HP infrastructure, networking, storage; ITIL, ITSM, Linux, Microsoft, OpenStack, project management, virtualization and more

ILO, e-learning, video learning

ILT, custom courses

IBM Authorized Training

Huge portfolio of IBM platforms and technologies

ILO, e-learning, online training libraries, vLabs, virtual classrooms

ILT (partner training centers), self-paced materials

Microsoft Learning

Huge portfolio of Microsoft platforms and technologies

E-learning, blended learning, vLabs, e-books, on-demand

ILT, self-paced materials, books

Oracle University

Oracle, MySQL, Java, Siebel, Linux, Solaris, PeopleSoft

ILO, e-learning, on-demand

ILT, self-paced materials, custom courses

Red Hat

Red Hat, Linux, JBoss, OpenStack and more

ILO, e-learning, vLabs, videos, video conferencing, webinars

ILT, onsite, printed materials, practice tests

VMware Education

VMware, ITIL, AirWatch, NSX, virtualization and mobility

ILT, e-learning, vLabs, course library, video training subscription, webinars, webcasts

ILT, labs, onsite, books

 

Information security deals with managing security through policies, technologies, and best practices for systems and users alike. This is a huge and growing marketplace. High-value certifications, such as the Certified Information Systems Security Professional (CISSP), Certified Information Security Manager (CISM), Certified Ethical Hacker (CEH), and other security credentials all occupy important niches in this arena.

The table below includes certification sponsors such as EC-Council, ISACA, (ISC)2 and the SANS Institute as well as outright, general or special-purpose infosec certification training companies, including InfoSec Institute, SecureNinja and Security University.

Company name

Training focus

Online training

Offline training

EC-Council

EC-Council certifications

E-learning, blended learning, ILO, vLabs, assessment tests, live online bootcamps

ILT, official courseware, computer-based videos, assessment tests, books, e-books, vLabs, onsite training, mobile

Infosec Institute

All major infosec certifications

ILO, e-learning, vLabs, online mentoring, video

ILT, labs, practice test review

ISACA

ISACA partners

ILO, e-learning, webinars, virtual conferences, vLabs

ILT, official courseware, books, self-paced video training, onsite training, exam review courses

(ISC)2

(ISC)2 partners

ILO, e-learning, vLabs, self-assessments

Official ILT, textbooks, courseware, onsite training

SANS Institute

SANS GIAC certifications

ILO (live), e-learning, self-paced, vLabs, e-library, webcasts

ILT, custom training, mentoring, printed materials

SecureNinja

Most major programs

ILO, e-learning, mentoring, vLabs

ILT, blended learning, custom training, onsite training, textbooks, practice exams

Security University

SU security certs, CISSP, CompTIA, ISACA

None

ILT, labs, videos, practice tests, books

Emerging as a high-value, high-interest niche for IT certification, computer forensics deals with the acquisition, analysis and maintenance of a legally defensible chain of evidence having to do with computer use, abuse or attack.

The table below reflects a blend of computer forensic vendors with certification programs that have forensics certification training, such as AccessData and ARC Group, along with consulting companies, such as Digital Intelligence and ISFCE (CCE BootCamp).

This is one area where certifications come and go with alarming frequency, so do your homework to make sure your chosen credential has some history, market recognition and a sizable certified population (3,000 or more is good; 10,000 or more is better) before plunking down any training dollars.

Company name

Training focus

Online training

Offline training

AccessData

AccessData platforms and products (via Syntricate)

ILO, e-learning, vLabs, videos

ILT, labs, custom training, printed materials

ARC Group

ProDiscover Basic edition

E-learning

ILT

ISFCE CCE Bootcamp

Certified Computer Examiner (CCE)

E-learning, vLabs, manuals, software

ILT, self-study, vLabs, practice exams, onsite, software

Digital Intelligence

DFF, DFFEN, EnCase 8, FTK, Cellebrite, JTAG, NUIX, DFFAD

None

ILT, labs, custom training

 

The organizations in the table below are certification players that offer high-value or high-impact certification training across a range of IT platforms, technologies and skill sets.

LPI and Red Hat offer important credentials for IT professionals who work with Linux platforms. CompTIA represents a major high-tech industry consortium that seeks to craft certifications specifically aimed at providing useful, skilled and knowledgeable workers to member companies and employers of all kinds.

The Open Group plays an important role in defining key database and IT architecture principles and practices, and it can lead IT professionals to higher rungs on their job ladders. Finally, the Project Management Professional (PMP) certification from the Project Management Institute has emerged as the biggest and most valuable add-on soft skills certification that IT professionals seeking to advance to technical lead or management positions can acquire.

Company name

Training focus

Online training

Offline training

CompTIA

A+, Network+, Security+ and more

ILO (through partners and third parties), e-learning, vLabs, self-assessments, e-books, practice tests

ILT (through partners and third parties), labs, books, practice tests and more

Lammle.com

Most major programs

ILO, e-learning, vLabs, video training, practice tests

ILT, boot camps, self-paced courseware (DVD), books, practice tests

Linux Professional Institute (LPI)

LPIC-1, -2, -3, LPI Linux Essentials

ILO (through partners and third parties), e-learning, vLabs, self-assessments, e-books, mentoring

Partners and third parties offer ILT, labs, books, printed materials, practice tests, and more

Project Management Institute (PMI)

CAPM, PMP, PgMP and more

ILO (through partners and third parties), e-learning, vLabs, on-demand webinars, self-assessments, e-books and more

ILT (through partners and third parties), labs, books, printer materials, practice tests and more

The Open Group

IT4IT, ArchiMate, Open Group, TOGAF 9.1

E-learning (video), self-assessments, on-demand webinars, podcasts, YouTube

ILT, books, study guides, self-study packs, practice exams

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.