There’s no question that skills and knowledge related to various networked forms of storage – such as storage area networks (SANs), network-attached storage (NAS), virtualized storage, and even storage as a service (STaaS) – are in high demand. Also, IT professionals interested in data center or network-backbone-related positions are likely to need strong storage chops.
Average salaries for storage engineers are consistent (and lucrative) across several job-related websites. For example, SimplyHired reports the average nationwide salary is a little over $107,600 in a range starting at $74,085 and climbing just over $156,000. Potential earnings reported by Glassdoor are higher: The national average salary is just over $165,800, with the low end of the range at about $110,000 and the high end close to $182,000.
In some ways, the state of storage certification perfectly mirrors in a single subject area (or perhaps a closely clustered collection of related subjects) what occurs across the full spectrum of information technology. Some vendor-neutral storage certifications are available, particularly those from the Storage Networking Industry Association (SNIA) and Arcitura. Also, there are numerous vendor-specific storage credentials available from providers of storage systems and solutions, including Cisco, Dell EMC, Hitachi Data Systems (HDS), HPE, NetApp and Sun/Oracle, among others.
Like other IT certifications, vendor-neutral credentials recognize broad competency in design, implementation and management, while vendor-specific programs tend to match up with technologies active IT professionals interact within the workplace (or that they’d like to interact with for prospective employers).
How is a storage-minded IT professional supposed to pick a winner here? Name recognition is one factor. Big name and big company certifications tend to attract higher numbers of certified individuals, lending more credibility to such certifications.
Popularity with employers is another consideration when selecting a certification. In our informal survey, we searched several online job sites on a given day for specific storage certifications. Note that the Cisco CCNP swamps the other certifications because its coverage goes well beyond storage. (The CCNP Data Center specialization involves storage to some degree, but it does not focus only on storage.)
Job Board Search Results (in alphabetical order, by certification)
|CCIE Data Center (Cisco)||366||516||345||364||1,591|
|CCNP Data Center (Cisco)||596||792||390||448||2,226|
|HDS Storage Administration (Hitachi)||205||256||104||110||675|
Based on name recognition and job board surveys, our picks for 2019 lie with Cisco, HDS, NetApp and SNIA. One item noticeably absent from the leader board this year is the Brocade storage program. This gap in the lineup isn’t for lack of popularity. In fact, quite the opposite is true as the job board search yielded over 3,000 employers seeking candidates with Brocade experience and certs. Unfortunately for certification seekers, after Brocade was acquired by Broadcom, its exams, accreditations, certifications, and instructor-led training are no longer available. However, many free web-based courses remain that cover Fibre Channel Storage Area Networking products for professionals seeking to expand their Brocade knowledge and skills.
The following sections explore each of the preceding certifications and/or programs.
Of all the storage-related Cisco certifications, the CCIE Data Center is the most senior and the best recognized. While it is a difficult and demanding credential to earn, it comes with a terrific payoff for its holders.
An expert-level credential, CCIE Data Center professionals are masters when it comes to planning, designing, implementing and managing IT data center infrastructures. Exam topics focus on connectivity (Layers 2 and 3), fabric infrastructure, storage networking and computing, network services, evolving and emerging technologies, and network services and automation.
To earn this credential, candidates must pass both a written and a rigorous 8-hour, two-part practical lab exam. The written exam must be passed before candidates may attempt the lab exam. Lab exams must be attempted within 18 months of successfully passing the written exam. The lab exam is delivered in two parts: The first part consists of a one-hour Diagnostic Module, while Part 2 consists of a 7-hour Configuration and Troubleshooting module. It is reputed to be fiendishly challenging.
|Certification Name||Cisco Certified Internetwork Expert (CCIE) Data Center|
|Prerequisites & Required Courses||None|
|Number of Exams||Two exams: CCIE Data Center (400-151) (written exam) and the CCIE Data Center lab exam|
|Cost per Exam||Written Exam: CCIE Data Center 400-151: $450
Lab Exam: $1,600
Exam fees to not include travel-related costs.
|Self-Study Materials||Cisco maintains links to recommended training, including self-study materials, study groups, webinars, syllabus, recommended readings, and other resources on the CCIE Data Center and exam web pages.|
Cisco offers a variety of certifications that address storage networking topics, including the Cisco Certified Entry Networking Technician (CCENT) and the Data Center versions of the CCNA, CCNP, and CCIE (in order of difficulty). The CCNP Data Center credential hits the sweet spot in terms of warranting an IT professional’s knowledge and understanding of Cisco’s storage networking products and platforms in a data center context.
Cisco requires the Cisco Certified Network Associate Data Center (CCNA Data Center) credential or any Cisco Certified Internetwork Expert (CCIE) certification as a prerequisite for the CCNP Data Center.
|Certification Name||Cisco Certified Network Professional Data Center (CCNP Data Center)|
|Prerequisites & Required Courses||Valid CCNA Data Center certification or any CCIE certification. Training recommended but not required.|
|Number of Exams||Four exams:
Implementing Cisco Data Center Unified Computing (300-175 DCUCI) 90 55-65
Implementing Cisco Data Center Infrastructure (300-165 DCII)
Implementing Cisco Data Center Virtualization and Automation (300-170 DCVAI)
Design track: Designing Cisco Data Center Infrastructure (300-160 DCID)
Troubleshooting track: Troubleshooting Cisco Data Center Infrastructure (300-180 DCIT)
|Cost per Exam||$300 per exam; $1,200 total (price may vary by region). Exams administered by Pearson VUE.|
|Self-Study Materials||Instructor-led training is recommended. Information on self-study materials and Learning Partner training available at the URL above and on the Cisco Learning Network Data Center (CCNP Data Center) site.|
Hitachi Vantara, formerly known as the Hitachi Data Systems corporation, is known for its hybrid storage systems, storage management, and networking solutions aimed at Fortune 100 and Fortune Global 100 enterprises. The company has a well-developed certification program to support its products and services.
Unlike most other IT certification sponsors, Hitachi’s program distinguishes between qualifications and certifications. Qualification credentials aim at the associate and professional levels where candidates have broad knowledge of topics and concepts. Hitachi certifications are either specialists or experts, where candidates have deep knowledge of and ample hands-on experience with products and solutions.
Both types of credentials fall under various tracks: Administration (professional), Architect (specialist and expert), Implementation and Integration (specialist and expert), Installation and Support (specialist and professional), and Basics and Fundamentals (entry-level), as well as Sales and Presales.
The Hitachi Qualified Professional – Storage Administration credential, part of the Administration track, is an intermediate-level qualification aimed at storage networking professionals who can configure and troubleshoot Hitachi Command Suite products, as well as use Hitachi Device Manager to manage the storage environment. Candidates must pass one exam – Storage Administration HQT-6740 – to earn the credential.
|Certification Name||Hitachi Qualified Professional – Storage Administration|
|Prerequisites & Required Courses:||The TSI2565 Managing Hitachi Storage with Hitachi Command Suite v8.x instructor-led course, which runs five or six days, is offered at HDS training centers. Training costs begin at $4,875.|
|Number of Exams||One exam: HQT-6740 (35 questions, 60 minutes)|
|Cost per Exam||$100. Exam administered by Kryterion Webassessor.|
|Self-Study Materials||The exam PDF includes information on exam objectives and training. Candidates must create an HDS account to get more information.|
NetApp has been in the storage business since 1992, and offers a broad line of products and systems for backup and recovery, traditional and virtualized storage and cloud-based data centers. Although NetApp has some stiff competition – Dell EMC, HPE and Hitachi, to name a few – the company understands the value of flexibility and integration with other third-party products. For example, NetApp worked with Cisco to develop FlexPod, which helps customers manage Cisco, Citrix, Cloudera, Microsoft, NetApp, Oracle, Red Hat, VMware, and other applications and environments, and NetApp’s hybrid cloud storage integrates with Amazon Web Services and Microsoft Azure, among others.
The NetApp Certification Program (NCP) features several certifications within three tracks: Data, Hybrid Cloud and Converged Infrastructure. All NetApp certifications focus on some aspect of storage hardware or the software that powers these products. The Data track includes the NetApp Certified Storage Associate (NCSA) – Hybrid Cloud, the NetApp Certified Storage Installation Engineer, ONTAP as well as our featured certification, the NetApp Certified Data Administrator (NCDA).
The NCDA recognizes working knowledge of NetApp storage architecture, core ONTAP components, high availability, data clustering, protocol administration, storage performance, security and data protection. Candidates must be able to configure controllers running the ONTAP operating system in NFS and Windows (CIFS) environments, and understand NetApp SnapMirror, SnapRestore and SnapVault technologies.
Candidates must pass one exam to earn the credential.
NetApp certifications are valid for 27 months, and credential holders must meet recertification requirements during this period to maintain their certifications.
|Certification Name||NetApp Certified Data Administrator (NCDA)|
|Prerequisites & Required Courses||Recommended:
6 to 12 months of experience implementing and administering NetApp data storage solutions
Knowledge of HA controller implementation and configuration, SyncMirror software or ONTAP solutions with single- or multi-node configurations
ONTAP Cluster Fundamentals
ONTAP Cluster Administration are also recommended
A NetApp Support Site account is required to enroll in NetApp University training.
|Number of Exams||NSO-159: NetApp Certified Data Administrator, ONNNTAP (60 questions, 1.5 hour to complete)|
|Cost of Exam||$150. Exams administered by Pearson VUE.|
|Self-Study Materials||NetApp offers instructor-led and web-based training, a practice test for the NS0-159 exam, and a list of reference documents. (See the NCDA web page for links to training resources.) The NetApp KB TV YouTube channel provides how-to videos on using NetApp technology. Candidates should also browse the NetApp University and Training website for insights on training and exams. No certification study guides or practice exams were found on the NetApp site or on Amazon.|
The Storage Networking Industry Association (SNIA) is a nonprofit organization incorporated in 1997 and comprises members from various storage vendors and service providers, as well as individuals. The association develops and promotes storage solution specifications and standards, and offers education and certification for storage and information management professionals.
SNIA recently rolled out several changes to its Storage Networking Certification Program (SNCP). Most notable among the changes is the retirement of the SNIA Certified Storage Engineer (SCSE) and SNIA Certified Storage Architect (SCSA). The exams for both credentials were withdrawn on January 31, 2019.
Both the SCSE and SCSA have been replaced by the SNIA Certified Information Architect (SCIA). SNIA will continue to recognize the SCSE and SCSA until November 31, 2021. The Storage Networking Certification Program (SNCP) offers several vendor-neutral certifications:
Each certification requires candidates to pass the S10-110 Foundations exam or hold a current CompTIA Storage+ Powered by SNIA certification (exam no longer offered), which earns the Professional (SCSP) credential. The Networking Expert (SCSN-E) requires all of them.
SNIA certifications are good for three years from the date of certification. After that, a certification holder must take the most current exam to maintain the credential.
|Certification Name||Storage Networking Certification Program (SNCP)|
|Prerequisites & Required Courses||Training is recommended but not required.|
|Number of Exams||SCSP: One exam; Storage Networking Foundations S10-110 (65 questions, 90 minutes, passing score of 66 percent)
SCSN-E: Two exams; Foundations S10-110 OR CompTIA Storage+ Powered by SNIA (no longer offered) PLUS SNIA Storage Networking Management Administration (S10-210) OR SNIA Information Architect – Storage Advanced Exam (S10-510) and two SNIA Certification Partner product credentials
SQSSP: One exam; SNAI Qualified Storage Sales Professional exam (S10-905)
|Cost per Exam||All exams are $220 except the SQSSP exam which is $100. Exams administered by Kryterion.|
|Self-Study Materials||SNIA provides links to study reference materials, practice exams and training on each certification’s web page. Study materials are also available through training partners.|
Beyond the top five storage certifications mentioned in this article, there are lots of other certification programs that can further the careers and professional development of IT professionals who work in the networked storage arena.
Although no EMC storage certifications made our top five list for 2018 or 2019, EMC (acquired by Dell in 2016) has one of the longest-standing certification programs for storage. The program offers credentials for data scientists, cloud architects and administrators, storage administrators, cloud and implementation engineers, and a whole lot more.
In addition, look at the credentials available from Arcitura, HPE, Huawei, IBM, Nimble and Sun/Oracle: