When folks talk about software defined networking (SDN) and network functions virtualization (NFV), big names like Cisco, Brocade, VMware and Juniper are inevitably going to come up. They are, after all, the networking powerhouses of the day. But the notion of SDN is relatively new to corporations, even though the technology has been tested and tweaked for well over a decade at AT&T Labs and Websprocket, and on many university campuses. However, early adopters like Google and Amazon have successfully incorporated SDN into their enterprise infrastructures to exercise agility and reduce costs over the long term; and other organizations have taken note, especially those companies that offer cloud services and storage.
In a nutshell, software defined networking virtualizes part of a networking infrastructure, similar to virtualizing servers, storage and nearly anything else in the data center. Administrators can configure physical and virtual network devices (switches, routers, etc.) from a control console without ever having to physically touch them, giving admins the flexibility to respond proactively and quickly to changing network conditions. At the core of SDN is the software controller, with the OpenFlow standard leading the pack; most companies that provide SDN solutions use OpenFlow. On the other hand, Cisco uses its proprietary Application Centric Infrastructure (ACI) architecture as the foundation for its SDN solutions, while VMware uses their NSX virtual overlay.
Although SDN can ease administrative efforts, the virtualization aspect also introduces design and integration complexities, plus a different approach to networking, that call for new skills from networking professionals. Demand for new skills precipitates a need for SDN training and certification. Let’s take a look at current and upcoming certifications from Cisco, Brocade and the Open Networking Foundation, as well as a grab-bag of other SDN credentials, certificate programs and training offerings.
Cisco SDN Certifications
Cisco offers four SDN specialist certifications aimed at network engineers, designers and network app developers. Cisco frequently introduces certifications for new technologies as specialist certs, but you’ll see the tie-in to the company’s well-known career certifications like the CCNA, CCNP and so on:
- Cisco Network Programmability Engineer Specialist: This cert recognizes engineers who can install, implement and troubleshoot network infrastructures, as well as deploy network applications “into a programmable environment.” Prerequisites: CCNP or CCIE certification.
- Cisco Network Programmability Design Specialist: This cert is aimed at engineers who can design architectures and apps for deployment. A design specialist must know how to gather customer requirements, turn them into functional specifications, design an infrastructure and create proofs of concept. Prerequisites: CCNP or CCIE certification.
- Cisco Network Programmability Developer Specialist: This cert focuses on software programmers who develop the network applications layer for large infrastructures, such as data centers, campuses and service providers. Candidates should be well versed in the Cisco One Platform Kit (onePK), Open Daylight Controller (ODL) and application policy infrastructure controllers (APICs), as well as have experience programming in Python, C or other languages suitable to open networking. Prerequisites: CCNA or CCIE certification.
- Cisco Business Application Engineer Specialist: This cert recognizes application engineers who can design and create business applications for deployment in an open network environment. Candidates should know how to incorporate application programming interfaces (APIs) into applications for network information collection. Prerequisites: None.
Each Cisco specialist certification described above requires candidates to pass two exams, and the certs are valid for two years.
Brocade Network Functions Virtualization (NFV) Certification
Brocade offers a Network Functions Virtualization (NFV) certification (PDF available here) focused on Brocade Vyatta vRouter and Brocade Vyatta Virtual ADX (vADX). Candidates are encouraged to take the web-based Brocade Certified vRouter Engineer (BCVRE) course, which covers Brocade Vyatta vRouter installation, configuration and troubleshooting, in preparation for the certification exam.
As of this writing, the training course and certification are free, and the company’s website doesn’t indicate when that offer will expire. You first need to sign up for a Brocade training account and activate it, and then download a free 60-day evaluation copy of Brocade Virtual Router to help you prepare for training and certification.
Open Networking Foundation (ONF) SDN Certifications
The Open Networking Foundation is the organization behind the OpenFlow standard, upon which many a software defined network is based. In September 2014, the organization announced its plans to offer the ONF-Certified SDN Professional (OCSP) program, a vendor-neutral certification program for people already working with SDN or those who are just entering the field. The program will include two certifications: the ONF-Certified SDN Engineer (OCSE) and the ONF-Certified SDN Associate (OCSA).
The entry-level OCSA will be geared toward sales and marketing folks who need foundational knowledge of SDN architecture, technologies and deployment processes to be able to converse with prospects and understand their requirements. The OCSE will focus on foundational knowledge of SDN architectures technologies and deployment processes as well, but from an engineering perspective.
The exams for both certifications should be available sometime in 2015.
More SDN and NFV Certification Options: HP and VMware
In addition to Cisco, Brocade and the Open Networking Foundation, check out these certs from HP and VMware.
HP offers several vendor-specific SDN certifications and training through its ExpertOne certification program, which focus on application development, SDN architecture, and solution sales and services.
If you already support VMware solutions or plan to in the future, take a look at the VMware Certified Professional – Network Virtualization (VCP-NV) cert or any of the VMware NSX certifications and training classes. As SDN evolves and adoption rates increase, you should see more and more SDN certifications and training programs pop up from VMware to fill the demand for skilled workers.
If you simply need vendor-neutral SDN training, keep your eye on the SDN Academy in Silicon Valley. Launched by former Stanford University researchers, the Academy offers one- and two-day courses on SDN essentials, development and deployment.
And don’t overlook academia, where plenty of universities and colleges offer SDN certificate programs. Some courses are offered through Coursera, such as the Princeton University Software Defined Networking eight-week course. Given its up-and-coming status and growing demand for SDN expertise, it’s safe to say that the more you look around for SDN training and certification, the more you’ll find.