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Top 10 Online Cisco Certification Resources

Top 10 Online Cisco Certification Resources
Credit: Denis Linine/Shutterstock

When it comes to IT certifications, Cisco Systems is near the top of the category in terms of interest, perceived value and size and heft of its overall program. The Cisco Certification pyramid shows a well-elaborated family of credentials at many career and complexity levels, where both Expert and Architect certifications -- most notably, the Cisco Certified Internetwork Expert, or CCIE – remain evergreen credentials in high demand, with lots of cachet, as well as considerable income-generating power. 

With such a huge certification program, and so many different credentials (32 general credentials and another 18 in the specialist arena) to choose from, our top 10 recommendations listed here only represent a small subset of all the offerings available. Be sure to augment this list with online searches of your own to find the very best resources for you.

Cisco currently has 32 credentials across the five pyramid levels. When it comes to pursuing any Cisco certifications, expect to spend some serious time on the pages devoted to the program of your choice. On each such page you'll find a general description, featured content, prerequisites (where applicable), information about exams and related training, and recertification information.

In particular, drilling down into the exam pages is where things start to get interesting, because you'll usually find detailed information about exam topics, sample exam questions, pointers to relevant group discussions about the exam (and its related certs) -- Cisco's online communities are both very vocal and very active -- and more.

In general, Cisco aces most people's ratings of the type and amount of certification information they provide, and how easy it is to navigate to and find what is needed. Check out www.cisco.com to see for yourself. 

Cisco operates a formidable training and certification operation, both online and in person. The online portion is called The Cisco Learning Network or, more informally, Cisco Learning. Here, you can navigate to individual credentials as you see fit, but you can also tap into a huge volume of surrounding and supporting information.

Check out the Study/Learn Master page, which points to supplemental learning materials for certification self-study. Further investigation and pursuit will reveal that there are LOTS of uniformly high quality and high value materials.

Check out the Study Groups page, too. There's even a terrific Learning Center, where all kinds of information to help candidates polish up their learning and study skills is also available.

Not certain which Cisco certification is right for your next career move? Then peruse the Self-Assessment page for checklists, quizzes, and more. True believers also need to visit the Cisco Learning Games Arcade. Here, you'll find a variety of PC games and mobile apps designed to develop and promote your skills. At Cisco Learning, it's no exaggeration to observe that the more you look around, the more you'll find -- so be sure to devote some time to finding your way around.

Whether you're looking for resources to help you obtain that first Cisco certification or you're a seasoned professional seeking to advance to the next Cisco certification level, MeasureUp is definitely a resource worth exploring.

MeasureUp offers a variety of learning resources including practice exams, certification tool kits (including quizzes, access to mentors and much more), access to practice labs and a really cool digital library featuring over 30,000 books, articles and learning videos. All products are fee-based; the price varies depending on the product and, in some cases, the amount of time a candidate wishes to use MeasureUp services.

For example, access to a practice lab for 10 hours costs $149, but candidates may purchase 20 hours for $224. Depending on the certification, candidates can expect to pay approximately $100 per practice exam, and certification tool kits are currently $319. One nice feature about the MeasureUp practice labs is that they are available online, anytime, anywhere, which may provide the perfect training option if you don't have access to the required hardware necessary to practice certification skills.

Cisco Press offers an amazing array of certification prep materials. As this image showing the CCNA self-study resources illustrates, you can find all kinds of (and often great deals on) materials for the vast majority of Cisco certifications at the company's official press site (operated on their behalf by Pearson, for whom I write and blog, and which also publishes my Exam Cram series of cert prep books).

Cisco Press not only offers full-length study guides, but also software simulators, video training (includes more than 400 videos and over 50  hours of training), flash cards and even practice tests (digital only).

The Celtic Rover CCNA pages offer some great resources for IT professionals preparing for Cisco's CCNA exam. You'll find lots of great information to dig into for the various CCNA exams. This material makes a great supplement to the Cisco Press CCNA exam cert prep books.

One thing to be cautions of when entering the site is that you might get a security warning from your web browser when you visit Celtic Rover. But there's so much good stuff here, you'll want to make sure your antivirus coverage is up to date and visit the site anyway.

As with Celtic Rover for CCNA, there's a lot of good stuff at CCNP Guide to help candidates bone up for the various professional level CCNP exams, especially for those on the Routing and Switching track.

The site's author and creator offers his own for-a-fee exam guides in addition to the free materials available on the site. Use the free stuff to augment a Cisco Press study guide, or take a flyer on his exam guides. He's got flashcards for the various exams nearing completion, too. Worth a visit!

With a name like RouterGod, you know the site has to be good. You'll find that the content is a rare combination of side-splittingly funny and both technically accurate and useful.

Be sure to check out Denise Richards' article on PIX firewalls, or Paris Hilton's interview on CCIE Storage. Why not learn about the PIX firewall from a celebrity, if you have the chance? Both should give you plenty of laughs and help you learn something. 

The site might not be for everyone, but as you dig around, I hope you'll find some real gems along with the yuks and LOLs.

The free graphical network simulator (GNS) underpins simulation engines for Cisco IOS (internetwork operating system) and Juniper JunOS. GNS is open source software licensed under the GPL. The version of the Dynamips IOS environment used to simulate numerous Cisco router and switch models requires users to obtain their own copies of IOS

To avoid potential copyright infringement issues, GNS3 cannot distribute the IOS itself, but it is widely and legally available to those who own Cisco routers and other devices. Because hands-on interaction with Cisco devices and operating system is so important to earning all of the credentials, this free simulator is widely used.

Check out the various tools and info available at gns3.com, especially the tutorial entitled: How to download, install and get working.

The higher you climb up the Cisco certification pyramid, the more important hands-on access to the hardware becomes. That's why at least half of Cisco CCNP candidates (and those pursuing CCIE) purchase their own gear upon which to practice. And in the case of the CCIE, Cisco pros spend a great amount of time with the hardware to prepare for the infamous lab exam. To that end, lots of companies sell "lab kits" or "complete hardware labs" to prospective candidates.

CertificationKits sells a number of these kits, but you can find them on eBay, Amazon.com and possibly other online retailers as well (here, for example, is a link to a Cisco CCNA lab kit available on eBay). Lots of other vendors abound in this space, but be sure to do business with a company that gets good reviews from other certification candidates who've already done business with them, before plunking down your hard-earned cash.

There have always been lots of sources for virtual lab access to Cisco environments online, but only in 2012 did Cisco itself dip a toe into these waters with the launch of the Cisco Learning Labs.

For roughly $3 an hour, you can buy access to a tailored Cisco virtual lab for the certification of your choosing. Lab access is available in different flavors ranging from 25 hour blocks (initial buy, available for 90 days) to 50 hour blocks (available for 180 days), and you can freely add 5 hour increments after that.

Though there are still other vendors in this space -- for example, Gambit Communications’ MIMIC Virtual Lab for the CCNA, NetCertLabs offerings for some CCNA, CCNP and CCIE tracks, and MeasureUp labs for CCNA and CCNP prep -- you won't find a more complete or more up-to-date set of virtual labs available from anybody else. Cisco's prices for lab access are hard to beat, too!

As is so often the case for training on vendor-specific certifications, you have an important choice to make when seeking out training on Cisco certifications: to go through an authorized Cisco training partner that teaches elements of the Cisco official training curriculum, or to go outside the Cisco channel to find a solid, reputable third-party training provider.

The web page snippet here comes from Cisco’s Partner Education Connection page and nicely states Cisco's reasons why you might take that route; you can use the Cisco Partner Locator to find outlets in your vicinity.

Some excellent Cisco training comes from well-known Cisco study guide authors. For example, Todd Lammle (from GlobalNet Training & Consulting, not a Cisco Partner) offers well-reviewed training classes as well as the Sybex Study Guides for a wide variety of Cisco certifications.

This is an arena where community or personal recommendations should weigh heavily in your choice of a provider, in addition to name recognition and reputation of the instructor.

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.