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NetApp Certification Guide: Overview And Career Paths

NetApp Certification Guide: Overview And Career Paths
Credit: Shutterstock

NetApp focuses on data storage and management, and is best known for its line of storage systems called NetApp filers. This nomenclature reflects the storage model that the company uses, which is file oriented This stands in contrast to block storage systems from other vendors such as EMC, Hitachi Data Systems and IBM. NetApp's products initially used NFS and SMB protocols for storage communications, whereas the block storage system uses conventional SAN technology implemented using Fibre Channel. In 2002, NetApp added block storage to its capabilities.

Today, NetApp systems support block- and file- level storage using NFS, CIFS and SMB on the file side, and iSCI and Fibre Channel (including Fibre Channel over Ethernet, aka FCoE), on the block side. The company's proprietary ONTAP OS supports its storage capabilities, while its OnCommand software manages, controls and automates networked data storage. NetApp’s product portfolio provides solutions for cloud data services, converged systems, data storage software, data infrastructure management, data backup and recovery, ONTAP data security, all-flash storage, hybrid flash storage and data storage systems.

NetApp Certification Program Overview

NetApp operates an active and densely populated certification program. It offers a total of 14 credentials, broken into three levels across five job roles: Implementation Engineer, Storage Administrator, Support Engineer, Installation Engineer, and Converged Infrastructure. Its certification levels are reasonably typical for many IT certification programs and include the following:

  • Associate: Entry-level NetApp storage administration roles that target junior to mid-career IT professionals who work with NetApp storage systems and devices. There is a single NetApp Associate credential: the NetApp Certified Storage Associate – Hybrid Cloud.
  • Specialist: Mid-career to senior-level IT professionals who specialize in one or more NetApp topical or platform areas. These include several SAN Specialist credentials (E-Series, Data ONTAP 7-Mode and ONTAP), a Data Protection Specialist credential, an ONTAP Specialist, the Cisco and NetApp FlexPod Design Specialist, and the Cisco and NetApp FlexPod Implementation and Administration Specialist.
  • Professional: Mid-career to senior-level IT professionals who manage or install entire NetApp-based storage environments. These include NetApp Certified Data Administrator credentials in both Clustered Data ONTAP and Data ONTAP 7-Mode, NetApp Certified Storage Installation Engineer, Clustered Data ONTAP, and NetApp Certified Support Engineer.

The following table lays out the NetApp certification program by job role and level.

NetApp Implementation Engineer

Specialist

NetApp Certified Implementation Engineer – SAN Specialist, ONTAP
NetApp Certified Implementation Engineer – Data Protection Specialist
NetApp Certified Implementation Engineer – SAN Specialist, Data ONTAP 7-Mode
NetApp Certified Implementation Engineer – SAN Specialist, E-Series

Professional

NetApp Certified Data Administrator, ONTAP
NetApp Certified Data Administrator, Data ONTAP 7-Mode

Storage Administrator

Professional

NetApp Certified Data Administrator, ONTAP

Professional

NetApp Certified Data Administrator, Data ONTAP 7-Mode

Associate

NetApp Certified Storage Associate – Hybrid Cloud

Support Engineer

Specialist

NetApp Certified Support Engineer – ONTAP Specialist

Professional

NetApp Certified Support Engineer

Installation Engineer

Professional

NetApp Certified Storage Installation Engineer, ONTAP

Converged Infrastructure

Specialist

Cisco and NetApp FlexPod Design Specialist
Cisco and NetApp FlexPod Implementation and Administration Specialist

Pearson VUE is your source for NetApp exams. Most exams run between 60 and 120 minutes and cost $150. You must add NetApp to your Pearson VUE account to register for NetApp exams, and then sign up for, schedule and pay for such exams.

Currently, NetApp offers a single Associate certification. The NetApp Certified Storage Associate – Hybrid Cloud (NCSA-HC) identifies individuals who've demonstrated a basic understanding of NetApp data storage and management systems, as well as hybrid cloud technologies and products. These individuals perform basic administration of NetApp storage controllers running Data ONTAP OS, cloud configuration and management (cloud storage, ONTAP Cloud, Cloud Manager, Alta Vault), and have basic technical knowledge of AltaVault, StorageGrid and OnCommand management solutions.

The Cisco and NetApp FlexPod certifications (Design and Implementation and Administration versions) focus on converged NetApp solutions that combine data storage, networking and server elements into flexible architectures to service various business workloads, usually in virtual machines. FlexPod accelerates deployment of infrastructure and business-critical applications, and reduces cost, complexity and risk. The Design Specialist aims primarily at NetApp and partner employees and requires exam NS0-170; the Implementation and Administration Specialist is more general and requires exam NS0-171. There are no formal prerequisites, but NetApp recommends that candidates possess 6 to 12 months of direct experience working with FlexPod solutions, assessment tools and standards, and performance requirements.

There are four other specialist credentials, which fall under the Implementation Engineer role, including:

The NCIE – SAN Specialist, ONTAP and Data Protection Specialist credentials each require the NetApp Certified Data Administrator, ONTAP (NCDA-ONTAP) certification as a prerequisite, while the SAN Specialist Data ONTAP 7-Mode credential takes the NCDA 7-Mode as a prereq. There are no prerequisite certifications required for the NCIE – SAN Specialist, E-Series certification. That said, at least 6 to 12 months' experience is recommended for all specialist candidates.

NetApp also offers a single specialist credential in the Support Engineering role - the NetApp Certified Support Engineer-ONTAP Specialist. The NCSE-ONTAP Specialist credential validates a candidate’s knowledge of networking, protocols, troubleshooting SAN and NAS, WAFL, SMB, NFS, platforms and storage, as well as Data ONTAP. In addition to passing the NCSE-ONTAP exam, the credential takes the NCSE as a prerequisite.

The NetApp Certified Data Administrator (NCDA) comes in two versions: 7-Mode and ONTAP). This certification documents individuals with proven skills with in-depth support, administrative functions and performance management for NFS and Windows CIFS multi-protocol environments. They know how to implement high-availability controller configurations, and have detailed knowledge of SnapMirror, SnapRestore and SnapVault technologies used to manage mission-critical data. Candidates for 7-Mode take the NS0-155 exam, and ONTAP candidates take the NS0-159 exam. No prerequisites are required; however, NetApp recommends that candidates possess at least 6 to 12 months of experience working with multiprotocol data storage environments, including administration and implementation.

The NetApp Certified Support Engineer (NCSE) documents individuals capable of delivering on-site or remote support for NetApp data storage systems running the Data ONTAP OS in NFS and Windows CIFS multiprotocol environments. Other skills tested include general troubleshooting and root cause isolation, hardware replacement, documentation, node configuration, and software and firmware upgrades for NetApp systems. No prereqs are required but NetApp recommends that candidates first obtain the NCDA certification and possess at least 6 to 12 months' practical experience. A single exam (NS0-191) is required.

The NetApp Certified Storage Installation Engineer, ONTAP (NCSIE) targets professionals responsible for the installation of NetApp ONTAP environments. Ideal candidates must be well-versed in all phases of ONTAP storage solutions, including testing, troubleshooting, setup, installation and configuration. The NCDA, along with 6 to 12 months of experience, are recommended. Exam NS0-181 is required to earn the credential.

Professionals working in storage administration may earn the NetApp Certified Data Administrator (NCDA) which is available for ONTAP and Data ONTAP 7-mode. The NCDA validates a candidates’ knowledge of administration of NetApp data storage controllers, SnapMirror, SnapVault, SnapRestore, managing NetApp controllers in multiprotocol environments, storage architecture, high availability and storage provisioning. NCDA-ONTAP candidates take the NSO-159 exam while NCDA-7-Mode candidates take the NSO-155 exam.

NetApp job roles focus on the kinds of positions that IT professionals with NetApp expertise tend to specialize in.

  • Implementation Engineer: This is a mid-level to senior IT professional who specializes in designing and configuring NetApp solutions for deployment, including integration and provisioning issues.
  • Storage Administrator: This is an entry-level to senior IT professional who manages and maintains storage environments based on NetApp components at varying levels of engagement and responsibility.
  • Support Engineer: This is a mid-level IT professional who provides either or both of on-site and remote support, general troubleshooting and root cause isolation, hardware replacement, documentation, node configuration, and software and firmware upgrades for NetApp storage systems running the company’s Data ONTAP OS in NFS and Windows CIFS multiprotocol environments. (Many such professionals work for NetApp or one of its sales and service partners but might also work for enterprises with their own NetApp in-house support teams.)
  • Installation Engineer: This is a mid-career to senior IT professional who performs installations of clustered NetApp environments during initial system deployments and during subsequent upgrades and build-outs. (Such professionals usually work for NetApp or one of its sales and service partners.)
  • Converged Infrastructure: This is a mid-career to senior IT professional who works in hybrid Cisco and NetApp environments to design or implement and manage hyper-converged infrastructure environments. The environments combine Cisco and NetApp computing, storage and network infrastructure elements.

To get a sense of job opportunities available for NetApp certified professionals, we conducted an informal search of several job sites to see what type of demand exists. We found more than 2,000 job postings from employers seeking NetApp professionals on SimplyHired and Indeed while LinkedIn produced more than 3,000 job posts by itself. Most of these job postings fell within the parameters for administrator and engineering roles, although there were a few employers seeking NetApp-certified individuals to fulfill analyst, marketing and architectural roles.

NetApp offers training courses tied to each certification exam. Look for a Preparation tab on each site that lists training for that particular credential. NetApp delivers web-based training (WBT), instructor-led training (ILT) and virtual instructor-led (vILT) training as well as partner-only opportunities. The price range for courses varies, depending on course length and delivery method. A five-day classroom course may cost as much as $5,600, while candidates can expect to pay approximately $1,800 for a two-day training course. The Preparation tab also contains links to exam topics, practice tests, exam registration and other preparation materials and resources.

Third-party certification prep materials are scarce for NetApp credentials, so most candidates work through the company's free WBT materials first and foremost. After that, many candidates elect to take ILT or vILT classes, even though they're relatively expensive. Practice tests are available from some vendors for the NCSA and NCDA exams, though the others are scarce.

 

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.

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