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Dell Certification Guide: Overview and Career Paths

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shironosov/Getty Images

In the 1980s, a 19-year-old pre-med student at the University of Texas just happened to like computers – a lot. Michael Dell never made it to graduation and dropped out at the end of his first year to pursue a different dream, armed only with a $1,000 stake from his family and a love of PCs. No one could have predicted that Dell would turn his dorm room "business" into Dell Inc., a globally recognized leader in computing.

Dell merged with EMC Corporation in late 2016, and the new company was rebranded as Dell Technologies, which includes Dell, Dell EMC, Pivotal, RSA, Secureworks, Virtustream and VMware. According to Forbes, Dell Technologies (before completion of the merger with EMC) was the fourth largest privately held company in the United States and the world's largest privately held technology company. With offices in more than 180 countries worldwide, Dell boasts more than 145,000 employees, with sales exceeding $74 billion in 2016. According to its investor relations website, a whopping 98% of all Fortune 500 companies use Dell Technologies products and services. Dell is also well represented in Gartner Magic Quadrant leader lists for products and services, including the Data Center Backup and Recovery Software, Managed Security Services, and Integrated Systems lists.

Computing products remain a staple in the Dell product portfolio. Consumers interested in laptops, workstations, tablets and desktops will find a variety of products available (along with peripherals such as monitors, printers and VDI appliances) to meet personal, SMB, enterprise or gaming requirements. Dell also offers solutions for networks, storage, servers, gateways and embedded computing, as well as a broad range of IT and business services.

Dell Technologies' products and services currently fall under seven technology brands:

Within each brand, there are multiple products, services and solutions that cater to specific areas of interest for Dell customers.

VMware, Secureworks and Pivotal continue to strategically align with Dell Technologies' core business areas. VMware continues to provide hybrid cloud, mobile computing and software-defined data center solutions. Pivotal offers analytic tools, next-generation software development methodology and modern cloud-native platforms, while Secureworks focuses on incident response and threat intelligence security. RSA helps companies manage and monitor their digital risk profiles and activities.

In response to its merger with EMC, Dell and Dell EMC's certification programs have merged into the unified Dell EMC Proven Professional certification portfolio. You'll find that the website and certifications have a brand-new look and feel. Dell Education Services offers two CompTIA certs along with numerous Dell EMC certifications divided up by technology category or track, including Storage, Data Protection, Converged Infrastructure and Data Science. A recent search of the Dell certification website finds that Dell no longer offers Microsoft certification training courses.

If you're not sure where to start on your certification journey, the new Dell EMC Proven Professional certification framework is a great starting point. Here, you'll find certifications for four skill levels:

  • Dell EMC Certified Associate (DECA): Entry-level or foundational knowledge
  • Dell EMC Certified Specialist (DECS): Technology and role-specific skills
  • Dell EMC Certified Expert (DECE): Advanced experience and skills in multiple technologies
  • Dell EMC Certified Master (DECM): Subject matter expertise in complex scenarios and multiple technologies

The certification framework is hierarchical: The specialist certification takes the lower-level associate credential as a prerequisite, while the expert-level credentials take both the associate and specialist credentials as prerequisites. Associate and specialist certifications do not expire. Master and expert certifications expire after two years.

In Dell's certification framework, you'll find Dell EMC credentials across eight different tracks: Technology Architect (TA), Cloud Architect (CA), Enterprise Architect (EA), Implementation Engineer (IE), Systems Administrator (SA), Platform Engineer (PE), Technical Support Engineer (TSE) and Data Scientist (DS). The certification framework also maps credentials back to specific technology areas (cloud, storage, data protection, server, networking, converged infrastructure and data science).

There are also certification maps for role-based credentials:

  • Plan and Design Roadmap: This offers four credentials at the associate level, seven at the specialist level, three expert exams and a single master-level (architect) exam.
  • Deploy Roadmap: This certification path offers four associate-level credentials, 13 specialist exams and four expert exams. Currently, there are no exams at the master level. The roadmap also mentions CompTIA Server+, two product and technology exams, associate and professional exams in server and networking, VxRail Appliance, and PowerEdge.
  • Manage Roadmap: This path offers a single master exam, five expert exams, 15 specialist exams and four associate exams. It also includes CompTIA Server+, VMware VCP credentials, two product technology exams, and associate and professional exams in server and networking.
  • Support Roadmap: The Support Roadmap includes one associate exam, seven specialist exams and one expert exam. It mentions CompTIA Server+ along with associate and professional networking and PowerEdge exams.

Certification candidates should register with Dell EMC TechDirect. From the TechDirect portal, candidates can access free exam prep materials, schedule exams, view exam results and print their certification transcripts. Candidates may also view their company's competency status through the TechDirect portal.

Dell Partners whose employees have earned the Certified Deployment Professional badge may be eligible to earn the Services Competency for Deployment (or simply Deployment Competency) designation. To earn this competency, Partners must be at least at the Gold tier level and have two or more employees who've passed the associated exam. A formal application must be submitted to Dell requesting Deployment Competency designation. Deployment Competency designations are available for Server, Storage, Networking and Client Systems.

Because Dell has updated its certification portfolio, it's well worth your time to peruse the new Dell EMC Proven Professional Certification Framework to understand the new certification flow. All certification tracks begin with selecting a technology concentration: Cloud, Storage, Data Protection, Server, Networking, Converged Infrastructure or Data Science. Next, candidates earn the DECA (associate) credential recommended for their technology track. From there, candidates select the applicable role-based certification roadmap (Plan and Design, Deploy, Manage, or Support) and follow the certification recommendations to earn the specialist, expert and master credentials available in that certification path.

Below, we've listed some examples of the many certifications you'll find in the new Dell EMC program. We've chosen to present these certification examples by the available technology tracks.

The Server technology roadmap is the only certification path where a third-party certification, the CompTIA Server+, serves as the associate-level credential.

  • Implementation Engineer, PowerEdge Specialist (DECS-IE): Certification is focused on IT professionals working with Dell EMC PowerEdge Server technology and products. To earn the credential, candidates must first obtain either the CompTIA Server+ or the Dell Certified Associate PowerEdge credential and pass the specialist exam. The exam targets PowerEdge rack and tower servers, installation, configuration (server storage, iDRAC and Lifecycle Controller), and maintenance and troubleshooting.
  • Information Storage and Management Associate (DCA-ISM): This credential validates a candidate's knowledge of data center infrastructure, storage systems (file-based, object-based, software-defined, block-based and intelligent), security, replication management, backup, archive, replication, and storage networking technologies (Fibre Channel SAN, Internet Protocol SAN and Fibre Channel over Ethernet SAN).
  • Implementation Engineer, SC Series Specialist (DCS-IE): This certification targets professionals working with Dell EMC SC Series storage products. Skills covered include Dell Storage Manager installation and configuration, SC Series hardware and cabling (including Fibre Channel and iSCSI), SC Series configuration, administration (Storage Manager and SC Series), and SAN HBA and switch configuration. To earn the certification, candidates must possess the Associate Information Storage and Management Version 1.0, 2.0, or 3.0 credential and pass the specialist exam.
  • Expert – SC Series (DCE): To obtain this expert-level certification, candidates must possess the Specialist Implementation Engineer, SC Series certification and pass the expert exam. The exam focuses on SC Series Storage product-related technologies, including hardware installation, storage array initialization, array configuration, failover testing, host confirmation and front-end storage networking configuration.
  • Certified Associate – Networking: This credential targets professionals working with Dell EMC networking switches. Candidates should have at least one year of networking experience, with six months focused on installing and managing EMC networking switches, and be able to install, configure, and troubleshoot networking switches.
  • Certified Professional – Networking: This credential targets experienced Dell hardware professionals. Candidates should have one to three years of experience, plus at least one year of direct experience managing or deploying Dell hardware solutions. Successful candidates will also understand deployment, cutover and integration planning, Dell tools for deployment, network configuration, and troubleshooting.
  • Cloud Infrastructure and Services Associate (DCA-CIS): This cert focuses on using cloud computing reference architectures to build cloud infrastructures, cloud technologies and processes, digital transformations, cloud services and applications, cloud security, business continuity, and cloud service management.
  • Cloud Infrastructure Specialist (DCS-CA): This credential is the specialist level of the Dell EMC Cloud Architect certification. Candidates must possess either the associate level of the Information Storage Management (version 2.0 or 3.0) or the Cloud Infrastructure and Services (version 1.0, 2.0 or 3.0) credential and pass the specialist exam. The exam focuses on cloud-related topics, including design, management, available resources (such as network, storage and computing), monitoring, hybrid cloud and disaster recovery.
  • Cloud Architect, Cloud Services Expert (DCE-CA): This certification is the expert level of the Dell EMC Cloud Architect certification. As with the DCS-CA, candidates need to possess either the associate-level Information Storage and Management (version 2.0 or 3.0) or the Cloud Infrastructure and Services (version 1.0 or 2.0) credential plus the DCS-CA and pass the expert exam. The credential validates a candidate's skill in planning and designing cloud infrastructures, business transformation, ITaaS environments, cloud services, security, governance, and financial and organizational planning.
  • Data Protection and Management – Associate (DCA-DPM): This credential validates a candidate's understanding of the data protection technologies, components and processes.
  • Converged InfrastructureConverged Infrastructure targets professionals who maintain, back up, configure, upgrade, troubleshoot, monitor and administer VxBlock Systems. Two credentials are available:
    • Converged Systems and Hybrid Cloud Version 1.0 – Associate (DCA-CSHC): This is a foundation-level certification that focuses on a candidate's understanding of how to effect transformation using Dell EMC Converged Systems and Digital and IT Transformation.
    • Systems Administrator, Converged Infrastructure Version 2.0 – Specialist (DCS-SA): This credential validates a candidate's knowledge of VxBlock Systems concepts, administration, security, resource management, maintenance and troubleshooting.
  • Data Science Associate (DECA-DS): A foundation-level credential for those just entering the realm of data science and big data analytics, this certification focuses on the tools and techniques commonly used in data analytics.
  • Advanced Analytics Specialist (DECS-DS): This certification focuses on using advanced analytic methods to identify and recommend solutions for business problems. Methods include visualization, Hadoop (including Hive, HBase and Pig), natural language processing and social network analysis.

On top of its Certified Deployment Professional certifications, Dell Education Services has partnered with several third-party organizations in the past to provide certifications for CompTIA and Microsoft certifications. However, Dell has reduced the number of CompTIA cert courses that it offers and totally eliminated its Microsoft cert courses.

CompTIA is a well-known, vendor-neutral certification provider. Dell has reduced its CompTIA certification training courses to just two online offerings: A+ and Linux+ certs. The cost for CompTIA training courses ranges from $550 to $650 for these topics.

According to Dell, 78% of all companies use IT deployment services. With such a widespread need, IT professionals specializing in deployment find a demand for their skills across multiple industry sectors. Some of the sectors that Dell serves are education, energy, financial services, government (federal, state and local), healthcare, manufacturing, retail, telecommunications, media and entertainment, and web development.

Popular job boards such as TechCareers, SimplyHired and Glassdoor reveal numerous jobs available for Dell-certified deployment professionals. Most of the listed positions focus on engineering roles for server, virtualization, networking, systems, integration, data security and the like. Other available roles include consultants, account executives, system administrators, IT managers and deployment managers.

Dell recommends and offers core training courses for each of its Dell EMC credentials. Interested candidates who register on the DirectTech website can also access free exam study guides. In addition, Dell offers many free e-learning courses at the foundation level on various Dell products and technologies, including networking, storage, data protection, big data and converged infrastructure.

Core recommended training for each solution track includes a basic, intermediate and advanced course. Prices vary, but candidates can expect to pay $2,500 to $5,000. Most training is a combination of e-learning activities that you complete prior to attending instructor-led training.

Dell also provides training for other certifications and training opportunities for end users and IT professionals in various disciplines, including these:

Fundamental or introductory courses typically cost $100 to $200, while advanced training courses may cost thousands of dollars (we found one course with a price tag of $10,000). Dell also offers onsite training courses, with most prices running at least double that of public courses. The most expensive onsite course we found topped $42,000.

Check out everything Dell has to offer on its Education Services webpage. 


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.


Earl Follis

Earl is also a 30-year veteran of the computer industry who has worked in IT training, marketing, technical evangelism, and market analysis in the areas of networking and systems technology and management. Ed and Earl met in the late 1980s when Ed hired Earl as a trainer at an Austin-area networking company that's now part of HP. The two of them have written numerous books together on NetWare, Windows Server and other topics. Earl is also a regular writer for the computer trade press, with many e-books, whitepapers and articles to his credit.