Many of us have had to hunker down as an F1 or F2 tornado passed through the area, flattening most things in its path, but an F5? The most powerful tornado speed on the Fujita scale was also the inspiration for the name F5 Labs, which got its start in 1996 and is now known as F5 Networks. Originally offering its BIG-IP server load-balancing products, F5 has expanded to provide optimization technology called application delivery networking (ADN). ADN keeps servers, network resources and the like humming along in data centers and in the cloud all over the world.
Headquartered in Seattle, Washington, F5 caters to nearly every Fortune 50 company as well as a long list of mid-sized to enterprise-scale organizations. The company's earnings have seen healthy increases over the years with 2016 annual revenues topping $2 billion. F5 growth continued in 2017, as revenues topped $2.1 billion. It continued growth has attracted attention from Wall Street and prospective investors, as well as companies looking for a lucrative acquisition or merger. In fact, F5 Networks appears to be reviewing offers from potential suitors.
F5 Networks Certification Program Overview
The F5 Networks Certification program is small and focused. It offers IT credentials that help prepare folks to develop, deploy and support the company's products and solutions. The three certifications in F5's program include the following items:
- F5 Certified BIG-IP Administrator (F5-CA)
- F5 Certified Technology Specialist (F5-CTS)
- F5 Certified Solution Expert (F5-CSE)
To get started, F5 certification candidates need to register on the F5 Credential Management System (F5-CMS), submit a candidate agreement form and complete a non-disclosure agreement. Once registered, a study guide for the desired certification is made accessible through the company’s system, although study guides are also available outside of the F5-CMS, as you'll learn later in this article. All F5 certification exams cost $135 and are available through Pearson VUE.
F5 Certified BIG-IP Administrator (F5-CA)
An F5 Certified BIG-IP Administrator can manage application delivery networks (ADNs) and perform routine management and troubleshooting of F5 Traffic Management Operating System (TMOS) devices. Two exams are required to achieve the F5-CA certification:
These exams must be taken in numerical order because the TMOS Administration exam takes the Application Delivery exam as a prerequisite. Before sitting for an exam, F5 suggests that candidates acquire a firm understanding of networking concepts and protocols, traffic management concepts and TMOS components, and how to work with virtual servers.
F5 Certified Technology Specialist (F5-CTS)
The F5 Certified Technology Specialist credentials come in four flavors, focusing on traffic management, DNS, security and access policies. The first LTM exams (Exam 301a) for DNS, ASM and APM Specialist credentials each takes Exam 201 – TMOS Administration as a prerequisite. The second LTM exam - LTM Specialist: Maintain and Troubleshoot (Exam 301b) - requires completion of the LTM Specialist: Architect, Setup, and Deploy Exam 301a beforehand. To earn the F5-CTS, candidates must pass one or two exams depending on the specialty track selected:
Local Traffic Manager (LTM): The LTM credential recognizes professionals who work with advanced F5 products from design through implementation and maintenance and understand how to integrate LTM into existing networks. Two exams are required:
- Exam 301a – BIG-IP LTM Specialist: Architect, Setup, and Deploy
- Exam 301b – BIG-IP LTM Specialist: Maintain and Troubleshoot
Domain Name Server (DNS): The DNS credential aims at application delivery architects and application delivery engineers who work with BIG-IP DNS. There is only one exam required to earn this credential:
- Exam 302 – BIG-IP DNS Specialist
Application Security Manager (ASM): An ASM designs, implements and maintains ASM to secure application delivery networks. Candidates should understand interactivity between ASM and web applications, troubleshooting techniques and integration method. Only one exam is required:
- Exam 303 – BIG-IP ASM Specialist
Access Policy Manager (APM): A professional with the APM credential handles application delivery network management and technologies that run on the F5 TMOS operating system. Candidates should understand remote access, authentication and authorization, and how to install, maintain and upgrade APM. To get the APM credential, candidates must pass one exam:
- Exam 304 – BIG-IP APM Specialist
Anyone with the drive (and time) to finish all four CTS exams should seriously consider moving on to the pinnacle F5 certification: the F5 solution expert.
F5 Certified Solution Expert (F5-CSE)
The F5 Certified Solution Expert works with clients to identify security and technical business requirements, and then translates those requirements into solutions. Candidates must have solution design experience that encompasses all relevant aspects of LTM, DNS, ASM and APM, as well as other F5 technologies such as BIG-IQ modules, MobileSafe, IP Intelligence (IPI) and WebSafe.
To qualify as an F5-CSE, candidates must earn all of the previously mentioned F5 certifications, including the F5-CA, F5-CTS LTM, F5-CTS BIG-IP DNS, F5-CTS ASM and F5-CTS APM. Once these prerequisites are completed, candidates need to pass one more exam:
- Exam 401 – F5 Certified Security Solution Expert
Job Opportunities and Training Resources
Because F5's focus is on large networked environments, one can expect to find F5-related positions such as network specialist, network engineer, systems engineer, network administrator, architect and consultant. A snapshot of job boards, such as SimplyHired, Indeed and LinkedIn reveals between 2,000 and 3,000 jobs in the U.S. for F5-certified professionals (depending on the job board), with excellent salary potential.
In fact, salaries at F5 Networks itself are pretty good, too. According to SimplyHired, salaries are in the neighborhood of about $116,000 for a Software Engineer. Glassdoor reports salaries of $122,000 for a Network Engineer and $160,000 for an F5 Pre-Sales Engineer.
F5 Education and third parties offer instructor-led classroom training as well as live online courses to prepare students for F5 certification. A list of F5 Education courses and their descriptions is on the Training Courses and Classes page, and typical prices are $1,000 for a one-day course to $4,000 for a four-day course.
Candidates can also take free Getting Started courses through F5 University. These self-paced, web-based training sessions last for 45 minutes each and introduce students to the features and functionality of F5 solutions, basic BIG-IP administration and configuration, and application delivery customization tools.
F5 offers both an exam blueprint as well as a free study guide for each certification exam. Just visit the page for a desired exam and find the “blueprint” and "study guide" links. Each guide is quite detailed and helps you zero-in on topics of most importance to passing the exam.
For a long list of F5 study guides and exam kits, go to Amazon.com and search for "F5 Networks." Here are some examples of what you'll find:
- F5 Networks, by Philip Jönsson (Author) and Steven Iveson (Contributor), lulu.com, 2015; $69.27
- F5 Networks Application Delivery Fundamentals Study Guide, by Philip Jönsson, lulu.com, 2015; $42.49
- F5 Networks Application Delivery Fundamentals Study Guide, by Philip Jönsson and Steven Iveson, lulu.com, 2015; $42.49
- An Introduction to F5 Networks, BIG-IP, TMOS and LTM v11, Volume One, by Steven Iveson, 2013, Kindle Edition; $9.99
Certification candidates are encouraged to join the F5 Certified. Professionals group on LinkedIn, where they can pick up exam prep tips from people who have already taken the exams, as well as network and share ideas with their peers. F5 also maintains an active presence on social media forums including Twitter, YouTube, Instagram and Facebook where you can stay up-to-date on F5 events and product solutions.