Cisco's revised CCNA certification exams change up the networking mix

Cisco's streamlined CCNA certification exam changes what network admins need to know before getting specialty certifications. Find out why.

Editor's note:  Cisco streamlined its Cisco Certified Network Associate certifications in March by reducing the amount of core routing and switching expertise an administrator needs to obtain a CCNA Voice, CCNA Security and CCNA Wireless accreditation. The CCNAhas long been Cisco's foundational certification. In the past, administrators had to pass two rigorous exams on routing and switching -- the ICND1 and ICND2 -- to obtain a standard CCNA before taking additional exams on wireless, voice or security to obtain specialist CCNA certifications. This approach has encouraged administrators to get a deep foundation of networking skills before trying to develop expertise in a specific branch of networking. SearchNetworking associate editor Matt Toomey spoke with Cisco certification expert and CBT Nuggets trainer Jeremy Cioara to get his sense of what the changes will mean to administrators seeking certification.

ICND1, the first CCNA exam, is now the only exam that IT pros need to take before pursuing the specialized CCNA exam for voice, security or wireless. Does this change give IT pros the right foundation for these specialized exams?

Jeremy Cioara: Yes, it does now give them what they need for all of the CCNA specialties. The way that's possible is that Cisco, with their latest CCNA revision, has moved a ton of information from what used to be ICND2 into ICND1. So now you pretty much have a massive certification exam with a massive amount of material that someone has to learn, but once they do get it, they will have essentially everything they need to progress in any one of the specialties.

 What has been added to the updated ICND1 exam and why?

Cioara: The big topics that have been added -- and these were the ones that were missing and are needed to prepare people for all those specialties -- are virtual LANS (VLANS), subnetting, network address translation and access control switches. So among those four major topics -- combined with IPv6, the next version of the TCP IP protocol -- this gives everybody the foundation they need, but it also increases the amount of information in ICND1 in a major way.

ICND1 will be a lot harder than it used to be…

Jeremy Ciorara

What was taken out of ICND1 and why?

Cioara: The stuff that's been removed is what I would call the "sneak preview" stuff. ICND1 used to have a lot of taste testing, where they would introduce a topic like "wireless," or "WAN connections" or "frame relay" or "security," and you would get a little taste of it, but not enough to really do anything with. So Cisco finally said, "Let's remove all of that taste testing because that's what the CCNA specialties are for, and we'll put in more rich content that people need to build that foundation."

Why does ICND1 need to be even more difficult than it used to be?

Cioara: ICND1 will be a lot harder than it used to be [because] today's technology world has progressed. Networks have merged to where voice and data and video all run over one network. And now you have people that are learning about this kind of stuff as part of high school curriculums. It used to be that people were walking in cold and trying to get a career in IT. Now Cisco is raising the bar and saying we expect that you've probably dabbled in some of this before because the world is so technology-saturated.

To earn the new CCNA Routing and Switching certification, IT pros will have to pass ICND1 and then the new ICND2. What is new in ICND2?

Cioara: ICND2, I would say, adds the richness that's missing in ICND1. ICND1 is fast and furious and heavy on concepts. ICND2 focuses on troubleshooting, which means you not only have to know the concepts and the basic configuration, you need to know how to fix it if something goes wrong. So ICND2 adds this whole layer of troubleshooting, as well as isolates multisites. Previously, ICND1 did kind of a taste testing of multisite. Now Cisco said ICND1 will be one site only where you're building a Cisco network at one location. ICND2 says OK, now you've grown and you want to add a whole bunch of locations. How do you connect them? What are some considerations? How do you fix things if they go wrong? So ICND2 adds what I would say is almost a missing richness from ICND1 because ICND1 is covering so much so fast, you don't have the time to go deep into how to fix it if it breaks.

What has been removed from ICND2 and why?

Cioara: Essentially what used to be ICND2 specialties, such as the access control list, the VLANs, and the verbal link subnet masking, have now been moved to ICND1, which has freed up more time in ICND2 to dive deeper into the topics. And they've made other changes. For example, ICND1 no longer covers the Routing Information Protocol (RIP), which is old, so they've done some refreshes, and now ICND1 uses Open Shortest Path First (OSPF) as the routing protocol. So ICND2 introduces Cisco's proprietary EIGRPE routing protocol. But as far as topic removal, it's primarily the new stuff, or essentially the stuff that ICND1 took from ICND2 that's been removed.

What are your thoughts on the updates on post-ICND1 exams for CCNA Voice, CCNA Wireless and CCNA Security?

Cioara: I would say the updates to the specialties now allow them to be just that -- specialties. Cisco is now free to really focus on exactly what that specialty is there for. Instead of retreading a lot of the same ground that ICND1 and ICND2 did before.

This was first published in April 2013

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