By Ed Tittel
Storage and virtualization certification programs are becoming more prevalent, but their benefits are questionable. While certifications can be a foot in the door at some organizations, other IT managers much prefer to see real-world experience.
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After all, virtualization certification establishes a candidate's baseline knowledge, but it can't always guarantee an individual's ability to manage or administer an existing virtual infrastructure effectively. What's more, for network engineers -- who often have a plethora of other certifications -- gaining new certs in areas that were once not considered network-related can seem burdensome.
Still, as networking teams increasingly find themselves responsible for implementing and managing storage systems and virtual environments, virtualization certification must at least be considered.
For one, virtualization certification can be a way to distinguish among a flood of job applicants. It can also be a proactive way to get training prior to being dropped into an expanded role, or a means of proving to an employer that you are willing to take the extra step in expanding skills. Most importantly, virtualization certification ties directly into desktop virtualization and unified data center fabric strategies, which networking pros need to learn one way or another.
Virtualization certification programs
Virtualization vendors, including VMware, Citrix and Microsoft, offer vendor-specific virtualization certification programs that can help networking professionals who know they will be dealing with these specific technologies. Red Hat also offers virtualization certification at administrative and engineering levels for Linux-based environments.
VMware virtualization certification programs
VMware offers a product-centric virtualization certification program. It's noteworthy that VMware does not offer "mastery" level certifications but, rather, different complementary tracks to tap into specific technical skill sets.
VMware Certified Professional (VCP)
The VCP program examines professional expertise in virtual infrastructure setup and management. VCP certification paths vary by experience level from beginners to the more experienced. Newcomers must attend a VMware vSphere installation, configuration and management course, which is offered as a four-day classroom course and a 12-lesson online course. Current VCPs are required to attend a VMware "What's New" course to obtain up-to-date information on the latest technologies and strategies. VCP represents the skill set for a "rubber meets the road" VMware administrator.
VMware Certified Design Expert (VCDX)
The VCP serves as a stepping stone into the higher-level VCDX certification track, an advanced program developed for architects who design VMware enterprise deployments. The VCDX is not a next-level or "mastery" tier in a multi-level course; if it were, it would find placement a few levels above the VCP. VCDX certification helps ensure that qualified individuals possess the requisite skills to help design and implement an overall virtual infrastructure solution.
Certified Virtualization Expert (CVE)
Despite the title "virtualization expert," the CVE is actually a vendor-specific, third-party certification course tailored to VMware, not a general examination of various virtualization products and platforms. CVE training is conducted in the form of week-long intensive cram sessions, running the gamut from installation and configuration to deployment and security, concluding with a two-hour-long CVE exam. CVE certification requires attendance at an Ultimate Bootcamp session prior to taking the exam. Unless it's easier to attend this class than a VMware class, there is not necessarily much value-add in obtaining this certification instead of a VMware credential.
Citrix virtualization certifications
Citrix offers two certification tracks that target virtualization experts in the areas of administration and architecture. Both tracks provide upgrade paths to existing Citrix certifications with a self-paced online training option and ability to publish validated credentials.
Citrix Certified Enterprise Engineer (CCEE) for Virtualization
The CCEE for Virtualization certification track targets seasoned IT professionals experienced in both design and integration who seek to validate their operational planning skills. Engineers without existing Citrix certifications must pass a total of five exams: three Citrix Certified Administrator (CCA) entry-level exams for application, desktop and server virtualization; an advanced application virtualization exam; and a final exam covering end-to-end virtualization integration.
Citrix Certified Integration Architect (CCIA) for Virtualization
The CCIA for Virtualization certification track tests skills used to design a business-oriented virtualization strategy. Here, a strategic approach requires candidates to analyze business and technical needs, propose designs that solve those needs, and employ a range of certifiable skills used to execute such a design. Interested first-time candidates must obtain the CCEE for Virtualization certification and then pass an additional CCIA exam. Current CCIA certified professionals must pass both CCEE and CCIA for Virtualization exams.
Citrix Certified Administrator (CCA) for XenDesktop and XenServer
Citrix CCA for XenDesktop and XenServer provides hands-on training in the installation, configuration and management of Citrix desktop and server products. Course completion is a prerequisite for the CCEE for Virtualization certification track, along with administrator series certification in XenApp. Citrix XenDesktop certification certifies IT professionals in end-to-end solutions and tests this knowledge in an examination that covers installation, configuration and administration within an enterprise environment. CCA for XenServer examines similar skills but applies to XenServer in enterprise environments. Exam essentials include pre-deployment planning, installation, virtual machine creation, host management, storage requirements and business continuity aspects. Citrix offers both instructor-led classes and self-paced online courses in preparation for exam objectives.
Microsoft virtualization certification
Unlike Citrix and VMware, Microsoft builds its virtualization expertise into other platform certifications rather than specifically around its virtualization technology. Virtualization competency is validated as part of the Microsoft Certified System Engineer (MCSE) on Windows Server 2003 training and examination. In addition, the Microsoft Certified Technology Specialist (MCTS) includes virtualization-specific aspects of IT professionals working in medium- to large-scale computing environments.
MCTS: Windows Server Virtualization
The MCTS Windows Server Virtualization (Hyper-V) course focuses on the installation and configuration of Hyper-V, management of virtual machines and virtual hard drives, performance monitoring and reporting, and high availability. The MCTS Windows Server Virtualization track examines a candidate's ability to use Hyper-V and server virtualization as part of a larger network infrastructure solution. Exam 70-652, as it's known in Microsoft circles, targets IT professionals with 18 months (or more) of experience working in an administrative capacity with Windows Server products and familiarity with virtualization products and technology.
MCTS: System Center Virtual Machine Manager (SCVMM), Configuring
The MCTS SCVMM 2008 Configuring (Exam 70-403) validates skills necessary to configure SCVMM in a Windows Server infrastructure. Candidates possess at least six months of experience using virtualization and more than a year with Windows Server. Measured skills include installing, administering, maintaining and deploying SCVMM across Windows-based enterprise environments. SCVMM is a unified, multi-vendor management solution for the virtual IT data center infrastructure.
Vendor-neutral virtualization training, but no virtualization certification
While there are no completely vendor-neutral, all-encompassing virtualization certifications, Dice Learning offers a course that covers Hyper-V, VMware HyperVisor, Citrix XenSource, and QEMU, claiming to prepare candidates for all related certifications. The offering is quite expensive, weighing in at around $1,000 per day of classroom time.