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CCNP update, IoT to highlight new Cisco certs

Cisco launched a bevy of new career certifications, including a CCNP update and training in industrial networking, network programmability and IT-business interaction.

Cisco revised its popular mid-career networking career certification to emphasize routing and switching. Additionally, it introduced a suite of new certifications aimed at supporting its new business initiatives, including network programmability, IT-business alignment and the Internet of Things.

The Cisco Certified Networking Professional (CCNP) will now be known as CCNP Routing and Switching (R&S). With the CCNP update, Cisco beefed up the certification's focus on configuring, managing and troubleshooting routers and switches, and removed all content on voice over IP, video and wireless networking.

"We've taken out the modules that were not relevant to the core technology of routing and switching," said Ramesh Bijor, marketing manager at Cisco. The CCNP update places more emphasis on IPv6 skills and Cisco automation technologies, such as Stackwise, Virtual Switch Services and Dynamic Multi-Point VPN, he said.

The CCNP has been Cisco's secret sauce for years, said Zeus Kerravala, principal analyst for ZK Research. It solidifies network engineers' career paths while simultaneously making them loyal to Cisco products. The certification was long overdue for an update, he said.

"Networking has certainly gotten more complicated," Kerravala said. "When you look at all the changes that have happened over the last five years, I think there were some concerns in Cisco that maybe their admins aren't up to speed. Having a narrower focus [on routing and switching] helps customers."

To give engineers more flexibility in how they obtain the CCNP R&S certification, Cisco is offering advanced e-learning self-study options for the first time. Previously, CCNP candidates had only two training options -- attend a class through a Learning@Cisco partner or read a book. For candidates who were already in training prior to the CCNP update, Cisco will continue to offer exams based on the old content for another six months.

Industrial networking certificate addresses IoT

Cisco's new Industrial Networking Specialist certification offers training for both networking and operational technology professionals who manage industrial equipment, including manufacturing systems, oil and gas equipment, agricultural technology and even medical equipment.

Up until recently, much of this equipment has often resided on a separate, isolated network. With the Internet of Things picking up steam, much of this gear is migrating onto IP networks, which forces network engineers to get involved. Meanwhile, the people who traditionally manage this equipment also need to learn more about the IT network. The Industrial Networking Specialist certification offers a starting point for both constituencies in this transition.

"Control system engineers, plant administrators and industrial network engineers get the foundational pieces of networking, as well as an understanding of how they maintain the security of industrial networking, which becomes all the more important when you start talking about the Internet of Things," said Andy Gremett, senior product marketing manager at Cisco.

With IoT pushing more machines onto IP networks, Cisco believes enterprises will need more than 220,000 engineers with the skills to manage this convergence.

"If you believe the Internet of things is a real trend -- and I do -- then Cisco needs to make sure that when that acceleration happens, its customers are well-positioned to take advantage of it," Kerravala said. "I think this is one of the more important certifications [Cisco has] announced."

Network programmability cert targets networkers and developers

Cisco has developed a number of application programming interfaces (APIs) to enable enterprises and software developers to operate networks more programmatically. First, Cisco introduced its onePK APIs. Then, it introduced the APIC SDN controller for its Application Centric Infrastructure (ACI).

To encourage enterprises to take better advantage of these APIs, Cisco has introduced a series of Network Programmability Specialist certifications. The certification will train developers and networking pros to work with the onePK and ACI APIs. These four certifications-- Business Application Engineer, Network Application Developer, Network Programmability Design Specialist and Network Programmability Engineer-- are classified by job role. Each certification will offer training on Cisco's APIs and on policy-based SDN controllers.

"We've seen [network engineer and system engineer] job roles change and we're seeing roles where we have this blended person who knows and understands the network but also needs to be able to quantify what applications would help within that network," said Gremett. "Or, they need to be able to provide some programmability skills in an open network. It's that blend of skills we're looking to address."

"A lot of Cisco customers have interest in network programmability," added Kerravala. "They're just not sure what to do with it. This helps give the networking pro some ideas on how to use this. [Cisco] is also trying to get the ear of the programmer."

Kerravala said the network programmability certifications tie nicely to Cisco DevNet, the developer community that the company announced last week. With DevNet, Cisco is trying to recruit a million developers to write applications for its various APIs.

Cert help networkers align with business

Finally, Cisco introduced its Enterprise IT Business Specialist certification, which gives networking pros the skills they need to manage IT projects in a business-oriented approach. Specifically, this accreditation gives engineers the tools to speak to and influence enterprise leaders by framing a project in terms of business outcomes and financial costs. It also helps them think about how to encourage implementation of the technologies they install.

"It better enables [network engineers] to deal with the buying centers that are based in the line of business," Gremett said. "They need to have an understanding of business basics."

Many network engineers have developed some basic skills in this area, particularly around concepts like total cost of ownership and return on investment. But, engineers have mostly taken an ad hoc approach to this, Kerravala said.

"Cisco wants to standardize it a bit more," he said. "You talk to Cisco resellers, and they say everyone is focused on business outcomes. But everyone has a different definition for that. Cisco wants to standardize it a bit. You can tell this is a starting point [for Cisco]. I'd like to think they'll get into more vertically-specific business outcomes [in the future]."

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