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VMware calls future NSX certifications the 'next-gen CCIE'

VMware says future NSX certifications establish the beginning of a network virtualization career path for network and server pros alike.

VMware announced a new network virtualization career path, which includes three certifications focused on the design and implementation of NSX.

The first certification, titled the VMware Certified Professional - Network Virtualization certification, offers a basic look at installing, configuring and administering NSX. It is currently available to the general public. However, current CCIEs are able to skip the introductory course and move on to higher level course work if they choose.

The company's VMware Certified Implementation Expert (VCIX-NV) and the VMware Certified Design Expert (VCDX-NV) courses will be open to the general public in October 2014. A beta group of 39 professionals have already received their VCDX certification, which is the highest NSX cert available.

VMware hopes to establish the beginning of a new career path that is very similar in structure to Cisco's CCNA and CCIE administrator-to-expert model. In fact, VMware director of networking and security Chris McCain calls the VCIX the "next-gen CCIE."

The company is also designing a publically available fast-track course on "inter-networking" of virtual and physical infrastructure, "which is basically NSX on Cisco," said Chris McCain, VMware Director of Networking and Security.

"We're not blind to the fact that Cisco owns a large share in physical networking. We have an overwhelming amount of folks -- customers and partners -- who want to ensure they understand that these two products work well together," McCain said.

Fast track course turns networks pros into virtualization experts

Currently, VMware sees two demographics of users in its courses: the traditional "vSphere" professional and the networking administrator. This fast track course is geared toward networking folks and it includes a primer on virtualization.

"Typical networking guys don't do work in the hypervisor space," McCain said. "Some come in and don't even know what a hypervisor is."

Most network administrators are trained in Cisco technology, he added. The fast track is essentially geared toward these engineers. "If you're working with Cisco for a long time, you may not be familiar with VMware -- how do I configure things properly, etc. All our diagrams [for the course] are Cisco-related. It's to get that Cisco administrator to learn about virtualization and implement NSX on Cisco."

The inter-networking course will also teach how to integrate NSX with infrastructure from a range of other network vendors, as well as with network services, such as load balancing and firewalling.

Jason Nash, CTO at IT services company Varrow, recently completed both certification programs and said an inter-networking NSX fast track will be popular with engineers.

"There's a lot of interest among existing, well-trained network engineers to make the shift over to SDN. All the Cisco-certified people for my company are anxious to get into the NSX system, get some training and get into the labs," Varrow said.

"Given the mix of skills required for the successful completion of these certifications I think you'll see people that have a mix of networking and virtualization be the first to go through them," Nash said of Varrow employees. "Over time I expect these certifications to become very popular, second only to the standard vSphere certifications when talking about the VMware certification portfolio."

Until now, only five VMware partners were able to sell and implement NSX. That will change with the new courses. "This just opened up to more partners, including us … VMware has been very picky about the customers targeted," Nash added.

Certifications focus on NSX design, implementation

Once in action, the certifications will create a "top down model" of NSX experts in the enterprise.

"There's going to be an architect or design expert who is going to begin the process by talking to stakeholders and understanding business requirements. They're going to come up with a network architecture, and they're going to take that design document and hand it off to the implementation expert," McCain said.

From there, the implementation expert -- without having to ask questions -- will understand the design at an expert level and work either by themselves or with a team to put the design into action.

Creating NSX certs for a changing IT workforce

VMware set out to design curriculum that could train IT engineers from across the IT spectrum. To help determine course content, VMware used a test group of network engineers and system/server engineers to both develop and participate in NSX design and implementation courses.

The process took shape as a boot camp-style NSX training and was referred to as the NSX Ninja Program.

"Unlike the original expert level programs with VMware that's only internal folks, we knew this was going to be disruptive beyond what we imagined," McCain continued. "We went out and found Cisco people, VMware people, customers, partners … we had guys teaching Cisco for over a decade. We want to get input from all these folks."

The first group of individuals to complete either one or both certification courses was split between networking and server/systems engineers, with slightly larger participation from networking folks. "But overall, it was pretty even," McCain said.

By leveraging knowledge from professionals, McCain and his team were also able to gauge the level of disruption NSX would pose to their traditional job role.

"We realized that the curriculum we were putting together needed to address the skill gaps people would have if they were matriculating in this career path," McCain said. "That helped us create what we needed from a training perspective."

Ultimately, VMware created a curriculum that caters to those who are new to networking, and those who have a solid foundation but want to make a horizontal shift into network virtualization. "We addressed everything from professional level to expert level," McCain said.

McCain has high hopes that the certifications will become the gold standard of network virtualization. "We're not trying to give you a certification -- we're trying to build a career path," McCain said.

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