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Cisco certification

This Cisco certifications guide covers CCNA, CCNP, CCIE and more. Decide whether getting a Cisco certification is necessary for your career, which one you should get and how to study and pass your exam.

Cisco certifications have been proven to help networking professionals get a job, increase their salary, stay employed and, more directly, validate their knowledge on routing, switching, designing and securing everything Cisco. This guide focuses on how to pass your CCNA and CCNP exams but includes many other Cisco certification resources and materials.


Cisco Certified Network Associate (CCNA) certified professionals can install, configure and operate LAN, WAN and dial access services for small networks (100 nodes or fewer), including, but not limited to, the use of the following protocols: IP, IGRP, IPX, Serial, AppleTalk, Frame Relay, IP RIP, VLANs, RIP, Ethernet, Access Lists.

If you are preparing to take the CCNA, you need to understand the distinction between routing and routed protocols, as well as how these protocols function on the network.
Here, contributor David Davis shows you how to tell the difference between routing and routed protocols in this tip, Routing versus routed protocols and the CCNA.

There are several reasons why professionals want to get their CCNA as explained in the article CCNA: Earn more by knowing more. For those of you who have decided that you need to get your CCNA, has put together a CCNA exam preparation guide to help you with your studies.

Need to know more about the studying process? David Minutella tells you what equipment you need to practice your CCNA in this Q&A. He also offers you a tip on what would make studying a little more interesting.

Once you've obtained your CCNA certification, how do you keep it? Aside from taking the test over again before it expires, you can automatically recertify if you pass any Cisco exam starting with 642 or pass your written CCIE.


Cisco Certified Network Professional (CCNP) is an intermediate-level certification in the Cisco certified professional program aimed at full-time network or system administrators, or those who work with local and/or wide area network infrastructure.

The more you can add to your certification alphabet, the better off you are for advancing your current career or gaining a new position.
David Minutella, Cisco certification expert

Whether CCNP is a good path for you, Cisco expert David Minutella actually says getting a CCNP or a CCSP to specialize in network security depends. See what training and certification expert Ed Tittel has to say about having a Cisco specialty on top of the generic CCNP Certification.

Once you've decided CCNP is the right test for you to take, check to see how to study for it on your own in this Q&A with Cisco certification expert David Minutella:
Is it possible to adequately prepare for the CCNP on my own without taking any training classes?

One of the hardest parts about obtaining a certification is keeping it. Part of this difficulty is understanding how long your certification lasts for. In an example taken from Dave Minutella, a member asks him the following: I have passed my BSCI 642-801 on September 15. Do I need to take any other exam to re-certify my CCNP?

Minutella says that Cisco has cut us a break as far as recertification goes for the professional levels exams. Essentially, if you take a single exam in the professional series that you are currently certified in after 1/1/07, then you are automatically recertified. So, assuming you took the exam in September [2006], you are already recertified for your CCNP.

However, if your CCNP expires, you've unfortunately lost your CCNP credentials. With that being said, you can narrow your recertification process down to three tests by taking the 642-891 composite exam in addition to the 642-821 BCRAN and the 642-831CIT, instead of having to take all of the tests over again.

More Cisco certifications

CCNA and CCNP are just a mere fraction of the certifications which Cisco offers. Below is a listing of Cisco's certifications in varying degrees of difficulty and expertise, starting with associate and ending in expert. For a complete listing of Cisco certifications of every IT field, view Cisco's official career certifications Web site.


Associate levels, often synonymous with the apprentice or foundation levels, begin your Cisco Career Certifications. They contain the CCENT, CCNA, and CCDA certification paths.

Cisco Certified Entry Network Technician (CCENT) is a new, entry-level certification preceding the CCNA certification. Certified professionals should have the knowledge and skill to install, operate and troubleshoot a small enterprise branch network, including basic network security.

For more information on CCENT view Andrew Hickey's story:
Cisco networking certifications targets entry level

Cisco Certified Design Associate (CCDA) certified professionals can design routed and switched network infrastructures involving LAN, WAN, and dial access services for businesses and organizations. Minutella admits the CCDA does not have an abundant supply of books for studying, but in his boot camps at the Training Camp, they researched all the options and ultimately settled down on the CCDA Exam Certification Guide as the best resource. If you couple that with the CCDA/CCDP Flash Cards and Exam Practice Pack from Cisco Press, you have a well-rounded foundation for taking the exam.

Cisco Information Security Specialist (CISS) certification is an entry-level security exam. For more information on the CISS certification read this article:

Cisco's Information Security Specialist certification


The professional-level certification is the second level in general Cisco Career Certifications, similar to that of advanced or journeyman levels, including CCNP, CCSP, CCDP, and CCIP certifications.

With a Cisco Certified Security Professional (CCSP), a network professional can secure and manage network infrastructures to protect productivity and reduce costs. The content emphasizes topics such as perimeter security, virtual private networks, intrusion protection as well as how to combine these technologies in a single, integrated network security solution.

It's hard to make a judgment on the value of an individual certification. To a large part, it comes down to what your career plans are, what skills your employer needs, and what you enjoy doing.
Michael Gregg, CEO, Superior Solutions Inc.

In comparison with CISSP (a non-vendor specific certification), security and certification expert Michael Gregg says that according to ISC2, "CISSP Certification was designed to recognize mastery of an international standard for information security and understanding of a Common Body of Knowledge (CBK)." While Cisco states, "The CCSP certification provides network professionals with professional level recognition in designing and implementing Cisco secure networks." So, really these two certifications are targeted toward different markets. The CCSP is more hands-on and vendor specific towards Cisco. Depending on your role in the organization, you may benefit from both!

Learn how CCSP relates to someone interested in network design and implementation in this Q&A with Ed Tittel:
How would CCSP relate to network design and implementation?

CCIP professionals have detailed understanding of networking technologies in the service provider arena including IP routing, IP QoS, BGP, and MPLS.

View this expert response on whether taking the CCIP is the right choice:
Will I get any benefit if I pursue CCIP before attempting CCSP?

With a (Cisco Certified Design Professional) CCDP, a network professional can design routed and switched networks involving LAN, WAN, and dial access services, applying modular design practices and making sure the whole solution responds optimally to the business and technical needs and is designed to be highly available.

Expert Ed Tittel says you can't go after the CCDP until you earn a CCNA (and a CCDA as well, for that matter). But neither of these entry-level credentials is enough to help you into a job, unless you're lucky enough to find one that specifically requires either or both of them explicitly (happens rarely, but occasionally). Thus, you shouldn't let the absence or presence of these credentials stop you from looking for or accepting a job, though there's no reason why you can't start working on them as you begin your search.

Cisco Certified Voice Professional (CCVP) is aimed at IT professionals responsible for deploying and maintaining Internet Protocol telephony systems and incorporates several of Cisco's preexisting specialist-level IP telephony certifications.

David Minutella answers the following CCVP question:
Is the CCVP worth getting or should I concentrate on getting the specialized Cisco voice certs?

For more information on the CCVP certification read this news story:
Cisco cert calls out to voice pros

Get Cisco's side of the story for voice track certifications:
VoIP Certification tracks -- Cisco's story


This is Cisco's highest level of certification and only includes the CCIE certification though you can take the CCIE under various tracks: routing and switching, security, service provider, storage networking and voice.

Cisco Certified Internetwork Expert (CCIE) is Cisco's premium networking certification and includes a written exam and a long, one-day lab exam (a.k.a. practicum in other program's terminology) that is widely regarded as one of the toughest, most demanding exams around a senior level certification for expert networking professionals who design, build, implement, maintain and/or troubleshoot complex enterprise- or global-level networking infrastructures. Furthermore, CCIEs may specialize in routing and switching, communications and services, security, or voice systems and technologies.

Your interest in a subject will keep you excited about work long after the thrill of a new job or a bigger paycheck has come and gone.
Ed Tittel

If you're worried about whether or not you should get your CCIE, Ed Tittel says Cisco still claims they could hire every CCIE they produce, and there are about three jobs available for every new CCIE, at a minimum. CCIE's also routinely earn great money (from the high 80s and up, depending on location and other minutiae). If you've got the $13 K and the time, and you'd like to do the kind of work that CCIEs do, you don't need to be concerned that you won't be able to find a job once you earn that credential. If worst comes to worst, you can always work for Cisco! The hesitation to earn this certification is in the cost of the CCIE exams.

Qualified Specialist

Cisco states that the Specialist designation certifies experienced technical professionals, and those who have earned associate or professional-level Cisco Career Certifications. Specialist certifications, can enhance network professionals' core networking knowledge in technologies such as security, IP Communications, and wireless.

Many Specialist certifications align with the requirements of the Cisco Partner Specialization program.

VPN and security certifications
Cisco VPN and security specialists focus on securing network access using Cisco IOS software and Cisco PIX Firewall technologies, operating and monitoring Cisco IOS software and IDS technologies to detect and respond to intrusion activities, and configuring VPNs across shared public networks using Cisco IOS software and Cisco VPN 3000 Series Concentrator technologies.

  • Cisco Firewall Specialist
  • Cisco IDS Specialist
  • Cisco VPN Specialist
  • To learn about Cisco PIX firewalls view this article: Getting started with the Cisco PIX firewall

Wireless LAN certifications

The Cisco Wireless LAN focused certifications indicates significant knowledge of relevant factors involved in designing, deploying and maintaining end-to-end Cisco Wireless LAN solutions throughout or between buildings, without the limitations of wires or cables.

  • Cisco Wireless LAN Design Specialist
  • Cisco Wireless LAN Support Specialist
  • Cisco Wireless LAN Sales Specialist

IP communications certifications

The Cisco IP telephony focused certifications validate proficiency in designing, installing, and supporting a multi-service network solution.

  • Cisco IP Contact Center Express Specialist

  • Cisco IP Telephony Design Specialist
  • Cisco IP Telephony Express Specialist
  • Cisco IP Telephony Operations Specialist
  • Cisco IP Telephony Support Specialist
  • Cisco Unity Design Specialist
  • Cisco Unity Support Specialist

 For more voice related certification information view this tip: VoIP and IP telephony certifications

For more information on Cisco certifications visit

Cisco certification book excerpts

Use this as your personal network certification library. Download these Cisco certification book chapters to study for your CCNA, CCNP, CCSP and CCIE exams. No lending fees or purchases are necessary.

CCNA books

VLSM -- Chapter 2 of "CCNA Portable Command Guide"
Whether you're preparing for the CCNA exam or working as a network administrator this command guide will prove more than useful. Here are all the CCNA-level commands you need in one condensed, portable resource.

Fundamentals of IP -- Chapter 5 of "CCNA Intro Exam Certification Guide"
Chapter 5 of "CCNA Intro Exam Certification Guide" by Wendell Odom describes the core concepts behind OSI Layer 3. Learn about IP addressing, IP routing and some protocols useful to IP's effort to deliver packets end-to-end through a network.

Concepts in IP addressing -- Chapter 3 of "CCNA Exam Cram 2"
The CCNA exam(s) require a near-perfect fluency in subnetting. This chapter, excerpted from "CCNA Exam Cram 2" by Michael Valentine and Andrew Whitaker, discusses binary and hexadecimal numbering systems as compared with the more familiar decimal system.

Determining IP Routes -- Chapter 3 of "CCNA Flash Cards and Exam Practice Pack"
This chapter includes a complete overview of IP routes, and then tests your knowledge with 63 question and answers.

Configuring a router -- Chapter 3 of "CCNA Command Quick Reference"
Chapter 3 of "CCNA Command Quick Reference" by Scott Empson provides information and commands for configuring a router. This chapter covers names, passwords, interfaces, MOTD banners, IP host tables, saving and erasing your configurations and then discusses show commands to verify the router configurations.

Extending switched networks with virtual LANs -- Chapter 3 of CCNA Self-Study: Interconnecting Cisco Network Devices (ICND)
Chapter 3 of "CCNA Self-Study" by Steve McQuerry explores how VLANs operate to provide more effective networks by controlling broadcasts in your network.

Frame Relay -- Chapter 11 of "CCNA ICND Exam Certification Guide"
Chapter 11 of "CCNA ICND Exam Certification Guide" by Wendell Odom reviews the details of how Frame Relay accomplishes its goal of delivering frames to multiple WAN connected sites.

Cisco CCNA exam: Are you ready?
Take this 10-question quiz to see how prepared you are for the Cisco CCNA exam.

CCNP, CCSP and CCIE books

Shooting Trouble -- Chapter 1 of "CCNP Practical Studies: Troubleshooting"
This chapter from "CCNP Practical Studies: Troubleshooting" by Donna Harrington presents an introduction to troubleshooting; a review of standards, protocols and industry models; and practical troubleshooting, including baselining and documentation techniques.

Configuring Cisco VPN 3000 for Remote Access Using Preshared Keys -- Chapter 4 of "CCSP Cisco Secure VPN Exam Certification Guide"
This chapter covers the following, which you need to master in your pursuit of certification as a Cisco Certified Security Professional:

  • An overview of remote access using preshared keys
  • Initial configuration of the Cisco VPN 3000 Concentrator Series for remote access
  • Browser configuration of the Cisco VPN 3000 Concentrator Series
  • Configuring users and groups
  • Advanced configuration of the Cisco VPN 3000 Concentrator Series
  • Configuring the IPSec Windows Client

IGP route redistribution, route summarization and default routing -- Chapter 11 of "CCIE Routing and Switching Official Exam Certification Guide"
This official study guide helps you master all the topics on the CCIE Routing and Switching written exam.

More certification resources

Use this section to see what some people are saying about certifications. We also provide you with a section of tips and articles on how to certify no matter what certification you're going for.

Why certify?

Networking certification is an important part of a networking career, as discussed in this tip on four certifications for networking professionals:
Four certifications for networking professionals

Possibly one of the most sought after reasons professionals certify is to earn more money. Below is an article on the highest earning certifications:
Certifications that will earn you the most money

To see how a certification can help you, read this success story on how networking certifications helped a divorced mother of four with little knowledge of IT launch a networking career:
Networking certifications, career empower divorced mom

Pursuing a networking career takes a special breed. Here, we profile a senior engineer who left his previous job behind to begin a networking career with the help of Cisco certifications:
Networking certifications help engineer excel

Having a college degree doesn't mean you're ushered into the IT department:
Education doesn't equate an IT job

Why not to certify

In this response, David Minutella talks about the validation of certification and what IT managers should be aware of:
Validity of certification

Ed Tittel explains why certifications expire in this debate:
How does any certification expire if a degree never does?

How to certify

Learn steps to get certified. Our networking checklist download includes a cartoon (with Dave, the IT guy) and a quick networking technical tip. Read the PDF, print it out and tack it to your wall:
Networking certification PDF

Signing up for IT certification exams is easy. Preparing and taking them is another story. Here are five easy steps (and more) to ensure certification success.
IT certification in five (plus) steps

Next Steps

How to choose an SDN certification or training program

Is the Cisco CCIE certification worth the trouble? Some pros weigh in.

Getting your Cisco Collaboration cert? Quiz yourself. 


This was last published in July 2007

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