Cisco Addresses Broadening Data Center Skills Gap

Considered the second largest IT certification heavyweight, sandwiched in between Microsoft and Comptia, Cisco is revamping its data center education capabilities with a job-role-focused training and certification program. It includes CCNA (Cisco Certified Network Associate) Data Center, CCNP (Cisco Certified Network Professional) DataCenter and CCIE (Cisco Certified Internetwork Expert) Data Center, as well as a product training portfolio. “The knowledge gap is significant, especially if you go to the more advanced technologies,” said Cisco’s Antonella Corno, product manager for Data Center virtualization and cloud product portfolio.

Besides the knowledge gap in technologies, there’s also been a shift in roles, she said. The roles have changed and what they do daily changes too. Roles are transforming more quickly in the data center than any other space in IT, and both networking professionals looking for a new career choice, and current data center professionals who want to maximize their data center equipment design, installation and maintenance skills, will benefit from this new certification track. “The courses are not designed around products but around the skillsets… not Cisco roles, and not exclusively for our products.”

According to a September study, “Demand for IT Networking Professionals in USA”, the top three technical skills in demand are network administration (64%), database management (51%), and desktop support (46%). The four fastest growing IT jobs are network and computer systems administrators (28%), information security analysts, Web developers and computer network architects, tied with computer system analysts (22%), and computer and information research scientists (19%).

What we’re seeing in this space that individuals are being pushed in multiple ways, from new technologies to new business challenges, said Tejas Vashi, director of product management, Cisco. “This is where we saw the broadening of the skills gap in the industry.”

Cisco business units are enhancing Nexus and UCS product portfolios every 4-6 months, which requires continual evolution of the product training portfolio, he said. “On the job front, we’re seeing hiring managers looking for people who really understand the data center from the ground up, technology as well as business.”

Cisco has been certifying 50,000 to 100,000 entry-level CCNAs annually since 2000, as well as a lesser number of holders of its more advanced credentials. All combined, the total annual number of Cisco certified professionals is probably around 200,000 – 250,000. Microsoft probably certifies at least 300,000 individuals per year – perhaps even as many as half a million, while Comptia probably certifies 200,000-plus individuals annually.

However, while Cisco rules the networking roost, the data center is a relatively new market for the company, who started muscling into server territory previously owned by the likes of IBM, HP and Sun/Oracle with the launch of its Unified Computing System initiative in 2009. At the time of the launch Jon Oltsik, senior analyst at the Enterprise Strategy Group, called it a daring move in this economy, created a wedge in Cisco’s relationships with HP and IBM.

As of this month, Cisco is still looking up at the data-center giants, but it has  narrowed the gap. In Q4FY12 its data center revenue increased 90% year-over-year and 42% quarter over quarter; UCS bookings increased 58% YoY; UCS has an annualized run rate of $1.6 billion; and as of August, there were over 15,800 unique UCS customers, including more than half of the F500.

Cisco’s Data Center training and certification portfolio, covering the associate to expert level, now addresses the job roles of design, implementation and troubleshooting across the two key pillars of the Unified Cisco Data Center architecture, Cisco Unified Computing and Cisco Unified Fabric.

CCNA Data Center lays the foundation for job roles such as Data Center Networking Administrators that require competence in areas including network and server virtualization and storage and IP networking convergence.

CCNP Data Center is aligned to the job role of Data Center Network Designers and professional-level Data Center networking practitioners. The certification validates an individual’s capabilities, including troubleshooting a virtualized computing environment based on the Cisco UCS platform focusing on storage and network connectivity, installation, memory, adapter connectivity and booting issues, drivers, BIOS and deploying a virtualized environment.



Author: Steve Wexler

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