Cisco mulling CCIE-level certification for network designers

* Cisco asking net execs for feedback on potential CCIE for network architects

Cisco confirmed that it is planning a higher level certification for its design track that would be on par with its current Cisco Certified Internetwork Expert program. Design is the only track that is without a CCIE designation, which is set apart from the company’s other certification programs through its tough lab exams. Its other programs are based on written tests only. There are CCIE exams for Cisco’s routing & switching, network security, service provider, storage networking, and voice certification tracks.

The company offered a CCIE-level track for network designers back in 2001, but the program was scrapped before some candidates could take the exam. Now it appears the idea is back on the drawing board. Cisco has been e-mailing some CCIEs to ask their perceptions of a range of certification titles including Cisco Certified Master Internetwork Architect, Cisco Certified Master Network Architect, Cisco Certified Design Expert, Cisco Certified Network Architect, Cisco Certified Network Infrastructure Architect, and Cisco Certified Internetwork Expert – Design.

A Cisco spokesperson said: “Cisco is considering expanding the network design certification track to a level on par with the current CCIE expertise level. This could potentially demonstrate additional expertise and efforts in complex network theory and analysis.”

The spokesperson said “the demand for a high level strategic design certification has increased since 2001,” and that it has “become clear that the network designer is distinctively different [from] the CCIE. Currently, Cisco CCIEs are growing to fill the network designer roles and are not being recognized for their additional expertise and efforts in complex network theory and analysis.”

Some observers say the sticking point to the 2001 version was the lab exam element. How do you create a hands-on lab exam for network design? Cisco says “the development of a new Design Expert credential would not in any way be related to the 2001 version.” It says there have been “improvements in exam assessment techniques” that has given it confidence that “we have an executable delivery approach that would be scalable to meet demand.” It did not give away any more information other than to say that the concept may be discussed at Networkers, Cisco’s annual training and education forum taking place next week in Anaheim, Calif.

Some readers responding to the Brad Reese on Cisco blog at Network World’s Cisco Subnet community about the planned certification applaud the development of such an exam, particularly if Cisco gets the exam element right this time around. One reader wrote: “As a career network designer, I openly embrace the idea of a network design level expert certification … What people in this industry don't seem to understand is that there is a solid delineation between design engineering and field- or implementation-level engineering. It is a very difficult and time intensive process to stay up-to-date on the latest design specifications on Cisco-mandated technology pushes, as well as maintain the latest field engineering skills in IOS and whatever product group Cisco purchases this month.”

Judging by some of the titles that Cisco is considering – particularly those with “Architect” in the name – the program may not involve a lab exam at all. It could be a program that is similar to the elite Microsoft Certified Architects or the Open Group's IT Architect programs, in which candidates with a very high degree of experience undergo a peer review process.

It’s too early to judge whether there is a need for such an elite set of certifications right now, says one recruitment specialist.

Matt Calarusso, branch manager of national recruiting at Sapphire said: “While there may not been a substantial amount of individuals now who would qualify as ‘elite professionals,’ it does not mean that 5 years from now, as more individuals enter the architect-level realm there wouldn't be the need for such a certification. They might be jumping the gun a little bit but I'm sure with time and as changes in IT create new architect-level positions, you could see a reason for individuals to pursue these certifications.”

* Editor’s Note: Enter to win a copy of “Build the Best Data Center Facility for Your Business” by Doug Alger and published by Cisco Press. For a sneak peek of a chapter click here, and check out Doug’s blog for Cisco Subnet here.

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