Cisco retools core routing and switching certification to sharpen focus on SDN, IoT

The refreshed CCNA Routing and Switching certification reflects new skills requirements brought on by digital transformations

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The role of network engineer is changing as companies undergo digital transformations. To keep pace with the changes, Cisco is refreshing its core routing and switching certification to ensure that certified network pros have the right skills as companies move toward Internet of Things, cloud computing, network programmability and policy-based network management.

The changes announced today pertain to the Cisco Certified Network Associate (CCNA) Routing and Switching certification, which is geared for associate-level network engineers. Late last year, Cisco introduced a new framework at the expert level (Cisco Certified Internet Expert, or CCIE) to address the same emerging technologies.

Digitization is changing business, and as enterprises migrate toward controller-based architectures, it’s not enough for network engineers to just know about routing and switching, says Tejas Vashi, director of product strategy and marketing at Cisco. Cisco is forecasting 50 billion networked devices and connections worldwide by 2020, along with an explosion in worldwide IP traffic and the number of machine-to-machine interconnections. "You have a whole different landscape of what’s being connected to what," Vashi says. "It's also driving a whole bunch of big data analytics that need to be analyzed and utilized and turned into actual business outcomes."

Upgrades to the CCNA Routing and Switching certification address the fundamentals of programmable networks, including controller types and tools that are available to support software-defined networks. The revised program also aims to ensure network engineers understand how virtualized and cloud services will interact with and impact enterprise networks. Quality of Service (QoS) principles are part of the update, including marking, shaping, and policing mechanisms to manage congestion. There’s increased focus on IPv6 routing protocols and configuration, as well as expanded VPN coverage to include dynamic multipoint VPN, site-to-site VPN, and client VPN technologies.

"The role of the folks working on the network needs to evolve," Vashi says. "Does everybody need to be a security specialist or data scientist, or everybody needs to know virtualization? No, but everybody needs to be aware of how [these technologies are] going to impact what they do on a day-to-day basis."

Today’s business applications are driving a need for scalability and for a different, more automated approach to configuring the network, says Antonella Corno, senior manager of marketing at Cisco. “That means two things: on the one side, it means that the humans that are configuring the network need to evolve in terms of skills, and on the other side, it means that the infrastructure needs to evolve in terms of features to support this evolution,” Corno says.

Demand for analytics is also driving a shift toward policy-based network management. "Looking into the traffic, the data, in real time allows you to be dynamically configuring your infrastructure to allow the applications to run in the best optimized way,” Corno says. “Things that before you had to do manually -- due to the scale, you can't do it manually any more. You need that automation layer."

The CCNA Routing and Switching certification was last updated about two years ago. The new certification test is being rolled out this week, and there’s a grace period of a few months before the new standards become mandatory.

"Things have evolved so quickly," Vashi says. "It's important for hiring managers to have this benchmark, and it's important for the certified individuals to realize that they will actually be, with their next refresh, continuing to remain relevant in the industry."

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Copyright © 2016 IDG Communications, Inc.

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