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Why vendor-neutral networking certifications make sense – and how to get one

Why vendor-neutral networking certifications make sense – and how to get one

Ed Tittel

by Ed Tittel

You can get certified by a vendor or by a vendor-neutral third party. Here we look at vendor-neutral certifications and their requirements. 

As IT environments grow more complex, IT certifications -- particularly networking certifications -- have been viewed as a way for tech professionals to set themselves apart in the marketplace.

But do those certifications actually deliver in terms of title, salary or other professional advancements? Skeptics suggest it’s more important to learn on the job, and they hesitate to pursue a networking certification given the time and cost it takes to earn a cert that could soon become obsolete.

Certification, though, has been shown to boost an IT salary up to 13%, with networking certification providing the most ROI. "It would be best to start with a networking certification," Greg Stuart wrote in his "Do your certifications 'stack up'?" blog entry.

Certification cognoscenti often distinguish among types of certification credentials. One common differentiation is between vendor-neutral and vendor-specific networking credentials.

In this installment of our multi-part series on software-defined networking (SDN) and network functions virtualization (NFV), we examine a collection of networking certification courses to gain expertise in these technologies. These credentials take a general perspective on SDN and NFV skills and knowledge, rather than focusing only on vendor products or platforms. There's also an emphasis on open standards and related open source software.

Among vendor-neutral camps that offer SDN and NFV related certification credentials, these two bodies are quite active:

  • Open Networking Foundation (ONF). In addition to defining standards for SDN and NFV, ONF provides "a complete open source platform that pulls together the foundation pieces for creating solutions" built on "an open, collaborative development process . . .  driven from the end-user perspective." The ONF offers SDN credentials at Associate and Engineer levels as part of an educational and proselytizing effort to promote its standards and platform.
  • OpenStack.org. The OpenStack Foundation is a membership-oriented, sponsored nonprofit organization that seeks to spur growth and expand use of OpenStack. While OpenStack includes significant SDN and NFV components, its focus is primarily on cloud computing (SDN and NFV have lesser roles). OpenStack.org offers the Certified OpenStack Administrator (COA) certification, while Mirantis offers OpenStack credentials at Associate and Professional levels.

ONF Certifications

At present, ONF operates an ONF-Certified SDN Professional Program (OCSP), which validates that vendor-neutral SDN and NFV skills and knowledge for engineering professionals are timely and accurate. The ONF currently offers two credentials in this program:

  • ONF Certified SDN Associate (OCSA)
  • ONF Certified SDN Engineer (OCSE)

Web-proctored certification exams are available online through the ONF or from any of its approved SDN training and exam providers. OCSP exam testing comes from ITpreneurs, which administers tests through a hosted URL. Those who train through an ONF-approved training company get a URL for the exam at the end of training. Because training is not required, self-study candidates can contact ITPreneurs directly to make exam arrangements.

OCSA: ONF Certified SDN Associate

OCSA: ONF Certified SDN Associate

The OCSA is an entry-level credential for those who are new to SDN and NFV or who work on the business side, in technical marketing and sales positions. The primary focus of the OCSA exam is on networking and SDN concepts, OpenFlow and related architecture and ecosystem topics, plus SDN open source software and platforms. The OCSA exam poses 40 questions, and gives candidates 60 minutes to answer them. It costs $150 and includes two free exam retakes in that pricing. (Those who work for ONF member companies and organizations are eligible for a 10% discount.)

Table 1: OCSA Facts, Figures and Links

Name

ONF Certified SDN Associate (OCSA)

Home Page

OCSA page includes overview, exam objectives and more

Exam ID

OCSA-110

Exam Questions

40

Exam Duration

60 minutes

Exam Cost

$150 (10% discount for ONF members)

Exam Blueprint

See OCSA page

Requirements

See OCSA page

Prerequisites

None

Learning Resources

ONF's SDN Learning Resources page

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OCSE: ONF Certified SDN Engineer

OCSE: ONF Certified SDN Engineer

The OCSE is an advanced-level credential primarily for experienced technical professionals with a solid knowledge of SDN and NFV. The ONF describes the OCSE as a "mastery-level" SDN certification for technical professionals and emphasizes the need for hands-on experience before attempting the exam.

The primary focus of the OCSE exam is networking and SDN concepts, OpenFlow and related architecture and ecosystem topics, plus SDN open source software and platforms. The OCSE exam poses 70 questions, and gives candidates 90 minutes to answer them. It costs $240 and includes two free exam retakes. (Individuals who work for ONF member companies and organizations are eligible for a 25% discount.)

Table 2: OCSE Facts, Figures and Links

Name

ONF Certified SDN Engineer (OCSE)

Home Page

OCSE page includes overview, exam objectives and more

Exam ID

OCSE-111

Exam Questions

70

Exam Duration

90 minutes

Exam Cost

$240 (25% discount for ONF members)

Exam Blueprint

See OCSE page

Requirements

See OCSE page

Prerequisites

None; OCSA or mid-level certs from Cisco, Citrix, CompTIA, Juniper, Metro Ethernet Forum (MEF), Microsoft and others are recommended (see OCSE page for details)

Learning Resources

ONF's SDN Learning Resources page

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OpenStack Certifications

The OpenStack Foundation is a somewhat looser and less monolithic organization than the ONF, which has a broader charter. Numerous member organizations offer OpenStack training, but at present only OpenStack.org and Mirantis offer out-and-out OpenStack certification.

While OpenStack includes substantial coverage of SDN and NFV topics and software, its focus is squarely on cloud computing. Candidates for OpenStack certification should understand that SDN and NFV are only part of what's necessary to succeed in their quest for such credentials. The list of OpenStack certifications is:

  • Openstack.org: Certified OpenStack Administrator (COA)
  • Mirantis: OCM50 (Associate Level)
  • Mirantis: OCM100 (Professional Level).
OpenStack.org: Certified OpenStack Administrator (COA)

OpenStack.org: Certified OpenStack Administrator (COA)

The COA targets technical professionals with six months' or more experience in working with OpenStack and who possess the knowledge and skills needed to provide day-to-day management of OpenStack-based cloud environments.

The current exam takes the OpenStack Liberty version as its foundation, and covers core compute, storage and networking services (that last item is where SDN and NFV come into play). The performance-based COA exam puts candidates in a simulated OpenStack environment using the command line and the OpenStack Horizon dashboard, then sets tasks for them to complete and problems to solve. This web-based proctored exam costs $300 and lasts for 150 minutes (2.5 hours). One free retake of the exam is included and must be taken within 12 months of the original exam purchase.

Table 3: COA Facts, Figures and Links

Name

Certified OpenStack Administrator (COA)

Home Page

COA Details page includes overview, exam objectives and more

Exam ID

N/A (choose either Ubuntu or SUSE as base OS when signing up)

Exam Questions

Performance-based test, number of questions vary

Exam Duration

150 minutes

Exam Cost

$300

Exam Blueprint

See COA Details page

Requirements

See OpenStack COA Requirements

Prerequisites

None; 6+ months of hands-on experience with OpenStack Liberty is recommended, as is preparatory training, study and practice

Learning Resources

OpenStack Foundation COA Candidate Handbook

OpenStack Foundation Training Marketplace (look for COA classes/exam preparation, including Mirantis)

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Mirantis OCM50

Mirantis identifies its OpenStack certifications using the exam codes. Thus, the OCM50 labels the exam candidates must take and the credential they earn upon passing. The OCM50 is positioned as an associate or entry-level OpenStack certification, and covers topics related to deploying, configuring and troubleshooting an OpenStack cloud environment. The exam, which costs $300 and lasts for 90 minutes, is open book and available online.

Table 4: OCM50 Facts, Figures and Links

Name

Mirantis OCM50 Associate-Level OpenStack Certification

Home Page

OCM50 page includes overview, exam objectives and more

Exam ID

OCM50

Exam Questions

Number not disclosed; multiple-choice questions

Exam Duration

90 minutes

Exam Cost

$300

Exam Blueprint

See OpenStack OCM50 Exam Requirements

Requirements

See OpenStack OCM50 Exam Requirements

Prerequisites

None; 6+ months of hands-on experience with OpenStack is recommended, as is preparatory training, study and practice

Learning Resources

Mirantis OCM50 Certification Exam Preparation Resources

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Mirantis OCM100

Like the OCM50, the Mirantis OCM100 exam and certification use the same name. The OCM100 is positioned as an intermediate-to-advanced-level certification, and covers hands-on topics related to deploying, configuring, operating and troubleshooting an OpenStack cloud environment. Domains covered include OpenStack architecture and best practices, provisioning workflow, component interaction, and runtime operations and optimizations.

The exam is proctored and performance-based. It puts candidates in a simulated OpenStack environment where they must perform specified tasks or solve problems. Candidates often take their exams at the end of a weeklong training class, although they can choose to take the exam independently at an approved testing center. The three-hour OCM100 exam costs $600.

Table 5: OCM100 Facts, Figures and Links

Name

Mirantis OCM100 Professional-Level OpenStack Certification

Home Page

OCM100 page includes overview, exam objectives and more

Exam ID

OCM100 (exam dates/times vary, so check the OCM100 page for registration links)

Exam Questions

Performance-based exam, number of questions varies

Exam Duration

180 minutes

Exam Cost

$600

Exam Blueprint

See OpenStack OCM100 Exam Requirements

Requirements

See OpenStack OCM100 Exam Requirements

Prerequisites

None; Mirantis OS100 bootcamp training is strongly recommended

Learning Resources

The Mirantis OCM50 Certification Exam Preparation Resources also apply to the OCM100 exam

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For those interested in SDN and NFV, all of these credentials are worth investigating. For those with an intense focus on one or both of those subjects, the ONF credentials are probably the best fit.

Additional resources

Check out the entire series on networking certifications:

Ed Tittel

Ed Tittel

Ed Tittel is a 30-plus year IT veteran who's worked as a developer, networking consultant, technical trainer, writer and expert witness. Perhaps best known for the Exam Cram series of IT cert prep books, Tittel has contributed to more than 100 titles on computing topics, including information security, Windows OSes and HTML.