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In the first part of this look at storage certifications, we examined some of the certification programs that were available and what you needed to do to get them. In this, the second part of that article, we look at some more of the factors you should consider before pursuing a certification. We also take a look at a question that may be even more important than the selection of the right program. Are storage certifications worth having?
A Risk Worth Taking?
Taking a certification, any certification, is an investment of time and money. As with any investment, you want to be reasonably sure that the investment will yield a return - the more the better. In the same way as with financial investments, there are safe choices - the mainstream certifications such as the Microsoft Certified Systems Engineer (MCSE) or Cisco Certified Network Administrator (CCNA) - then there are those certifications that are a little more speculative. It would have to be the latter of these categories that storage related certifications fall in to.
With storage still being a nascent industry, no-one really knows if the projected phenomenal growth will occur, or on what timescales that growth will take place. So in a sense, gearing your certification choices towards pursuing a storage certification is a little like gambling on stock in a Silicon Valley tech start up. The risks are high, and it may be that the projected growth never quite bears out. As with the speculative stock purchase, though, the returns could likewise be huge. If the storage industry grows at anything like the projected rates, the demand for skilled techs with the right qualifications and background will outstrip supply in short order. Continuing the investment analogy - it should be remembered that past performance is no indication of future performance and so there are no guarantees. Past performance does make for interesting reading though.
For historic parallels, you might want to consider other significant events in the IT industry and their effects on demand for skilled personnel and thus certification. Good examples are the move from NetWare to Windows NT, or the emergence of network routers as a mainstream technology. In each of these cases, people who had the certifications, knowledge and experience, as the ball started rolling, got the plum jobs. Over time, as more people caught on and supply started to catch up with demand, the plum jobs became fewer and the competition for them stiffer. Even still, those who had held related certifications for some time now had the upper hand as they had also gained valuable experience.
Enough of the Cautions Already!
So, are you ready to take a gamble on a storage cert? Will you step up to the plate and become one of the few people toting around storage certifications in your search for work? Before you start on the path, there are few things to consider.
One of the problems associated with technical certifications is they are often hard to study for. Unless you have a healthy bank balance, buying tens of thousands of dollars worth of storage networking equipment will not be an option and so you'll need to consider how you will get the hands on experience required for some of the certification exams. It might be better to focus on exams that are more theory based first, and then (all things going as you hope) study for the more hardware intensive exams while you are working with storage on a daily basis.
Having high levels of hardware requirements is not unique to storage certifications. This was a hurdle that was somewhat addressed by software based router simulations for Cisco certifications and free copies of operating systems for networking cert's. Such measures are unlikely to be available, or be of much help, when studying for storage certifications. Although, as with many other certifications, a good deal of knowledge is theoretical - standards, procedures, technologies etc., there is also a practical element to storage which is hard to relate to unless you have access to the technologies or products discussed. For those already working in a storage environment, exposure may not be hard to come by, but for people striking out on their own in an effort to enter the storage industry as a tech, this is more of a concern.
Outside of having access to the appropriate equipment for studying, there are no other major hurdles in storage certification that are not present in other certification tracks. There are a few subtle differences, though, that you should be aware of. First of these is access to study resources.
While most other certification programs have a significant amount of study resources behind them, the 'newness' of storage certifications and their specialization might make it hard to find study resources. Technical book publishers, quite understandably, go where the action is as far as producing titles for certifications. At present there are very few study guides for storage certifications which will add to the challenge of preparing to take your certification. The unavailability of books is not the only area where you are likely to come up short on resources. There are very few study groups, no simulated exams (that we are aware of) and few preparation courses. Studying for a storage cert can be a lonely business, so you should prepare yourself accordingly.