Storage Certifications – Part I

Anyone involved in the certification industry will tell you that these are tough times. In the days before the dot com bust, IT certifications were a means for anyone with a technical inkling and a little cash to get certified and, most likely, get a job. As a result, hoards of companies producing a hardware or software product jumped on the bandwagon and started offering a certification program (or two) to anyone willing to step up to the plate and certify.

As with practically every other part of the IT industry, storage vendors were quick to realize that they too could offer certifications, and they too could cash in as a result. The only problem was, just as some of the storage vendors began promoting their certification programs, the bottom fell out of the economy and the certification market that fed off it. Would be certification candidates starting looking more toward keeping the job they had rather than looking at getting certified and moving on to a new job.

Today, however, with many forecasting an upturn in IT recruitment over the next few years, the certification market is once again showing signs of life, and one of the areas tipped to be hot over the coming years is storage networking certifications.

What’s Available?
The range of certifications available can make choosing one a tricky task. Many of the vendor specific certifications will, quite reasonably, focus on that vendors products and it’s related technologies. While this might be a good thing for getting up to speed on that company’s products, you must consider the portability of the certifications should you decide to move to another company that uses different products. The downside is that some of the more generic certifications may be viewed as less valuable by an employer who is looking for a specific skills set and so a very specific certification. In this respect, there are really no hard and fast rules – you have to just figure out which way you want to go and then head in that direction. Of course there is nothing to say that you can’t just take more than one certification, which may be the answer to the conundrum.

One thing we did find whilst researching storage certifications is that many vendors programs are still under development. This means that the first step toward certification may be possible, but after that you are at the whim of the vendor as to when further tests or curriculum are made available. This is an important factor for anyone who might get frustrated at having to wait for a vendor to get their house in order.

Nearly all of the certification providers opt to use the tried and tested test delivery mechanisms offered through either Vue or Prometric testing. For anyone who has taken an exam for another certification program (CompTIA, Microsoft, Novell, Cisco, Oracle etc.), the process will be familiar enough. If this will be your first certification test the procedure is simple. After registering with one of the two providers, you can book a computer based test which can be taken at one of thousands of testing centers worldwide. Tests vary from 45 minutes to about 2.5 hours and are normally closed book multiple choice affairs. In nearly all cases your results are given at the end of the test allowing you immediate gratification (or commiseration) on your efforts.

The costs of tests vary greatly between certification providers but are generally between $100 and $200 per test. If the company uses both testing providers, the cost and content of the test will be the same for both, so the choice of testing provider will become one of convenience (which one has a testing center closest to you), or personal preference.

The Certifications.
When looking at each of the certification programs discussed here, it is important to remember that not every certification is going to be appropriate to every person. If you are just starting out in storage certification, you should look towards one of the more generic qualifications that will provide you with more breadth than depth. If you are a seasoned storage administrator, you are in a much stronger position to make an informed decision about a specialized certification.

The certifications discussed here are in alphabetical order and by no means represents a complete list of all the certifications available.

When it comes to specialized certifications, there are not too many that are more highly focused than Adaptec’s Certified Storage Professional. Although the program covers general storage principles, there is a very heavy emphasis on RAID and in particular Adaptec’s products. In addition to the basic ACSP cert, Adaptec also offers a program for Durastor / External Storage Certification Training. For more information, visit the ACSP homepage.

Storage switch vendor Brocade has an established certification program that focuses on
specific technical areas such as server and storage consolidation, LAN-free and serverless backup, remote data replication, and dynamic storage management.

Currently available are the tests for Brocade Certified Fabric Professional, Brocade Certified SAN Designer and Brocade Certified SAN Manager. The Fabric Professional exam is actually a pre-requisite for the other certifications and so must be taken first. The Brocade certification roadmap, which is available at Brocade’s Website, also includes information about the premier Brocade Certified SAN Architect certification, though details are scant on exactly when the necessary exams to reach this level will be available.

Of all the companies discussed here, EMC has possibly the most developed, complex and complete certification program available today. No surprise from the company widely regarded as the number one storage vendor.

Before even starting into one of the ‘tracks’, candidates must pass the EMC Enterprise Storage Fundamentals Exam, which covers basic storage networking principles along with a healthy dose of EMC product knowledge. After passing that exam, candidates can then pursue one of four tracks namely Operator, Builder, Architect and Instructor.

For each track, there is an Associate and Master Level accreditation, the difference being the level of knowledge required to attain certification. More information on the EMC certification is available on the EMC website.

Unlike the other certification programs discussed here, the Gadzoox certifications for Certified Professional and Certified Technical Professional require that candidates complete training courses rather than take a certification exam. Whether this makes the Gadzoox certs as valuable as others will depend on your personal perspective or that of your current or prospective employer. More information on the certifications can be found at the Gadzoox website.

As IBM’s product portfolio includes many other things as well as storage products, it should come as no surprise that their certification offerings are well developed. Current IBM storage related certification offerings include a smattering of storage specific certs such as IBM TotalStorage Networking Solutions and High End Disk Solutions to name just two. Each subject has a single exam associated with it. For more information visit the IBM certification Website.

SAN Director and switch manufacturer McDATA have a detailed outline for their certification program, though at present, only one certification, the McDATA Certified Storage Network Designer is available. In common with many other vendor offerings, the McDATA programs mix a general knowledge of storage networking with a concentration of product related focus. Check out the McDATA Website for the latest developments on the McDATA certs.

Network Appliance
Storage solution manufacturer Network Appliance has created a certification program with two distinct tracks designed to focus the candidates attention on Network Appliance products. The two tracks are NetApp Certified Associate (Filer) certification, which requires three exams to be taken before candidates can move on to the NetApp Certified Professional (Filer) cert which requires a further two exams. The same kind of path (with different exams) exists for the NetApp Certified Associate (NetCache) and NetApp Certified Professional (NetCache) certifications. For more information on Network Appliance certification visit the certification homepage on the Network Appliance Website.

Storage Networking Industry Association (SNIA)
Being a vendor independent organization, the SNIA is able to offer certification program free of the product orientation that many of the other certifications tracks take. Whether you think is a good or a bad thing depends on your perspective.

Current SNIA offerings include the Fibre Channel Storage Networking Professional, Practitioner, Specialist and Expert. Exams for the first two certifications are currently available, with the others scheduled to follow sometime later this year. The certifications can be taken in any order. The Fibre Channel Storage Networking Professional is, by SNIA’s own admission, designed for non-technical personnel. More information can be found at the SNIA Website.

Sun Microsystems
Sun’s highly developed storage certification program includes three distinct tracks including Sun Certified Data Management Engineer, Sun Certified Backup and Recovery Engineer and Sun Certified Storage Architect. Each certification requires the passing of a single exam, and the certs can be taken in any order. For more information visit the certification section of Sun’s Website.

Announced earlier this year, the VERITAS Certified Professional Program is designed to certify individuals on VERITAS products. According to press information the exams cover VERITAS products and their applications for data protection and high availability, though a search of the VERITAS Website yielded no further information on the programs than that.

In Part Two……
In part two of this article, we’ll talk to some industry figures about certifications and get the answer to one very important question. Are certifications worth your time, money and effort? We’ll also look at some more factors that you should consider when selecting a certification.

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