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CompTIA certifications float into cloud space

Third-party cloud certifications are on the rise, with CompTIA seeing cloud technology infiltrate its major certifications. But some IT experts question the value of a certification that eschews vendor-specific information.

With cloud and mobility technologies in the IT mainstream, the vendor-agnostic certification provider, CompTIA, offers tracks that focus on these areas. But a lot changes from one cloud to another.

Concessions to the cloud-centric tech world are apparent in CompTIA certifications from the staple "big three" -- A+, Network+ and Security+ -- to a host of offshoots such as Cloud+, Mobility+ and Server+.

Jobs are shifting and IT pros are moving toward the cloud, according to Amy Hagerman, a Cloud+ certified standards and policies professional at a U.S.-based financial institution.

And this transition renders technical support more complex.

"You need to know things way beyond hardware: basic networking, support of mobile devices and a very strong understanding of troubleshooting," said James Stanger, senior director of product management at CompTIA.

The A+ certification exams focus more on security, mobility and cloud with each iteration.

An update to the Network+ certification adds more cloud elements in 2015. The fundamentals on network routers remain, but the certification now covers the interplay between routers, switches and cloud-based services, Stanger said. Network+ certified staff should know what the network topology looks like to troubleshoot an entire system, independent of the vendor-specific elements.

The influence of third-platform (cloud, big data and mobility) IT may also impact an IT pro's certification path, Stanger said. The traditional route was to take the big three CompTIA+ exams, but now, a mix of fundamentals with newer certifications can pay off.

For example, a certification path from Mobility+ through Network+ will serve cutting-edge jobs. Cloud+ certification will help IT technicians branch out into virtualization, storage and hardware in cloud architectures. It also teaches technicians about the business side of cloud, like service-level agreements, and when cloud deployments are justified. To move into a cloud job from another field, Stanger recommends starting at A+, obtaining Network+ and then going for Cloud+.

"You need an understanding of the amount of layers involved in the cloud environment," said Hagerman, who holds A+ and Network+ as well as Cloud+, and various other certifications. "Sometimes there's a database cloud atop a software cloud atop an infrastructure cloud."

Hagerman pursues vendor-agnostic certifications because they show a fundamental understanding of the technology.

But vendor-agnostic knowledge isn't as valuable in an immature field, according to John Treadway, senior vice president at Boston-based cloud consulting firm Cloud Technology Partners. Cloud security, automation and other technologies vary too much from one vendor to the next.

Treadway looks for Amazon-specific cloud certifications when hiring, and says that Google or Amazon Web Services cloud certifications will be more marketable than general certifications for job seekers for a while. OpenStack certifications focus more on the company or product that's based on OpenStack, not on the standard alone, he said.

Wait and see where your organization is going, vendor-wise, Treadway said, but do pursue certifications if you want to move up in the IT field. Whether it's Network+, Microsoft Certified Solutions Associate, Rackspace Certified Technician for OpenStack or another program, certifications demonstrate skill and depth of knowledge. And all of them will eventually be "cloud" certifications.

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Essential Guide

It's more than an IT job -- it's a cloud career
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