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Five data center certifications admins need to know

Data center certifications, including those from VMware and Cisco, can provide a career boost for admins. Consider taking one of these five exams to expand your knowledge.

As the bedrock of business computing, data centers remain a key area of importance. But, the focus has shifted...

away from traditional hardware considerations, emphasizing the importance of advanced capabilities like virtualization, networking and design.

Let's review five advanced data center certifications for IT professionals.

BICSI Data Center Design Consultant

The design and implementation of modern data centers typically involves a broad range of knowledge in mechanical, electrical, computing and communication systems as well as background in reliability, security and building considerations. The Data Center Design Consultant (DCDC) certification from Building Industry Consulting Service International (BICSI) supports professionals involved in planning, building and running data centers, such as data center or project managers, consultants, engineers and architects.

BICSI DCDC data center certifications are vendor-neutral and based on two core study areas. BICSI's DC101: Introduction to Data Center Design is an online, self-paced offering that covers the basics of data center design, including design concepts, criteria, systems, components, sustainability, commissioning and maintenance. BICSI's DC102: Applied Data Center Design and Best Practices is a classroom-based five-day course that focuses on practical applications of data center design practices for both new and retrofit designs. Course pricing varies with BICSI membership and prevailing discounts, but both course components can total close to $4,000 for non-members. In addition, you'll need at least two years of current data center design or construction experience.

The exam itself is a single, 100-question computer-based test that takes about two hours to complete. You'll need to pay an application fee and an exam fee. You must maintain a certification with at least 24 hours of BICSI continuing education credits to remain current for three years. As with the course preparation, the fees vary with BICSI membership, and non-members may need to shell out more than $600 for application and exam together.

Cisco Certified Network Associate Data Center

The traditional focus of data center design and architecture is shifting away from discrete server and storage subsystems to embrace the broader value of networking and communication -- tying those subsystems together for availability and performance. This is particularly important as virtualization drives up the utilization and interdependence of computing resources. The Cisco Certified Network Associate (CCNA) Data Center is intended as a baseline certification for IT professionals with one to three years of networking expertise.

CCNA Data Center carries no formal prerequisites, and the exam involves two principal modules. The 640-916 DCICT Introducing Cisco Data Center Technologies exam tests a candidate's knowledge of data center concepts like network virtualization, server virtualization, storage, load balancing, unified computing and so on. Candidates can use the DCICT course to prepare for this exam. The 640-911 DCICN Introducing Cisco Data Center Networking exam portion of the certification covers networking concepts in the data center environment. This starts with network basics, addressing schemes, configuration, troubleshooting and setting up virtualization in the network.

Each computer-based exam takes about 90 minutes to complete 75 questions. Each exam lists for $250, and certification is bestowed when both exams are completed successfully. CCNA Data Center certifications are valid for three years from the date the exams are passed.

Data center certifications
An overview of data center certifications

Cisco Certified Network Professional Data Center

IT professionals that tackle a CCNA certification will usually follow it up at some point with more advanced network design and troubleshooting data center certifications. Cisco Certified Network Professional (CCNP) Data Center certifications remain a quintessential credential for networking pros with three to five years of experience in network architecture, design, engineering and service roles.

CCNP Data Center requires a current CCNA Data Center or any Cisco Certified Internetwork Export certification as a prerequisite. You can choose four exams from a pool of six, based on an area of specialization that can best suit your career goals or organization's needs.

There are two required exams. One tests knowledge of Cisco Unified Computing with concepts such as computing environment setup in stand-alone and rack-mountable configurations, storage resource provisioning, backup, management and deployment in virtualized environments. The other tests knowledge of implementing Cisco's Unified Fabric architecture in a data center along with security, management, high availability and network virtualization.

You can also select from either of two sets of supplemental exams that suit either a design or troubleshooting track.

Each of the four constituent exams consists of up to 75 questions and requires about 90 minutes per exam to complete. Each one lists for $250 and certification is bestowed when candidates successfully complete all four exams. CCNP Data Center certification is valid for three years from the date the exams are passed.

Microsoft Certified Solutions Expert

Operating systems such as Windows Server are the foundation for many data center applications, and the Microsoft Azure public cloud provides even more computing and storage alternatives.

The Microsoft Certified Solutions Expert (MCSE): Cloud Platform and Infrastructure replaces the aging MCSE: Server Infrastructure certification. It builds on entry-level Microsoft Certified Solutions Associate (MCSA) certifications and validates skills in cloud technologies, identity management, systems management, virtualization, storage and networking. It's a recognized certification for a range of roles including cloud administrator, cloud architect, computer support specialist and information security analyst, among others.

First, you must earn an MCSA certification in Windows Server 2016, Cloud Platform, Linux on Azure, or Windows Server 2012. Once a suitable MCSA is complete, take any one elective exam. There are currently 10 available electives, including those that cover Azure implementation, Azure architecture, cloud data design and implementation and big data analytics.

You can schedule exams directly through Microsoft -- each cost about $165. Exams can present up to 60 questions and can take from 120 to 150 minutes to complete. You must renew MCSE certifications every three years, typically by passing one recertification exam that emphasizes changes to the technology.

VMware Certified Professional 6 – Data Center Virtualization

VMware has emerged as a major virtualization provider, and the VMware Certified Professional 6 - Data Center Virtualization (VCP6-DCV) certification can be an important credential for data center professionals using VMware vSphere 6.

VCP6-DCV is an intermediate certification that normally follows the introductory VMware Certified Associate certification. You must have at least six months of direct experience with vSphere 6, and you'll need to attend approved training courses before sitting for two required exams.

The first exam tests knowledge of vCenter Server and ESXi installation and configuration, vSphere networking, vSphere storage, VM and vApp deployment and administration, availability and resource management, basic troubleshooting and vSphere monitoring. The second exam tests more comprehensive knowledge of topics, including vSphere 6 security and resource management.

VCP6-DCV training is roughly the same cost as other live, instructor-led training, and you can expect to spend over $4,000. The training is required as part of the certification process. Once the training is complete, you can expect to spend almost $350 on exams through VMware. Each exam takes about 90 minutes to complete and ranges between 65 and 85 questions. If you're already certified in vSphere 5 (VCP5-DCV), you only need to take a single VMware Certified Professional 6 – Data Center Virtualization Delta exam (2V0-621D) to maintain certification for vSphere 6. The delta exam costs $225, covers 65 questions, and takes about 75 minutes to complete.

VCP6-DCV certification is valid for two years. Renew these data center certifications by taking the exam that is most current, or by earning a new VCP certification for a different product or training track.

Next Steps

Virtualization certifications can set admins up on the right foot

How does self-certification get involved with data center design?

Microsoft revamps Windows Server certifications

This was last published in January 2017

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Which certifications did you acquire in 2016, or plan to pursue for 2017?
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I plan to acquire the Wireshark Certified Network Analyst (WCNA) certification and renew my Cisco certs.

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