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IT certification programs to get in-demand skills for 2016

IT certification programs offer important skills for evolving technological needs. Data center pros will find a lot of clouds on the skills horizon, and can get these certifications to excel.

At one time, a Cisco Certified Network Associate certification was a ticket to success for data center staff. Today, DevOps, security and compliance, and cloud computing are the expert monikers that an IT pro needs to remain in demand.

Technology constantly changes, and data center technicians need to change along with it. Corporations want to take advantage of new approaches, but to do so they need a staff with the proper credentials. The right background will also open new careers doors for IT pros.

IT certification programs abound for these hot skills. Use these IT certifications to improve your skills in your current position, launch a new initiative, prove your abilities listed on job applications or simply explore the future and prepare for what's to come.

Become a knowledgeable DevOps pro

Application development is changing, with growing interest in DevOps, where data center technicians work closely with application developers to churn out new releases quickly. Technavio forecasts the global DevOps tools market will grow at a compound annual growth rate of 14.97% during the period of 2014 to 2019.

The DevOps Institute creates DevOps training and IT certification programs. This group provides a 16-hour introduction course to DevOps that stresses communication, collaboration, integration and automation functions occurring between software developers and IT operations pros.

Developed in the late 1980s, the Information Technology Infrastructure Library (ITIL) is a comprehensive set of best practices for IT service management. Educational company Global Knowledge, which runs physical and virtual classroom sessions, offers a handful of certification exams for IT pros who want to follow this change management methodology. At the bottom of the ladder, the ITIL Foundation Certificate in IT Service Management outlines fundamental terminology and processes. At the top, the ITIL Master requires that candidates explain and justify how they selected and applied a wide range of knowledge, principles, methods and techniques from ITIL to achieve desired business outcomes.

Feel secure about IT security

Security is a key element in every data center decision and there are many vendor-neutral IT certification programs.

Security is a high priority with legacy systems. The Global Information Assurance Certification programs test the knowledge and skills necessary for securing hardware, information and software. Its Certified Windows Security Administrators certification tests how well IT professionals understand security technologies, such as public key infrastructure, Internet Protocol Security, Remote Authentication Dial-In User Service, Microsoft Dynamic Access Control and Group Policy, as well as the company's BitLocker encryption and PowerShell scripting.

At the turn of the millennium, compliance was a fledgling idea in security and IT, but the passage of a wide and ever-growing range of regulations spawned demand for compliance certifications. The Certified in Risk and Information Systems Control designation, from the Information Systems Audit and Control Association, covers risk identification, assessment and response and mitigation, as well as risk and control monitoring and reporting. Another option, the Project Management Institute's Risk Management Professional IT certification program requires that a person pass an exam (170 questions, 3.5 hours), prove achievement of a secondary degree (high school diploma, associate's degree or global equivalent) and have at least 4,500 hours of project risk management experience and 40 hours of project risk management education. These IT certifications are pricey, ranging in cost from $440 to $2,800.

Security is even more important with cloud because data potentially moves from the local data center to a third-party site. The Cloud Security Alliance (CSA) industry consortium defines and raises awareness about best practices with the goal of helping create secure cloud computing environments. The CSA offered the Certificate of Cloud Security Knowledge (CCSK), with two courses to help IT pros prepare for the IT certification. The CCSK Foundation class provides a one-day review of cloud security fundamentals and the CCSK Plus class features hands-on activities where students bring a fictional organization into the cloud securely.

Going above the cloud basics

The demand for cloud computing certified pros is overwhelming. The Cloud Credential Council, an international organization aiming to streamline the development of cloud skills, estimates that, worldwide, 1,700,000 jobs are now unfilled because candidates lack needed cloud certifications.

Where should an IT professional start to cash in on the cloud shortfall? The Computing Technology Industry Association, better known as CompTIA, a nonprofit trade association, offers the Cloud Essentials Certification. The program covers the fundamentals of cloud computing and ensures that individuals understand cloud computing from both a business and a technical perspective.

Many businesses want to avoid vendor lock-in for the cloud and are moving toward standards-based options. Consequently, Technavio pegs worldwide OpenStack revenue growth at 32% annually from 2014 to 2019. Rackspace was one of the first vendors to support OpenStack and has been at the forefront of the certification movement for the open source cloud architecture. Priced at $200, the Rackspace Certified Technician for OpenStack-Icehouse enables data center techs to work with command-line interface and create image, snapshot and volume instances.

Companies desire more than just basic cloud knowledge. Interest in vendor-specific training is growing, so much so that Amazon Web Services (AWS) now offers a handful of certifications divided into two levels: three associate and two professional certifications. The AWS Certified Solutions Architect, Associate covers design and deployment of fault tolerant AWS systems; the ingress and egress of data as it moves to and from the cloud; appropriate use of AWS architectural best practices; and estimating service costs and identifying potential cost controls.

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