New Cisco Certification Kicks Design Up A Notch

networking certification architecture

This week, Cisco launched the new Cisco Certified Design Expert (CCDE), a top-level certification on par with its Cisco Certified Internetwork Expert (CCIE) classification. Where CCDE differs is it applies a solutions-based education approach and focuses on in-depth infrastructure design knowledge, instead of the hands on implementation of networking gear. Christine Yoshida, Cisco's senior manager of portfolio management, said CCDEs will be able to assess network business requirements and translate those requirements into network designs.

According to Cisco, roughly 30 percent of today's CCIE community is responsible for designing networks. However, those design experts are no longer involved in hands-on configuration, but rather in strategic design and architecture. Yoshida said CCDE was created to recognize those network design specialists and offer incentives for experienced practitioners to continue their professional development.

Obtaining a CCDE, however, is no easy feat. David Bump, portfolio manager for Cisco's design track, said the networking powerhouse is recommending CCDE candidates have more than seven years experience in networking, though there are no hard and fast prerequisites.

Not to discredit CCIEs, Bump said CCIEs are the cooks, handling implementation and networking engineering, and CCDEs are the chefs. He estimated that for every four CCIE on staff, there will be one CCDE.

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"Having a DE brings value to a channel partner," Bump said. "It's a differentiator."

Jerry McIntosh, national director for Cisco business practices with Herndon, Va.-based solution provider ePlus, said adding CCDE to Cisco's already impressive lineup of certifications will make ePlus more visible in the market.

"It's a clear industry stamp of approval and it validates the value of the type of people we have working for us," he said. "It helps our branding. It places value on the skill set the person brings to us and our customers."

McIntosh said he hopes to have six CCDEs on staff within the next six months or so, that will represent about a third of the number of CCIEs.

"We were eager to get involved with the CCDE track," he said. "It's definitely a value point."

McIntosh said a qualified CCDE will have a firm understanding of how different network components interoperate with each other, instead of concentrating on a certain area of networking. When designing a network, that knowledge has become a necessity, especially as new technologies like virtualization, unified communications and a host of other new services all merging onto one network.

"You really need to have that level of architect involved in the conversation," he said. "The real key skill is to understand the components of the converged network and how they interact."

McIntosh said the CCDE is a way for networking professionals to break out of the crowded field of CCIEs.

"You have teams of people who have point expertise," he said. "CCDEs have a circumspect understanding of how those points interoperate. That's the one skill that's not commonly found in CCIEs."

The CCDE certification includes multi-vendor network design principles, theory and analysis along with strategic architecture concepts. The CCDE credential includes a two-part exam. The qualifying exam is a two-hour, multiple-choice test that assess fundamental knowledge of networking theories, principles, protocols and technology. The second exam, a practical exam, is an intensive eight-hour practical scenario-based exam, which will be available later this year. Pearson VUE facilities worldwide are now offering the qualification exam.

Adding CCDE to the mix falls in line with Cisco's sweeping changes of the certification program over the last several months. Other changes have included the addition of an entry-level certification, the Cisco Certified Entry Level Technician (CCENT) and updates to the Cisco Certified Network Associate (CCNA).

The CCNA updates focused on a comprehensive understanding of networking fundamentals and validate the knowledge and skills required to install, operate and troubleshoot a small to medium routed and switched network. The criteria includes the ability to implement and troubleshot protocols to manage addressing and authentication, as well as the ability to establish and troubleshoot connections to service providers over the WAN.