Cisco Rolls Out New Partner Certifications Around ACI, Internet of Things

Cisco Systems this week unveiled a new series of partner certifications aimed at enabling solution providers to go to market with Cisco's Application Centric Infrastructure (ACI) and a new generation of products around the Internet of Things.

The San Jose, Calif.-based networking giant also updated its Cisco Certified Networking Professional (CCNP) Switching and Routing certification and introduced a new certification designed to help enterprise CIOs better communicate the business value of Cisco technologies to executives and line-of-business teams.

On the SDN front, Cisco took the wraps off of four new specialist certifications focused on driving network programmability and automation with software-defined networking (SDN) technologies like Cisco ACI and Cisco's Application Policy Infrastructure Controller (APIC). The four new Cisco Network Programmability Specialist certifications are Business Application Engineer, Network Application Developer, Network Programmability Design Specialist and Network Programmability Engineer.

Related: Cisco Launches 'Fog Computing' Platform For Internet Of Things

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These four new certifications are meant to reflect the evolving role of network engineers, who, given the rise of SDN and technologies like ACI, need to have a better understanding of network automation, network programmability and how business applications interact with the network, according to Tejas Vashi, director of marketing and product management at Learning@Cisco, Cisco's training and certification arm.

"Network engineers not only need to be able to scale their networks, but they need to automate to reduce the time they are spending on configuration and actually spend [more time] on innovation and design aspects," Vashi said.

In order to achieve any of these four specialist certifications, partners and network engineers must pass two exams: one on the Cisco Open Networking Environment Platform Kit (ONE PK) and one on Cisco ACI and APIC.

Launched in November, ACI is Cisco's answer to SDN, a market expected by analyst group IDC to reach $3.7 billion by 2016. Unlike the software overlay SDN model being embraced by companies like VMware, Cisco ACI involves hardware -- namely, Cisco's new line of Nexus 9000 switches -- coupled with the Cisco APIC controller, which drives the network automation piece.

John Growdon, senior director of data center sales, worldwide channels at Cisco, said last week that Cisco has already started rolling out a training program focused on ACI, with "hundreds" of partners having already participated.

Cisco started shipping the Nexus 9000 switches last year, and just this week started shipping APIC. Cisco in May said 175 customers have already adopted the Nexus 9000.

NEXT: Bullish On ACI

Jim Kavanaugh, CEO of World Wide Technology, a St. Louis, Mo.-based Cisco Gold partner, ranked No. 12 on CRN's Solution Provider 2014 list, said it's still early on in terms of ACI adoption, but that WWT's engineering team is "very bullish" on the product.

"I feel very good about all the things that I am hearing from our engineers working with ACI and how it really has the opportunity to change the game [in terms of] a platform and how to leverage that platform from an efficiency and an agility perspective that you just really haven't been able to do to date," Kavanaugh said.

For the Internet of Things (IoT), Cisco introduced the Cisco Industrial Networking Specialist certification. Curriculum for this certification will focus on the convergence taking place between operational technology (OT) and IT roles, particularly in markets like manufacturing or industrial plants, as the Internet of Things kicks off, Cisco said.

"In order to make sure individuals who are managing manufacturing plants can do their jobs better, we need to get IT and networking skills to these individuals," said Sudarshan Krishnamurthi, senior product manager, security and IoT education strategy at Learning@Cisco.

While the Industrial Networking Specialist certification is largely aimed at manufacturing plant operators, it also will be a requirement for Cisco partners to sell Cisco IoT products, including its industrialized or ruggedized lines of switches and routers.

Meanwhile, Cisco introduced its Enterprise IT Business Specialist certification, designed to help enterprise CIOs communicate the business value of Cisco technologies to executives and line-of-business teams. This certification is a counterpart of the Business Value Practitioner certification Cisco unveiled in March, which is focused on helping partners sell to line-of-business teams. The Business Value Practitioner certification is now required of all Cisco Gold partners.

Vashi said the new Enterprise IT Business Specialist certification, while not designed for partners, is still a plus for Cisco solution providers, ensuring that their messaging around business outcomes and ROI is understood and well-received by the more technical customers they sell to.

"The worst thing for a presenter is to walk into a room full of people that are staring back at you with blank faces," Vashi said.

Lastly, Cisco updated its CCNP Routing and Switching certification to focus on the IPv6 protocol, along with a new training program for its Unified Contact Center Enterprise (UCCE) v10.0 solution.