Cisco Puts Software 'Meat' On Core CCNA Route Switch Certification

Networking giant Cisco is shifting its core Cisco Certified Network Associate (CCNA) Routing and Switching certification to have a greater software emphasis by sharpening the focus on software-defined networking, analytics and network function virtualization.

"They're under siege from so many different companies these days, and with the evolution of technology, to stay in the game, they're going to have to advance their core certification," said Mike Zanotto, chief operating officer of Campbell, Calif.-based Skyline Advanced Technology Services, a top Cisco solution provider and Gold partner. "They want the route, switch CCNA to have more software meat because all of the advance technologies that are coming into play these days. It's a good move by Cisco."

Tejas Vashi, director of product strategy and marketing at Cisco, said the revamped certification "opens up a world of new opportunities" for channel partners. "Channel partners are going to be able to increase the number of deals, increase the deal size per deal -- it's really a golden opportunity for partners," he said in an interview with CRN.

[Related: Partners: Cisco Needs To Step Up Its Software-Defined Storage Game To Compete With Dell-EMC]

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The new skills needed for the CCNA Routing and Switching certification include virtualized network functions and services, programmable networks for automation, network as the platform for analytics and policy-based network management. These skills revolve around Cisco's NFV and SDN strategy, Cisco Application Policy Infrastructure Controller Enterprise Module (APIC-EM) and virtual private network technologies for Cisco Intelligent WAN (IWAN).

The revamped certification also includes Quality of Service (QoS) principles and applicability, along with additional emphasis on Internet Protocol version 6 (IPv6) and basic network security.

"The network is going to have to evolve on the fly, so things are moving towards software and automation," said Vashi. "The way you do your job today versus what you use to do, it is much more automated, much more software-driven -- not just device- and hardware-focused as it was in the past."

The CCNA Routing and Switching certification was last updated around two years ago, according to Vashi. The new certification test is being launched this week, although it will not become mandatory for individuals to take until August.

Zanotto said the majority of enterprises need help digitizing and connecting the dots to the cloud, which spurred Cisco to restructure its core networking certification.

"This is the value-add that the channel can provide. With the new certification, they can build more of a consultative relationship with a customer and close faster," said Zanotto. "The role of the network administration is evolving and has evolved. … There is a push for software, but it's not a push saying, 'If you’re a network administrator, all you need to know is software.' "

Zanotto said for Skyline, CCNA is a minimum requirement with the "vast majority" of engineers being CCNA-certified.

"CCNA is the foundational track for everything. If Cisco doesn't change it, it doesn't make sense when they're acquiring technology, getting into new technology or making a big play in SDN and not having their core certification at least have some general information on it," said Zanotto.

The San Jose, Calif.-based network leader is pushing into software as hardware numbers have become stagnant, says Zanotto.

"They have to get those software [revenues] up, because you look at Amazon and just the idea of cloud and what people are doing … so Cisco has to send a good signal around SDN, security -- and that's a good thing," said Zanotto. "I'm interested to see how [our employees] do because I know the CCNA test is going to be harder."