The 15 Most Popular IT Certifications For 2014

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Certifications are key in the industry for proving skills, gaining expertise and weighing salaries. Following up on its survey of most profitable certifications, a recent study from Global Knowledge, a Cary, N.C.-based business training and certification company, surveyed 12,000 North American IT professionals to find out what certifications were the most popular, made the most money and what made them so attractive to add to your technical arsenal. Whether respondents said they needed them for vendor-specific reasons or just for broader technical knowledge, take a look at the 15 most popular certifications to have as part of your IT portfolio.

15. MCTS: Windows 7, Configuration (Microsoft Certified Technology Specialist)

With the expiration of XP in April, Windows 7 certifications have become extremely popular as companies look to upgrade their operating systems, Global Knowledge's survey found. The MCTS certification brings expertise in Windows 7 tasks, including installing, migrating, large-scale deployments, hardware configuring, and setup, backup, security and remote access. The certification was held by 251 of the 12,000 respondents, bringing in an average salary of $78,992. The certification is still current without an expiration date but to get a new certification, VARs will have to take the newer Microsoft Certified Solutions Associate exam, which replaced the MCTS: Windows 7, Configuration exam.

14. CCENT: Cisco Certified Entry Networking Technician

Despite being the lowest average salary on the list at $71,482, the CCENT certification is extremely popular as it is the foundation for any other Cisco certifications. The certification gives a foundation knowledge for professionals looking to break into networking, providing holders the ability to install, manage and troubleshoot simpler networks, understand wireless and wired networks, LAN and WAN technologies, and routing and switching. Valid for three years, the 292 survey respondents that said they held the certification are on track to earn a CCNA R&S, the next level in Cisco certification.

13. CCNP: Cisco Certified Network Professional

Two levels in the Cisco certification hierarchy from the No. 14 spot CCENT, the CCNP certification shows a senior professional's networking expertise. The certification process requires several exams and results in an average salary of $90,833 for the 294 survey respondents that hold it. Networking professionals can choose different specialties within the certification, including routing and switching, security, voice and wireless. Global Knowledge credits the popularity of the certification to the distinction of Cisco certifications, in general, with the added benefit of advancing beyond a CCNA certification level, which may lead into management roles and better paychecks.

12. MCITP: Microsoft Certified IT Professional

With a wide variety of types, including Office 365, Windows Client, Windows Server, SQL, Exchange and SharePoint, the MCITP certification is popular because of the broad range of administrators it can appeal to, the Global Knowledge survey found. However, because much of the certification is set to be retired by July 31, 2014, the survey stated that there "is no real point" in getting the certification now, as it will be mostly replaced by the Microsoft Certified Solutions Expert (MCSE) certification. Upgrade exams will be available, though, the survey said, for the 301 respondents who said they already hold the certification.

11. VCP-DCV: VMware Certified Professional -- Data Center Virtualization

The product of specialization within the VMware VCP certifications, VCP-DCV certifies that professionals have the knowledge to install, configure, manage and scale out VMware vSphere environments. With a growing demand for virtualization technologies, the survey said it is no wonder that the VCP-DCV certification is so popular, with 344 respondents saying they hold it at an average salary of $89,767. If professionals are looking to specialize further, they can take advantage of the vSphere version designation, VCP5-DCV, or they can take it to the next step with the VMware Certified Advanced Professional (VCAP) or VMware Certified Design Expert (VCDX) certifications.

10. CCA: Citrix Certified Administrator For Citrix XenApp

Bringing in an average salary of $89,767, the CCA for Citrix XenApp certification is for installing, supporting, administering and troubleshooting a XenApp environment on Windows. Although more alternatives to XenApp have emerged, such as Virtual Desktop Infrastructure (VDI), Global Knowledge said that still remains popular as clients are looking for centralized application control, data storage and performance, with 408 respondents certified.

9. MCSA: Microsoft Certified Systems Administrator

The MCSA certification is for professionals with administrative duties around Windows Servers. The certification has since been replaced by the Microsoft Certified Solutions Associate, but remains popular with 576 respondents because it does not expire. The latest version of the certification is available for server operating systems, desktop operating systems, databases and Office 365. The MCSA certification brings in an average salary of $86,675.

8. PMP: Project Management Professional

Administered by the Project Management Institute, the PMP certification gives more than half a million active project managers worldwide certification in initiating, planning, executing, monitoring, controlling and closing projects. Stretching across multiple industries without subcategories, the PMP certification is popular because it appeals to a broad base of professionals, with 625 respondents saying they were certified, Global Knowledge said. However, it isn't easy to qualify, requiring 35 hours of PMP-related training and either 7,500 hours of project management experience without a bachelor's degree or 4,500 hours with a degree.

7. CompTIA Security+

With a growing market for security, IT professionals need to make sure they have the knowledge base to help customers clamoring for security support. Introduced in 2002, the Security+ certification gives knowledge of security issues, risk identification and analysis, disaster recovery, threat analysis, identity management, access control, cryptography, data, application and host security issues. Global Knowledge found that 705 respondents are certified with Security+ with an average salary of $84,420.

6. MCP: Microsoft Certified Professional

The foundation for all Microsoft certifications, the MCP credential is awarded to professionals who complete any Microsoft exam and is included in all high-level certifications for the vendor. MCPs specialize in a wide variety of topics, given the broad reach of the certifications, and are part of a community of more than two million MCPs worldwide, with 912 respondents saying they are certified. The popularity of the certification can simply be attributed to the broad reach of the certification for a major vendor and doesn't expire, Global Knowledge said.

5. CompTIA Network+

The next step after earning CompTIA's A+ certification and the precursor to many networking vendor certifications, the Network+ certification shows a professional's expertise in vendor-neutral networking standards, protocols, network hardware and software, OSI reference model, LANs and WANs. While the certification used to never expire, the process changed in 2011 to require a re-certification every three years. In Global Knowledge's survey, 953 respondents said they hold the certification, bringing in an average salary of $74,644.

3. (Tie) MCSE: Microsoft Certified Systems Engineer/Microsoft Certified Solutions Expert

Tied for third place, the MCSE certification includes both the Microsoft Certified Systems Engineer, which is no longer available, and the current version of Microsoft Certified Solutions Expert. The update includes Windows 2012, whereas the older version specialized on Windows NT 3.51 through Windows 2003. There isn't a direct upgrade from one certification version to another. Global Knowledge said the certifications are so popular because they have a long history and bring together a wide-range knowledge of Microsoft products, including Windows 2012, Server Infrastructure, Desktop Infrastructure, SharePoint, Communications, Messaging, Business Intelligence, Data Platform and Private Cloud.

3. (Tie) CCNA R&S: Cisco Certified Network Associate Routing And Switching

Tied with the MCSE certification for third most popular certification, the CCNA R&A certification says networking professionals are able to install, configure, use, and troubleshoot midsize networks. The certification used to be Cisco's entry-level certification, but now it is the next level up after professionals are Cisco Certified Entry Networking Technician (CCENT), No. 14 most popular. Every year, some 100,000 professionals get the certification, with 969 respondents saying they are certified with an average salary of $81,308.

2. CompTIA A+

A standard for entry-level technicians, the A+ certification is a vendor-neutral certification for maintenance of PCs, mobile devices, laptops, operating systems and printers, and is required by many vendor service techs. More than 800,000 got certified since it began in 1993. The certification used to never expire, but was updated in 2011 to require a recertification every three years. 1,356 respondents said they hold the certification with an average salary of $73,956.

1. ITIL v3 Foundation

A standard for the industry, the ITIL v3 Foundation was first developed by England's government to standardize IT management. Since it was first introduced in the 1980s, ITIL sets guidelines on best practices, covering a range of topics from availability and capacity management to application and IT operations management. Global Knowledge said the ITIL certification is so popular because it provides a "comprehensive understanding of the IT lifecycle and the concepts and terminology surrounding it." Bringing in an average salary of $97,682, Global Knowledge found 1,375 respondents who had the certification.