Cisco Adds Specializations To Its CCNP Routing & Switching Certification

The network certifications offered by Cisco went through a major shift in 2020. Among the most significant changes was the option to specialise in the Cisco CCNP certification at a professional level. Before the changes that came in last year, Cisco offered ten specialisations and certifications related to the CCNA (Cisco Certified Network Associate) certification. But now, there are no different CCNA certification tracks. There is only one exam and it focuses on the fundamentals of networking. Likewise, the CCNP certification has seen a few significant changes in terms of its specialisations and the path to getting certified.

Before we get into that, let’s take a look at the various certification programs that Cisco offers. 

Cisco Certification Program Overview: 

Cisco offers a wide range of certification tracks. These are:

  • CCENT (Cisco Certified Entry Networking Technician) - This track has expired. 
  • CCT (Cisco Certified Technician)
  • CCNA (Cisco Certified Network Associate)
  • CCDA (Cisco Certified Design Associate)
  • CCNP (Cisco Certified Network Professional)
  • CCDP (Cisco Certified Design Professional)
  • CCIE (Cisco Certified Design Expert)
  • CCAr (Cisco Certified Architect)

In the career program that Cisco offers, you can choose from a wide range of pathways and certifications as mentioned above. The two broad routes in which you can categorise these certifications are network architecture and network activity.

In the Cisco network certification track, candidates usually start with the CCENT certification, followed by the CCNA. The next step is the CCNP certification and, at last, the CCIE. On the other hand, while design-oriented professionals also start with CCENT, their next step is not the CCNA. Instead, they move up to the CCDA, then CCDP, CCDE and finally, CCAr.

A wide range of specialisations is available to you through the Cisco Career Certification program. These credentials assess and validate a candidate’s expertise in working with specific Cisco technologies. This could be data centre application services, rich media, messaging and voicemail. These technology specialisations are divided in two categories. One focuses on technological specialists while the other focuses on digital transformation specialists. Both of these groups of specialists can choose from 15 technological specialisations. 

In the technical category, there are six areas in which you can look at gaining expertise. These are:

  • Network programmability
  • Data Centre (FlexPod)
  • Collaboration
  • Service Provider
  • IoT (Internet of Things)
  • Operating System Software

It takes three years to complete certifications at the fundamental level, associate level and professional level. The CCIE and other specialist certifications take another two years and the CCAr takes five years. A Cisco professional needs to regularly update their skills and credentials through recertification tests. 

What is Covered in the CCNP Credential:

The fundamental CCNP exam comes as a multiple-choice question exam focused on providing a deeper understanding of concepts that have been introduced in the CCNA curriculum. This includes building larger networks to provide complex solutions and determining effective troubleshooting.

The specialisation exam or concentration exam goes into deeper detail and covers key areas. The concentration or specialisation you choose will depend on the career path you wish to take and your IT knowledge background. With the rapid advancements in technology, new tech jobs in areas like network security are bound to increase exponentially. There is a rising demand for all technology domains today, so you don’t need to worry about skills or certifications becoming obsolete anytime soon. 

Cisco CCNP Certification Specialisations:

Candidates who focus on the CCNP certification need to clear two certification exams. The first one focuses on fundamental networking principles, while the other one covers one of the six CCNP domains of specialisation. These domains are:

  • CCNP Enterprise: This was earlier called the CCNP Routing and Switching certification. According to official Cisco information, the fundamental exam for a CCNP Enterprise credential covers topics like dual-stack (IPv4 and IPv6), virtualisation, architecture, network assurance, infrastructure, automation and security. The concentration exam focuses on areas like SD-WAN, network design, automation and wireless. For every certification at the professional level, candidates need to choose one concentration exam.
  • CCNP Data Center: The fundamental or core exam for Data Centre covers skills related to the implementation of data centre technologies like compute, network, storage, security and automation. The concentration exam covers topics like design, configuration, troubleshooting and implementation of Cisco infrastructure and hardware.
  • CCNP Security: The first exam for CCNP Security assesses a candidate’s security infrastructure knowledge. The concentration exam tackles domains like network security using Cisco firewalls, Cisco identity services engine implementation and configuration and email security.
  • CCNP Service Provider: The core Service Provider exam covers your service provider infrastructure knowledge, while the concentration exam focuses on areas like VPN services, automation and advanced routing. 
  • CCNP Collaboration: The core Collaboration exam covers your understanding of collaboration infrastructure. Meanwhile, the concentration exam focuses on Cisco Collaboration application implementation and automation deployment. 
  • Cisco Certified DevNet Professional: This specialisation’s core exam covers software design and development knowledge which includes using application security and deployment, APIs, Cisco platforms and automation and infrastructure. The concentration exam covers areas like data centre automation, DevOps automation, security automation, cloud and IoT. 

Cisco Certification Levels:

Entry-Level Cisco Certifications:

There are two entry-level credentials you can earn with Cisco - the CCENT (Cisco Certified Entry Networking Technician) and the CCT (Cisco Certified Technician) credentials. These certifications don’t have any prerequisites. An applicant needs to pass just one exam to earn either credential. It covers specific domains like installing, managing and troubleshooting small networks or branches of enterprise networks and enforcing fundamental network security. 

Associate-Level Cisco Certifications:

The CCNA (Cisco Certified Network Associate) and CCDA (Cisco Certified Design Associate) credentials are the two certifications Cisco provides at the associate level. You need to clear either one or two qualifying exams to earn these credentials, based on which track you choose. The CCNA credential validates your skills with wired or wireless network installation, troubleshooting and support. Some specialisation tracks you can choose from are Collaboration, Cloud, Data Centre, Cyber Ops, Routing and Switching, Industrial, Wireless and Security. 

Professional-Level Cisco Certifications:

This is the level where CCNP credentials lie. Cisco provides two professional or technical certifications. These are the CCNP (Cisco Certified Network Professional) and CCDP (Cisco Certified Design Professional). If you want to earn the Cisco CCDP credential, you need to clear three qualifying exams. You also need to hold the CCDA and CCNA Enterprise certifications, along with the CCDE or CCIE credentials, 

Expert-Level Cisco Certifications:

There are two prestigious Cisco certifications provided at the expert level. These are the CCIE (Cisco Certified Internetwork Expert) and CCDE (Cisco Certified Design Expert) credentials. Neither of these certifications has any prerequisites and require you to clear one qualifying written exam and a comprehensive practical exam. 

Architect-Level Cisco Certifications:

Getting the CCAr (Cisco Certified Architect) certification is a rewarding step for professionals working in roles like data centre architects and network architects. A CCAr credential is the Cisco equivalent of a doctorate, the highest certification level you can achieve in this track. The CCAr certification validates your skills as a senior network infrastructure architect, especially relating to designing and planning IT infrastructures for business strategies. 

Earning Opportunities with a CCNP Certification:

According to a Foote Partners research report, a networking certification holder sees an average increase in base pay of about 5% per annum. This aligns perfectly with the CCNP certification. However, some CCNP credentials perform even better. The CCNP Security credential is among the world’s most valued specialisations CCNP offers today. It comes with an average annual pay rise of 10%.

More and more businesses today are searching for candidates who have more than simple fundamental-level networking skills. With the growing challenges for network security, business organisations no longer want to outsource cybersecurity requirements to third parties. Instead, they want to hire security professionals to work as a part of their internal team. This is the key reason for the rising demand for network security professionals today. 

The CCNP Enterprise certification has also seen a high level of growth, adding growth pay at 6% per annum. It has grown in value by 20% since 2021. According to data shared by Payscale, a CCNP certification holder’s average salary is approximately $97,000 per annum.

Several factors affect the exact salary you earn, including your location, industry, employer, experience and specialisation. However, it is safe to say that CCNP specialisations earn you a significant salary jump and will certainly jumpstart your career.

If you know the area you wish to specialise in, it’s time to take your career to the next level. Enrol in a Cisco CCNP certification training course on Koenig today.

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Armin Vans
Avni Singh has a PhD in Machine Learning and is an Artificial Intelligence developer, researcher, practitioner, and educator as well as an Open Source Software developer, with over 7 years in the industry.

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