Networking developers have been longtime proponents of certification.
CNE – Certified Novell Engineer – was, perhaps, one of the earliest certification-related acronym to become prevalent in the technology industry (when it stood for Certified NetWare Engineer).
Today, the Waltham, Mass.-based networking developer offers partners non-certified status (as members of the Novell Reseller Community) or its highest level – Platinum.
To become Platinum partners, solution providers pay a $1,500 fee, must have a set number of people with technical and sales certifications on-staff and be able to demonstrate Novell technology.
For integrators relying on Novell products, the pay-off can be relatively fast: As Platinum partners, they receive discounts of 30% on technical support, partner engagement support packages and solutions support for partners' packages; 20% off any exam and $595 off up to five passes for Novell's annual BrainShare technical conference. By comparison, Gold partners receive 20% discounts on support, 10% off exams and a discount on only two passes, according to Novell.
Of even more value is Platinum partners' top-billing for leads and up-front listing in the developer's partner locator. By Novell's estimate, becoming a Platinum partner raises the value of a VAR by about $30,000; Gold status is worth about $10,000 Silver adds $2,000, the company said. Cisco, too, emphasizes both technical and sales capabilities with its certification programs. "From a channel's point-of-view, our mission is pretty simple: It is to enable our partners to drive growth. It is also very important that partners are very professional," said Cisco's Brar.
"It does turn out that Gold partners do more revenue than Silver partners or Premier partners," he said, of the vendor's highest-level of certified providers. "We do not have a volume-based program. These badges are focused on capabilities. The volume follows the capability."
While proof of certification can be a valuable asset, proof-of-experience should also be a consideration for vendors and customers, said Grey Wolf's Sundahl. Alternately, certification testing could be more valuable if it were overseen by a non-vendor entity, he suggested.
"Let's look at doctors or accountants or attorneys. They're all state-certified. In our business, a guy could be mowing lawns and studying for his MCSE at night, then doing networks the next day," he said. "What is the value there?"
Rather than creating static company certifications, the IT industry's approach – especially in crucial, mission-critical areas such as networking –should embrace an ongoing education format, said Sundahl. This would mirror the requirements of other professions, where individuals must meet annual commitments to ensure their certifications remain viable.
"This would put some teeth in the certification," he said. "The negative would be a lot of whining."
It is difficult to imagine a solution provider winning any networking contracts without certification from at least one of the technology segment's leading vendors. Higher-level networking certifications from well-respected vendors – with their emphasis on service and integration of diverse communications technologies – should pay for themselves rather rapidly, according to the VARs that hold them.