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New partner certifications deliver value for solution providers

As technology changes, so do education and certification requirements for the networking channel. Solution providers need to stay ahead of the curve to make sure that they are experts in the newer technologies, which will drive the businesses of the future. Certification and training in areas such as virtualization, data center, wireless networking and VoIP can deliver value.

As technology rapidly changes, so do the education and certification requirements for the networking channel. Solution providers need to stay ahead of the curve to make sure that they are experts in the newer technologies, which will drive the businesses of the future.

In the world of technology, the future is always just around the corner. Nowhere is this more evident than in the training and certification segment of the market. Of course, the world of IT is filled with the latest buzzwords and better mousetraps -- virtualization, unified communications, Web 2.0, green technology and so many others. The secret to success here is for solution providers to tag the technologies that offer new business opportunities and act accordingly -- which usually means training, certification and marketing in a whole new product segment.

New training programs and certifications are constantly arriving on the market, making choices complicated for channel partners. Yet there are a few certifications that are almost guaranteed to be applicable to the growth segments of the market, including those for data center management, virtualization, security, wireless networking and unified communications.

Wireless networking and VoIP certification

Cisco has introduced expert-level CCIE (Cisco Certified Internetwork Expert) certification in wireless networking and an enhancement to CCIE voice certification for expert-level wireless networking and VoIP skills. A brief survey commissioned by Cisco from Forrester Consulting has revealed that:

  • 36% of worldwide companies have dedicated wireless specialists in their organization, and this will double in the coming five years.
  • 69% of worldwide companies said that they will need a dedicated voice specialist on their IT staff within a few years.

CCIE wireless certified partners will be able to design, deploy, manage, secure and troubleshoot wireless networks (WLANs). CCIE VoIP certified partners will be able to provide VoIP solutions in an enterprise environment. Furthermore, CCIE voice experts will be able to design complex end-to-end networks and troubleshoot VoIP problems to ensure quality of service and will have a commanding knowledge of Layer 2 and Layer 3 network infrastructures.

Cisco is not the only player to pursue wireless and VoIP certifications. CWNP is also offering several vendor-neutral wireless certifications, and CTP is offering vendor-neutral certifications that cover a variety of converged IP telephony solutions. Several other certifications are available for both wireless networking and VoIP from a variety of sources. For solution providers, the key here is to recognize the growing need for wireless and VoIP certifications.

Virtualization certification

Citrix is rolling out two advanced certifications: Citrix Certified Enterprise Engineer (CCEE) for Virtualization, and Citrix Certified Integration Architect (CCIA) for Virtualization, both of which are aimed at architects and engineers who specialize in advanced virtualization solutions. Citrix competitor VMware is offering a VMware Certified Professional (VCP), which specializes in the company's ESX product and is quickly becoming the most recognized virtualization certification. Microsoft is also embracing certification for virtualization technology with the Microsoft Certified Technology Specialist (MCTS): Windows Server Virtualization, Configuration (a long name for those looking for credentials that back up their knowledge of Windows Hyper-V).

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Cisco's new elite architect certification

Cisco is also making a play in the virtualization certification game with its new data center virtualization certifications: the Data Center Unified Computing Design specialization for data center architects, and the Data Center Unified Computing Support specialization for data center engineers. Both are long names for what Cisco has identified as one of the most important areas in which to be trained and certified. Cisco's assessment of the importance of virtualization certification is right on the money, with IDC projecting that by 2011 the market for virtualization services will reach about $12 billion, far too big a market for solution providers to ignore.

Data center certification

Although data centers have been around for some time, the specialized training and certification market is just starting to catch up. What's more, companies are consolidating data centers, turning to co-hosting arrangements, and relying more and more on external architects to design and build data centers. Add to that the increased importance of green technology and the increasing demands of security, and it becomes easy to see why solution providers need to tackle the data center market.

Data Center University is offering an associate program that certifies technicians in a broad range of data center technologies, from networking to power use, with a dash of infrastructure and security. Techxact is offering several levels of certification when it comes to data centers. The company offers its Certified Data Center Professional (CDCP), Certified Data Center Specialist (CDCS), and Certified Data Center Expert (CDCE) tracks to those looking to master various levels of data center management and design. Cisco offers a more vendor-centric approach with its Cisco Certified Data Center Engineer (CCDE) certification. For solution providers, the compelling reason to consider any one of those certifications comes down to growth in demand for data center support, as shown by a November 2008 report by Tier1 Research. According to Tier1, the global multi-tenant data center market continues to grow, with demand increasing 14% over the last year while data center supply was up only 6%. This demand-supply gap is projected to grow over the next three years, which will translate to opportunities for those solution providers ready to jump into the market.

Finding opportunities for partner training in new technologies

While there are other technology areas that may grow over the next few years, the three outlined above show the most promise and have education and certification solutions in place to educate solution providers on how to tackle those markets and persevere with services and consulting prospects.

Most solution providers have become used to the endless cycle of retraining and recertification on their primary products, often a requirement to maintain partner levels in a vendor's channel program. But the failure to recognize new technologies and trends can cost solution providers dearly in the long run.

Narrowing down the top potential performers takes little more than looking at the hype surrounding particular market segments and then identifying where those technologies deserve attention. Identifying potential growth areas for sales and services is critical for solution providers to grow their businesses, but that identification is only half the battle. It is imperative that both those who sell the solutions and those who deliver them should be educated in those new technologies.

Frank J. Ohlhorst is an award-winning technology journalist and systems professional specializing in testing, deploying and analyzing products and services. He writes for several technology publications. His website can be found


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