Cisco’s CORE CCNP Program is badly outdated

Hi friends – thought I’d change things up a bit. Recently, I passed Cisco CCNP SWITCH 300-115. It was necessary to renew my CCNP.  I have been a CCNP since 2002,  with only a small two year gap where I let my cert expire; and had to re take them all again. That was so painful, I vowed never to let it expire again.  I believe in the value of CCNP, (otherwise I would not plunked down the $300, sat the test and renewed it). Although now-a-days it seems like CCNP is more of a way to get interviews quickly, rather than an accurate reflection of what true Network Engineering is today; or more importantly, what it will be tomorrow.

The CCNP SWITCH exam topics  are really a lot of the same fundamentals I studied 15 years ago when I first got my CCNP, excepting newer versions of protocols, (VTP3, ) and a few new ones (LLDP).  The exam outline includes things like Cisco Stackwise Technology – technologies for branch offices and IDF closets only. Looking back at it, I feel like how much of the material was presented for the CCNP switching exam was really more for a “Cisco Certified Branch Office Engineer.”

In Cisco’s defense, there is a CCNP Data Center Certification. This is a Cisco Nexus  centric program which focuses on many Cisco-centric technologies like  vPC, OTV, Fabric Path. Although the Data Center Program is a SOLID path for learning Nexus technologies and working in Nexus populated data centers; this path is geared more toward a specialist track; (e.g., if you are already a CCNP, now four separate tests for another CCNP???) and thus Data Center technology is not part of the CORE Routing and Switching (RS) CCNP Program – yet the RS CCNP is still the measuring stick for Network Engineer knowledge what it comes to locating the best candidates.

Why do I think the CCNP Program is badly outdated?   I think those in Networking pretty much by now know that the Future of Networks is Programmable, Software-Defined Networks. Software Defined Networking (SDN) is here today and it will rule tomorrow’s world – and thus – what we need to be teaching students today. Proof is everywhere.

Facebook has using their own proprietary bare-steel programmable network hardware for sometime,  Companies like Cumulus Networks and Arista Networks are already heavily invested in this route to sell to Enterprise customers to replace traditional gear. Cisco has delved deeply into Software Defined Networking itself through its ACI platform.  SDN is quickly happening to Network hardware. This topic SDN replacing traditional network hardware is really its own blog post, and I bring it up here to substantiate my claim that Cisco’s CORE CCNP Program is outdated. So why is SDN NOT on CCNP RS? Good Question.

Answer is: It could be. Here is the saving grace – Cisco does have the NPDESI exam which tests on the new technology that CCNP candidates should be learning, such as using Python for Programming, APIs, Securing the Network controller -Sadly though, NPDESI at present, is a weird specialist stand-alone exam named with an acronym NO ONE will recognize and not very marketable.

So you ask, how should CCNP be re-built? Well, for starters – make it four tests again (like it used be ). Change the Program name from CCNP Routing and Switching to ‘CCNP CORE’  & This is what Cisco’s CORE should look like:

  1. Make Routing and Switching Fundamentals into one exam, ( move branch and older technologies to CCNA or remove them all together). 60-70 Qs 120 minutes
  2. Make the SDN NPDESI  a required exam for CCNP core. ( and please rename it, to say, ‘Programming Cisco Networks – PROG’, please!! )
  3. Make one CCNP CORE exam for all Cisco Nexus Data Center Technologies (kill the separate Data Center CCNP track ) 60-70 Qs 120 minutes
  4. And finally a new TSHOOT exam, covering troubleshooting of all the topics on the other three. 

This new proposed exam format would also continue to move away from the MCQ format and move toward simulators or even GNS configurations performed during an exam sitting; that could be turned in and graded later. This new exam format would be purposefully harder, longer and more challenging. Students who complete the new training would be better Network Engineers and more equipped for the Networks of tomorrow.

CCNP RS is arguably, Cisco’s most popular certification, second to CCNA. A big change in the CCNP Program would also benefit Cisco an as organization; as Engineers who support their products would be learning-focused in the areas/products in which the company is trying to grow. It makes so much sense. In some places it makes sense to have a separate certification track; like Security, but it does not make sense to have two CCNP tracks – one obviously geared for Data Center and one geared for (not Data Centers?).

so.. yeah – I think those changes would really make the CORE CCNP a solid, reputable program again that would accurately reflect what candidates need today and tomorrow to be strong Network Engineers. CCNP could really mean something again.

UPDATE:

About a week and a half after I published my thoughts on the CCNP, Business Insider Published this article about ATT’s own Open Source SDN software, ECOMP. Other than a very bad stock photo used; the article is good. One very good point made that I did not think of when I wrote the blog above is that Cisco’s own SDN is only available on the Nexus 9000 at this time. Not exactly a pervasive technology inside Cisco; which makes sense why they have not placed it on their CCNP.

Meanwhile, Cisco’s PRO-SDN competitors are pushing FREE training:

http://www.bigswitch.com/press-releases/2015/02/19/big-switchs-bsn-labs-now-available-for-free-hands-on-experience-with-sdn

Driving it home:

Federal Agencies are now discussing how to implement SDN:

http://www.fedtechmagazine.com/article/2017/04/feds-plan-new-networking-world-sdn

Other people are questioning the same thing:

http://searchsdn.techtarget.com/news/2240232201/Network-pros-need-SDN-training-not-CCIE-status

 

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