A Complete Cisco Certification Guide
| career | career progression - Michael Hess

A Complete Cisco Certification Guide

Cisco networking gear is everywhere. Its routers, switches, and even phones are found in most office environments. For IT professionals who specialize in network administration, it's more likely than not that they'll work in a Cisco environment at some point. That's why Cisco certifications are so popular and highly valued.

Cisco certifications validate the knowledge and skills IT professionals need to be successful at managing and maintaining Cisco technologies. This CBT Nuggets certification guide covers Cisco certifications, how to earn Cisco certifications, and the roles Cisco certifications can prepare learners for.

What are Cisco Certifications?

Cisco has a robust certification program that validates whether IT professionals can manage, configure, and maintain Cisco equipment.

Cisco certifications are designed to validate the knowledge that IT professionals have learned through on-the-job experience. In sum, networking professionals learn Cisco systems and networking through the normal course of their jobs. Cisco certifications then test that they learned the career-level appropriate knowledge and skills.

It's true that not every networking job is the same, thus some professionals may need to learn new material for the exam. In those cases, Cisco certifications are even more valuable because they fill knowledge gaps and ensure a consistent level of expertise across the industry.

CCNA Certifications

Cisco offers three Associate-level exams — CCNA, DevNet, and CCNA CyberOps. The CCNA and DevNet Associate certifications validate the knowledge and skills a networking professional should've acquired in their first year on the job. IT professionals typically use their CCNA to make themselves more valuable as a network administrator.

Cisco Certified Network Associate (CCNA)

The Cisco Certified Network Associate certification is designed for IT professionals with at least one year of hands-on experience with business networks.

The CCNA certification validates a candidate's understanding of networking topics:

  • Configuring and verifying IPv4 addressing and subnetting
  • Interpreting the components of a routing table
  • Configuring L2 protocols, LACP, VLANS, and interswitch connectivity
  • Using DCHP, NTP, NAT, SNMP, SSH, and TFTP/FTP
  • Understanding security program components
  • Implementing automation and orchestration tools

Required exam: Earning the CCNA requires passing one exam — Implementing and Administering Cisco Solutions (200-301 CCNA).

Prerequisites: None.

Recommended experience: While Cisco certifications no longer have formal prerequisites, Cisco recommends that candidates attempting this Associate-level exam have at least one year of experience in an IT role.

DevNet Associate – Developer

The new DevNet Associate – Developer certification is designed for IT professionals with both networking and development skills — a valuable marriage of skill sets in a modern IT environment.

The DevNet Associate – Developer certification validates a candidate's understanding of these infrastructure and programming topics:

  • Identifying and properly using common data formats
  • Using Python to call a REST API
  • Constructing code to perform specific network operations
  • Dockerizing applications
  • Automating tasks and processes with Ansible, Puppet, Chef, and Cisco NSO

Required exam: Earning the DevNet Associate requires passing one exam — Developing Applications and Automating Workflows using Cisco Core Platforms (200-901 DEVASC).

Prerequisites: None.

Recommended experience: While Cisco certifications no longer have formal prerequisites, Cisco recommends that candidates attempting the DevNet certification have at least one year of experience in an IT role and a good handle on the Python programming language.

CyberOps Associate

The CyberOps Associate certification is designed for entry-level cybersecurity professionals. CyberOps Associate is an approved certification under the DoD 8570.01-M framework in the CSSP Analyst and CCSP Incident Responder categories. The CCNA CyberOps certification validates a candidate's understanding of security topics, including:

  • Understanding and implementing access
  • control modes
  • Knowing the security impact of common cryptography methods
  • Identifying common attack vectors and
  • security vulnerabilities
  • Mapping data types to compliance frameworks
  • Analyzing data from security events

Required exams: Earning the CyberOps Associate requires passing one exam — Understanding Cisco Cybersecurity Operations Fundamentals (200-201 CBROPS).

Prerequisites: None.

Recommended experience: While Cisco certifications no longer have formal prerequisites, Cisco recommends that candidates attempting the CyberOps Associate exam have at least one year of experience in a security role.

CCNP Certifications

Cisco offers six Professional-level exams:

  • CCNP Enterprise
  • CCNP Security
  • CCNP Service Provider
  • CCNP Collaboration
  • CCNP Data Center
  • Cisco Certified DevNet Professional

Cisco recommends three to five years of experience to attempt a CCNP or DevNet Professional exam. IT professionals earn their Professional-level certification by passing two exams — the core exam and one concentration exam. Each core exam is specialized to the track and serves as the written portion of the CCIE in that track.

Cisco Certified Network Professional – Enterprise (CCNP Enterprise)

The CCNP Enterprise certification is designed to test a networking professional's ability to implement and maintain core enterprise network technologies. The CCNP Enterprise core exam validates a candidate's understanding of infrastructure, virtualization, security, and automation topics:

  • Designing enterprise wired and wireless networks
  • Configuring VMs, virtual switching, and hypervisors
  • Configuring and troubleshooting L2, L3, and wireless infrastructure components
  • Configuring and verifying wireless and wired infrastructure security features
  • Automating tasks with Python, REST APIs, and orchestration tools

Required exams: The core exam for the CCNP Enterprise certification is Implementing and Operating Cisco Enterprise Network Core Technologies (300-401 ENCOR). Candidates can then choose one of five concentration exams:

  • Implementing Cisco Enterprise Advanced Routing and Services (300-410 ENARSI)
  • Implementing Cisco SD-WAN Solutions (300-415 ENSDWI)
  • Designing Cisco Enterprise Networks (300-420 ENSLD)
  • Designing Cisco Enterprise Wireless Networks (300-425 ENWLSD)
  • Implementing Cisco Enterprise Wireless Networks (300-430 ENWLSI)

Prerequisites: None.

Recommended experience: While Cisco certifications no longer have formal prerequisites, Cisco recommends that candidates who attempt this Professional-level exam have three to five years experience implementing enterprise network technologies.

Cisco Certified Network Professional – Collaboration (CCNP Collaboration)

The CCNP Collaboration certification is designed to test a networking professional's ability to implement and maintain core collaboration network technologies.

The CCNP Collaboration core exam validates a candidate's understanding of infrastructure, call control, QoS, and Cisco-specific collaboration topics, including:

  • Troubleshooting network components in a collaboration solution
  • Identifying and using appropriate collaboration codecs
  • Using Cisco Unified CM to create translation, route, and SIP route patterns
  • Configuring and troubleshooting ISDN PRI/BRI
  • Identifying issues that cause poor voice and video quality

Required exams: The core exam for the CCNP Collaboration certification is Implementing and Operating Cisco Collaboration Core Technologies (300-801 CLCOR). Candidates can then choose one (1) of four concentration exams:

  • Implementing Cisco Collaboration Applications (300-810 CLICA)
  • Implementing Cisco Advanced Call Control and Mobility Services (300-815 CLACCM)
  • Implementing Cisco Collaboration Cloud and Edge Solutions (300-820 CLCEI)
  • Implementing Automation for Cisco Collaboration Solutions (300-835 CLAUTO)

Prerequisites: None.

Recommended experience: While Cisco certifications no longer have formal prerequisites, Cisco recommends that candidates who attempt this Professional-level exam have three to five years experience implementing enterprise collaboration technologies.

Cisco Certified Network Professional – Data Center (CCNP Data Center)

The CCNP Data Center certification is designed to test a data center professional's ability to implement and maintain core data center technologies. The core exam validates a candidate's understanding of networking, computing, storage, automation, and numerous security topics:

  • Applying routing protocols, ACI concepts, and analyzing packet flow
  • Managing Cisco Unified Compute System infrastructure
  • Implementing Fibre Channel
  • Scripting and automating with EEM, shell, and REST APIs
  • Enacting network, compute, and storage security policies

Candidates can then choose from concentration exams that cover data center design, troubleshooting infrastructure, storage area networking, and advanced automation and programming.

Required exams: The core exam for the CCNP Data Center certification is Implementing and Operating Cisco Data Center Core Technologies (300-601 DCCOR). Candidates can then choose one (1) of five concentration exams:

  • Designing Cisco Data Center Infrastructure (300-610 DCID)
  • Troubleshooting Cisco Data Center Infrastructure (300-615 DCIT)
  • Configuring Cisco Nexus 9000 Series Switches in ACI Mode (300-620 DCACI)
  • Configuring Cisco MDS 9000 Series Switches (300-625 DCSAN)
  • Implementing Automation for Cisco Data Center Solutions (300-635 DCAUTO)

Prerequisites: None.

Recommended experience: While Cisco certifications no longer have formal prerequisites, Cisco recommends that candidates who attempt this Professional-level exam have three to five years experience implementing data center technologies.

Cisco Certified Network Professional – Security (CCNP Security)

The CCNP Security certification is designed to test a security professional's ability to secure an organization's physical infrastructure, cloud services, endpoints, and network access. The CCNP – Security core exam validates a candidate's understanding of security topics:

  • Identifying common security vulnerabilities against on-prem and cloud environments
  • Implementing appropriate access control policies
  • Configuring cloud logging and monitoring methods
  • Ensuring email, internet gateway, and web security features are active
  • Understanding benefits of various Cisco security products

Required exams: The core exam for the CCNP Security certification is Implementing and Operating Cisco Security Core Technologies (300-701 SCOR). Candidates can then choose one (1) of seven concentration exams:

  • Securing Networks with Cisco Firepower Next Generation Firewall (300-710 SNCF)
  • Securing Networks with Cisco Firepower Next-Generation IPS (300-710 SNCF)
  • Implementing and Configuring Cisco Identity Services Engine (300-715 SISE)
  • Securing Email with Cisco Email Security Appliance (300-720 SESA)
  • Securing the Web with Cisco Web Security Appliance (300-725 SWSA)
  • Implementing Secure Solutions with Virtual Private Networks (300-730 SVPN)
  • Implementing Automation for Cisco Security Solutions (300-735 SAUTO)

Prerequisites: None.

Recommended experience: While Cisco certifications no longer have formal prerequisites, Cisco recommends that candidates who attempt this Professional-level exam have three to five years experience implementing security solutions.

Cisco Certified Network Professional – Service Provider (CCNP Service Provider)

The CCNP Service Provider certification is designed to test an IT professional's ability to maintain the infrastructure of a service provider. The CCNP Service Provider core exam strongly validates a candidate's understanding of architecture, networking, service, and an array of automation topics:

  • Identifying the uses for core architectures, transport technologies, and virtualization
  • Implementing OSPF, IS-IS, route maps, and high availability
  • Configuring L2VPN, L3VPN, QoS services, Carrier Ethernet, and multicast services
  • Implementing MPLS, traffic engineering, and segment routing
  • Automating network components and configuration management

Required exams: The core exam for the CCNP Service Provider certification is Implementing and Operating Cisco Service Provider Network Core Technologies (300-501 SPCOR). Candidates can then choose one (1) of three concentration exams:

  • Implementing Cisco Service Provider Advanced Routing Solutions (300-510 SPRI)
  • Implementing Cisco Service Provider VPN Services (300-515 SPVI)
  • Implementing Automation for Cisco Service Provider Solutions (300-535 SPAUTO)

Prerequisites: None.

Recommended experience: While Cisco certifications no longer have formal prerequisites, Cisco recommends that candidates who attempt this Professional-level exam have three to five years experience implementing service provider solutions.

DevNet Professional

The DevNet Professional certification is designed for IT professionals who design and develop software. The DevNet core exam validates a candidate's understanding of software development, API, networking, application deployment and security, and several infrastructure topics:

  • Evaluating an application design for latency, scalability, and high-availability
  • Using and troubleshooting REST APIs
  • Constructing API requests for Cisco platforms with Python
  • Deploying and securing an application
  • Configuring networks and network devices

Candidates can then choose from concentration exams that cover DevOps, automation, and IoT.

Required exams: The core exam for the DevNet Professional certification is Developing Applications and Automating Workflows using Cisco Core Platforms (300-901 DEVCOR). Candidates can then choose one of eight concentration exams:

  • Implementing Automation for Cisco Enterprise Solutions (300-435 ENAUTO)
  • Implementing Automation for Cisco Collaboration Solutions (300-835 CLAUTO)
  • Implementing Automation for Cisco Data Center Solutions (300-635 DCAUTO)
  • Implementing Automation for Cisco Service Provider Solutions (300-535 SPAUTO)
  • Implementing Automation for Cisco Security Solutions (300-735 SAUTO)
  • Implementing DevOps Solutions and Practices using Cisco Platforms (300-910 DEVOPS)
  • Developing Solutions using Cisco IoT and Edge Platforms (300-915 DEVIOT)
  • Developing Applications for Cisco Webex and Webex Devices (300-920 DEVWBX)

Prerequisites: None.

Recommended experience: While Cisco certifications no longer have formal prerequisites, Cisco recommends that candidates who attempt this Professional-level exam have three to five years experience implementing service provider solutions.

CCIE Certification

Cisco offers seven Expert-level certifications, including the Cisco Certified Design Expert:

  • CCDE
  • CCIE Enterprise Wireless
  • CCIE Enterprise Infrastructure
  • CCIE Security
  • CCIE Service Provider
  • CCIE Collaboration
  • CCIE Data Center

Each Expert-level exam has two parts: the core Professional-level exam and an 8-hour hands-on lab.

While there aren't prerequisites for any Cisco exams, Cisco recommends five to seven years experience before attempting a CCIE. It's possible to have encountered the esoteric, complex problems that the CCIE validates in smaller networks over a longer period of time.

Realistically, networking professionals who pursue Cisco expert-level certifications have a decade or more experience managing complex networks. CCIEs are experts in their field and ready to fill senior-level networking engineering roles, like senior network engineer or network architect.

Cisco Certified Design Expert

The Cisco Certified Design Expert certification is designed for IT professionals who translate business needs and operational constraints into a customer's network. The CCDE no longer has an associated Professional-level certification, and also has no prerequisites. Candidates should expect to demonstrate an expert level of competency in these topics during their 8-hour hands-on lab:

  • Analyze Design Requirements
  • Develop Network Designs
  • Implement Network Design
  • Validate and Optimize Network Design

Required exams: The written exam for the CCDE certification is 352-001 CCDE. CCDE candidates must then travel to a Cisco facility to take the CCDE lab exam.

Prerequisites: None.

Recommended experience: While Cisco certifications no longer have formal prerequisites, Cisco recommends that candidates attempting an Expert-level exam have considerable experience as network design engineers or similar senior technical roles.

Cisco Certified Internetwork Expert – Enterprise Infrastructure (CCIE Enterprise Infrastructure)

The CCIE Enterprise Infrastructure certification is designed for IT professionals who plan, design, implement, operate, and optimize complex networks. Candidates should expect to demonstrate an expert level of competency in these topics during their 8-hour hands-on lab:

  • Network Infrastructure
  • Software Defined Infrastructure
  • Transport Technologies and Solutions
  • Infrastructure Security and Services
  • Infrastructure Automation and Programmability

Required exams: The written exam for the CCIE Enterprise Infrastructure certification is Implementing and Operating Cisco Enterprise Network Core Technologies (300-401 ENCOR). CCIE candidates must then travel to a Cisco facility to take the CCIE Enterprise Infrastructure v1.0 lab exam.

Prerequisites: None.

Recommended experience: While Cisco certifications no longer have formal prerequisites, Cisco recommends that candidates attempting this Expert-level exam have five to seven years experience implementing networking technologies.

Cisco Certified Internetwork Expert – Enterprise Wireless (CCIE Enterprise Wireless)

The CCIE Enterprise Wireless certification is designed for IT professionals who plan, design, implement, operate, and optimize complex wireless networks. Candidates should expect to demonstrate an expert level of competency in these topics during their 8-hour hands-on lab:

  • Radio Frequency and Standards
  • Enterprise Wired Campus
  • Enterprise Wireless Network
  • Wireless Security and Identity Management
  • Wireless Business Applications and Services
  • Automation, Analytics, and Assurance

Required exams: The written exam for the CCIE Enterprise Wireless certification is Implementing and Operating Cisco Enterprise Network Core Technologies (300-401 ENCOR). CCIE candidates must then travel to a Cisco facility to take the CCIE Enterprise Wireless v1.0 lab exam.

Prerequisites: None.

Recommended experience: While Cisco certifications no longer have formal prerequisites, Cisco recommends that candidates attempting this Expert-level exam have five to seven years experience implementing wireless networking technologies.

Cisco Certified Internetwork Expert – Collaboration (CCIE Collaboration)

The CCIE Collaboration certification is designed for IT professionals who plan, design, implement, operate, and optimize complex collaboration environments. Candidates should expect to demonstrate an expert level of competency in these topics during their 8-hour hands-on lab:

  • Protocols and APIs
  • Infrastructure and Quality of Service
  • Call Control and Dial Plans
  • Endpoints and User Management
  • Edge Services
  • Media Resources and Meetings
  • Cisco Applications and Services

Required exams: The written exam for the Cisco Certified Design Expert certification is Implementing and Operating Cisco Collaboration Core Technologies (300-801 CLCOR). CCIE candidates must then travel to a Cisco facility to take the CCIE Collaboration v3.0 lab exam.

Prerequisites: None.

Recommended experience: While Cisco certifications no longer have formal prerequisites, Cisco recommends that candidates attempting this Expert-level exam have five to seven years experience implementing collaboration solutions.

Cisco Certified Internetwork Expert – Data Center (CCIE Data Center)

The CCIE Data Center certification is designed for IT professionals who plan, design, implement, operate, and optimize large, complex data centers. Candidates should expect to demonstrate an expert level of competency in these topics during their 8-hour hands-on lab:

  • Data Center L2/L3 Connectivity
  • Data Center Fabric Infrastructure
  • Data Center Fabric Connectivity
  • Data Center Compute
  • Data Center Storage Protocols and Features
  • Data Center Security and Network Services
  • Data Center Automation and Orchestration

Required exams: The written exam for the CCIE Data Center certification is Implementing and Operating Cisco Data Center Core Technologies (DCCOR 300-601). CCIE candidates must then travel to a Cisco facility to take the CCIE Data Center v3.0 lab exam.

Prerequisites: None.

Recommended experience: While Cisco certifications no longer have formal prerequisites, Cisco recommends that candidates attempting this Expert-level exam have five to seven years experience working with large data centers.

Cisco Certified Internetwork Expert – Security (CCIE Security)

The CCIE Security certification is designed for IT professionals who secure all aspects of an organization's wired and wireless networks and cloud services. Candidates should expect to demonstrate an expert level of competency in these topics during their 8-hour hands-on lab:

  • Perimeter Security and Intrusion Prevention
  • Secure Connectivity and Segmentation
  • Infrastructure Security
  • Identity Management, Information Exchange, and Access Control
  • Advanced Threat Protection and Content Security

Required exams: The written exam for the CCIE Security certification is Implementing and Operating Cisco Security Core Technologies (SCOR 300-701). CCIE candidates must then travel to a Cisco facility to take the CCIE Security v6.0 lab exam.

Prerequisites: None.

Recommended experience: While Cisco certifications no longer have formal prerequisites, Cisco recommends that candidates attempting this Expert-level exam have five to seven years experience securing enterprise networks and systems.

Cisco Certified Internetwork Expert – Service Provider (CCIE Service Provider)

The CCIE Service Provider certification is designed for IT professionals who design, deploy, operate and optimize service provider technologies and solutions. Candidates should expect to demonstrate an expert level of competency in these topics during their 8-hour hands-on lab:

  • Core Routing
  • Architectures and Services
  • Access Connectivity
  • High Availability and Fast Convergence
  • Security
  • Assurance and Automation

Required exams: The written exam for the CCIE Service Provider certification is Implementing and Operating Cisco Service Provider Network Core Technologies (SPCOR 300-501). CCIE candidates must then travel to a Cisco facility to take the CCIE Service Provider v5.0 lab exam.

Prerequisites: None.

Recommended experience: While Cisco certifications no longer have formal prerequisites, Cisco recommends that candidates attempting this Expert-level exam have five to seven years experience designing and operating service provider technologies.

Cisco Certified Architect Certification (CCAr)

The Cisco Certified Architect (CCAr) certification is the most difficult and expensive Cisco exam. Networking professionals who attempt this exam must be Cisco Certified Design Experts (CCDE) with vast experience designing large and complex networks. The CCAr is so difficult and specialized that only a handful of networking professionals have this certification.

The initial CCAr board qualification review costs $3,750. The board review then costs an additional $11,250. The total cost of exams for the CCAr is $15,000.

Transitioning to the New Cisco Certifications

Cisco retired many certifications February 24, 2020. If you didn't finish your CCNP or CCIE prior to that deadline, you may receive the corresponding new certification. However, anyone partially done with CCENT or CCNA on that date will have to take the new exam.

Here's how certifications migrated from the old program to the new program by certification level.

What Happens to Your CCENT?

If you had your CCENT prior to the February 2020 deadline, then you'll need to take the new exam to earn your CCNA certification.

What Happens to Your CCNA?

If you earned any CCNA (other than CCNA – CyberOps*) prior to the February deadline, then you received the new CCNA. If not, then you'll need to take the new exam. There has been no change to the CCNA – CyberOps certification.

What Happens to Your CCNP?

Because it used to require three or four exams to earn the former CCNP certification, Cisco has developed a series of migration tools to help you determine how to move forward with your certifications:

What Happens to Your CCIE?

The CCIE migration path is the most straightforward. If you already had your CCIE R&S, then it was replaced by the CCIE Enterprise Infrastructure certification. The other certifications still map to the post-February 23 certifications.

Do Cisco Certifications Expire?

Currently, Cisco certifications expire in three or five years. Network architects must recertify their CCAr every five years. Cisco outlines different recertification requirements for each certification level.

How to Recertify a Cisco Certification

CCNA, CCNP, and CCIE certifications must be recertified every three years. Cisco requires that networking professionals with CCNA or CCNP pass one exam from any CCNA, CCNP, CCIE, or specialist tracks.

CCIEs have two options to recertify — continuing education or passing another CCIE exam. The Cisco Continuing Education Program has assigned point values for a number of recertification activities. Most continuing education options are training courses, but there are also Cisco Live sessions and even content authoring opportunities.

The CCAr certification must be recertified every five years. Unlike the CCNA, CCNP, and CCIE certifications, the CCAr is a service-based recertification program. Certified Cisco Architects must create or refine exam content, or judge either one or two CCAr candidates. Architects can judge one successful CCAr candidate or two unsuccessful candidates.

Cisco Certification Career & Salary Information

An IT professional who holds a CCNA can earn anywhere between $40,643 and $124,889, according to Payscale.com. There are a number of factors that play into salaries including professional experience, geography, and the company. It's also important to consider the cost of living when looking at national salary averages and ranges. Company industry and size are other determinants of salary. Larger companies typically pay more but have complicated, long hiring practices.

Roles that are common for those holding a CCNA R&S certification include network engineer, network technician, network administrator, IT manager, and systems administrator. It's common for even IT professionals with specialized roles and certifications, like CCNA Wireless or Collaboration, to have a generic network engineer title. However, they may also have a specialized job title like wireless networking engineer, collaboration engineer, or a moniker specific to their role.

Cisco Certification Training

CBT Nuggets offers a wide variety of Cisco training. In addition to quality, entertaining Cisco video training created by expert-level trainers, CBT Nuggets provides everything a learner needs to study for a Cisco certification exam: virtual labs, supplemental files, practice exams, and access to a robust Learner Community.

Every CBT Nuggets Cisco course either provides learners with custom virtual labs or supplemental files to learn technical concepts alongside the video training. Virtual labs were designed by experts to help learners gain hands-on experience in a sandbox environment. NuggetLab supplemental files include practice IOS commands, configuration files, and network diagrams — everything a learner needs to study for a Cisco certification exam.

CBT Nuggets learners should also take advantage of the Kaplan® IT Training Practice Exams included with a subscription to CBT Nuggets. Practice exams can either be taken timed or untimed, and provide a good baseline for learners to test their knowledge. Additionally, Kaplan® IT Training Practice Exams evaluate a learner's strengths and weaknesses, so they know where to focus their attention while studying.

Being successful with Cisco certifications requires quality instruction, hands-on experience, and practice with the exam itself. CBT Nuggets provides every element a learner needs to pass a Cisco certification exam.

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