Cisco's main motivation behind the current certification program is to provide a means of measuring the skills of people working for Cisco resellers and certified partners. Cisco fulfills only a small portion of its orders via direct sale from Cisco; normally, a Cisco reseller is involved. Also, Cisco has not attempted to become the primary source for consulting and implementation services for network deployment using Cisco products, preferring instead to use partners as much as possible. With that business model, there is a great need to distinguish, ensure, and certify the skill levels of the partner companies' employees .
The CCIE program was Cisco's first foray into certifications. Introduced more than ten years ago, the CCIE was designed to be one of the most respected, difficult-to-achieve certifications. To certify, candidates must pass a written test (also given at Prometric), and then Cisco administers a one-day hands-on lab test. Cisco does not publish numbers on pass/fail rates for CCIE or the other certifications, but rumors have the failure rate for all lab test takers at more than 50 percent.
Cisco uses the number of CCIEs on staff as part of the criteria in determining the level of partner status for the company, which in turn dictates the discount received by the reseller when buying from Cisco. (For more insight into reseller certification, go to the Cisco web site at http://www.cisco.com/en/us/partners/.) This practice continues to be a good way for Cisco to judge the commitment to having people with proven Cisco skills on staff, which in turn improves customer satisfactionand customer satisfaction is tied to every Cisco executive's goals.
The CCIE certification became inadequate for helping certify resellers and other partners because, among other factors, the number of partners increased disproportionately to the difficulty of the CCIE exam. Furthermore, many resellers that do not perform services do not require the extreme expertise of a CCIE on staff, other than to receive a better discount. What Cisco needed were certifications that were less rigorous than CCIE and that would allow Cisco more granularity in judging the skills on staff at a partner company. So, Cisco started an entire Cisco Career Certification program, of which CCNP, CCDP, and CCIP are a part.
Cisco developed Routing and Switching career tracks, a Security career track called Cisco Certified Security Professional (CCSP), and several specialization career tracks. Thus far, the Routing and Switching career tracks, which begin with CCNA/CCDA certification, have proven to be the most popular and make up the heart of Cisco certification. The BSCI exam required for CCNP/CCDP/CCIP certification is a central part of the Routing and Switching career tracks.
Four categories of professional-level certifications exist: one to certify implementation skills, a second to certify design skills, a third to certify communications and services skills, and a fourth, introduced in early 2003, to certify security skills. The BSCI is a required exam for three of these four professional-level certifications. Resellers working in a presales environment need more design skills, whereas services companies need more implementation or post-sales skills. The CCNA and CCNP are implementation-oriented certifications, whereas CCDA and CCDP are design-oriented certifications. The CCIP requires a knowledge of the communications and services technologies.
Cisco created two levels of certification in addition to the CCIE: associate level and professional level. The associate level (CCNA/CCDA) is the most basic, and the professional level (CCNP/CCDP/CCIP/CCSP) is the intermediate level between CCNA and CCIE.
Several of the certifications require other certifications as a prerequisite. For instance, CCNP, CCIP, and CCSP certification requires that you have CCNA certification. CCDP requires a CCDA certification. CCIE, however, does not require any other certification before the written and lab tests. CCIE certification is extremely difficult, however, and it is unlikely that someone could achieve that certification without a level of experience and training equaled in attaining and practicing associate- and professional-level certification.
Cisco certifications have taken on a much larger role and importance in the networking industry in recent years. From a career standpoint, Cisco certification can certainly be used to help you get a new job or a promotion. Alternatively, you can have certification added to your performance evaluation plan and then justify a raise based on passing an exam. In addition, not only might passing exams help you land a new job, but it may actually help you make more money.