How Long Before CCIE SDN?

Cisco made some announcements about SDN certifications at Cisco Live US, in June this year. These didn’t seem to get a lot of attention at the time, perhaps due to little detail being available. A few more things have started to come out, but it’s still not full released. What might these SDN certifications be like, and will they be in demand?

During the Technology Keynote, at around 1:15:00, they said that there will be an “array of training and curriculum” being released in August. It will be the “same as we did for Voice and Security”, and will address job roles such as “Network Application Architect” and “SDN Developer.” They didn’t go into the deeper details, but it was just a Keynote speech.

In late June they published a new blog post on the Cisco Education blog. This had a little bit more detail, but not much. Some market-speak was accompanied by a video that talked more about their plans. (Aside: What was the point in doing that segment as a video? What was gained by it? Why not just publish it as text, so it can be searched?). A few key points:

  • SDN will mean “a whole slew of new troubleshooting skills that you’ll need to know at a CCIE level”
  • Cisco’s intention is to provide a full curriculum, job roles, and a pathway for existing certification holders
  • There will be a complete education program, covering “best practices” - how do we know what those are, when we’re still figuring out what any form of “industry practice” might look like?

So it looks like they’re getting very serious about this, but they’re still trying to figure out the full details. Cisco’s not always first cab off the rank, but they do have enormous resources, and if they commit to something, they can do it in a big way.

What form might these certifications take?

What will Cisco expect students to know, and how will they expect them to demonstrate it? Presumably we will see Cisco use their usual model of Associate, Professional and Expert-level certifications, and the usual mix of multi-choice, simulators and lab exams. But rather than an IOS console, will we be working with Eclipse, and writing code? How do you fully test code? Sure, you can focus on core functional tests - but what if the code doesn’t scale, or is insecure? How will we test that in an automated fashion? I have no idea. How much of the material will be specific to Cisco’s onePK, and how much will cover generic open standards and projects, such as OpenFlow and OpenDaylight? Will it be focused on languages and implementation, or architectures and design? It looks like that could be split across the two tracks - Architecture and Developer. Architecture might suit someone like me better than Developer - my coding is very rusty.

I think that part of the reason that Cisco certifications have been so popular is because they serve as a good grounding to networking in general. Sure, all syntax is Cisco-specific, but they spend a lot of time on protocols, and networking basics, such as subnetting. Other vendors tend to make their certifications very specific to their systems. That’s why CCNA can serve as a good base before going on to do Juniper or HP certifications. Cisco will need to be careful that their SDN-related materials retain that balance. If it just becomes a Cisco marketing brochure, people will mostly avoid it, and it end up  like the various specialisations, only taken by partners because they’re forced to do it.

Will this program become successful, and sought after?

There’s two parts to that:

  1. Will there be demand for it? and
  2. Will it represent a useful indicator of knowledge?

The demand comes from two areas: Hiring managers making it a job requirement, and engineers seeing both technical and financial value in pursuing the certification. SDN strategies and requirements are in too much of a state of flux right now, and it’s hard to see these certifications appearing on job descriptions any time soon. There’s certainly the interest from engineers who can see the technical value. But it’s only a useful indicator of knowledge if Cisco strikes the right balance between Cisco-specific, and Industry-standard (whatever those standards end up being). If it doesn’t get much traction amongst hiring managers, there will be little financial incentive, and it may languish.

I, for one, welcome our new SDN overlords

I don’t know how this will work out for Cisco. But I’m very interested in what they’re doing here, and I’m looking forward to this month’s announcements. If I like the look of it enough, maybe I’ll stop trying to decide between CCDE and another CCIE, and go for the new SDN certifications?