The Cisco Certified Design Associate (CCDA) certification is a mid-level difficulty designation aimed at experienced networking professionals looking to enter the more specialized field of network design. Network designers (also known as network architects) create the "blueprints" for local-area and wide-area networks, incorporating both wired and wireless networking technologies. In smaller companies with less division of labor, the network designer may also be the one physically constructing the network(s) they've designed.
CCDA certification is also a stepping stone for network professionals who want to further advance their careers in network design, eventually leading to more advanced job roles such as senior network designer, or senior network analyst.
There are a number of training options available for the CCDA. For those who already have a significant amount of networking experience, or for those fortunate enough to have access to a reasonably well-equipped computer network practice lab, there are several self-study resources available, including instruction books and video courses (usually offered as online streaming video, or via playable DVDs). Self-study materials are the most cost-effective method of training, and can be a good choice for candidates who're confident in their ability to learn on their own.
For students with less experience, or who don't have access to a functional networking practice lab, there's instructor-led classroom training. This form of training is more expensive than self-study options, but can be much more effective than trying to teach oneself out of a book. One significant benefit of instructor-led classroom training is it usually offers direct interaction with all the relevant networking equipment and software interfaces. Before signing up for a CCDA course, students should check the Cisco website to see if the training center is an official Cisco Learning Partner.
Virtual instructor courses
If classroom training is not available due to location or expense, an alternate form of training is instructor-led virtual classes which are delivered online. Virtual classes offer a good compromise between self-study and classroom training. Instruction is delivered live online, with all of the benefits (and limitations) of the online medium. Virtual classes offer the opportunity to participate in study groups with other students, a key benefit over self-study training, particularly for students who work better when studying with others.
Candidates training for the CCDA exam can expect to take courses covering the following topics:
- Routing and switching
- Network security design
- IPv4 and IPv6 protocols
- Voice over IP (VoIP) solutions
- Videoconferencing solutions
- Wireless networking
- Data center design and configuration
CCDA certification exam
Here is Cisco's own description of what level of knowledge a candidate should have in order to take the CCDA exam:
"This exam requires a foundation or apprentice knowledge of network design for the Cisco converged networks based on borderless network architecture. CCDA certified professionals can design routed and switched network infrastructures and services involving LAN, WAN, wireless and broadband access for businesses and organizations."
In order to take the CCDA exam, candidates must have at least one of the following Cisco certification prerequisites:
- Cisco Certified Entry Networking Technician (CCENT)
- Cisco Certified Network Associate (CCNA) Routing and Switching
- Any Cisco Certified Internetwork Expert (CCIE) designation
The current version of the CCDA exam (as of this writing) is exam number 640-864 DESGN. The exam can be booked at any participating Pearson VUE test center, and is available in English and Japanese.
The CCDA exam is made up of 50-60 questions, which candidates are given 75 minutes to complete. There are multiple-choice single-answer and multiple-answer questions, in addition to drag-and-drop questions, fill-in-the-blank questions and simulation questions that emulate a genuine working networking environment.
Here are the current CCDA exam top-level topics, with estimates of how much exam content is devoted to each:
- Describe the methodology used to design a network (10 percent)
- Describe network structure and modularity (13 percent)
- Design basic enterprise campus networks (27 percent)
- Design enterprise edge and remote network modules (10 percent)
- Design IP addressing and routing protocols (21 percent)
- Design network services (19 percent)
If a candidate fails the CCDA exam, it can be retaken six days after.
CCDA in the workplace
The CCDA is valid for three years from the day it was earned. To renew, certified individuals must take one Cisco-designated re-certification exams before the three-year certified period is over. If a candidate allows their CCDA to lapse, they must retake the full CCDA exam.
Job roles directly related to the CCDA include:
- Network Designer
- Network Design Technician
- Network Architect
- Network Support Technician
- Network Analyst
What's more, Global Knowledge, an IT training firm, showed strong numbers for Cisco Certified Design Associates in its 2014 IT Skills and Salary Report. Holders of CCDA certification reported a median annual wage of $90,000 during the survey period.
"CCDA - IT Certifications and Career Paths," Cisco Systems, November 26, 2014, http://www.cisco.com/web/learning/certifications/associate/ccda/index.html
"640-864 DESGN - IT Certifications and Career Paths," Cisco Systems, November 26, 2014, http://www.cisco.com/web/learning/exams/list/desgn.html
"2014 IT Skills and Salary Report," Global Knowledge, 2014, http://www.peoplecert.org/en/presscenter/Press_Releases/Documents/2014-Salary-Report-GlobalKnowledge-WindowsITpro.pdf