The Cisco Certified Network Associate (CCNA) certification is a very popular, well-recognized industry accreditation for networking professionals looking to focus on a particular computer networking specialty.
Prior to 2013, there was only one CCNA certification track, but Cisco has since revamped the CCNA program to reflect different industry job roles. There are now a number of different CCNA certification tracks available, each oriented around a specific network solution. Here's a list of the CCNA tracks available as of this writing:
- CCNA Routing and Switching (previously the original CCNA)
- CCNA Data Center
- CCNA Security
- CCNA Service Provider
- CCNA Video
- CCNA Voice
- CCNA Wireless
Each CCNA specialization has its own associated training materials. Students have a number of options available when it comes to CCNA training.
The most affordable CCNA training option is self-study resources like instruction books and self-paced course packs. This can be the best option for people who're good self-learners, and who are disciplined enough to tackle the work required without any outside intervention.
Another self-study option is self-paced video courseware, which can be purchased on DVD or as online streaming video viewable in any modern web browser. Video courseware is somewhat more expensive than training books, but offers a more dynamic learning experience that some students will derive greater benefit from.
The next step up (in terms of expense) for CCNA training is instructor-led virtual classes taken online. Virtual classes are delivered online in real-time, often using web browser plug-ins or requiring installation of special client software. Virtual classes often combine real-time instruction with self-paced lessons completed outside of classroom hours. This can be a good compromise between total expense and potential learning benefits, especially for those who find they work better when interacting with a live instructor, or when participating in online study groups with other students.
Then there is the Cadillac of training options, instructor-led classroom training. This type of training is generally the most expensive option available, but for students who learn best when interacting with a live instructor and other students in a dedicated classroom environment, this training option is the way to go.
Instructor-led classroom training often comes with direct access to actual networking equipment and software, giving it a big advantage over self-study options. When choosing course from schools or training centers in your area, check Cisco's website to see if it's being offered by an official Cisco Learning Partner. If it isn't, ask a representative at the training center if they offer authorized Cisco course curriculum; it's a good practice to use the curriculum created by the creators of the certification exams.
Course subjects will depend on which CCNA specialization is being taken. As an example, here is a list of topics associated with the CCNA Routing and Switching certification:
- Local area network (LAN) switching technologies
- Internet Protocol (IP) services
- IP addressing with IPv4 and IPv6 protocols
- IP Routing technologies
- Network device security
- Wide area network (WAN) technologies
CCNA certification exams
The CCNA is meant for candidates who have some experience with networking hardware and software. For example, Cisco recommends that candidates looking to take the CCNA Routing and Switching exam should have the following knowledge and experience:
- 1-3 years of experience
- Ability to manage medium-sized routed and switched networks
There are no other Cisco certification prerequisites required to take any of the CCNA exams.
CCNA exams can be booked through Cisco's testing partner, Pearson VUE. Most of the CCNA exams are available in both English and Japanese. Depending on the specialization being taken, candidates must pass one or two certification exams to earn the relevant CCNA designation.
In general, CCNA exams consist of a number of multiple-choice and multiple-answer questions, drag-and-drop questions, fill-in-the-blank questions and simulation questions that require candidates to perform tasks in a simulated networking environment.
If a CCNA exam isn't passed on the first attempt, the exam can be taken again after a six-day waiting period.
CCNA in the workplace
All of the CCNA certifications are valid for three years from the day they are awarded. To renew a CCNA, the certified professional must take one Cisco-designated re-certification exams before the three-year certified period elapses. If a candidate lets their CCNA expire, they must retake the full CCNA exam.
Some of the job roles directly related to the CCNA are:
- Network Administrator
- Network Support Engineer
- Network Security Specialist
- Wireless Network Administrator
- Network Service Provider
- Data Center Administrator
"Cisco Evolves Associate-Level Certifications", Cisco Systems, 2014-11-26, http://newsroom.cisco.com/release/1156334
"Associate Certifications - IT Certifications and Career Paths", Cisco Systems, 2014-11-26, http://www.cisco.com/web/learning/certifications/associate/index.html