SP Ops: The Cisco Cert for Operations
Over the course of the last 9 months, Cisco has announced and rolled out a whole new CCNA/CCNP/CCIE track called SP Ops (short for Service Provider Operations). The SP Ops likely sets a speed record, being the fastest time from introduction of the first Cisco cert until a complete CCNA/CCNP/CCIE track exists for the topic. Today we’ll take a closer look at the details of these relatively new certs.
Let’s start with the big picture. Based on some conversations I had while at Networkers back in June, the normal path for a general topic area to become a career certification – that is, CCNA, CCxP, CCIE – is for Cisco to first create specialization certifications on these topics. For example, Data Center seems to be a popular topic these days. Cisco has some Data Center specialization certs, but no CCNA nor CCNP for Data Center as of yet. The CCIE Storage cert has a lot of applicability to Data Centers, but it predates Cisco’s emergence into the server hardware business. But there are no Data Center career certs (yet). With SP Ops, Cisco bypassed the specialization cert step, and went straight to these certs:
CCNA SP Ops: Available 2Q10
CCNP SP Ops: Available 3Q10
CCIE SP Ops: Available 2Q10 (written) and 3Q10 (practical)
I asked the folks at Cisco about both the potential Data Center track and the new SP Ops track while at Networkers. For SP Ops, they explained that a specific need existed for Service Providers, in several particular cases. In some cases, a technology shift might occur, with an SP using Cisco’s Advanced Services folks to design and implement a new network. In other cases, a new or existing SP might simply be rolling out services to a portion of a country that had little or no service before that time. In those cases, there is little time and few paths to grow the talent internally. For instance, if someone begins as a tier 1 support person, moves to tier 2, and so on, that takes time to learn and get better at the job. And when the network designers are actually consultants and contractors, there may be a skills vacuum at the end of a rollout.
The other big point was that a lot of the existing certs focus on technology, while the operation of a large SP sized internetwork requires a lot of processes. Those processes fall outside Cisco products, the protocols they implement, and the usual concept/config/verify/tshoot sequence of most other Cisco certs. The SP Ops track is full of topics that relate specifically to how SP’s operate their networks. So it’s not enough to understand OSPF, BGP, QoS, etc, but you need to know how to use it when operating a network with thousands of customers sharing a single infrastructure.
To sum up, these certs assess whether you can be effective in a real operations job, in a real SP network, with roles that have various levels of technical knowledge and responsibility. Such an effort is, in my opinion, a big leap from the traditional Cisco certs, which focused on the technology and mostly ignored the processes. (I think the new CCNP begins to break that mold, by the way.)
Next, let’s dive down a little deeper with a brief synopsis and some links.
CCNA SP Ops:
Two exams: ICND1 and the new SSPO (640-760) exam.
ICND1: Yep, the same old ICND1 you can use to get your CCENT.
SSPO Overview: SSPO assesses skills related to a tier I support role in an SP environment, with emphasis on processes. Includes: trouble ticket processes; using ITIL for problem management; 1st level monitoring and troubleshooting; basic scripting; implement upgrades following change management processes; IOS XR and IOS basics
CCNP SP Ops:
642-770 Operational Foundations for Cisco SP Core Networks (OFCN)
Overview: Operational tasks for tier II/III support; troubleshooting IPv4 and IPv6, in IOS and IOS XR; equipment operation/upgrades; managing configurations; change management; scripting; network performance baselining and analysis.
642-775 Maintaining Cisco Service Provider Routing Protocols (MSPRP)
Overview: OSPF, EIGRP, IS-IS, BGP. Focuses on routing policies, including route maps and Routing Policy Language (RPL) on IOS XR.
642-780 Maintaining Cisco Service Provider VPNs and MPLS Networks (MSPVM)
Overview: MPLS from the SP perspective. Troubleshooting MPLS on both IOS and IOS XR. Includes: MPLS configuration, statistics gathering, troubleshooting, SLA management. Includes MPLS VPN, TE, MP-BGP.
642-785 Maintaining Cisco Service Provider Quality of Service (MSPQS)
Overview: QoS on IOS and IOS XR. Configuration, troubleshooting. Usage of QoS stats for capacity planning and performance analysis.
CCIE SP Ops:
More and deeper coverage of what’s in CCNP SP Ops. As usual, there’s a written and a practical exam. However, given the nature of the operational process coverage of the exam, part of the practical exam is a scenario-based questioning. For example, the practical exam topic 2.5 begins “Develop a plan to establish a baseline and monitor…” probably requires more than the CLI to assess that skill. As such, this practical exam is listed as a 3-hour scenario-based section and a 5-hour troubleshooting section.
That’s the quick overview. Does it make you want to consider SP Ops for your next Cisco cert track? Do you think you could pass these tests with their focus on SP operational processes? Is Cisco crazy for including all these process topics on a Cisco cert track? More next week…