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Cisco Certification Programs

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Walk through the seven different Cisco certification options, learning vital information such as what the exams are like and how much they cost. You will also learn what each certification covers in order for you to pick the one that is right for you.
This chapter is from the book

Terms you'll need to understand:

  • CCNA

  • CCNP

  • CCIE

  • CCIP

  • CCDA

  • CCDP

  • CCSP

  • Cisco Qualified Specialist designation

  • Certification ladder

  • Laboratory evaluation

Techniques you'll need to master:

  • Locating training and certification information on the Cisco Web site

  • Understanding Cisco's individual certifications and its certification ladder

  • Obtaining descriptions and objectives for specific Cisco exams

  • Identifying training and self-study options related to specific Cisco exams

To maintain its position as the market leader in the routing, switching, and high-speed connectivity business, Cisco offers its Cisco Career Certifications programs, chief among them the CCIE credential. It also offers two additional levels of networking credentials, two design credentials, an internetwork credential, and a security credential for a total of seven separate certifications. All Cisco certifications require advanced skills in supporting a variety of networking topologies and technologies; as you climb the Cisco certification ladder, these requirements grow increasingly complex and demanding.

Alphabet Soup

Let's review Cisco's certification programs. After that, you'll have a chance to investigate each of the tracks and each individual certification in some detail—including the elements that lead to each one. Along the way, you'll be presented with a table that shows how the pieces fit together and learn how to sign up for tests, track certification progress, and so on.

At present, there are seven abbreviations related to Cisco certification. They describe three certifications related to network or internetwork operations, two certifications related to design, two certifications related to networking or Internet infrastructure organizations (one certification appears in two categories, in case you're counting), and one security certification:

  • CCNA (Cisco Certified Network Associate)—This is the entry-level operational certification and is aimed at individuals who manage simple routed LANs or WANs, small ISPs, or small switched LAN or LANE environments. An applicant must pass one exam (640-607) for the Network Installation and Support track.

  • CCNP (Cisco Certified Network Professional)—This is a middle-tier operational certification, aimed at individuals who install, configure, operate, and troubleshoot complex routed LANs, switched LAN networks, or remote access networks. An applicant must first obtain a CCNA and then take either two or four additional exams, depending on which test option he or she selects.

  • CCIE (Cisco Certified Internetwork Expert)—This is a top-tier operational certification, aimed at individuals who have advanced technical skills and knowledge and who must know how to configure networks for optimum performance and understand how to maintain complex, far-flung, multivendor networks. An applicant must pass only two tests for this certification: a written exam and a laboratory evaluation. No prior certification from Cisco is required to obtain a CCIE, but many individuals elect to obtain a CCNA and/or a CCNP before attempting the CCIE. CCIE credentials are available for the Network Installation and Support, Communications and Services, and Security tracks.

  • CCDA (Cisco Certified Design Associate)—This is the entry-level design credential; it requires individuals to be able to design and deploy simple routed and switched networks as well as configure, operate, and maintain such networks. To obtain this certification, applicants must pass one exam (640-441). This certification is available only for the Network Engineering and Design track.

  • CCDP (Cisco Certified Design Professional)—This is a middle-tier design credential that requires individuals to be able to design and deploy complex routed and switched networks that include LAN, WAN, and dial access for larger installations. Individuals must also be able to configure, operate, and maintain such networks and connections. To obtain this certification, an applicant must first obtain CCNA and CCDA credentials and must then pass two or four more exams, depending on which track he or she selects.

  • CCSP (Cisco Certified Security Professional)—This is a middle-tier credential that requires individuals to design and deploy secure Cisco networks, develop business solutions, and design and implement numerous levels of security structures. To obtain this certification, an applicant must first obtain the CCNA credential and must then pass five more exams.

  • CCIP (Cisco Certified Internetwork Professional)—This middle-tier certification has no explicit prerequisites, and it requires individuals to operate and manage infrastructure or access solutions in a Cisco networking environment. CCIP professionals have a broad understanding of telecommunications technologies, including IP routing, IP multicast, cable, DSL, and content networking or IP telephony topics. To qualify for CCIP certification, a candidate must pass two required core exams and fulfill requirements in one elective area (seven alternatives).

A CCNA credential can lead to an entry-level design credential (CCDA) or to various Cisco Specialist certifications. The CCNA credential also leads to a middle-tier network credential (CCNP or CCSP) if the candidate takes a few additional tests. Likewise, both the CCNA and the CCDA lead to the CCDP. The CCIP stands in the middle tier, and Cisco strongly recommends that candidates obtain CCNA certification to help prepare. And although the CCIE has no explicit prerequisites elsewhere in Cisco's ladder, it is clearly the ultimate Cisco certification and is where many individuals who obtain other Cisco certifications aim their highest aspirations.

This combination of programs creates a "certification ladder," as shown in Figure 3.1.

Figure 3.1Figure 3.1 The Cisco certification ladder.

All the exam-related information that applies to obtaining a Cisco certification, plus some additional details about the exams, is summed up in Table 3.1. Note that information about the cost and the time period is for each exam for the certification, not for all exams for the certification.

Table 3.1 Cisco Certifications



Required Exams







75 minutes





75–135 minutes



1 (written)


120 minutes

1 (lab)


2 days





120 minutes





75–90 minutes





60—75 minutes





75–90 minutes

*Exams are computer generated, so the number of questions varies; therefore, the time allotted to take the exams changes frequently. You can verify these details prior to taking an exam by contacting Cisco at 800-829-6387.

**Information about Test Option 1/Test Option 2.

Details about specific test numbers for the various certifications are covered later in this chapter.

You can obtain information about all the certifications covered in this chapter by visiting the Cisco Career Certifications & Paths page, at http://www.cisco.com/warp/public/10/wwtraining/certprog/index.html.

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