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Virtualization certifications: Where the jobs are (and how to train for them)

If you want to invest in your IT career, it's wise to pay attention to virtualization technologies and products, how much demand they generate, and how best to prepare yourself for a new job or promotion. Here's a road map.

As technical topics in information technology go, these days it’s hard to find anything that doesn’t involve virtualization in some way. IT shops have virtualized versions of everything, from individual applications to entire infrastructures with virtualized servers run on virtualized networks inside virtualized data centers. Then there are numerous flavors of virtualization, including hypervisors (supervisor programs designed to host and manage virtual machines of all kinds, shapes, and sizes), containers (specialized runtime environments designed to run one or more VMs without all the plumbing and overhead associated with a full-blown hypervisor), and more.

Likewise, the field of virtualization is full of platform options, to which IT professionals may pledge allegiance (or whose employers may require them to learn and support). These include VMware (vSphere, ESX, and ESXi), Microsoft (Hyper-V), Oracle (VM or VirtualBox), Citrix (XenServer), and Red Hat (Kernel-based Virtual Machine, or KVM). Then, too, there are emerging options for network virtualization, such as software-defined networking (SDN) and network functions virtualization (NFV).

In short, there’s a lot going on in the world of virtualization with lots of options to choose from and opportunities to jump on. Job boards are chock-full of employers seeking qualified virtualization and data center professionals. If you want to invest in your IT career, it’s wise to pay attention to these technologies, how much demand they generate, and how best to prepare yourself for a new job or promotion. Even though container technologies have yet to spawn significant certs, it’s just a matter of time before they do.

(If you’re interested in job demand for other certifications, see our articles about big data certifications, cloud certifications, and infrastructure jobs.)

Jobs, jobs, jobs

To determine the certifications that real-world employers are seeking, we compiled a list of popular credentials. Then, we went to the source: actual job listings across four widely used job boards: SimplyHired, LinkedIn, Indeed, and US.Jobs. We conducted job searches for positions requesting those certifications on three separate days, and then combined the results. Those same results provide the basis for our top 10 selections in Table 1.

Are virtualization certs worth the time and commitment they take to earn? Absolutely!

The job board results reflect the number of prospective employers actively seeking professionals who possess particular certifications, and it’s evident that having the right certification can set you apart from other candidates. Plus, of course, there’s the value of the technical knowledge you gain by preparing for an exam, which (we like to think) gives you a balanced background in the subject to prepare you for working with it in real-world circumstances.

Interestingly, Hewlett Packard Enterprise’s certifications fare quite well in this roundup, capturing five of the 10 slots discussed. The highest ranked HPE item appears in slot 5, and HPE certs also occupy slots 7 through 10 in Table 1.

Table 1: Certification facts

Certification Exam count Total cost Months Job counts
Cisco CCNP Data Center 4 $1,200 24 10,238
MCSE Cloud Platform and Infrastructure 1 $165 12 8,431
VCP6.5-DCV 1-2 $250-375 24 3,177
Oracle VM x86 CIS 1 $245 6 2,850
HPE Converged Solutions 1 $100 6 1,029
CCP-V 1 $300 12 674
HPE ATP Storage Solutions 1 $100 6 198
HPE Synergy Solutions 1 $100 6 185
HPE ATP Data Center 1 $100 9 172
HP OneView 1 $100 6 137

Note: “Months” reflects our estimates for typical times to complete the cited certification. The exam requirements cover only their respective certs; they do not include exams that may be required to earn prerequisite certs.

Those job search results do not reflect the employers that seek future team members with a skill set without regard to certification. SimplyHired and Indeed had more than 13,000 job postings for virtualization professionals, which isn’t too shabby. However, the search results for employers looking for qualified data center professionals blew the top off the job search charts. On SimplyHired, we found more than 118,000 job postings for data center professionals. The results on Indeed were even higher, with over 142,000 job postings. Impressive!

The sections that follow provide information about these top 10 certifications, ranked in order.

Cisco Certified Network Professional Data Center (CCNP Data Center)

You’d be hard-pressed to find anyone in or outside the realm of IT who hasn’t heard of Cisco and its certifications. Because of its very well-deserved reputation, it is no surprise our top featured cert comes from Cisco.

A professional-level certification, the Cisco Certified Network Professional Data Center (CCNP Data Center) targets experienced Cisco practitioners who are well-versed in data center technologies. Successful candidates possess skills necessary to manage and maintain data center infrastructure, recommend and implement best practices, and design and implement data center solutions. To obtain this cert, candidates must possess either the Cisco Certified Network Associate Data Center (CCNA Data Center) or any Cisco Certified Internetwork Expert (CCIE) credential. Once the prerequisites are met, candidates must then pass four exams to validate skills in areas such as unified computing, data center infrastructure, virtualization and automation, and design and troubleshooting. Formal training is highly recommended but not required.

Microsoft Certified Solutions Expert (MCSE): Cloud Platform and Infrastructure

A relative newcomer to the Microsoft certification portfolio, the Microsoft Certified Solutions Expert (MCSE): Cloud Platform and Infrastructure upholds Microsoft’s well-established reputation for excellence in its credentialing program. The MCSE: Cloud Platform and Infrastructure replaces the MCSE: Private Cloud certification that retired on March 31.

A professional-level credential, the MCSE: Cloud Platform and Infrastructure certification validates a candidate’s skill in data center technologies, including virtualization, identity management, networking, cloud, system management, and storage. Of course, it focuses on Microsoft virtualization technologies, including Hyper-V and related management tools and utilities.

To obtain this credential, candidates must first earn the Microsoft Certified Solutions Associate (MCSA) credential on Windows Server 2016, Cloud Platform, Linux on Azure, or Windows Server 2012. The number of exams required to obtain such an MCSA varies, depending on chosen track. Once the prerequisite is met, candidates need only pass a single exam from an approved list to earn the MCSE: Cloud Platform and Infrastructure credential. These exams validate a candidate’s ability to develop, design, implement, architect, configure, and deploy in data center environments using specific technologies. Currently, approved MCSE exams include technologies such as Azure, cloud data platform, big data and analytics, server infrastructure, Windows server security, and private cloud.

VMware Certified Professional 6.5: Data Center Virtualization (VCP6.5-DCV)

The VMware Certified Professional 6.5: Data Center Virtualization (VCP6.5 DCV) targets VMware’s newest technology, vSphere 6.5 infrastructure. Certification requirements vary depending on where you are in your career path.

The well-known VCP6-DCV credential is still available; indeed, no plans have been announced regarding its retirement. Given that more than 100,000 practitioners have earned the VCP6-DCV, there’s every reason to believe that the VCP6.5-DCV credential will enjoy the same level of support and uptake. But for the purposes of this article, we will focus on the requirements for the new VCP6.5-DCV credential.

New candidates must possess at least six months of experience working with vSphere 6.5, attend a required training course, and pass either the vSphere 6 or 6.5 Foundations exam plus the VCP6.5-DCV exam. Candidates with vSphere 6.x training who are not VCP certified must attend a “What’s new” training course plus pass the vSphere 6 or 6.5 Foundations exam and the VCP6.5-DCV exam.

If you already have a valid VCP6-DCV, getting the new certification requires passing the delta VCP6.5-DCV exam. Candidates with any valid VCP credential for any solution track must also pass the VCP6.5-DCV exam.

If you let a VCP certification expire, you have to attend a required training course and pass at least one additional exam. Look at the specifics for your old certification and the new one you want to acquire.

That required training? Expect to pay about $4,100 for a five-day training course.

In addition to the VCP6-DCV credential, VMware maintains a full portfolio of data center virtualization credentials. Regardless of your skill level, if you work with VMs, hypervisors, and related technologies, VMware has a certification to meet your needs, skills, and resume-preparation needs. Other virtualization credentials include the VMware Certified Associate 6 Data Center Virtualization (VCA6-DCV), VMware Certified Advanced Professional 6.5 Data Center Virtualization Design (VCAP6.5-DCV Design), VMware Certified Advanced Professional 6.5 Data Center Virtualization Deploy (VCAP6.5-DCV Deploy), VMware Certified Implementation Expert6 Data Center Virtualization (VCIX6-DCV) (this credential is a badge), and the VMware Certified Design Expert 6 Data Center Virtualization (VCDX6-DCV).

Oracle VM 3.0 for x86 Certified Implementation Specialist

An intermediate-skill level credential, the Oracle VM 3.0 for x86 Certified Implementation Specialist (CIS) credential is for IT professionals who work with Oracle’s VM technology. Although open to anyone interested, it specifically targets Oracle Partner Network members. The credential validates a candidate’s ability to install OVM 3.0 Server and Manager components, administer Linux environments, implement virtual infrastructures, and troubleshoot problems. Candidates are also expected to be familiar with general networking principles including vLAN, link aggregation, storage, thin provisioning, and Linux administration. A single exam is required to earn the credential. Although optional, training is highly recommended. Two separate training courses, one covering administration and the other implementation, are available to help candidates prepare for this certification.

HPE Product Certified Converged Solutions [2017]

The HPE Product Certified Converged Solutions cert is a foundation-level credential for consultants, engineers, and architects involved in pre-sales or sales activities for HPE converged and hyperconverged solutions. Typically, candidates possess an understanding of HPE server technologies including software, storage, security, networking, operations, and power and cooling; they are expected to lead projects related to data center transformation. Credential holders review customer requirements and recommend, design, and demonstrate converged and hyperconverged solutions. Training is highly recommended but not required. A single exam is required to earn the designation.

Citrix Certified Professional Virtualization (CCP-V)

More than 300,000 end users rely on Citrix to meet their virtualization needs. In response to growing customer demand for qualified Citrix professionals, Citrix maintains a robust credentialing program at the entry, professional, and expert levels. Currently, three certifications are offered: the Citrix Certified Associate Virtualization (CCA-V), Citrix Certified Professional Virtualization (CCP-V), and the Citrix Certified Expert Virtualization (CCE-V). Job board results were similar for all three certs, so we feature the CCP-V, as it’s the professional-level credential.

The CCP-V takes the CCA-V as a prereq and serves as a stepping-stone to the more advanced CCE-V. Candidates must first obtain the CCA-V and then pass one of two CCP-V exams. The credential is valid for three years, after which credential holders must recertify.

HPE ATP Storage Solutions V2

A professional-level credential, the HPE ATP Storage Solutions targets IT practitioners with at least six months of experience working with HPE storage systems. Candidates should possess basic knowledge of federated storage solutions (3PAR StoreServ, StoreEasy, StoreVirtual, StoreOnce) plus the ability to design and implement converged infrastructures. A single exam is required to earn the credential. There are no prerequisites. Training is recommended but not required.

HPE Product Certified – Synergy Solutions (2016)

A foundation-level credential, the HPE Product Certified – Synergy Solutions cert targets consultants and technical presales and sales engineers who work with HPE Synergy solutions. Successful candidates are experts at reviewing customers’ technical and business requirements and turning them into product recommendations. An understanding of HPE Synergy features and architectural models is required. There are no prerequisites, but candidates must pass a single exam to earn the designation. Likewise, training is recommended but not required.

HPE ATP Data Center and Cloud V2

The HPE ATP Data Center and Cloud credential targets professionals who possess an understanding of HPE Helion solutions for cloud and data centers, cloud computing, and converged infrastructures, along with a strong knowledge of Helion products. Successful candidates should possess at least three years of experience and must pass a single exam.

HPE Product Certified OneView (2016)

As with the HPE Converged Solutions and Synergy Solutions certifications, the HPE Product Certified OneView credential is geared to consultants as well as presales and sales technical engineers who understand its architectural model, monitoring and automation, setup, installation, and converged infrastructure management. Candidates must also possess the skills necessary to evaluate, design, and implement converged infrastructure management solutions using OneView. A single exam is required. Optional training is available.

Honorable mentions

While the featured certs were the most popular on the job boards, many other noteworthy virtualization certifications are available. Several caught our attention and are included here from our honorable mention list, at least for watching going forward as the underlying technology or product earns market adoption. More of HPE’s virtualization certs made a strong showing on this honorable mention list, taking four of the five rankings immediately after the top 10 (that is, for slots 11 through 15).

HP Accredited Solutions Expert HP-UX 11i V3 Administrator V1

The HP Accredited Solutions Expert HP-UX (ASE HP-UX) is an expert-level credential for professionals working with mission-critical servers and networked environments using HP-UX. Candidates should possess technical skills necessary to administer, maintain, install, and configure such environments. A thorough understanding of administrative tasks (performance tuning, configuration, deployment), operating system configuration and management, and data protection tool use is required. To earn the credential, candidates must first obtain the HP ATP HP-UX 11i v3 Administrator V1 certification and then pass the ASE HP-UX exam. As with other HP certs, training is highly recommended but not required.

Red Hat Certified Virtualization Administrator (RHCVA)

The Red Hat Certified Virtualization Administrator (RHCVA) is the go-to professional certification when it comes to Red Hat Virtualization Manager and managing Red Hat virtualized infrastructures, management tasks (bookmarking and logging), hypervisor configuration and installation, data center creation, and Virtualization Manager installation. A rigorous, performance-based exam is required. There are no prereqs, but experience with Linux systems administration and formal training is strongly recommended.

HPE ASE Hybrid Infrastructure and Cloud Architect

The HPE ASE Hybrid Infrastructure and Cloud Architect is an expert-level certification. To qualify, candidates should possess expert knowledge of Helion CloudSystem and Helion solutions and be able to evaluate, define, design, and implement data center and cloud solutions. In addition, candidates must demonstrate proofs of concept and lead data center transformations. To earn this credential, candidates must obtain the HPE ATP Server Solutions V3 credential and then pass three exams.

HPE ASE Storage Solutions Architect

For the expert-level HPE ASE Storage Solutions Architect credential, candidates need at least a year of experience with enterprise storage networking. Qualified candidates must design backup and storage solutions and demonstrate in-depth knowledge of related technologies and architectures. Candidates must possess either the HPE ATP Storage Solutions V1 or V2 credential, plus pass two exams to earn the designation. Training is highly recommended but not required.

HPE Master ASE Storage Solutions Architect

A master-level credential, the HPE Master ASE Storage Solutions Architect credential is one of the company’s most respected certifications, targeting storage architects who possess at least three years of experience with HPE Converged Storage solutions in enterprise environments. As with all HPE certs, training is recommended but not required. To earn the credential, candidates must possess a HPE ASE Storage Solutions Architect certification (V1 or V2) plus pass a single exam.

Table 2: Job board search results, slots 11-15

Certification SimplyHired Indeed LinkedIn Jobs Total
HPE ASE – HP-UX 32 34 8 3 77
RHCVA 17 17 30 11 75
HPE ASE Hybrid Infrastructure and Cloud Architect 16 17 8 6 47
HPE ASE Storage Solutions Architect 15 16 0 12 43
HPE Master ASE Storage Solutions Architect 7 8 0 6 21

Certification and virtualization training

While virtualization certifications do not always require it, training is generally recommended—and beneficial. Typically, certification providers maintain a robust training program. Certification seekers can find both instructor-led and virtual instructor-led classroom training available. Hybrid or blended learning opportunities are often available, too.

While not exhaustive, Table 3 lists some of the training opportunities offered from the certification providers mentioned in this story. (Note: ILO stands for instructor-led online training, and ILT stands for instructor-led training in a physical classroom.)

Table 3: Virtualization training options by certification provider

Provider Featured cert Online Training Offline Training
Cisco CCNP Data Center Study groups, on-demand e-learning, practice exams, virtual leaning labs, ILO, games ILT, books
Oracle Oracle VM 3.0 for x86 Certified Implementation Specialist virtual-instructor led, e-learning, on-demand Study guides, ILT, self-paced materials, custom courses
HP Converged Solutions, Synergy Solutions, OneView, ASE HP-UX Web-based, self-paced,virtual-instructor led, virtual lab, virtual class (recorded), Adoption Readiness Tool, Training Analysis Tool ILT
Microsoft  MCSE: Cloud Platform and Infrastructure Exam prep videos, practice, certification study groups, on-demand exams, videos, virtual labs, learning materials, study groups, study questions, self-study options ILT, books, courseware
Citrix CCP-V ILO, online free offerings, e-learning Exam prep guides, ILT
VMware VCP6.5–DCV ILO, blogs, podcasts, labs, videos, on-demand learning ILT, self-study materials, books
Red Hat RHCVA ILO, blogs, communities ILT

If you don’t want go to the vendor directly, many third-party training providers also offer a wide variety of training options for virtualization certification seekers. The table below lists some offerings from third-party training providers to show you a range of options.

Table 4: Third-party virtualization training providers

Provider Big Data training Online training Offline training
Global Knowledge Cisco, Microsoft, Red Hat, VMware, Citrix, Oracle ILO, virtual labs, blended learning ILT, blended learning, managed programs, student assessments, custom materials
New Age Technologies Citrix, HP, Microsoft, Cisco, Red Hat, VMware E-learning, blended learning, virtual labs, ILO ILT
New Horizons Citrix, Cisco, Red Hat, VMware ILO, e-learning, virtual labs, blended learning, online mentoring ILT, blended learning, on-site training
Pluralsight Citrix, HP, Microsoft, Cisco, Red Hat, VMware, Oracle E-learning Online and offline viewing
Skillsoft Microsoft, Cisco, Red Hat, Oracle ILO, e-learning, e-books, virtual labs, online mentoring Courseware, e-books, virtual labs, mobile
Simplilearn Microsoft virtual-instructor led, e-learning, on-demand e-learning Articles, e-books
Koenig Solutions Citrix, Microsoft, Cisco, VMware, Oracle ILO, Flip Classroom (assisted self-study), on-demand, labs, Koenig edX, webinars Classroom, one-on-one training, Theater Experience (on Koenig Dubai site), on-site training

Candidates who prefer a less formal learning environment will find no shortage of self-study learning opportunities, including self-paced courseware, on-demand learning, webinars, videos, white papers, and e-books. Many certification providers also maintain thriving support communities where advanced professionals and peers can help through mentoring programs, study groups, online communities, access blogs, and conferences. If conferences interest you, see our related guides to tech industry conferences such as for cloud and analytics, where the sessions usually include information the certification tests expect you to know.

In addition to traditional certification programs, many universities, colleges, and technical schools offer degreed programs in (or including) virtualization at both the undergraduate and graduate level. Certificate programs are plentiful. A list of just a few of the college-level virtualization courses include:

  • ECPI University: BS in Computer and Information Science with a major in Cyber and Network Security, Cloud Computing Track; 28-credit hours to earn; ECPI offers campus and online options.
  • Colorado State University Global Campus: Degree specialization in Virtualization and Cloud Computing; specialization is available for a BS in Information Technology and BS in Management Information Systems and Business Analytics; 15-credit hours required to earn the specialization; offering is 100 percent online.
  • Southern Methodist University: Lyle School of Engineering, Master of Science in Data Center Systems Engineering; must meet all Lyle School of Engineering admission requirements plus possess a BS in an engineering discipline, computer science, mathematics, or quantitative science, have two years of college mathematics and one year of calculus to apply for admission.
  • Century College: Cloud Computing and Virtualization Security Associate in Applied Science, Specialty Track in Cloud Security and System Virtualization; 60 credit hours required; program is a mix of online and on-campus courses.
  • Full Sail University: BS in Cloud Technologies; courseware includes Virtualization Technologies courses; degree is a 20-month, on-campus program.

MOOCs: Training on your schedule

Training can be cost-prohibitive, so candidates may elect to go it alone and study on their own. If this is an option that you’re considering, be sure to check out massive open online courses, or MOOCs. As the name implies, MOOCs are online, which makes them attractive for those who need flexibility in their study time and environment. MOOCs are typically free, although certification fees may apply for those looking for credentialing or college course credit.

Plus, MOOCs give you scheduling freedom, a boon for busy IT professionals. All you need is an Internet connection, a computer, and the motivation to learn.

If MOOCs are free, how good can they be? Great question! Don’t let the price tag fool you. MOOCs are offered by some of the finest institutions of higher learning in the world.

One of our favorite MOOC sites is the MOOC Search Engine (MOOCSE), which lists courses from universities such as Harvard, MIT, and Stanford along with training from well-known training providers including Coursera, edX, Udacity, and many others. A simple search on just the word “virtualization” on MOOCSE found more than 7 million training courses listed—yes, 7 million! Obviously, it would be impossible to go through all of them, but we browsed for a bit and found training from many powerhouse certification providers, including Cisco, Red Hat, HPE, and VMware. Some of the training topics included desktop virtualization, cell virtualization, basic server virtualization, hybrid virtualization, HPE network virtualization, and data center virtualization. The list is exhaustive!

Unsure how to get started with containers? There's a guide for that.

When it comes to training, don’t neglect the power of social media. Many companies and training providers maintain a strong presence on social collaboration tools such as YouTube, iTunes (for podcasts), and Facebook. On YouTube, we found videos from companies and universities such as Pluralsight, VMware, Rackspace, Linux, the University of Massachusetts, and Udacity.

If you’re looking for flexible, learn-as-you-go training opportunities, then you’ll definitely want to explore the many options.

What now? What’s next?

With so many choices available, deciding where to turn next can seem daunting. The good news is that determining your next steps doesn’t have to be overwhelming. We encourage you to identify your professional interests and then look at the featured certs to determine which ones most closely align with your career goals. Once you select a certification track, examine the training options to find which ones fit into your budget, schedule, and learning style. You’ll be on your way to success as a virtualization professional!

Related links:

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This article/content was written by the individual writer identified and does not necessarily reflect the view of Hewlett Packard Enterprise Company.