Over the past two decades, the networking field has grown tremendously. It has become a platform upon which various IT services are based. It forms the foundation for remarkable growth in the power that Information Technology has come to be stamped with over the years. This power and innovation have led to vested interest in the field by new entries as well as professionals in other industries. Nowadays, it is a common phenomenon to find Systems Analysts and Programmers coveting the skill set of networking professionals.

CCNA Training – Resources (Intense)

The information technology space is governed by both technical and managerial skills. You must be able to prove that you possess the knowledge and skills necessary before you can make head-way in this space – but how do you prove that you’ve got the relevant skills and technical expertise? The answer is Certifications! Certifications!! Certifications!!! It’s all about certifications. You may have the skill, but without the necessary certifications to prove it – in my candid opinion – it’s as good as nothing. You will miss opportunities to showcase “your stuff.”

About the CCNA

In networking, there are many certifications that you can look into for both knowledge and a veritable proof that you possess the relevant skills. As a beginner in the field of Networking, one of them stands out and it’s called the Cisco Certified Network Associate or CCNA, an entry-level certification with a difference.

The CCNA presents you with a depth of knowledge that goes beyond the technician’s ability to join cables, connect switches and routers, configure basic parameters in Wireless Devices (Router and Access points) and crimp cables without an understanding of the underlying “behind the scenes” bubbles which makes the stuff work.

The CCNA is a certification that launches you into the light of Networking – allowing you to experience the “sweetness of the meal.” It leaves you with the capacity to desire more, a feeling that’s very important for a beginner on his/her way to becoming a professional. Though it’s not a vendor neutral certification, I must say at this point that it does gives you “more than” a proper head start in the field of networking.

What will I Learn by Studying for the Exam?

The CCNA certification will expose you to LAN (Local Area Network) and WAN (Wide Area Network) design. The OSI model, Cisco Wireless technology, subnetting, IP Addressing, routing and routing protocols (RIP, EIGRP, OSPF etc.), switching and various other related concepts, protocols and technologies (STP, VLAN, VTP) and Security (ACLs – both standard and extended) are well covered. Other common concepts like the DHCP, NAT and PAT are also explained in detail.

Wait! All these may seem strange to you as it was to me when I came across the CCNA as a Network Technician, but not to worry: it’s a walk in the park once you are through with your CCNA studies. The CCNA delves deeply into the very fabric of networking such as the physical layer standards and the various protocols used in the world of networking. You will definitely find it interesting.

However, configuring Cisco devices is given priority, and the use of the CLI (command line interface) and the SDM (security device manager) is emphasized – though more emphasis is on the CLI for obvious reasons. By the time you are done reading this article and studying for the exam, you’d understand why.

Industry-wise, Cisco devices make up about 80% of networking hardware and, with the acquisition of LinkSys Group Inc. and about 23 additional companies in 2000–2012 plus with future acquisition in sight, you are assured a great opportunity in the marketplace when you have a CCNA certification or any other Cisco certification at that. With CCNA, you are qualified to manage a small to medium sized network.

Do I Need any Technical Knowledge in Advance?

It is worthy of note to say that the CCNA, in my opinion, should not be treated as an entry-level certification but instead as a foundation level certification. If no previous networking experience (at least at the Technician stage) is possessed, it can be a great hurdle for any beginner to cross, as the coverage of various topics is in-depth. The new entry may become confused and give up altogether.

I advise, therefore, that the beginner focus on getting the basics of networking right before delving into the world of Cisco. There are quite a handful of certifications out there that can help. The A+ IT Technician covers a handful of computer networking studies at the Technician level, which is surely a good start. The Network + or the CCENT (a Cisco certification lower than the CCNA, otherwise called the ICND1) networking certification is also a good place to start.

Either of these certifications will give you the basic technician level knowledge/skill needed to cope appropriately with the CCNA course. You will be left with words like “Ha! So this is how it actually works. Hmm! So that nailed it,” because the concepts expanded in both certifications will be blown up into more granular details within the CCNA course.

I recommend that the Network + material be digested (even if the exam will not be taken) before the CCNA. Below are the various skills which I believe should be possessed by the beginner before delving into the CCNA – most of which are not covered in technical details within the Cisco course:

  1. Network cable crimping skills: The CCNA certification will not teach you how to properly crimp a network cable. It basically covers the theory of cable types.
  2. No focus on PC network configurations: This isn’t any surprise, as the CCNA certification is not vendor neutral. It focuses more on Cisco device configurations – not Hosts and Server configurations (called End-points in Networking and Network Security).
  3. Physical networking skills: Skills enumerating cable laying e.g. effect of interference on cables, attenuation, best cable management practices, etc.
  4. Cable termination skills: Patch panel racking and cable terminations (structured cabling skills).

The knowledge of the above, though basic, will make you a well-rounded Network Engineer when possessed. It will also help in understanding the CCNA course material easily as you study it. I’ve come across many beginners who passed the CCNA exam without having these skills, and I will rather employ a CCNA with these skills than one without. However, Cisco has a book entitled “Fundamentals of Voice and Data Cabling,” which covers all the concerns above. It is often used as a course pre-requisite in colleges that are Cisco Learning Centers – such as NET110 where CCNA1-4 are net125, 126, 225, and 226, respectively. It’s a certificate of completion course, not a certification.

What Marketable Skill Will I Present to a Potential Employer?

The CCNA certification was not designed to only give you skills; it is also a means for prospective employers to measure the level of your networking competence. Designed in 1998, it became a sure means for employers to rate your knowledge of internetworking that’s not limited to Cisco devices alone due to the extensive coverage of both proprietary and open standard protocols. The certificate qualifies you as a:

  1. Network Helpdesk Engineer
  2. Network Engineer
  3. Network Administrator
  4. Entry Level Network Security Administrator

A few of the skills you will be able to offer your employers are listed below:

  1. A grounded understanding of the OSI model.
  2. Management of a small and medium scale networks with Cisco devices.
  3. Understanding of IP routing, subnetting and configuration of Cisco routers.
  4. Basic network designing using knowledge above.
  5. Network troubleshooting skills.
  6. Knowledge of the Cisco IOS, router configuration back-up.
  7. Basic security configurations using the IOS’ Access Lists.
  8. VLAN configuration and management.
  9. Understanding of various WAN technologies like the HDLC, Frame Relay, PPP and ISDN.
  10. WAN End-to-End communication using routing and tunnels.
  11. The use of Telnet and SSH to resolve problems on multiple routers in remote locations.
  12. Basic network mapping using the CDP protocol (note the word basic).

These are only a few of the skills you can offer your employers. No wonder the CCNA certificate is a sure start in the networking world.

The CCNA should not be treated as an end in itself. It will prepare the ground for more advance certification like the CCNP and the ultimate CCIE certifications. To tell you the truth, you’d really want to be a CCIE! The CCNA, though, presents a host of knowledge and skills, and it is only the beginning. It is also a prerequisite to the CCNA Security Certification, which you will need if you are aiming to pursue a career in Network Security.

How Do I Prepare for the Exam?

You may be tempted to ask: how do I study for and pass this exam? And you may say: I was told that the CCNA is difficult, how do I make it easy? My answer to you is simple. Work on your psyche and study hard.

The first thing is to understand how the certification is structured. There are two paths to earning your coveted CCNA. You either write two exams, the ICND1, which grants the CCENT certificate, and the ICND 2, to become a CCNA, or you can take the CCNA composite which is just one exam.

Depending on your budget and time target, the ICND 1&2 is definitely the simple way out. Cisco sort of divides the syllabus in two and presents you two simple exams which you can pass to become CCNA certified. The CCNA composite however is a more difficult but cheaper approach (The ‘write two for the cost of one’ approach). Either way, the exam is not as difficult as you think.

The key to success is read and Practice! Practice!! Practice!!! There are Labs and simulations available for free over the internet that will be very useful for practice. In my opinion, the best is the Cisco Packet Tracer, followed closely by Dynamips and Graphical Network Simulator (GNS3).

There are also lots of books out there. The Cisco Press materials and the CCNA study guide by Todd Lammle (Seventh Edition) are good study materials – I recommend the latter for its depth and simplicity. Work on your commands and try it out yourself on live routers and switches if you can’t afford these simulators. Understand the concepts and protocols taught, don’t leave a chapter until you have nailed it, and you are good to go. Trust me on this!

Understanding the Exam Structure

The CCNA composite, code named 640 – 802, has 45-50 questions to be answered within 90 minutes. The exam is proctored and delivered by Pearson VUE and its partners. It is available in English, Japanese, Spanish, Russian, Korean, French and Portuguese languages. Though there is no specific passing score, in principle as Cisco determines this using statistical analysis and it’s subject to change without notifying the candidate, it usually ranges between 80 – 85 %. Working towards a higher percentage will definitely yield a better result.

The Questions are composed of multiple-choice single answers, multiple-choice multiple answers, Testlets, Simlets, Drag and Drop, and Simulations – with some questions obviously weightier than others. Focus on Drag and Drop, Testlets, Simlets and practical simulations (this is where your configuration skills come in) as they obviously carry more weight.

The ICND 1 (640–822) and 2 (640–816) contain between 40–50 questions each. These exams are also proctored by Pearson VUE and are available in English, Japanese, Spanish, French and Portuguese. ICND1 is expected to be completed in less than 90 minutes and ICND2 in less than 75 minutes.

The CCNA certification is certainly worth it, and the more time spent studying, the higher the chance of nailing the exam in one try. Becoming a network professional is not an easy task and though the CCNA is just the beginning, the end is certainly very rewarding.

Beginning your Networking career with the CCNA is not an end in itself. You must be prepared for the long haul and be set to bag the ultimate CCIE!

I wish you the best of luck.

Reference

CCNA Composite:http://www.cisco.com/web/learning/exams/list/ccna_composite.html

ICND2: http://www.cisco.com/web/learning/exams/list/icnd2.html

ICND1: http://www.cisco.com/web/learning/exams/list/icnd2.html

Cisco Press: http://www.ciscopress.com/

Cisco-CertificationExamTutorial: http://www.cisco.com/web/learning/wwtraining/certprog/training/cert_exam_tutorial.html

Acquisitions–Cisco-Systems: http://www.cisco.com/web/about/doing_business/corporate_development/acquisitions/ac_name/about_cisco_acquisition_names_list.html