As the cloud storage industry grows, cloud certifications offer value

With cloud storage implementations still developing, cloud certifications have the potential to give IT pros the advantage they need.

Cloud certifications are rising in number and popularity as vendors seek to advance the emerging technology and IT professionals look to define, architect and utilize cloud offerings. Because the cloud industry is quickly evolving, experts say a skills gap exists when it comes to cloud comprehension.

"There seems to be a shortage of skilled technologists who understand cloud; how it applies to their IT organization, who the vendors are, what the architectures are [and so on]," said Gene Ruth, research director at Stamford, Conn-based Gartner Inc. "Those folks are in short supply because everyone is on a learning curve. I think anyone who can stand up and say 'I'm a certified cloud technologist' is definitely going to be sought after by IT organizations."

EMC Corp.'s Education Services Division developed a Cloud Architect certification course in the spring of 2011, which has had more than 3,000 enrollments. Last month, the company added two more cloud courses to its curriculum. The first is the Cloud Infrastructure and Services certification, an associate-level course that now serves as a prerequisite for the original Cloud Architect certification. The second is the Data Center Architect, an expert-level certification that builds on the prior two.

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EMC advertises its courses as having an "open" curriculum, meaning they aren't specific to EMC products.

IBM offers cloud computing infrastructure and architecture certifications training, and Microsoft Corp. offers a long list of courses specific to Azure and other Microsoft programs. The offerings include courses geared toward the virtualization administrator looking to host a private cloud, and a Microsoft System Center Operations Manager tasked with designing a cloud infrastructure.

There seems to be a shortage of skilled technologists who understand cloud; how it applies to their IT organization, who the vendors are, what the architectures are [and so on].
Gene RuthResearch Director, Gartner Inc.

VMware Inc. offers several sessions centered around architecting a VMware Cloud, while EVault Inc., a Seagate Company, has packaged its cloud certification course as the "Cloud-Connected Service Provider (CCSP) program."

In addition, many independent websites offer online and classroom certification courses.

Among them is CloudSchool.com, a private company operated by Arcitura Education Inc. that offers online and in-person cloud training and certification programs across the globe.

The company offers courses specific to cloud storage, and the Advanced Cloud Storage sessions cover topics such as persistent storage, redundant storage, cloud-attached storage, cloud-remote storage, cloud storage gateways, cloud storage brokers, direct-attached storage (DAS), network-attached storage (NAS), storage-area network (SAN) and various cloud storage-related design patterns.

Still, many courses start with high-level basics. With so much hype -- or cloud washing -- surrounding cloud technology, Gartner's Ruth said, one goal of cloud certifications should be a "minimal definition, so that people have a common framework and taxonomy with which to talk about cloud technology.”

Skeptical, then convinced of the value of certifications

John Kenyon, a cloud architect manager at an Ohio-based healthcare company, was among the first to take the EMC cloud architect course. He has been working in IT for 22 years, and has worked in virtualization for 10 years. Kenyon headed into the week-long, 40-hour course a skeptic. Already a proponent of cloud, he didn’t need to hear more cheerleading.

"But taking the class kind of put it all together and gave me the confidence to come in here and say 'Hey look, this is what I'm thinking.' It validated [my opinion] and let me say 'Let's move forward with this approach.'"

Kenyon heads up a virtualization team and works directly with C-level executives to “get the cloud rolling.” To him, that means explaining to higher-ups what it means to have a cloud in place, the benefits, disadvantages and potential stumbling points, and, finally, getting other teams involved.

"When I took the specialist course, what it did for me was develop a methodology to go about investigating that process," Kenyon said.

Veteran IT pros like Kenyon know that the value of an IT certification isn’t always obvious. In general, real-world experience counts more when it comes to hiring new candidates. But in a technology sphere where a limited number of IT pros have had the opportunity for hands-on experience, certifications can help applicants stand out in the crowd.

Our annual Storage magazine/SearchStorage.com salary survey has consistently shown that data storage professionals with certifications earn more than those without. In the 2011 survey, respondents without certifications earned an annual average salary of $85,333; salaries rose to $87,600 for respondents who held one certification and peaked at $97,117 for those with three certifications.

When looking for certification courses, Kenyon compared EMC’s offerings to VMware's. As a virtualization specialist, Kenyon said he appreciated that EMC's curriculum is based on the standard cycle of the virtualization adoption process. Following his certification, Kenyon was invited back to EMC's Massachusetts headquarters, where he helped a number of EMC employees develop the coursework and structure for the third, expert-level cloud certification course.

The discussion was about the potential for cloud infrastructures over the long run and not about EMC reaping the immediate benefits, Kenyon said. "It was exciting from that perspective," he noted.

More cloud certifications on the horizon

The Storage Networking Industry Association (SNIA) is in the process of building its cloud storage certification courses. Mark Carlson, co-chair of the SNIA cloud storage technical workgroup, said the courses and tests will be vendor neutral and cover what he calls "cloud basics," including cloud standards, the Cloud Data Management Interface (CDMI), and how to create self-service portals and clouds.

Up until now, I think a lot of customers and IT people have been kicking the tires of various implementations that are out there. Now they're getting serious about actually putting together some solutions from the various vendors that are offering cloud storage.
Mark CarlsonCo-chair of the SNIA cloud storage technical workgroup

The two courses SNIA is building are geared toward two different audiences. The first is meant for the cloud storage developer and will cover writing application programming interfaces (APIs) and implementing them. The second course will be for the cloud storage administrator, one who may already have an API and is trying to set up and maintain a cloud, regardless of whether it's private or public.

Still, Carlson doesn't believe high demand for cloud certifications has arrived. At least not yet.

"I think there's a window of opportunity here within the next year to do something," he explained. "Up until now, I think a lot of customers and IT people have been kicking the tires of various implementations that are out there. Now they're getting serious about actually putting together some solutions from the various vendors that are offering cloud storage."

Regardless of whether the demand is immediate, cloud training is likely to impress employers.

"If I was advising a younger person who was getting into this field, I would definitely tell them to learn all about cloud technology and make sure that's highlighted on their resume," said Gartner's Ruth.

Kenyon, who meets new candidates at his Ohio-based company, agreed.

"I can say that if someone came in and said they had a cloud certification, especially an EMC cloud certification, I would value that," Kenyon said. "That’s one of those certs that's not out there for everyone; you really have to know what you're doing."

This was first published in January 2012

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