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Networks have become more dependent on software, relying on tools to automate functions that used to be handled manually. With this transition, network engineers and managers should consider acquiring automation skills, and a network automation certification might be the best way to learn and develop those skills.
The network automation market is significantly fragmented. Much of the growth came from small startups. But, once the technology was proven, it migrated into larger networking platforms, often through acquisitions.
Cisco and Juniper, two networking leaders, have automation tools specific to their platforms. In 2015, Red Hat acquired Ansible, approaching the automation tasks from a more holistic and less vendor-specific perspective. For networking professionals in the open source world, tools like Chef or Puppet -- the latter is primarily a configuration tool -- can be deployed. Clearly, network engineers have plenty of options when evaluating network automation tools.
Which network automation certification is best?
The first question is whether certification is focused on enhancing your current skills or whether you want to enhance your future job prospects. For the former, heading down the vendor-specific automation certification route will be the fastest way to add value to your career. Let's look at some of the network automation certification options available for networking pros:
- For the Cisco professional, Cisco DevNet is the best place to start. DevNet is more than just a certification program; it provides resources for self-paced learning along with a community to foster learning and development. While the certifications are more generic than traditional Cisco certifications, there is a focus on Cisco hardware and tools. Specific certifications, like Cisco Network Programmability Developer Specialist, can immediately benefit network admins in Cisco environments.
- For networking pros working with Juniper, they can pursue the Juniper Networks Certified Associate DevOps certification that is focused on automation with the Junos OS. This certification is a prerequisite for the Specialist credential.
- For Ansible shops, Red Hat offers a host of certifications from the more basic to the complex. The training is not hardware-specific, but focused on Red Hat Ansible technologies, which are widely used in the market.
- The Linux Foundation offers certifications in its Open Network Automation Platform (ONAP), a networking project that provides a digital environment for the orchestration and automation of network services. As an open source platform, the benefit of an ONAP certification and training is that it can apply to many commercial products or environments.
What network automation basics do you need?
Before jumping into any certification program, you should understand the underlying technologies and APIs. While you don't need to have complete expertise, knowing the basics and operating fundamentals of these tools is essential.
Knowledge of Python is necessary for any network automation certification, so that should be the starting point for everyone. Additionally, a firm understanding of the REST API, NETCONF and YANG is helpful in building out your automation skill set and enabling you to make the most of your certification.
The key with any certification is not just gaining the certificate to add to your resume. Practical experience in real-world environments will be key in turning a certificate into real value in your current job or your future employment prospects. Learning is only the start; doing is more essential for a network automation expert.
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