Most jobs require a mix of practical experience and education. For data storage administrators, this typically takes the form of certifications -- if not undergraduate degrees.
Certifications provide a relatively cost-controlled avenue for aspiring or existing IT professionals who are looking to enhance their knowledge of storage systems. Vendors often offer certifications that can help admins better understand specific storage systems and become better versed in general storage best practices. IT admins should check with vendors to see if they offer certification programs such as these.
Cisco Certified Network Professional (CCNP) Data Center
Cisco provides a variety of certifications related to data center operations, and the courses are popular with organizations that use Cisco systems. Storage is not the main focus of this certification, but there are various storage and networking elements that are applicable to storage admins. The CCNP covers topics such as SANs, storage networking and hypervisors.
To earn the CCNP Data Center certification, candidates must pass the 350-601 Data Center Core Technologies (DCCOR) exam and another concentration exam of their choosing. There are six offerings for concentrations, including topics such as data center design and configuring Cisco MDS 9000 Series Switches.
- Cost: $400 for core, $300 for concentration exams
- Duration of exam: 120 minutes for core, 90 minutes for concentration exams
- Duration of qualification: The certification remains valid for three years after completion.
The required 350-601 DCCOR exam can also serve as a qualifying exam for the Cisco Certified Internetwork Expert Data Center certification. There are no formal prerequisites, but candidates should have three to five years of experience with data center systems to get the most out of this course, according to vendor documentation.
Dell Technologies Certified Associate, Information Storage and Management v5
This certification from Dell covers a broad range of storage topics, including SAN virtualization, software-defined storage management, storage provisioning and protocols such as NVMe-oF. It also covers topics in backup and archive, as well as security controls for storage.
Dell recommends taking the Information Storage and Management v5 course prior to the exam, which is offered both in person and on demand, according to vendor documentation.
- Cost: $230
- Number of questions: 60
- Duration of exam: 90 minutes
- Score needed to pass: 60%
This certification also counts toward most Specialist-level certification tracks in the Dell EMC program. Dell's certifications follow a tiered system based on their level of expertise. From least advanced to most, the tiers are Associate, Specialist and Expert level. This certification is at the Associate level.
Hitachi Vantara Qualified Professional -- Storage Administration
Admins who work in an organization that uses Hitachi storage systems or are looking to get their foot in the door at one that does can look to this qualification course. This qualification can enable admins to expand their knowledge and expertise with Hitachi storage systems, such as Hitachi Device Manager and Hitachi Command Suite.
The HQT-6740 exam covers topics such as allocating and managing storage, implementing DR processes and managing storage volumes. It also covers Hitachi NAS integration with Windows and Unix authentication services, as well as configuring iSCSI to Hitachi NAS Platform and block-level storage.
Previously, it was recommended that those looking to take the exam first take the TSI2565 course through Hitachi to prepare for the exam, but that course has been discontinued, according to vendor documentation. Hitachi released retired course material that students can use to prepare, titled "Retired Course Material Supporting Qualification and Certification - 1127CC."
- Cost: $100 or equivalent in local currency
- Number of questions: 35
- Duration of exam: 60 minutes
- Duration of qualification: The qualification remains valid for three years after completion.
- Score needed to pass: 65% or higher
Hitachi also offers a NAS certificate course and a variety of other certificate and qualification courses.
NetApp Certified Data Administrator (NCDA), OnTap
This NetApp certification course is designed for admins who have six to 12 months of experience with NetApp data storage systems. This course is one of the popular certifications on the data track; NetApp also offers a variety of certifications for hybrid cloud and converged infrastructure.
Some of the topics on the NS0-162 exam cover NetApp storage systems features and topics such as SAN, NAS, software-defined on-premises cloud systems and logical storage features. Candidates looking to become certified by this credential should also be familiar with High-Availability controller configurations and OnTap systems with single or multinode configurations. Questions about OnTap clusters, security and storage performance are also likely to appear.
- Cost: $150 to over $200, depending on country
- Number of questions: 60
- Duration of exam: 60 minutes in native English-speaking countries, 90 minutes in non-native English-speaking countries
- Duration of qualification: The certification remains valid for two years after completion.
The NCDA, OnTap certification also serves as a prerequisite for the NetApp Certified Implementation Engineer -- SAN Specialist, OnTap and NetApp Certified Implementation Engineer -- Data Protection Specialist certifications, according to vendor documentation.
Like Dell, NetApp's certifications follow a tiered system in terms of difficulty.
What about vendor-neutral certifications?
The Storage Networking Industry Association (SNIA) previously offered vendor-neutral certifications through its Storage Networking Certification Program (SNCP), which was discontinued in January 2020, according to Dr. J Metz, chair of the board of directors at SNIA.
"The individual vendors-specific certification programs are now compliant with these industry-standard definitions and concepts; as such, the need for the SNCP was no longer a priority," Metz said. "This has allowed SNIA to focus on expanding the online educational library of vendor-neutral materials, such as blogs, videos, webcasts and SNIA Storage Developer Conferences."