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Top 5 certifications in IT infrastructure for beginners

With digital business growing in importance, organizations require strong IT infrastructures and certified network, systems and cloud administrators to support that infrastructure.

In today's data-driven digital economy, IT infrastructure is the catalyst that makes the world go around. Without strong infrastructure, organizations cannot accelerate time to market, improve service delivery, improve business processes or build a healthy, productive workplace.

In the current post-COVID-19 world where remote work and digitization have become the norm, the role of IT infrastructure is more critical than ever. So, it's unsurprising that 76% of businesses plan on long-term IT changes in 2021 and beyond, according to a Spiceworks and Ziff Davis survey.

If IT infrastructure is such a vital business imperative, can IT infrastructure professionals be far behind? After all, the infrastructure is only as good as the people who design, deploy, maintain, manage and troubleshoot it.

However, it often takes years of hard work to build the skills and experience necessary to become competent in a role and even more effort to become an expert. The right IT infrastructure certifications can help professionals gain expertise and fast-track their career growth. Many such certifications are available for every experience level, even beginners.

Why should beginners pursue an IT infrastructure certification?

According to a joint IBM-Oxford Economics study, 71% of senior IT executives believe that IT infrastructure optimizes organizational performance and provides a competitive advantage. For employers, an industry-standard IT infrastructure certification illustrates an individual's competency or knowledge in a particular area and shows that the person has made an effort to improve their skill set. Candidates that hold the best IT infrastructure certifications, even if they are inexperienced beginners, may be seen as more credible and, therefore, more likely to be an asset for the organization.

If IT infrastructure is such a vital business imperative, can IT infrastructure professionals be far behind?

Certifications also bring many benefits for individuals. Certified professionals earn more than noncertified professionals because they are attractive to the best and most high-paying employers. Professionals are especially attractive if they hold certifications in in-demand skills. An IT certification in an area such as cloud computing can result in an annual raise of over $12,000, according to the "2020 IT Skills and Salary Report" by Global Knowledge. A professional with six-plus IT certifications makes $91,643 a year on average -- 8% more than the global average. In North America, someone with six-plus certifications earns $13,000 more than someone with just one certification.

Certified employees often add more value to the organization and can establish more trustworthy relationships with clients and other stakeholders. They are more confident and perform better at their jobs, often are rewarded for their achievements, and can enjoy accelerated career growth and success.

The following IT infrastructure certifications for beginners can help those looking to advance their careers to the next level.

CompTIA IT Fundamentals (ITF+)

Ideal for IT infrastructure beginners, the CompTIA ITF+ certification enables candidates to determine if they have the competency for, and interest in, the field. With this certification, they understand basic IT infrastructure concepts and terminology. They also get an introduction to software development, database fundamentals and security.

The certification and exam cover all areas of IT foundations. Therefore, candidates can develop a basic understanding of IT and IT infrastructure and then decide which specific area they would like to pursue as a career. There is no experience recommended or required to take the exam.

Key information for candidates includes the following:

  • Passing score: 650 on a scale of 100-900
  • Time: 60 minutes
  • Length: 75 multiple-choice questions
  • Exam language: English
  • Price: $126

CompTIA A+

The CompTIA A+ certification is targeted at IT/technical/system support specialists, field service technicians and desktop support analysts. Other possible job titles with this certification include the following:

  • service desk analyst
  • associate network engineer
  • data support technician
  • desktop support administrator
  • end-user computing technician

CompTIA A+ is well regarded in the IT industry. It verifies a candidate's ability to troubleshoot core service and support challenges related to an enterprise's IT infrastructure; networking; PC, mobile and IoT devices; and security. It is recommended that candidates have nine to 12 months of hands-on lab or field experience.

Candidates must pass two exams covering skills and best practices in the following key areas:

Key information for candidates includes the following:

  • Passing scores
    • Exam 1: 675 on a scale of 100-900
    • Exam 2: 700 on a scale of 100-900
  • Time: 90 minutes per exam
  • Length: 90 questions per exam
  • Exam languages: English, German, Japanese, Portuguese, Thai and Spanish
  • Price: $232 per exam

Cisco Certified Network Associate (CCNA)

The CCNA certification displays the holder's knowledge and skills in IT infrastructure technologies, including a broad range of areas, such as the following:

  • network fundamentals
  • network access
  • IP connectivity
  • IP services
  • security fundamentals
  • automation and programmability

The CCNA certification is perfect for candidates interested in the networking side of IT. It provides a good way for holders to show employers that they are knowledgeable about networking systems, internet protocols and security and that they are aware of the latest innovations in the field.

Potential job roles for CCNA certification holders include the following:

  • entry-level network engineer
  • systems administrator
  • network administrator
  • help desk technician

Key information for candidates includes the following:

  • Passing score: Approximately 800-850 points out of 300-1,000
  • Time: 120 minutes
  • Length: 100-120 questions
  • Exam languages: English, Japanese
  • Price: $300

Microsoft Technology Associate (MTA)

MTA certifications are intended for individuals looking to build a career in desktop infrastructure, server infrastructure or private cloud computing, with each certification addressing a specific area. These include the following:

  • Exam 349: Windows Operating System Fundamentals
  • Exam 364: Database Fundamentals
  • Exam 365: Windows Server Administration Fundamentals
  • Exam 366: Networking Fundamentals
  • Exam 367: Security Fundamentals

Candidates interested in another area of IT infrastructure like the cloud or IT devices and mobility can prove their competency in that area by taking the respective exam.

Key information for candidates includes the following:

  • Passing scores: Varies by exam, but the average is 70%.
  • Time: 45 minutes
  • Length: 45-60 questions
  • Languages: Varies by exam; English, Japanese, Chinese, Korean, Portuguese, Russian, Spanish, Italian and German
  • Price: $127

After earning an MTA certification, professionals can go for Microsoft Certified Solutions Associate (MCSA) and Microsoft Certified Solutions Developer certifications, which address Microsoft's IT certifications, including Server 2012, Office 365 and Azure. Microsoft Certified Solution Expert represents the highest certification level that enables learners to develop MCSA specializations.

CompTIA Network+ and Cloud+

CompTIA Network+ and Cloud+ stackable certifications are ideal for individuals looking for careers in the specific areas of networking and cloud, respectively.

CompTIA Network+ is best for candidates who hold CompTIA A+ certification and have nine to 12 months of networking experience. It is useful for a career in IT infrastructure, specifically around network troubleshooting, configuration and management. With this certification, candidates can show employers that they have the knowledge and skills to do the following:

  • design and maintain functional and resilient networks;
  • effectively segment network traffic with switches and routers;
  • analyze and optimize existing network configurations;
  • implement network security, standards and protocols; and
  • help create virtualized networks.

Possible job roles for Network+-certified individuals include the following:

  • junior network administrator
  • junior system engineer/system engineer
  • network field engineer
  • network analyst
  • network support specialist

Key information for candidates includes the following:

  • Passing score: 720 on a scale of 100-900
  • Time: 90 minutes
  • Length: 90 questions
  • Exam languages: English, German, Japanese, Portuguese and Spanish
  • Price: $338

The Cloud+ certification is ideal for system administrators in data centers who want to maintain and optimize cloud infrastructure services. This vendor-neutral, performance-based certification covers key aspects of cloud infrastructure, including the following:

Although not suitable for complete beginners, candidates with less than three years' experience in system administration will benefit from this certification.

Possible job roles for Cloud+-certified individuals include the following:

  • system administrator/network administrator
  • system engineer/network engineer
  • cloud engineer
  • cloud specialist
  • business analyst, cloud computing

Key information for candidates includes the following:

  • Passing score: 750 on a scale of 100-900
  • Time: 90 minutes
  • Length: 90 questions
  • Exam language: English and Japanese
  • Price: $338

A third CompTIA certification, Security+, is ideal for beginners looking to kick-start their IT infrastructure security careers. It validates the baseline hands-on skills required to perform core security functions, like risk assessment and management, incident response, forensics, enterprise networks, hybrid/cloud operations and security control.

In July 2021, the CompTIA Security+ SY0-501 exam will be retired, but its replacement, SY0-601, is already available.

When reviewing the different certifications available today, professionals should select one that aligns with their career goals and market demands. This will enable them to make the most of the knowledge gained and use its full value for a bright career.

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