It’s been a few years since the Cisco CCNA Routing and Switching certification was updated, and a lot has happened in that time. In 2013, digital business transformation, network programmability, software-defined networking (SDN), the Internet of Things (IoT), and virtualized network services were not yet common terms in our lexicon. Even cloud—while certainly gathering force—was a much paler shade of what it is today in terms of acceptance and adoption.

Three years later, so much has changed. IoT has lit a fire under companies and organizations in all sectors to be more digitally agile and innovative in everything they do. The demands of digital business have spurred software-driven network architectural changes that incorporate automation and programming, turning the network into a more efficient, strategic asset for meeting enterprise requirements. It’s all allowing cloud and analytics to be leveraged in new ways. “Transformation” is not too strong a word to capture everything that’s been going on.

And Cisco has been busy during this period building a network architecture for the digital era: Cisco Digital Network Architecture (Cisco DNA). Take a look at Anand Nuggihalli's post and Jeanne Beliveau-Dunn and Rob Soderbery's post to learn more about Cisco DNA and how it provides the network infrastructure foundation to accelerate change, mine more business data from the network, drive more productivity through automation, and expand the ability of the network to respond to security threats.

Not Your Everyday Upgrade

All of this activity forms the backdrop for today’s announcement of v3.0 of the Cisco CCNA Routing and Switching certification. It is not a routine refresh, but instead aims to address the major shifts in the industry during the past few years and provide network administrators with the training and skills validation that they need to evolve with these dramatically changing and exciting times.

Before diving more specifically into the nitty-gritties of the updated certification, let’s examine how the role of the network administrator is being impacted by evolution of the network.

The Changing Nature of NetworkingCCNA Routing and Switching update.jpg

Traditionally, network administrators have deployed networks in box-by-box fashion, which can be slow. Provisioning, monitoring, and troubleshooting of the network has often been a tedious manual process that can be prone to errors. Even though the provisioning of compute cycles can take mere seconds, networking functions and services have lagged behind, taking weeks or months to deploy.

This all changes in a truly digital-ready network. Closed, hardware-centric devices now give way to an open, programmable, software-driven network. Manual, box-by-box management is replaced by network-wide, policy-based automation. Controllers simplify the network through abstraction and provide a platform for consistent policy enforcement, which, in turn, speeds up application and service rollouts while reducing risk. IT staff gain the time to focus on business strategy and rolling out new services, instead of repetitive operations.

And whereas programmability was pretty much limited to the data center in traditional networks, in the more flexible, automated networks of today, programmability can be accomplished across all segments of the network (Access, WAN, and Core).

In addition to automation and programmability, the digital-ready network embraces the following:

  • Virtualization: Network virtualization enables the decoupling of hardware from software and provides the freedom to run services on any platform and to run third-party applications over the network.
  • Analytics: A digital-ready network has the capability to reveal rich contextual insights into users, applications, devices, and threats to help the business and IT make better decisions.
  • Cloud service management: Service management delivered from the cloud unifies policy and orchestration across the network, enabling business agility while contributing to security and control of on-premises solutions.

The Lowdown for the Network Administrator

It’s a sea change. What does it all mean for the network administrator? And how is Cisco adapting its CCNA Routing and Switching training and certification program in the midst of this network transformation?

Network administrators will need to embrace a new architecture based on automation and virtualized network services to realize the benefits of greater network speed, simplicity, and insight being driven by digital transformation and required for IoT scaling. To do so will require migration away from CLI-based interaction with the routing and switching infrastructure toward controller-based interactions driven by business and application policies. In the course of this transition, the knowledge and skills required of a network administrator will expand significantly.

It is this network evolution on a grand scale that is making today’s version of the CCNA Routing and Switching certification more than your ordinary update. Here are some of the biggest changes that network administrators can expect as Cisco upgrades CCNA Routing and Switching and works to prepare you for the digital age:

  • Now woven into the program will be awareness of programmable networks (SDN) and how the separation of control plane and data plane impact the way that networks are provisioned. Network administrators will need new skills and expanded knowledge around controller-based architectures as networks become driven by business-critical policies.
  • Connecting branch offices and mobile workers to the enterprise remains critical, and, with this in mind, Cisco has refocused the CCNA Routing and Switching certification on the most commonly used VPN technologies, including Dynamic Multipoint VPN (DMVPN), site-to-site VPN, and client VPN technologies.
  • IoT is bringing massive scale challenges to networks and requires adoption of IPv6. Therefore, this latest revision of the CCNA Routing and Switching certification includes increased attention on IPv6 routing protocols, configuration, and knowledge.
  • Because virtualization of network functions and the interaction of cloud-based resources on enterprise networks will continue to expand, network administrators can expect to see this key technology shift implemented in the CCNA Routing and Switching program.
  • In addition, knowledge of QoS concepts and the ability to ensure critical traffic is being properly prioritized are essential to achieving business outcomes. Therefore, QoS topics have been added to the CCNA Routing and Switching certification, covering marking, shaping, and policing mechanisms needed to manage congestion within enterprise networks.

Many of you will no doubt want more of the nitty-gritties about how exactly the CCNA Routing and Switching exams are changing as a result of these shifts in the industry. For that, I direct you to an accompanying blog post by Cisco Learning Network community manager Karlo Bobiles. In it, Karlo explains specifically what content is leaving the ICND1, ICND2, and CCNA (composite) exams and what is being added. In addition, please visit the the CCNA Routing and Switching announcement page to get the latest on exactly when requirements are changing.

Through it all, the role of the network administrator remains vital! According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, job growth for network administrators, network support specialists, and computer network architects is projected to grow by more than 31% percent by 2024.

There’s a lot of newness to absorb in this significant revision update by Cisco to enable network administrators to keep pace with how their job role is evolving. Let us know your thoughts about it all below.


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Gary Pfitzer is a content manager at Learning@Cisco, focused on bringing various aspects of today's IT journey to light through business papers, blogging, customer success stories, and other writing.