This feature first appeared in the Summer 2016 issue of Certification Magazine. Click here to get your own print or digital copy.
Information technology certification has been proven time and time again to support career growth, increase earning potential, and improve an individual's standing among peers. This is especially true for virtualization certification. In this article, I want to make the case for virtualization certification and share some advice on how to prepare, but first, a little background.
Ask an old timer about enterprise computing and you'll hear about batch jobs and time-sharing. Those were ways of getting more utility out of those massive, expensive mainframe computers that could only run one job at a time. In the late 1960s, virtualization was used to divvy up mainframe resources across different applications. It was a big deal because, for the first time, companies that couldn't afford to buy a computer could rent processing time.
Fast forward to the late 1990s. Thanks to hypervisor software, the principles of mainframe virtualization were then applied to individual x86 servers. The data center has never been the same.
Virtualization makes it possible to run multiple operating systems and applications on the same server at the same time. It continues to transform the IT landscape and change the way that organizations use technology. Virtualization delivers some critical benefits, including:
- Increased resource utilization
- Decreased capital and operating expenditures
- Greater data center efficiency and security
- Quicker implementation of new applications
- Improved application uptime/ reliability
There are currently four main categories of virtualization: server, network, storage, and desktop, with server virtualization being the most prominent. Within VMware's customer base, we are seeing increased interest in network virtualization.
Network virtualization is the complete reproduction of a physical network via software, and there are three key customer use cases: IT automation, security, and application continuity. Security, for example, is strengthened in large part by a concept called micro-segmentation.
Micro-segmentation is the ability to create individual networks for every application that are completely segmented from each other. Thus, traffic from one application cannot mix with the traffic from another, even if they are sitting right next to each other. Look for news about network virtualization. It is expected to be a key source for future breakthroughs and growth in virtualization adoption.
One last bit of terminology before we head into certifications: virtualization vs. cloud. They are not the same thing, but the confusion isn't completely unfounded. Cloud computing describes the delivery of shared computing resources (software and/or data) on demand through the internet. Virtualization was the predecessor to, and is the foundation for, cloud computing. Without virtualization, there is no cloud.
Why get certified in virtualization?
Virtualization is a hot certification "ticket" these days for several reasons. First, it pays. Global Knowledge, a leading learning services and professional development solutions provider, routinely surveys IT professionals. According to the Global Knowledge 2016 IT Skills and Salary Report, the average salary for an IT professional is $76,865. The average salary for a virtualization certification holder is $102,696. And in its list of the 15 top-paying certifications for 2016, five are entirely or partially related to virtualization.
Second, virtualization expands your career options. Virtualization technology is used in just about every company, from global enterprises down to small businesses. This alone creates a high demand for IT professionals with virtualization skills.
Third, virtualization interacts with a lot of other technologies. Quite often, individuals certified in other technologies find that adding virtualization certification complements their existing skillset and supports career advancement. In fact, while our core VMware community remains focused primarily on data center/server virtualization, interest in network virtualization certification is strong and growing.
How to prepare
Earning your virtualization certification will not be easy — but it will be worth it. Using your study time more efficiently and improving your odds of passing the certification exam is a four-step process:
Get your hands dirty: You don't have to use the underlying technology you're getting certified on at work every day, but get some hands-on experience with it. A lot of vendors make that easy by offering demos, sample licenses, and free introductory training. Also, many companies offer longer (typically fee-based) training courses that provide a lot of hands-on time with their product.
Read up: The material you need to learn is not a secret. It's common in the IT industry to provide a blueprint or exam guide that lists all the covered topics. Familiarize yourself with what is required and with any specific prerequisites.
Do a GAP analysis on yourself: I can't recommend this highly enough. Make a detailed list of what you need to learn (use the exam objectives or blueprint) and then rate yourself (low/ medium/high, or using a 1-5 scale) on how fluent you already are with that material. Conducting a GAP analysis will save you time and keep you pointed toward success.
Get to work: Start closing your biggest content gaps first. Training is the fastest way to prepare, and is required for some certifications. Either way, there are a lot of training materials available on the internet. Filter through these with a critical eye, however; many are a waste of time.
Finally, some organizations offer exam prep courses. These are similar to having a college TA walk you through everything that's going to be on the final exam. These can also be real confidence boosters. At VMware, we offer cloud-based certification exam prep materials through the VMware Learning Zone that include an objective-by-objective review, along with sample questions based on the actual exam.
Final thoughts on certification in general
We've already discussed some of the important benefits of getting certified. The real value, however, isn't how getting certified strengthens your resume, it's how it strengthens you. The certification process improves the way you think and work — it makes you a better technologist.
I've seen certification change people's lives for the better more times than I can count. In my 18-plus years of managing certification programs, I have yet to meet someone who regretted earning their IT certification. You won't either. So take charge of your career and get started now!