Which vendor’s cloud certifications are right for your IT career?
Posted on
April 18, 2022
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This feature first appeared in the Spring 2022 issue of Certification Magazine. Click here to get your own print or digital copy.

IT professionals and career starters looking for a cloud computing training and certification program have several options to choose from, as cloud computing currently represents the dominant paradigm of computing technology. According to Allied Market Research, the global cloud services market was worth $325.6 million in 2019 and is expected to reach a value of $1.6 billion by 2030.

For now and for the foreseeable future, the cloud is the foundation of our tech-driven world.

But there is no one "cloud" to become an expert in. Just as there are different cloud computing models out there, the cloud services industry is comprised of numerous vendors, with each of them holding a percentage of the global market.

There are many vendor-neutral certifications that offer candidates a working knowledge of generic cloud computing technologies. But the certification programs offered by the major cloud service vendors give students the opportunity to specialize in one of the industry's top cloud providers.

Which raises a career-relevant question: Whose cloud should you get certified in?

Let's look at the top four cloud service vendors and their respective certification offerings, and determine what factors make each of them stand out from the others.

Amazon Web Services

Fans of the 1993 over-the-top sci-fi action film Demolition Man will remember that — in the year 2032 — all restaurants have become Taco Bell. The “live mas” fast food federation is only chain left standing in the gritty aftermath of the fabled "franchise wars."

In the real world, it's entirely possible that by 2032 all retail stores will be Amazon. During the dot-com era, Amazon became the world's preeminent bookseller by offering the lowest prices backed by a simple and convenient online shopping process.

When Jeff Bezos and friends launched the IT subsidiary Amazon Web Services in 2006, it followed a similar strategy to quickly transform AWS into the dominant cloud services provider in the industry. Today, analysts estimate that Amazon Web Services (AWS) owns somewhere between 34 and 41 percent of the total global cloud services market. More than 9 million live websites are hosted on AWS servers.

Amazon isn't just in first place. It’s in first place by an information superhighway mile.

Amazon wisely created an AWS-branded certification program to support its cloud business. The current version of this program is organized into four experience levels: Foundational, Associate, Professional, and Specialty. These experience levels are split into specific knowledge domains: Cloud Practitioner, Architect, Operations, and Developer.

It’s a sensible design that offers any certification candidate clear choices based on their skill set and desired job role.

The AWS certification program has a lot going for it. Our own recently released 2022 Salary Survey has four AWS credentials listed among the 20 highest-paying credentials. As mentioned, AWS is a clear market leader in cloud services, adding to the value of its certifications. The program offers industry experience options available for candidates ranging between entry-level all the way up to expert.

That said, AWS isn't the only game in town. There are other viable cloud service vendors that could be a better fit for some IT professionals based on their previous experience and education. And these AWS competitors aren't generic fly-by-nighters — in particular, the software giant that’s next on our list has got some serious staying power.

Microsoft Azure

Microsoft released its cloud services platform as Windows Azure in 2010, and later rebranded it as Microsoft Azure in 2014. Azure has been playing catch-up with AWS for market share ever since its debut. Microsoft doesn't specifically report on Azure revenues, but most analysts agree that Azure’s cloud services market share is somewhere between 21 and 24 percent, making it the second-biggest player in the industry.

That said, there is some recent evidence indicating that AWS's market growth is slowing down, while Microsoft Azure continues to trend upwards in popularity. One of Azure’s chief advantages, for example, is how it’s natively backed by Microsoft’s enterprise software empire.

You would be hard pressed to find any IT specialty that isn't covered by one or more of Microsoft's products. For companies and public organizations who are already playing in the Redmond, Wash. giant's sandbox, Azure cloud services are the ideal foundation.

Azure certification paths are far more granular than they were before Microsoft moved its training focus to be more job-role-oriented. Rather than chunking together exams into single certifications, there are numerous Azure designations for candidates to pursue.

The starting point for entry-level cloud computing students is the Microsoft Certified: Azure Fundamentals certification. From this foundation, candidates can work towards Associate-level credentials such as the Microsoft Certified: Azure Administrator Associate certification, and then choose to move on to an advanced certification like the Microsoft Certified: Azure Solutions Architect Expert.

There are also Specialty-level credentials for technologies including Microsoft Teams, SAP, Cosmos DB, and Internet of Things (IoT). While Microsoft Azure may not have the largest market share, its certification program has a lot going for it. There are certifications for different experience levels, and these certs are further delineated into specific career paths.

One caveat to bear in mind is that Microsoft is somewhat famous for restructuring its certification program on an ongoing basis, which leads to certain credentials being tossed in the dust bin every so often. Most employers, however, continue to recognize the value of Microsoft certifications — even when this or that credential is no longer on the active roster.

Microsoft is a heavy hitter in the IT industry apart from its fast-growing cloud computing platform. Our next cloud services vendor, on the other hand, became so popular before pivoting to cloud computing that its brand name has become literally synonymous with the core function of its original primary product.

Google Cloud

It's harder to answer the question, "What does Google do?" than to just assume that it does everything. The Little Search Engine That Could spent the first two decades of the 21st century transmogrifying into its own parent company, Alphabet, and becoming one of America's top-five tech companies in the process.

Google, however, has not achieved the same level of success with its cloud services platform. Most analysts place Google Cloud in third place with a mere 7 percent market share in the cloud services industry. This lower share can be attributed to the fact that Google Cloud represents a small-ish portion of the company's revenue stream. Google is first and foremost an ad revenue company — full stop.

That of course hasn't stopped Google from creating a decent training and certification program around its cloud services products. The Google Cloud certification program is a bit lean on its entry-level and intermediate offerings, with only one credential for each of these levels.

Google's program reaches full bloom, however with its Professional certifications, which are recommended for candidates with at least three years of industry experience and at least one year of experience with Google Cloud.

There are currently eight distinct Google Cloud Professional certifications, spanning the most common knowledge domains including networking, security, and software development. As we noted in a previous article that examined Google's entire certification system, its Google Cloud segment is more coherent than its other branches.

Should you get certified in Google Cloud? If you are deliberately pursuing a job with Google because it works well for your personal circumstances, getting certified in the company's cloud services product is likely the way to go. Just be aware that Google Cloud is a smaller fish in the big pond, which could put limitations on your employment options down the road.

IBM

International Business Machines stuck its flag in the ground over a century ago, and it is still a significant IT industry vendor today. The company has gone through more shifts than the San Andreas Fault, but Big Blue continues to strongly influence big tech in cutting-edge areas like machine learning and quantum computing.

IBM is not exactly known as a cloud services giant. There is, however, some intriguing potential here. IBM’s 2019 purchase of Red Hat added a new facet to the company's cloud portfolio and IBM appears to be following a Red Hat-esque formula in its approach to cloud computing.

Red Hat built a thriving business consulting on a core product, Linux, that it doesn’t (and can’t) technically own. In a similar vein, IBM has now positioned itself as a consultancy that offers services for other company's cloud services. Indeed, the company's Cloud Services home page has a section outlining IBM services available for AWS, Microsoft Azure, and Google Cloud!

While there are IBM certifications for its native cloud products (Cloud v5 being the most significant), these credentials are arguably best meant for existing IBMers, rather than cloud professionals who are looking at changing their specialties or those who want to break into the industry.

Final recommendation

The cloud services industry is certain to grow by leaps and bounds in coming decades. For candidates looking to get certified in a specific vendor's cloud solutions, Amazon Web Services and Microsoft Azure are the top two market share holders and are both poised to continue burning brightly in the cloud services firmament.

Thankfully, both companies offer impressive cloud computing training and certification programs that can prepare candidates to work with either technology. There are other places to look for training and other cloud services providers out there. In the near term, however, you could do a lot worse than to hitch your cloud computing wagon to a star.

About the Author

Aaron Axline is a technology journalist and copywriter based in Edmonton, Canada. He can be found on LinkedIn, and anywhere fine coffee is served.

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