May 8, 2022

Entry-Level Networking Certification

What is the CCNA certification?

The CCNA—which stands for Cisco Certified Network Associate—is an entry-level information technology (IT) certification issued by networking hardware company Cisco. The CCNA is designed to validate your knowledge on fundamental networking concepts often requested in networking roles in IT positions.

Here’s a quick rundown of key facts:

  • To get the CCNA certification you’ll have to pass one exam, the 200-301 CCNA.

  • Taking the CCNA exam costs $300, plus tax.

  • There are no prerequisites to take the exam, but training and some experience with computer networks are recommended.

  • CCNA is a commonly requested IT certification, with over 9,000 job listings on Glassdoor and 6,000 on Indeed that mention the certification in the US, as of May 2022

How much is the CCNA exam?

The CCNA exam costs $300, plus tax. You can also use Cisco Learning Credits to purchase the exam. These are prepaid credits a company might buy so that their employees can tailor how to spend the credits on the Cisco platform to their preferences.

Trying to cut back on costs? If you think a CCNA certification can be beneficial to your employer, consider approaching your manager to see if the company will pay for the exam or exam training costs (or both).

CCNA vs. CompTIA Network+

Like the CCNA, the CompTIA Network+ is a certification that will test your networking knowledge and is often acquired by professionals hoping to advance their networking skills. There are a few key differences.

  • Unlike CCNA, the CompTIA Network+ certification is vendor neutral. This means that it’s designed to prepare you to work with any network device or system, regardless of what vendor it came from. The CCNA tests you exclusively on Cisco products and tools.

  • The Network+ certification is considered by many to be more foundational than the CCNA. The CCNA is known to cover more topics and go deeper into network material than the Network+. 

So which should you choose? Many opt to take the CCNA despite it being vendor-specific to Cisco, because Cisco products largely dominate the networking market. Cisco had 47 percent of market share in Ethernet switches, and 33 percent of the combined SP and enterprise router market [1]. Because Cisco products are widely used, it can be useful to know them well. Many learners also find that the knowledge acquired by learning on Cisco products is applicable to networking products from other vendors.

That said, because the Network+ focuses on the basics, it can be useful for those completely new to networking, or who find the CCNA too difficult or comprehensive for their needs. It’s completely possible to get the Network+ and go on to take the CCNA when you have more experience.

What’s on the CCNA exam?

The 200-301 CCNA exam takes 120 minutes and is offered in English and Japanese.

The CCNA exam breaks down as follows:

  • Network fundamentals (20%): Network components like routers, switches, and access points; network topology architectures; physical interfaces and cabling types; IPv4 and IPv6 configuration; IP parameters; wireless, virtualization, and switching fundamentals

  • Network access (20%): Configuring and verifying VLANs, interswitch connectivity, Layer 2 discovery protocols, and EtherChannel; Rapid Spanning Tree Protocol operations; Cisco wireless architectures, AP modes, physical WLAN components, AP and WLC management access connections, and wireless LAN access 

  • IP connectivity (25%): Routing tables; router decision-making; configuring and verifying IPv4 and IPv6 static routing and single area OSPFv2; first hop redundancy protocol

  • IP services (10%): Configuring and verifying NAT and NTP; describing DHCP, DNS, SNMP, and syslog features; per-hop behavior; using SSH; describing TFTP/FTP

  • Security fundamentals (15%): Security concepts like threats and mitigation, physical access control; password policies; access control lists; Layer 2 security features; wireless security protocols

  • Automation and programmability (10%): Comparing traditional networks with controller-based networks; automation concepts; interpreting JSON data

How to get the CCNA certification

In order to become CCNA certified, you’ll have to take the 200-301 CCNA exam offered by Cisco. There are no prerequisites for the exam, but Cisco reports that CCNA candidates generally have the following experience prior to taking the exam:

  • At least one year of using and implementing Cisco products and solutions

  • Basic knowledge of IP addressing

  • Knowledge of network fundamentals

CCNA courses and training

There are many online courses you can choose from that will prepare you for the CCNA exam. There may also be in-person classes at your local community college that will do the same. 

  • Cisco offers an online course called Implementing and Administering Solutions that is designed to help you pass the CCNA exam. The course costs $800

  • You can take the Computer Communications specialization on Coursera for a full introduction to the world of networking, or take individual courses if you want to focus on specific skills, like TCP/IP, or packet switching networks.

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