Examining the value of a virtualization certification

Pursuing virtualization certification can be time-consuming and can drain your wallet. Is the potential payback worth the investment?

Over the past few years we've seen a large increase in the number of certifications virtualization vendors offer; VMware, for example, has recently added eight new certifications. IT pros looking to get ahead in a tough economy may turn to a virtualization certification to bolster their resume or to help them compete for their next promotion. But how important are these certifications from an employer's perspective, and will they help you get ahead?

Is a virtualization certification course -- which can cost several thousands of dollars -- really worth the money? This week we ask our panel of Advisory Board experts what they think about the growing list of certifications available to IT pros.

Maish Saidel-Keesing, NDS Group

As a potential employer, if I had a choice between the candidate with experience but no certification and the candidate with no experience but a virtualization certification, I would choose the one with experience every time. However, in the case of candidates with equal experience I would probably choose the one with certifications. Why? Because a virtualization certification shows that a candidate has the self-discipline to study for an exam, cares about keeping up to date with the technology and cares about keeping themselves relevant.

The only letters I think would make a significant difference on your business card are the top-level certifications: VMware Certified Design Expert, Cisco Certified Architect, Red Hat Certified Engineer and Microsoft Certified Architect, for example. IT pros with these elite certifications have gone through a rigorous, time-consuming process, which requires a huge commitment, tons of experience and a large amount of money. Someone who has gone through all of this is definitely someone I would want to have on my team.

I think VMware is trying to create specialized tracks for technology professionals, which is a good thing. But, I must say I've become dizzy from all the new letters that have been added.

Christian Mohn, EVRY Consulting

The discussion about the value of IT-related certifications pops up from time to time, and not just within the virtualization field. Much has been said about the value of a virtualization certification, both when it comes to the quality of the certifications and how an IT pro can achieve them. 

Problems with brain dumps, lack of experience and testing methods are not new. The term "paper MCSE" was coined in the early 2000s when the influx of newly certified Microsoft Certified Systems engineers, who had little or no real-world experience, flooded the market. Sure, they were certified, but without hands-on experience, what is a certification really worth? A virtualization certification without experience isn't really worth much, but the combination of the two shows a defined body of knowledge of a given topic, as well as the dedication required to pursue the certification. That has real value and might just be the deciding factor when it comes to choosing between two otherwise equal candidates.

When it comes to virtualization certifications, VMware's in particular, one of my pet peeves has been VMware's requirement to spend five days in a classroom to be eligible to take the entry-level VMware Certified Professional exam. While I understand the reasoning behind requiring the hands-on experience, the fact remains that this requirement adds a large cost. In my case, this means my employer would have to pay for the training class and not have my services for those five days. That's a double penalty that increases the cost way beyond the price of the training. 

For those not fortunate enough to have an employer that actively encourages training and certifications, the cost of the training and travel is very high. Thankfully, VMware seems to be taking note of this.

While there are only a few details available, VMware Project Nee (Next-Generation Education Environment), seems to be designed to address these issues. It offers online self-paced training that, in many cases, can replace traditional classroom training scenarios. It is a good initiative by VMware and something I've been advocating for quite some time.

VMware has recently expanded their certification offerings from a single certification track to three: Data center virtualization, cloud computing and end-user computing. It's a good move because the previous single track no longer aligned with VMware's expanding product offerings.

Hopefully, VMware follows this up by expanding its certification department resources as well, because I suspect they have not been given the required attention.

VMware needs to take a good hard look at things such as certification update time limits and upgrade paths, and make sure that they are achievable for the people spending time and money on the training. Having to sit through a new classroom session, online or not, because you missed an update deadline is not a good feeling, nor is it very productive. Make sure that the timeframes make sense, especially if you offer discounts. Having an upgrade time limit set to two weeks beforeVMworld and then offering discounted exams at VMworld makes little sense.

It's been said that certification and training might be a way for vendors to make even more money off their clients, but I don't think that is the case. As far as I know, vendors really don't make all that much money off of training offerings. The ones making a buck are probably the training partners that provide instructors, classrooms and other facilities.

Overall, I think certifications hold a lot of value and merit, but it varies from exam to exam and from vendor to vendor. Most, if not all, exams should be hands-on and lab-based. The time for multiple-choice exams has passed. Not only does a lab-based exam help weed out the brain-dump candidates, but it also makes taking the exam a better experience. After all, most of us who pursue the exams do it to prove they know a product, not that they can discard the wrong answers in an exam setting. Give real-world scenarios and people will prove that they can do real-world configurations and troubleshooting.

Jason Helmick, Interface Technical Training

Employers are moving to virtualization at a rapid pace, increasing the demand for highly knowledgeable IT pros to guide and implement projects. Experienced IT pros know that a specific virtualization certification does not establish a person as a real-world guru. That said, the work and research involved in obtaining a virtualization certification forces IT pros to explore areas outside their daily jobs, increasing their overall breadth of knowledge. This does make a difference in job performance and it places a notch in the measuring stick that many employers use to make salary and hiring decisions. With businesses hinging their futures on virtualization, a certification demonstrates the importance an IT pro places on the value of advancing their knowledge and providing a higher level of expertise to the business. The monetary cost of a certification is high -- but it's a win for you and a win for your company.

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