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Exploring the Cisco CCNP Enterprise

The Cisco Certified Network Professional (CCNP) Enterprise is a widely recognized IT certification with a long, established history.

Throughout its history, the CCNP has gone through many evolutions. The latest version, CCNP Enterprise, recognizes that professionals are no longer capable of knowing everything there is to know about networking and that specialization is becoming increasingly important. Over the years, Cisco has not only updated the content of the exams necessary to earn a CCNP Enterprise but also the way the certification is earned.

What is the CCNP Enterprise?

The CCNP Enterprise certification “validates the core (networking) knowledge you need while providing the flexibility to choose a focus area.” To earn the CCNP Enterprise cert, you’ll need to check off a few prerequisites that ensure knowledge and ability in networking, then pass two exams.

What does the CCNP Enterprise test?

The first exam for the CCNP Enterprise is the 350-401 ENCOR. It “focuses on your knowledge of enterprise infrastructure including dual-stack (IPv4 and IPv6) architecture, virtualization, infrastructure, network assurance, security, and automation.” Cisco wants to ensure a baseline level of networking expertise across all specialties, and the 350-401 ENCOR is designed to test that.

It’s important to note that the 350-401 ENCOR is also a core requirement for the CCIE Enterprise Infrastructure, CCIE Enterprise Wireless, and Cisco Certified Specialist – Enterprise Core certifications. If you foresee earning any of these in your future, the time you spend investing in study material is going to pay repeated dividends.

The 350-401 ENCOR exam is divided into six domains with the following weights:

1.0: Architecture – 15%
2.0: Virtualization – 10%
3.0: Infrastructure – 30%
4.0: Network Assurance- 10%
5.0: Security – 20%
6.0: Automation – 15%

As you can see from the weighting, infrastructure and network security comprise fully half of the testable material. This indicates the importance of mastering these concepts to achieve Cisco’s definition of a network professional.

In addition to passing the core exam, you must pass one of six possible concentration exams. Each of these will be reflected on your certification, indicating to current and future employers where you’ve chosen to specialize in your career.

300-410 ENARSI: Implementing Cisco Enterprise Advanced Routing and Services

Cisco states that this specialty “exam certifies a candidate’s knowledge for implementation and troubleshooting of advanced routing technologies and services including Layer 3, VPN services, infrastructure security, infrastructure services, and infrastructure automation.”

If infrastructure and routing are your jam, then the 300-410 ENARSI might be the best specialty for you. You can also apply this exam toward the Cisco Certified Specialist – Enterprise Advanced Infrastructure Implementation certification. The test is divided into the following four domains:

1.0: Layer 3 Technologies – 35%
2.0: VPN Technologies – 20%
3.0: Infrastructure Security – 20%
4.0: Infrastructure Services – 25%

As you can tell from the concentration exam descriptions, the CCNP Enterprise certification is very customizable. There’s a substantial amount of crossover among the various specialties, but this allows you to be extremely specific in the focus area you choose.

How much does the CCNP Enterprise cost?

A voucher for the 350-401 ENCOR exam costs $400, while the concentration exams will run $300 per attempt. Cisco recommends taking prep courses for each exam; if you choose to take advantage of these, they’ll run between $750 for on-demand, self-paced setups to $4,295 for a virtual, instructor-led classroom format.

The 350-401 ENCOR core exam is 120 minutes long and consists of approximately 100 multiple-choice questions, although the final number you see on your exam will vary to some degree. All of the specialty exams last 90 minutes and have fewer problems that are more customized to their specific knowledge areas.

If you’re renewing your CCNP Enterprise certification (due every three years), one option is to earn 80 Continuing Education credits (CEs). While these can be accrued throughout the three years that your CCNP Enterprise is active, a substantial amount can be accumulated if you choose to go through one of these courses. The self-paced learning options mentioned above are worth 8 CEs, while instructor-led classes can be worth up to 43 CEs.

One final option is to purchase access to the entire Cisco Platinum Learning Library: Networking for $5,200. Be aware that it is self-paced and on-demand, but it’s also worth up to 52 CEs.

If you choose not to renew the CCNP Enterprise via CEs, you have three other options:

1. Passing one technology core exam
2. Passing any two professional concentration exams
3. Passing one CCIE lab exam

What experience do you need for the CCNP Enterprise?

Cisco recommends that candidates have a minimum of three to five years of experience working with enterprise networking solutions. While this is only a recommendation and not a hard and fast requirement, you do need to earn the Cisco Certified Network Associate (CCNA) before you are eligible to sit for the CCNP Enterprise exams.

This level of experience should prepare you to pass the core 350-401 ENCOR exam, but you’ll need to self-evaluate how prepared you are for your targeted specialty. Follow the links above for a more detailed explanation of the knowledge areas the various concentrations require; depending on how comfortable you already are, pursuing further training in those areas is probably a good idea.

Who should take the CCNP Enterprise?

Any IT professional who works with enterprise networking will profit from earning a CCNP Enterprise certification. Because of the certification’s extreme customizability, any networking professional can adapt the CCNP Enterprise cert to advance their particular career.

CCNP Enterprise for Network Administrators

Earning a CCNP Enterprise should undoubtedly be on a net admin’s radar, but it’s likely a bit too advanced for the typical network administrator. The good news is that Cisco provides two certification levels prior to a CCNP Enterprise: Cisco Certified Entry Network Technician (CCENT) and the Cisco Certified Network Associate (CCNA).

The CCENT is optional and not a prerequisite for any subsequent certifications, while earning a CCNA is necessary to sit for the CCNP Enterprise. Depending on your experience level, it might make more sense to skip the CCENT and go straight for the CCNA. Regardless of where you start, eventually earning a CCNP Enterprise certification will benefit any network administrator’s career.

CCNP Enterprise for Network Engineers

Irrespective of any network engineer’s particular focus area, earning a CCNP Enterprise certification will be beneficial. Even if you have a highly targeted role that exclusively revolves around another vendor’s technology, Cisco is so predominant in the networking space that you’ll eventually interact with it. With certification levels above and below it, the CCNP Enterprise is a perfect fit for network engineers.

CCNP Enterprise for Network Architects

Virtually all network architects would benefit from earning a CCNP Enterprise. For network architects who work primarily with Cisco tech, advancing to the expert level with a CCIE may be your eventual destination. Regardless of whether you choose to pursue that top tier of Cisco certs, the CCNP Enterprise is a prerequisite for the CCIE, so you’ll earn it either way. Choosing a specialty that caters to your particular architectural career focus and pursuing a CCNP will undoubtedly make you more marketable as a network architect.

Is the CCNP Enterprise worth it?

In a word, yes—earning a CCNP Enterprise is worth it. The CCNP Enterprise certification is one of the most well-known and established certs in the IT world at large and certainly within the networking space. With six concentration areas, the CCNP is designed by Cisco to fit any networking professional’s career focus, regardless of how targeted or eclectic it might be.

Using the CCNP Enterprise to Learn Skills

Because the CCNP Enterprise core exam focuses on a broad base of networking skills and each concentration area dials into specific knowledge areas to such depth, you’ll undoubtedly learn something new while preparing for the exams. Use the exam descriptions to evaluate your current level of preparation, then dig into any area where you feel your career hasn’t already prepared you with on-the-job experience.

Using the CCNP Enterprise to Validate Skills

The CCNP Enterprise cert is well-established in the networking arena as the gold standard for validating someone’s networking skills in general and experience with Cisco tech specifically. Regardless of where your IT specialty lies, having a CCNP Enterprise certification on your resume will make you more marketable and more employable. You can also use this opportunity to shape the future of your career with a concentration area that defines and establishes your abilities as a specialist.

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