olly - Fotolia


Cloud certifications that stand out from the crowd

Cloud computing knowledge is almost a must-have in today's IT market. To land that dream job, consider these cloud certifications and courses.

For years, cloud computing has been a hot topic in IT. Today, more than 90% of U.S. businesses use some kind of cloud service, according to IT trade association CompTIA -- and adoption will only continue to grow. As a result, there is a strong and growing demand for cloud-savvy IT staff.

With all the hoopla around cloud, it can be difficult to find effective training and certifications. There are lots of potential trainers, making it hard to choose the right classes. Meanwhile, finding the most viable job candidate can be a real issue for businesses moving to the cloud.

A good starting point for IT professionals is to take courses directly related to the software or specific cloud service provider their organization intends to use. The major virtualization vendors -- Microsoft, VMware, Red Hat and Citrix -- all offer virtualization certifications that serve as the baseline for the hybrid cloud technologies that most corporations expect to install.

Microsoft, VMware and Red Hat all added specialty courses, with exams, to build skills around their particular cloud offerings. In doing this, they have plenty of company. All the usual suspects -- Google, Amazon Web Services, HP, Cisco and IBM -- also offer cloud certifications and courses.

Most of these are online courses, ranging from $200 to $300 per course. Typically, users take an exam at the end of the course to achieve cloud certifications. A typical certification package for an administrator costs about $1,000, including materials, books and the courses themselves.

For admins, that's not a huge investment to open the door to new computing trends. From a corporate viewpoint, these cloud certifications help businesses gather necessary skills, while the admins undoubtedly increase their career potential. However, for these courses to truly be successful, a business must commit to testing the new knowledge on a practical basis. All of these courses are starting points for building or using clouds. Failure to at least build a cloud sandbox will likely result in employee attrition, since these are definitely "use them or lose them" skills.

There is a downside for companies entering the cloud space for the first time. The courses described above tend to be narrow and vendor-focused. This creates a chicken-and-egg issue for the CIO. Without the course skills, choosing a cloud strategy and vendor is difficult. But without knowing your cloud vendors, picking courses is a challenge.

Vendors likely rub their hands and mutter privately about lock-in in a situation like this. But with rapidly changing prices, for public cloud services and the hardware and software that supports private clouds, lock-in is the last thing IT teams need.

Choosing vendor-neutral cloud certifications

If an organization is undecided on a specific cloud platform, or is concerned about vendor lock-in, there are vendor-neutral cloud certifications and courses. Cloud School, for example, offers eight certifications, covering everything from cloud basics to architecture and governance. In addition, CBT Nuggets offers courses on DevOps, as well as big data and cloud infrastructure. There are many other options, including Cloud Academy, which has an extensive portfolio.

While there are many technical cloud certifications, there is a shortage of training to address the business value of cloud. Aimed at managers and directors, these courses are necessary in the early stages of a cloud rollout to set the expectations of the team and to open up more opportunity.

CompTIA, for its part, has a "Cloud Essentials" course that addresses the business value of cloud, the cloud migration process, as well as the subtleties of cloud architecture choices. This course would be exceptionally valuable for the surprising number of cloud neophytes in many management teams.

There are also degree-level courses in cloud computing. These, however, require a substantial investment in time and money, making it important to know the accreditation status of the school and the course, as well as the end results -- such as finding a good job -- for the graduates.

Again, what appears to be missing from the agenda is a set of management classes for C-level executives, rather than just IT folks. Cloud and Agile software approaches are radically changing business operations for the better. A business's decisions around cloud computing need top-down acceptance and focus on protecting and monetizing assets such as intellectual property.

In the end, migrating to the cloud is a business-changing event, and the executive team needs to understand how to maximize that value.

About the author:
Jim O'Reilly was vice president of Engineering at Germane Systems, where he created ruggedized servers and storage for the US submarine fleet. He has also held senior management positions at SGI/Rackable and Verari; was CEO at startups Scalant and CDS; headed operations at PC Brand and Metalithic; and led major divisions of Memorex-Telex and NCR, where his team developed the first SCSI ASIC, now in the Smithsonian. O'Reilly is currently a consultant focused on storage and cloud computing.

Next Steps

Choosing the right cloud computing career path

Top cloud computing roles in the enterprise

How to prepare for a cloud administrator interview

Dig Deeper on Managing cloud applications