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Storage pros get certified, but doubt its worth

The push is on to get storage pros certified, but some IT pros say they're not convinced the ability to pass a test proves much of anything.

Dave Petersen plans on pursuing his SAN certification from the Storage Networking Industry Association (SNIA) -- not because he thinks he has anything to prove, but because some people in the industry think it will look good on his resume.

"I feel that it really only impresses those that do not fully understand SAN's or enterprise storage," he said.

Petersen, a storage consultant, will be among the first in his field to go through the rigors of Storage Area Network (SAN) certification in what is a growing trend to qualify IT professionals implementing, managing and developing storage networking infrastructures.

For several months now, SNIA has offered a vendor-independent certification program for storage networking. According to SNIA, the program was developed in response to demand from enterprise customers looking for a standardized way to evaluate the expertise of IT pros.

The group contends that certification provides employers with a benchmark to measure employees' skills and is proof of an individual's level of storage networking knowledge and expertise. The ultimate goal, they say, is to provide uniform standards by which the knowledge and abilities of people working with storage networks of all kinds can be judged.

The SNIA certification doesn't focus on specific vendors' products or on particular technologies. Instead, the certification will focus on skills related to the assessment, troubleshooting and deployment of SANs as well as a variety of different technologies used with SANs. Technologies to be covered include Fibre Channel, Gigabit Ethernet and direct access file system (DAFS).

At about $150 a pop for a Level 1 exam -- $295 for a Level 2 -- and over 5,000 testing locations, users won't have to go out of their way to get certified -- unless you count the text books that need to be purchased and the man hours required for study.

Still, critics of certification programs in general say they don't really prove much and might prevent some very qualified pros who aren't certified from getting hired even though they believed it could help them get a job and enhance their careers.

In a recent SearchStorage poll, 43% of the respondents said that certification makes it easier to determine qualifications. On the flip side, 24% said it was a waste of money while 21% said that while they're not sure of the real value, it couldn't hurt.

"They have a legitimate point," said Mike Karp, an analyst with Enterprise Management Associates Inc., Boulder, Colo. "The concept of this certification is quite good, but as in all certification the real value is not in passing a test but in having to be qualified to pass the test."

"I think it's one of those things which just may give you an edge over someone else, all things being equal," said storage administrator Phil Rikas. "But, it's not a replacement or more important than years in the trenches."

According to Frederick D. Bingman, a senior network engineer, certification is a good way of judging the knowledge of an individual, but it's not a good representation of an individual's skill or experience.

"These tests have been setup so anyone who can read and comprehend can become certified," he said. Bingman said he's taken courses with people who are certified in a number of IT areas but they've never actually worked in IT.

"Reading the tech manuals is great and given a perfect environment it might even work," he said. "But, for us in the real world things don't always mesh. So, how do I feel about certifications? Never have and probably never will."

To assume because they don't have certification that they're not qualified is ridiculous, said Karp. Certification has value, shows minimum levels of competency and the hiring manager in the area for which you were tested.

"I don't think any hiring manager is going be naive enough to think that in a complex IT environment that generic answers are going to address the complex issue of his storage environment.

Karp suggests that rather than providing certification, SNIA should provide more training. "The value of the certification is the training, but you can get adequate training without certification."

"I personally believe that if employers put too much credit in SNIA's certification process as a prerequisite for SAN employment, they will be heading down a road that will lead them into real trouble," said Petersen. "I expect that I will soon be cleaning up after "SNIA certified" individuals who although can pass a generalized certification provided by SNIA, have no idea what real SAN management is all about."

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