Service Provider Techs Both Vital and Oft-Overlooked
The service provider networking track is an old, popular and stable route among networkers. While the job responsibilities of a service provider engineer haven't changed much over the years, the required skillset remains in high demand for networking jobs. Having a certification in this track solidifies your knowledge and demonstrates that you possess the essential skills to a successful career in the field.
What does a certified service provider professional do?
Service provider engineers are usually responsible for the networking backbone that connects different geographically located networks together. Digital traffic passing from one location to another must go through these networks, which are owned by companies called Service Providers.
The process is straightforward: When you browse the internet, the data is transferred from the server you access through one or more service providers until it reaches your computer. Another example, slightly more complex, is when a company operates separate IT systems in different geographical locations. The company will use a service provider network to transport data between these locations.
Service provider engineers are the unsung heroes, tirelessly toiling away, responsible for maintaining these transport networks. Their job responsibilities typically include designing, building, troubleshooting and maintaining a myriad of networks to ensure high availability and fast data transport.
Where do certified service provider professionals work?
The number one job destination for service provider professionals is obviously with service provider companies. These companies may be small local entities that serve customers in a specific region or country, or they can be much larger concerns — such as AT&T, CenturyLink, Vodafone, and BT — that serve international customers and transport digital traffic over vast distances.
Service provider engineers are among the most highly-paid professionals in the networking field. Rewarding jobs with generous compensation and benefit packages can be had working with the big-name companies that just happen to be located mostly in the U.S. and Europe.
Another favored destination for service provider engineers is with enterprise companies. These companies frequently interact with service providers because their network infrastructure is typically connected to that of a service provider. The service provider engineer's role with enterprise companies usually consists primarily in building and operating networks and interfacing with service provider employees to maintain connectivity and troubleshoot issues as they arise.
As mentioned above, compared to other networking tracks, the service provider certification track hasn't evolved much since its beginning. Because the technologies and skills are relatively stable, there haven't been any of the revolutionary changes experienced, for example, by datacenters with the advent of SDN and network virtualization technologies.
On one hand, this means engineers aren't having to chase rapidly changing technologies to stay up to date and compete in the job market. On the other hand, because of the slow rate of change in the field, it's easy for new engineers to enter the field and remain competent — naturally causing an increase in competition for jobs.
All things being equal, the differentiator is knowledge and experience. Because of the criticality of service provider networks and the high blast radius of failure — which could affect large numbers of customers — service providers are always trying to hire engineers who have experience handling networks.
Networking certifications are a proven resource for enhancing knowledge and a straight path to career advancement. Third party certifications are valued because they validate your skills and knowledge, and are generally guaranteed to pique the interest of potential employers. They are the tools, however, and not the goal.
Cisco is the market leader for service provider core routers, and it has the biggest market share in this area. They also have a strong service provider networking certification track that includes the three proficiency levels certifications: CCNA-SP, CCNP-SP, and CCIE-SP. These certifications are recommended for engineers starting a career in service provider networking, or those who are just looking to advance their existing knowledge and experience.
Another solid source for certification in this area is the Juniper. Their certifications are recognized and valued throughout the industry as a stamp of proficiency. Three of the most valuable certifications are:
Juniper Networks Certified Internet Specialist (JNCIS-SP)
JNCIS-SP is recommended for networking beginners and professionals who are transitioning into working with Juniper equipment. It covers routing and switching implementations in the operating system of Juniper routers (JunOS). In addition, it covers important networking topics such as routing protocols (including OSPF, IS-IS, and BGP), as well as other fundamental topics covering Layer 2 networking, IPv6 and MPLS.
JNCIS-SP is also the first step on the master service provider track working with Juniper equipment.
Juniper Networks Certified Internet Professional (JNCIP-SP)
The JNCIP-SP is targeted at experienced network engineers and contains advanced knowledge of service provider protocols and technologies and training on how to build a service provider backbone network using JunOS. It's an in-demand certification by employers because it demonstrates the professional skills of a network engineer.
JNCIS-SP topics include routing protocols including OSPF, IS-IS and BGP in deeper detail. It also explores important service provider technologies, mainly MPLS, in more advanced details by explaining Layer 2 and Layer 3 VPNs which are widely used in service provider networks.
Juniper Networks Certified Internet Expert (JNCIE-SP)
The JNCIE-SP is the most prestigious certification in Juniper's service provider track. It is designed to provide network engineers with top-tier networking skills to build and maintain stable, reliable and highly available service provider networks on Juniper devices.
JNCIE-SP is for experienced engineers and achieving this credential is no mean feat. The exam itself is one very demanding full-day that all candidates find exhausting. The eight-hour exam simulates how to build a service provider network using Juniper devices and implement different features, protocols and policies on that network.
The JNCIE-SP is considered comparable to Cisco's CCIE-SP, and is a favored certification of employers when hiring for service provider positions. Engineers with a JNCIE-SP credential are viewed as possessing a deep understanding of technologies and protocols for operating networks. Although it's tough to achieve, it pays off well in the job market.