Six Niche Cloud Computing Certifications

Sometimes you have to step off the beaten path to find the right cloud certification.

The cloud is where the future of IT is headed — or have we already arrived? I was on the scene when the PC came about, and then when client-server technology was deemed the wave of the future, and then when the industry clamored that data centers needed to be built all over and on-prem (or "on company premises").


I recall spinning up four or five physical exchange servers every weekend, thinking that I was doing the right thing for my clients. Which just goes to show that the only constant in information technology is change. So whether cloud computing is here to stay, or is just the next Next Big Thing, the race for certifications and knowledge is on.


In this article, I'd like to direct your attention to six "niche" cloud certifications. These are credentials that meet a need — there are employers who definitely want these skills — but that aren't hogging space on all of the "most" and "best" and "top for (fill in the year)" lists. While they might not be the hottest, however, they will give you a solid foundation to build on.


Why are these credentials considered off the beaten path? Let's find out! We'll also describe what skills you'll develop while pursuing these certs, what is special and impactful about each of them, and why certain employers will be on the lookout for these particular skill sets.


First up is the new and exciting Google Certified Professional Cloud Architect. While it's attached to one of the biggest brands in IT, this certification lacks some of the heft you'd get with the leading cloud service providers, Amazon Web Services (AWS) and Microsoft.


The Google Cloud Platform exams do have a lot of similarities to the AWS exams, but the general consensus seems to be that, for most people, Google's Professional Cloud Architect exam will be more difficult than the AWS Certified Solutions Architect Professional exam. Having taken this test, I can vouch for that overall opinion.


One difference is that Google expects every architect to come from an application development background. That might not be an issue for most people, but some will be quite thrown by a question asking them to debug some Python code that has nothing to do with the Google Cloud Platform. Python is popular and powerful, however, so Google wants to make it relevant across the board.


The key difference between Google Cloud certification and AWS, however, is that Google certification revolves entirely around professionally performing the Cloud Architect role, rather than around the platform itself. There is significant value in this, because it can better represent real world ability.


This can also make the exam much harder, of course, because its scope is almost limitless. Again, you can expect plenty of exam questions that have nothing to do with Google. The exam itself is only $200, but the hours spent studying for it will take their toll on you, and preparation could cost you much more than $200.


Next up is Amazon's AWS Certified Solutions Architect — Associate. While this certification isn't all the obscure, you should have it under your belt when applying for just about any cloud computing position. Building on AWS makes me feel like the old days of building artisan Dell servers one by one, except that now I can build 50 servers at once, using fewer clicks.


Since AWS is by far the most well-known cloud platform, and also one of the oldest, there are a ton of materials out there for study. If you are new to the business, or to AWS, then expect to dedicate at least 120 hours of focused time to study and shell out a couple hundred dollars. The cert exam itself  is cheap enough that almost anyone can afford it, but you definitely don't want to attempt it cold.


Sometimes you have to step off the beaten path to find the right cloud certification.

Next we have Cisco's Cisco Certified Networking Professional (CCNP) Cloud credential. Cisco requires that you hold either the precursor CCNA Cloud cert, or any CCIE credential, to even take this test. That could take some time, but cloud adoption is driving new roles and responsibilities.


Cloud engineers need the skills to work with private, public, and hybrid cloud models, as well as leverage inter-cloud solutions. The CCNP Cloud certification is a lab-based training and certification program that targets cloud engineers, cloud administrators, cloud designers, and architects working in data centers.


This program delivers the knowledge and skills necessary to design, provision, automate, and manage Cloud and Infrastructure-as-a-Service deployments. You will need to pass at least four exams to make this cert and it will cost you 300 hours and around $5,000. Don't approach this one lightly.


Fourth is the Microsoft Certified: Azure Administrator Associate credential. Microsoft is one of the biggest names in the business — second (albeit a distant second) in the cloud computing realm only really to AWS — and Azure is a really easy platform to operate. Microsoft Azure is a prominent public cloud provider, recording impressive user base growth in recent years.


Microsoft has prominent certifications that help architects, developers, and administrators gain hands-on knowledge while working on Azure. This is probably your best place to start since the retirement of Exam 70-533 at the end of 2018. Getting a foothold here will help you eventually jump up the ladder to all of the more advanced Azure certifications


Azure exams tend to be relatively cheap, and you can spin up Azure for free, much like Amazon's AWS. Try it before you buy it, and you won't be disappointed.


Next we have Certificate of Cloud Security Knowledge (CCSK) from Cloud Security Alliance. While this isn't a well-known certification, cloud security is one of the most important subject areas any cloud engineer will be expected to master. As enterprises and consumers move greater amounts of sensitive information to the cloud, employers struggle to find information security leaders who have the necessary breadth and depth of knowledge to establish cloud security programs protecting sensitive information.


The CCSK lets the marketplace know you are ready for the challenge. CCSK was the first credential dedicated to cloud security, offered by the world's thought leader in cloud security. The Cloud Security Alliance does a great job in testing a candidates' ability. While similar to the CCSP credential offered by former CCSK partner (ISC)2, CCSK has a better track record and costs a little less. At $345, it's a good bargain.


Last of all, I'm rounding out my list with Amazon's AWS Certified SysOps Administrator � Associate credential. This one is probably the cheapest and easiest to take of everything we've discussed here: just $150 and 80 minutes. You will, of course, need to plan a significant chunk of study time. The AWS Certified SysOps Administrator � Associate examination is intended for systems administrators in a systems operations role, with one-to-two years of experience in deployment, management, and operations on AWS.


No matter which certification you go for this year, and no matter where the cloud goes next, I wish you the best of luck and happy certifying!


Would you like more insight into the history of hacking? Check out Calvin's other articles about historical hackery:
About the Author
Nathan Kimpel is a seasoned information technology and operations executive.

Nathan Kimpel is a seasoned information technology and operations executive with a diverse background in all areas of company functionality, and a keen focus on all aspects of IT operations and security. Over his 20 years in the industry, he has held every job in IT and currently serves as a Project Manager in the St. Louis (Missouri) area, overseeing 50-plus projects. He has years of success driving multi-million dollar improvements in technology, products and teams. His wide range of skills include finance, ERP and CRM systems. Certifications include PMP, CISSP, CEH, ITIL and Microsoft.