Is the CCNP Service Provider Worth It?
The world's most advanced service provider networks are truly works of wonder. Able to connect hundreds of thousands of users to one another nearly simultaneously all over the world, carrier-grade networks make life as we know it in the 21st century possible. Try to imagine life without these massive, lightning-fast networks: applications wouldn't run, databases couldn't be reached, and users would be constantly faced with slow internet speeds and unreliable connections.
Fortunately for everyone, that isn't the world we know. Standing between us and that nightmarish dystopia are network administrators, network designers and architects, and systems engineers trained in managing the largest networks in use today. The CCNP Service Provider is one of the leading industry certifications that proves that advanced level of training and expertise in implementing and supporting enterprise-level carrier-grade enterprise networks. Advanced networking professionals working on carrier-grade networks (or those who want to become one) should read on and learn about the CCNP Service Provider.
What Is the CCNP Service Provider?
The CCNP Service Provider is an advanced professional certification offered by Cisco Systems that demonstrates proficiency with advanced configuration and management of service provider networks. The CCNP Service Provider is a prestigious certification and a difficult one to earn. Before a network administrator, engineer or architect can earn their CCNP Service Provider, they must demonstrate proficiency with implementing and operating Cisco service provider network core technologies as well as specialized mastery in one specific area of service provider network administration or design.
Earning the CCNP Service Provider requires passing two exams. First, the 350-501 SPCOR. 350-501 is the mandatory core exam, but you may choose which of the three concentration exams to take in addition to the 350-501. The three concentration exams cover specialized industry topics like advanced routing, VPN services and automation. In addition to contributing to your overall CCNP Service Provider, any time you pass one of the concentration exams, you'll also earn an individual Specialist certification.
What Does the CCNP Service Provider Exam Test?
The 350-501 SPCOR is the core exam which everyone who earns their CCNP Service Provider must pass. It has five exam objectives:
MPLS and Segment Routing
Automation and Assurance
One of three concentration exams must be earned as well, each has their own exam objectives:
300-510 SPRI: Implementing Cisco Service Provider Advanced Routing Solutions
Routing Policy and Manipulation
MPLS and Segment Routing
300-515 SPVI: Implementing Cisco Service Provider VPN Services
Layer 2 VPNs
Layer 3 VPNs
300-535 SPAUTO: Implementing Automation for Cisco Service Provider Solutions
Network Programmability Foundation
Automation APIs and Protocols
Network Device Programmability
Automation and Orchestration Platforms
In addition to the core exam, only one of the concentration exams need to be passed to earn the CCNP Service Provider.
How Much Does the CCNP Service Provider Exam Cost?
The CCNP Service Provider core exam costs $400 to attempt and each concentration exam costs $300 to attempt. You must take the core exam and need only take one of the concentrations, so if you pass both on your first attempt, it costs $700 to earn Cisco's CCNP Service Provider. Passing on your first try isn't guaranteed, though, and courses or training can help prepare you. From free YouTube videos to online courses with robust lab training environments, the cost of training will vary, as well the time it takes to complete.
What Experience Do You Need for the CCNP Service Provider?
As of February 2020, Cisco no longer has any formal prerequisites for attempting the CCNP Service Provider, so technically speaking a person at any point in their career could attempt the CCNP Service Provider. This is not recommended though. The CCNP Service Provider is a very challenging exam. Both the core exam and each of the concentration exams test not only highly advanced knowledge of Cisco service provider solutions and technologies, but also real-world skills in implementing, managing and troubleshooting.
The standard recommendation is three to five years of experience with implementing carrier-grade enterprise solutions. But even if you've been working in the industry for more than five years, it's entirely possible that the exams will test you on skills you've never needed to concern yourself with. That's why it's important to imagine the "best case scenario" for those three to five years.
If you've been in one, narrowly defined position for three years, seek opportunities to expand your knowledge base and stretch your comfort zone. On the other hand, if you've been an ill-defined jack-of-some-trades for five years, look for ways to deepen your familiarity with the configurations and technologies that are relevant to either advanced routing, VPNs or automation.
Who Should Take the CCNP Service Provider?
The CCNP Service Provider is best for network professionals who've worked several years on carrier-grade service provider networks and want to earn proof of their highly advanced technical expertise.
Is CCNP Service Provider Worth It for Network Administrators?
The CCNP Service Provider can be worth it for network administrators who are deeply knowledgeable and highly experienced. It's a rare network administration job that requires a certification as advanced as the CCNP Service Provider – but that's why earning one is a career aspiration for current network administrators.
The knowledge and skills you'll gain as you progress toward earning the CCNP Service Provider will almost certainly advance you out of low-tier administration positions. In other words, if you want to remain a network administrator for your entire career, the CCNP Service Provider may not be worth it. But if you hope to advance in responsibilities and pay to higher positions, the CCNP Service Provider is worthwhile.
Is CCNP Service Provider Worth It for Network Engineers?
The CCNP Service Provider is definitely worth it for network engineers. Network engineers are often the people responsible for understanding the highly detailed specifics of advanced networking protocols, and the CCNP Service Provider is like a badge that proves your mastery of them. For someone whose job it is to plan what network solutions to implement and how to keep 100,000 users active without downtime, the CCNP Service Provider is a step short of essential.
If you currently work on carrier-grade networks – or want to eventually – earning your CCNP Service Provider means mastering MPLS, VPNs, and multicasts, some of the rarest and most challenging skill sets to acquire.
Is CCNP Service Provider Worth It for Network Architects?
Yes, the CCNP Service Provider is absolutely worth it for network architects. Being able to dig into questions of automation and network programmability while designing networks that do the company's work for it is a huge part of most network architect's positions.
A network architect with their CCNP Service Provider will learn those technologies and more as they learn what their company needs from their network and plan for massive implementations of tailor-made solutions. The core exam's emphasis on architecture and segment routing are particularly important to network architects responsible for leading teams of administrators.
Is the CCNP Service Provider Worth It?
The CCNP Service provider is a well-respected, challenging certification that tests a network professional's skills in administering and troubleshooting some of the most complicated networks in the world – it's definitely worth it. Cisco network devices and technologies power a huge majority of the networks in the world – have an advanced professional certification from Cisco sets you apart from peers and competitors for the best jobs.
Using CCNP Service Provider to Learn Skills
Cisco powers most of the world's largest networks, so preparing for and passing the core exam (350-501) will be a continual process of learning cutting-edge solutions to some of the most challenging problems from all over the world. As you prepare for the CCNP Service Provider, you'll learn about the challenges that other huge networks have faced and what solutions they implemented to overcome them. You'll become a better administrator as you learn lessons that your employer will find valuable as you prepare to pass the CCNP Service Provider.
As for the three concentration exams, don't be intimidated by the expectation of deep knowledge of advanced protocols, VPNs, or automation. There are opportunities, courses and training that can provide you with virtual lab environments where you can practice all the necessary skills of design and administration.
Using CCNP Service Provider to Validate Skills
One of the most obvious and most valuable reasons to earn any industry certification is the clout and respect it earns. An industry certification isn't like a driver's license – you can work on carrier-grade service provider networks without the CCNP Service Provider. But having it is proof that you know the exact approaches to implementing, managing and troubleshooting the largest networks.
Employers know and understand the value of a certification, and one as advanced as the CCNP Service provider is especially valuable to huge networks trying to incorporate VPNs or network automation on a grand scale.