Is the JNCIE-DC Worth It?
When it comes to routing and switching, Cisco is certainly one of the most well-known names in the industry. However, Juniper Networks is a phenomenal alternative with a well-established base in enterprise organizations. Their advantage has always been speed, with routers custom-built for high performance and low latency, providing crucial performance to organizations that need top-of-the-line execution.
Juniper’s Data Center track contains four certification levels: Associate, Specialist, Professional, and Expert. At the higher accreditation levels, architects and engineers typically command substantial job security and salaries ranging between $95,000 and $111,000. In this post, we'll look into the Professional-level JNCIP-DC certification — and whether it's right for you.
What is the JNCIP-DC?
The Juniper Networks Certified Internet Professional: Data Center (JNCIP-DC) focuses on validating that professionals who earn their certifications are competent with "advanced data center technologies and related configuration and troubleshooting skills." Each of the four certs within this series is targeted at a specific set of IT jobs and performance levels.
The JNCIP-DC itself is ideally suited for engineers who specialize in the Junos operating system. At the Professional level, engineers have committed themselves to a career working with Juniper equipment and are operating at a very high level of expertise.
What Does the JNCIP-DC Test?
The JNCIP-DC tests a candidate's understanding of and ability to work with data center technologies, related platform configuration, and troubleshooting skills. More specifically, the exam tests subject matter in eight different domains:
- Data center deployment or management
- Multichassis LAG
- Layer 2 Fabrics
- Layer 3 Fabrics
- EVPN VXLAN signaling
- Data center interconnect
- Data center architecture and security
Most of these domains are divided into two areas: describing related concepts and demonstrating knowledge of specific core skills. For example, under Multichassis LAG, candidates would need to define two MC-LAG concepts (positioning scenarios and ICCP) and demonstrate an understanding of configuring, monitoring, and troubleshooting MC-LAG.
How Much Does the JNCIP-DC Cost?
The JNCIP-DC exam costs $400 (USD), but to be eligible to sit for the test, you'll have to earn the JNCIA-JUNOS and JNCIS-ENT first. These exams cost $200 and $300, respectively.
While not required, Juniper Networks recommends that you take a five-day training course, Data Center Fabric with EVPN and VXLAN, before attempting to pass. While undoubtedly worth it, the class does come with a hefty $4,750 price tag. The absolute bottom cost for the JNCIP-DC is $900 if you pass all three exams (JNCIA-JUNOS, JNCIS-ENT, and JNCIP-DC) on the first try. If you need to sit for an exam more than once, take the recommended classes for any of the levels, or engage in paid training, that cost will increase.
What Experience Do You Need for the JNCIP-DC?
Juniper doesn't have any firm experience requirements to earn this certification and is rather closed-lipped about recommendations. Since you're required to earn each preceding level before you can schedule the JNCIP-DC, though, it's a bit of a moot point.
When you begin working with Juniper Networks Data Center technology, focus on passing the JNCIA-JUNOS. You'll likely be a novice networking professional at this point, at least with Juniper technology. The exam revolves around networking fundamentals and directing basics, along with product-specific information.
When your career and role have advanced to push you to a higher-level certification, study for the JNCIS-ENT. You'll earn this cert when you begin pursuing a specialization within either the Data Center or Routing and Switching tracks.
By the time you reach the Professional level, you're committed to the Data Center track and have extensive experience with Juniper technology.
Who Should Take the JNCIP-DC?
Two groups of professionals are primary candidates for the JNCIP-DC certification. The first is comprised of engineers who consistently work with Juniper Networks equipment in a data center environment, although this might not be the only vendor supplying equipment for that DC. Despite being relatively specialized, these "generalists" will have advanced certifications in other vendor technology, such as Cisco. For these individuals, the JNCIP-DC is likely the terminal Juniper certification they will earn.
The second group of IT pros who will earn the JNCIP-DC is made up of those who exclusively work with Juniper Networks technology. Their careers are defined by and revolve solely around deploying, configuring, managing, and troubleshooting Junos-based platforms. The JNCIP-DC is a crucial stepping stone for these individuals but will likely lead to the pinnacle certification: the JNCIE-DC. To earn this Expert-level accreditation, candidates will sit for an 8-hour practical exam where they will be required to build a data center network, including performing system configuration on all the necessary devices.
JNCIP-DC for Data Center Engineers
Data Center Engineers who work with Juniper Networks equipment are prime candidates for the JNCIP-DC certification. Some professionals will already have substantial data center experience, transition to a Junos-centric role, and knock out the Associate, Specialist, and Professional certifications rapid-fire.
They're experts in data centers and likely already have some exposure to Juniper tech but have recently transitioned to a role where their depth of specific knowledge in Junos needs to rapidly catch up to the level of general knowledge they have. Others will steadily progress in their career as a data center engineer, slowly earning each certification in the Data Center track up to the JNCIP-DC. For either group, earning a JNCIP-DC is absolutely worth it.
JNCIP-DC for Network Engineers
Whether the JNCIP-DC is appropriate for a network engineer really depends on the nature of your specific role. Juniper offers specific certification tracks for the cloud and for routing and switching, so if those are a better description of your daily tasks, it might be better to start down one of these tracks.
If you have any doubt, don't stress about it. The JNCIA-JUNOS and JNCIS-ENT certifications are the first two you'll earn for both the Data Center and Routing and Switching tracks, so you'll be able to keep your options open. However, if you work exclusively or almost exclusively within a data center, the DC track is the right one for you.
JNCIP-DC for Network Architects
A JNCIP-DC can be the right call for a network architect, but it really depends. The more appropriate direction is the Juniper Networks Design pathway, but the Design track is a bit unique. While the Enterprise Routing and Switching, Data Center, and Cloud tracks all contain the expected four-tier Associate, Specialist, Professional, Expert progression, the Design track consists of one Associate-level cert and three targeted Specialist-level accreditations.
These Specialist certs specialize in either Security, Service Provider, or Data Center. If you're a network engineer who occasionally works with Juniper equipment, focus on earning the Juniper Networks Certified Design Associate and Juniper Networks Certified Design Specialist: Data Center certs first. If you're a network architect who works primarily or exclusively with Junos-powered equipment within a data center network, earn these two Design certs first and then go down the Data Center track to the appropriate level.
Is the JNCIP-DC Worth It?
If you work with Juniper Networks equipment within a Data Center regularly as either an engineer or an architect, the answer is likely yes. Systems administrators and network administrators will probably be satisfied stopping with a Specialist-level JNCIS-ENT, and pursuing a JNCIP-DC is almost certainly overkill.
However, suppose you frequently interact with Junos-powered tech in a non-data center environment. In that case, Juniper certifications are the right direction for you to take, but the Data Center track may not be the right one for you.
Using the JNCIP-DC to learn skills
Because the JNCIP-DC is the third cert down an explicitly defined pathway, it won't be the best accreditation to help you learn skills unless you exist within that narrowly targeted range of IT professionals. If you're a DC engineer or network engineer, however, studying to pass the JNO-681 exam will ensure that you're up to speed on all of the skill sets required for your role.
Using the JNCIP-DC to validate skills
As a Professional-level certification with a broad set of technology, the JNCIP-DC will undoubtedly validate a highly specialized collection of skills. Evaluate where you are in your career and where you see yourself going—if Juniper Networks technology within a data center appears on that list, pursue this certification without hesitation.