Is the JNCIS-ENT Worth It?
| technology | networking - Josh Burnett

Is the JNCIS-ENT Worth It?

When it comes to routing and switching technology, the two most prominent vendors are Cisco and Juniper. Each of these offers certification tracks for network administrators and network engineers to work with their technologies.

Although much of the technical information regarding how networks generally function will be the same, you really need to immerse yourself in a vendor's knowledge base if you'll be working with their equipment regularly. Cisco is the undisputed leader in enterprise networks, but Juniper is a substantial player, owning about one-third of the market share. This gives their certifications instant credibility and value.

What is the JNCIS-ENT?

The Enterprise Routing and Switching Specialist (JNCIS-ENT) certification is the second in a series of four accreditation levels for Juniper's Routing and Switching track. Each of these certs builds on the foundation established by those that come before it, and each level requires that you earn the prior certification before advancing to the next exam. The sole exception is the JNCIA-Junos; as the first in the cert pathway, it does not have a prerequisite.

What Does the JNCIS-ENT Test?

The JNCIS-ENT exam focuses on nine distinct skill areas:

  • Layer 2 Switching or VLANs
  • Spanning Tree
  • Layer 2 Security
  • Protocol Independent Routing
  • OSPF
  • IS-IS
  • BGP
  • Tunnels
  • High Availability

The JNCIS-ENT exam page has an incredibly detailed breakdown of each skill area, providing bulleted lists of every concept you're expected to know. For example, here's the breakdown under Layer 2 Security:

Identify the concepts, benefits, or operation of various Layer 2 protection or security features

  • BPDU, loop or root protection
  • Port security, including MAC limiting, DHCP snooping, Dynamic ARP inspection (DAI) or IP source guard
  • MACsec
  • Storm control

Identify the concepts, benefits or operation of Layer 2 firewall filters

  • Filter types
  • Processing order
  • Match criteria and actions

Demonstrate knowledge of how to configure, monitor, or troubleshoot Layer 2 security

  • Protection
  • Port security
  • Storm control
  • Firewall filter configuration and application

The syllabus is practically ready to be used in a checklist format to guide your preparation, and you should walk through each item and self-evaluate before you schedule your exam.

The test itself is 90 minutes long and has 65 multiple-choice questions. Juniper is well-known for having knowledge questions that do a great job of accurately evaluating your experience level. The scenarios you'll see are situation-based and require you to demonstrate you know how a tech solution will play out rather than relying on rote trivia.

How Much Does the JNCIS-ENT Exam Cost?

To sit for the JNCIS-ENT, you'll have to earn the JNCIA-Junos. The Associate exam costs $200, while the Specialist test will set you back $300. All-in-all, not a bad price as long as you're confident in your experience and ability to learn the material by yourself. Juniper recommends one course to prep for the JNCIA-Junos:

And two courses to prep for the JNCIS-ENT:

This is where you need to ask yourself two questions. First, is your employer willing to pay for the classes? If so, problem solved—attending these courses certainly won't hurt you, and they can only increase your knowledge about Juniper technology. However, if the answer to the first question is "no," you should question whether you actually need to attend the training. Although these are high-quality classes, they aren't required and can be skipped.

In any case, begin by working through at least one full skill area in the list above with a self-structured approach, using Juniper's extensive free knowledge library. If you feel like you're making the progress you need with that approach, attending the courses is likely unnecessary. Regardless, at $200 – $300 for the exam, it's much cheaper to self-study, attempt an exam, and risk failing once than it is to jump straight into course registration.

What Experience Do You Need for the JNCIS-ENT?

Juniper states that this exam is "Designed for experienced networking professionals with beginner to intermediate knowledge of routing and switching implementations in Junos," verifying your "basic understanding of routing and switching technologies and related platform configuration and troubleshooting skills."

For context, it's interesting to note that the preceding cert, JNCIA-Junos, is designed for "networking professionals with beginner-intermediate knowledge of networking." Essentially, you need to have at least a basic understanding of networking; beyond that, JNCIA-Junos is concerned with making sure you know how the Junos OS works, and JNCIS-ENT digs more deeply into how each component of a network breaks down in Juniper terms.

Who Should Take the JNCIS-ENT?

To answer this question correctly, we need to start with the context of JNCIA-Junos, the prerequisite certification to earning a JNCIS-ENT. If you're an experienced network engineer or network administrator, it might feel a bit obnoxious to sit for such an elementary exam. However, there are two reasons you should see this as beneficial.

First, Juniper uses different terminology than other vendors (notably Cisco), and mastering that vocabulary is crucial. This is not only true for higher-level exams that are more suited to your experience level but also because you'll need to use these terms accurately as you work with Juniper tech.

Second, if you're an experienced engineer or admin and you're sitting for the JNCIA-Junos, it's apparent that you're building toward a higher-level cert. Juniper's exam philosophy is substantially different from Cisco's, and understanding how Juniper tests could be the crucial difference between passing and failing. To summarize: if you're going to take anything beyond the entry-level Juniper cert in routing & switching, then the JNCIS-ENT is something you will need to pursue.

JNCIS-ENT for Network Engineers

If you're a network engineer who works with Juniper technology, you should pursue the JNCIS-ENT. If you don't yet, you likely will in the future. Investing in at least a Specialist-level certification will open doors throughout your career, so pursuing a JNCIS-ENT as soon as is practical is a wise move.

JNCIS-ENT for Network Administrators

While other roles might see JNCIS-ENT as a stepping stone to higher-level certs, network administrators will likely only need to achieve the Specialist level — at least until their career matures to the next step. You already possess the foundational knowledge of how routers, switches, and networks function; the rest is a mixture of becoming qualified in Juniper tech and gaining more experience critically thinking through ways to repair them. The JNCIS-ENT is undoubtedly worth it for network administrators.

JNCIS-ENT for Juniper Engineers

If you're currently working in an engineering role and aspire to be a Juniper architect, JNCIS-ENT is absolutely necessary for your career. You'll certainly go one step higher to the Professional (JNCIP-ENT) cert, and likely even beyond that to the Expert (JNCIE-ENT) level.

Is the JNCIS-ENT Worth It?

In some certification paths, you can jump in at the level you feel qualified for; this isn't the case with Juniper's Enterprise Routing and Switching Certification Track. This question really should be expanded to ask: are the JNCIS-ENT, JNCIP-ENT, or JNCIE-ENT worth it? Because earning the JNCIS-ENT is a prerequisite for the upper-level certifications, if the answer to any of those is yes, then you should pursue a JNCIS-ENT.

Using JNCIS-ENT to learn skills

Some criticize Juniper for not making official study guides for their exams, but this would be an inaccurate critique. Although they're not called "study guides," Juniper explicitly outlines the skills you need to pass the JNCIS-ENT and provides a comprehensive library of free, downloadable PDFs for each of these knowledge areas.

You should use the JNCIS-ENT syllabus to guide your study efforts and not just to pass the exams. Methodically working through each of these skill areas will make you a better network administrator or network engineer and will undoubtedly increase your value as a Juniper technology expert.

Using JNCIS-ENT to validate skills

If your career involves Juniper technology in a routing and switching environment to any degree, the JNCIS-ENT is a worthwhile certification to earn. When a company advertises for a network engineer or a network administrator to work with their Juniper equipment, they want someone who is knowledgeable about that vendor's tech. Sure, a Cisco expert could figure it out, but they're not looking for someone with general knowledge; they want someone with specific expertise. The only way to truly validate that is by holding Juniper certs, making the JNCIS-ENT a must-have for any IT professional in this situation.

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