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Certification Showdown: MCSA vs CCNA

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By: Tatianna

October 24, 2018

Certification Showdown: MCSA vs CCNA, Who Wins?

IT budgets are on the rise as companies look to bolster technology teams and drive business outcomes. As noted by ZDNet, predicted budgets for 2019 are on-track for 10 percent increases over this year’s spending to help accommodate the need for new resources, hardware, and IT personnel.Along with budget increases, however, comes evolving tech-savvy on the part of C-suite executives who no longer see IT as necessary cost — now, they recognize the value of IT in long-term strategic planning. Everything from bolstered security to improved big data analysis and cloud computing management improves the efficacy of other departments and helps organizations avoid the PR pitfalls of data breaches or the compliance concerns of handling personal information. The result? Companies are searching for industry experts to fill critical IT roles. In addition to on-the-job experience, they’re looking for well-known certifications such as Microsoft Certified Systems Administrator (MCSA) and Cisco Certified Networking Association (CCNA). For IT pros already working the field and hoping to make the best use of limited study time, what’s the best bet? Does MCSA come out ahead, or is CCNA the ideal investment?

The Experience Impact

Considering an MCSA or CCNA certification? Make sure you’ve got the right in-situ experience. Here’s why. While both MCSA and CCNA are valuable, enterprises aren’t interested in hiring IT professionals that have degrees and certifications without commensurate experience in the field. It’s a testament to the diverse nature of IT expectations: Even high-level administrators must be adaptable, flexible and able to solve emerging IT problems on their own or alongside other team members.While there’s no hard-and-fast rule for experience prior to certification, it’s worth putting in 3-5 years in the technology field before opting for intermediate options such as MCSA or CCNA. Opting to certify and search for jobs without enough time in the trenches could lead to resumé fatigue, frustration and potentially a lapse in certification validity before landing the right job. Bottom line? Don’t underestimate the impact of experience combined with the right certification.

MCSA Advantages

So what’s the right certification for you? Let’s start with Microsoft’s MCSA. This certification is designed for IT professionals looking to increase their knowledge of Microsoft systems, servers and data warehousing techniques. Combined with other Microsoft certifications, the MCSA forms the basis of expert-level configuration, administration, and implementation of Microsoft products. Key benefits include:
  • DNS Training — Learn to manage DNS zones, conduct DNS zone transfers and troubleshoot DNS issues.
  • Active Directory Knowledge — Active directory is a cornerstone of Microsoft systems. Learn how to implement virtualized domain controllers, manage credentials, administer active directory services and deploy database solutions.
  • Privacy and Policy Skills — Receive training in password policy and user lockout settings, configuring managed service accounts and understanding the role of Group Policy across Microsoft servers.
  • Remote Access and Security Solutions — Gain knowledge of remote access roles and policies along with the skills to set up and manage VPN connections and proxy services.
Once you’ve completed MCSA training, you’ll need to complete three exams — 70-410, 70-411 and 70-412 — with a score of 700 or better.

CCNA Benefits

Considering CCNA? This certification is focused on managing Cisco networks and serves as the foundation for Cisco network engineers. Advantages of CCNA include:
  • OSI Training — Learn the basics of the open systems interconnect (OSI) model and how it applies to enterprise-level network management.
  • Layer 1-4 Skills — Start with Layer 1, the physical layer, to understand the role of hardware in Cisco networks. Then, discover more about data links, Mac addresses and VLAN protocols in Layer 2. Expand your knowledge with a network layer (Layer 3) overview including IP routing theory, static and dynamic routing and learn more about Layer 4 transport, active control, and network address translation.
  • Additional Layers and Protocols — Discover how to use the point to point protocol, frame relay, CHAP LAB and learn more about the IPv6 protocol.
The CCNA test consists of 50-60 mixed format questions with a 90-minute time limit. Passing scores are not fixed — instead, they fluctuate based on Cisco statistical analysis. Once obtained, a CCNA certification is valid for three years.

Situational Success

Which certification wins the showdown? The answer depends on your situation. Both offer benefits for IT job prospects — use your personal preferences and potential career path as a guide to finding the best fit.If you’re looking for fast-paced server management in a Microsoft environment and plan to improve your MS education over the next few years, opt for MCSA. If you prefer high-level network management in a Cisco environment, choose CCNA. While it’s possible to hold both certifications, IT pros are often better served to choose one path early in their careers and becoming an expert in that field — online training options are always available if you ever decide to diversify your expertise and explore new IT opportunities.
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