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The evolution of IT certification: broadened skill sets for converged infrastructures[5/31/2010]
[TextSizeBig Middle Small][Print]
The other day I had an opportunity to talk to Brian Beneda, the director of strategy and business development for the HP Certified Professional Program. Beneda shared his insight on the quiet evolution taking place within the HP certification program. Anyone who is responsible for hiring, managing or developing IT professionals should like HP's approach to broadening a person's technical skill set and knowledge.

To understand what HP is doing with its training and certification program, we need a little context about what is happening in general in the IT industry. Whether you call it "convergence," "service-oriented architecture," or simply the "collapsing" of the data center, there's a trend toward companies purchasing a much more integrated core set of servers, storage and networking solutions. This allows companies to move away from spending time and money on integrating separate silos of technologies and toward a flexible IT environment that is more responsive to business needs.


As CIOs contemplate this converged IT platform, they also have to look at the way their departments are organized today. Over the past decade or two, people have been put in silos to support specific technologies. For example, you have the server guys, the storage guys, the networking guys, the systems management guys, and so on. These people tend to have deep technical skills pertaining to their specific technologies, but only surface-level knowledge of the other technologies. CIOs need to rethink the way the organization is structured -- and the people are trained and skilled -- in order to create much more activity across the technology domains.

"As we talk to CIOs and the guys that are operating their data centers, they are very excited about the Converged Infrastructure from HP and what it can do, but they are starting to realize they've got a skills gap," Beneda says. "Typically there are three or four people in a large company that have the skills and knowledge to look across the data center today and are able to architect solutions or think about the evolution of their IT at a company level. They need some kind of training program and certification that is going to help them get deeper around how they can evolve their data center to take advantage of some of these new technologies."


The skills and knowledge that are required to operate in that integrated world are quite different from the typical product- or technology-specific training and certification programs available in the marketplace today, according to Beneda. "If the platform is moving toward merging networking, storage and servers, then the server guy needs to have a way to have some skills in the networking and storage space. These skills need to be much deeper than what they've had in the past because they are going to be integrated into that converged data center environment. The same is true with networking and storage guys. They need to broaden what they know. And from a systems management perspective, a person needs to be able to look at everything through a single pane of glass." In other words, companies need to have people with skills that are much more "integrated" to go along with the integrated technologies.


HP is evolving its training and certifications to enable both of those paths -- for the high-level architect who is looking across the data center, as well as for the individual who is deep in a technology domain (like storage) who needs to broaden his skill set into other technology areas.

HP is in the process of creating a high level certification for this data center/Converged Infrastructure architect. This will be a flagship certification in the IT industry, and the person who attains it will be very valuable to any organization because he will have the proven knowledge and skills to architect an enterprise IT platform that can adapt to rapidly changing business needs.


For the technology specialist, Beneda says that a "well-kept secret" is that HP already has cross-domain content in its training and certifications. "If you get a server certification from HP today, there's already embedded content pertaining to storage, networking and management. Our storage certifications require some server, operating system and networking knowledge to be able to enable storage networking technology. HP has actually done a pretty good job up to this point to make sure people have good solution skills. We have some opportunities to broaden this in the context of where the market is going and to enable the value of the people who hold those skills," Beneda says.

He adds that this isn't an enterprise-only play; many of the same market dynamics exist in the small-midsize business (SMB) space as well. "Think about how a small company gets IT support," Beneda says. "There's typically one guy who is the techie. He sets up the infrastructure and supports the PCs. This is the primary kind of resource that an SMB has. In addition, some functions might be outsourced to a local systems integrator. The individuals who are in-house as well as the people who provide outside service and support need an integrated skill set across the technology domains, and perhaps even more so because they deal with everything from printers to applications to VoIP. You need individuals with much broader skill sets across the entire domain in the SMB space."


Beneda says it is HP's intent to create skill sets, at enterprise and SMB levels, for people who operate consistently in a converged IT environment.

One of the first outward signs we'll see from HP will be more interaction with and within the HP Certified Professional community. "We want to be much more collaborative with our community," Beneda says. "Some of the best times that we have are when we get a group of ASEs in our product lab and generate some interaction between our product engineers and the people who are actually out in the field, working with these products every day -- designing solutions, integrating products, supporting them. Our product engineers love to get feedback from the people who are out there doing the job today."


"These forums have been extremely successful for us," Beneda adds. "HP Certified Professionals are able to impact product roadmaps, and there's a lot they can learn from the product engineers. It's a great dialogue. We've done a lot of these sessions in the past; our intention will be to do a lot more, and not only around an event or by bringing people in to our facilities, but also online. We've already started to do some of that and we want to broaden these efforts."

Another key area that HP will be targeting is students, specifically people in college who are pursuing an IT career. According to Beneda, "We're working on some partnerships right now in the academic space which will help students come into the job market with much more applicable skills, given where the industry is going [with convergence]."


Beneda invites everyone with a vested interest in HP certified skills to get involved in the evolution of the HP Certified Professional Program. "When HP creates new certifications, we invite CPs and partners from around the world who perform this job for a living to help us define the skills and knowledge required for certification. It's a great way for technical people to contribute to the direction of the certification program because they actually help us define the content that goes into the training and the tests. If they have an interest in that, they should send an e-mail with a resume and some background information on the kinds of work they do and the kinds of engagements they've had to their regional program office and express an interest in specific certification. Right now we're looking for input on the Converged Infrastructure certifications."



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