Are data backup vendor certifications valuable for backup administrators?

Are data backup vendor certifications valuable for backup administrators? It's important to consider whether the benefit that you will receive from data backup vendor certification is enough to offset the cost and effort expended in obtaining that certification.

Are data backup vendor certifications valuable for backup administrators?

I don't want to name names, but a couple of weeks ago I received an email promotion from one of the major data backup software vendors. The message was aimed at trying to entice me into taking a certification exam that the vendor was offering. This got me thinking about whether or not vendor certifications are really worth having.

I think that the only logical way to decide whether or not a vendor certification is worth having is to compare the certification's benefits to the amount of time, effort and expense that went into obtaining the certification.

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Some examples of products/vendors that you can be certified in include Microsoft's System Center Data Protection Manager, CommVault Systems and Symantec Corp. The vendors will usually tell you what the exam objectives are on their Web sites. You can assess your readiness by taking practice exams. You can get additional preparation by attending classes, reading certification study guides or taking an online learning course.

The benefits of data backup vendor certification

There are some undeniable benefits to taking a certification exam for a backup application. One obvious benefit is that you can separate yourself from the other backup/storage administrators that you work with. Obtaining a certification demonstrates initiative and technical proficiency.

Another benefit is that passing a certification exam ensures that you have a strong working knowledge of the product that you are being tested on. If that product happens to be a backup application, then having in-depth knowledge of that product is bound to boost your confidence in your abilities to recover network resources after a disaster.

If you are thinking about taking a certification exam as a way of padding your resume, then it is important to remember that not all certifications carry the same weight. Certifications for backup applications could easily be thought of as a niche certification. The certification is great if you are going to be interviewing for a job as a backup operator, and the company that you are applying at happens to use the backup application that you are certified in, but beyond that the certification probably won't carry much weight. Of course, if you already have numerous other certifications, then adding a certification for a backup application to the list isn't so much about demonstrating backup software proficiency to a potential employer as it is about wowing them with the sheer number of certifications that you have earned.

I recently had the privilege of working on a project that was related to backup application certifications. While working through the project I learned something interesting. Even if you are applying for a job as a backup administrator, the backup application certification alone may not carry much weight. A hiring manager wants to know that you have sufficient knowledge to restore network servers to a functional state in the event of a catastrophe. Therefore, a backup application certification is nice to have, but it means a lot more if you also have certifications for applications such as SQL Server or Exchange. That's because having these types of certifications proves to the hiring manager that you know the intricacies of the individual applications that are being protected, and therefore know how to recover those applications in the event of a catastrophe.

The backup vendor's motives

Although it is certainly important to consider whether or not a vendor certification will benefit you, it is also important to remember that the vendor that is offering the certification in question is doing so because certifications produce additional revenue streams for them.

Typically, a vendor charges a fee for a candidate to take a certification exam. If the candidate has to take the exam multiple times before passing it, then the vendor is collecting exam fees for each of those attempts. Essentially, the more difficult the exam is to pass the more money the vendor makes as a result of candidates retaking the exam.

Vendors also know that if a candidate has learned a product well enough that they are able to pass such an exam, then that product will generally become their preferred backup solution. They may therefore recommend the product to their employer or to clients, thereby increasing the vendors' earnings in the process.

My point is that just because a vendor offers a certification program, it does not mean that the certification carries any clout. For most software vendors, a certification program is first and foremost a mechanism for increasing the bottom line.

I'm not going to tell you that vendor certifications are a waste of time. Under the right circumstances, certifications can be very beneficial. At the same time though, it is important to always remember that certifications are created primarily for the vendor's benefit, not yours. It is therefore important to consider whether the benefit that you will receive from a particular certification is enough to offset the cost and effort expended in obtaining that certification.

About the author: Brien M. Posey, MCSE, has previously received Microsoft's MVP award for Exchange Server, Windows Server and Internet Information Server (IIS). Brien has served as CIO for a nationwide chain of hospitals and was once responsible for the Department of Information Management at Fort Knox. You can visit Brien's personal website at www.brienposey.com.

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