Given today’s economic challenges, it’s imperative that IT decision makers select a high-value certification program for their staffs. They must not only carefully choose which vendors to work with, but also assess which skills and knowledge are needed to be more effective and efficient to ensure no time is wasted. On the other side of the table, IT professionals seek to enhance their skills, differentiate themselves and grow their careers.
That said, a boutique certification such as the Hitachi Data Systems Certified Professional Program focuses on quality, not volume. And storage continues to be an area in which IT professionals with the right credentials can be successful.
As the Hitachi Data Systems Certified Professional Program enters its fourth year of operation, the program has reached a level of maturity at which an evaluation of the program and its recertification requirements has become two key components to growth and sustainability.
Let’s take a look at the program’s structure and future.
Structure and New Exams
The Hitachi Data Systems Certification program currently has five tracks: Foundation, which results in the Hitachi Data Systems Certified Professional certification (HCP); Implementation; Architect; Storage Manager; and Integration. They are complemented by a Sales Qualification program.
A new exam, the Hitachi Data Systems Architect – Performance and Virtualization Certification Exam (HH0-440), is now in place, as well. This test will verify that the successful candidate has knowledge of storage performance concepts; Hitachi storage performance tools and products; standard performance analysis tools; optimal storage design principles; and bottleneck analysis and resolution. Test topics include performance design; capacity planning; configuring and sizing for performance; virtualization for storage tiers; proactive performance monitoring and reporting tools; and troubleshooting.
In support of the new Architect – Performance exam, a virtual instructor-led training (vILT) course will be available. The course is taught by experienced practitioners, the same as the very popular Architect – Business Continuity vILT course. The key to the vILT success has been the use of field practitioners who are facilitated by an instructor who specializes in virtual learning. The course is delivered in two half-day sessions.
The vILT courseware appeals to those who have to watch their travel budgets. Further, a reunion vILT session is offered to past students to allow them to extend their learning experiences.
Two other tests planned for development this year are the Implementation – File Services and Architect – File Services exams. They are in line with the growing demand for network-attached storage in the IT market.
Evaluation and Credential Changes
After evaluating the program, a change was made to the requirements for the Implementation Specialist credentials. Now, only two exams covering the areas of Business Continuity and Storage Management are required. A Certified Implementer level exam is no longer a requirement. This change will be retroactive.
The Architect and Storage Manager Expert levels still call for a combination of Hitachi Data Systems certification, plus a vendor-neutral credential from the Storage Networking Industry Association (SNIA).
The rules for recertification are re-evaluated each year. The credentials are tied to partner programs that require recertification every two years, and since 2006, all credentials are stamped by the year.
The requirement for 2007 credentialed participants to obtain the equivalent 2009 credential via recertification is passing one of the Foundations exams. For example, if you obtained the HDS Implementer credential in 2007, you will only need to pass the Foundations exam to gain the 2009 HDS Implementer credential.
The principle reason is that while the skills required for the advanced exams have not changed, the base products have. The Foundation exams focus on those base products and technologies. The Foundation exams are updated yearly at the very least.
Earning a Sales Qualification credential requires passing the Sales Foundations Qualification Exam online exam each year. That’s because products, solutions and initiatives change so rapidly that there is a need for constant updates. By the end of a year, the course and exam have undergone significant changes, so each yearly credential truly demarcates an area of knowledge. However, the Web-based nature of the test makes it easy for sales professionals to access it and validate their knowledge.
While there is online training in place, many times, the HDS Channel Partner teams will conduct a study session with their partners. This helps forge a closer relationship with the partner to help with sales productivity.
Return on Investment (ROI)
Last year, Hitachi Data Systems sent out an ROI survey to certification participants and came back with clear data points to drive the program forward.
One key finding showed HDS partners that obtained an advanced credential felt they got the most benefit out of the program. A concerted effort is under way to move participants beyond the Hitachi Data Systems Certified Professional (HCP – Foundations) level to the more advanced, role-based certifications. In fact, HDS now offers one-day, road-show test-preparation sessions for the Implementer level, with an on-site testing facility to make certification easier.
Participation and Growth
There are now more than 460 partner companies in more than 70 countries participating in the program: a 73 percent growth rate over the previous year. The majority of the credentials are obtained in North America (55 percent), followed by Europe, the Middle East and Africa (35 percent) and then by the Asia-Pacific region (15 percent).
Further, more than 1,000 Sales Qualification credentials have been awarded since the launch of the program in September 2007. Most of the participation for this credential comes from North America.
The Hitachi Data Systems management team continues to support the program by encouraging the participation of subject matter experts from every part of the company. The application of varied backgrounds and skill sets helps keep the exams relevant. Hitachi Data Systems also is interested in having HDS partners participate in future exam development efforts.
Best practices also are in place to lower the impact of potential cheating. Updating the exam items frequently is just one way to level the playing field. There are other best practices when it comes to test-item writing, which all test writers are instructed on before they write any questions.
Integration with Channel Partner services programs, along with establishing the value of HDS Certification program in the marketplace, has been key in partner participation.
The HDS Certification test-prep road show continues to be major success and a differentiator from other storage certification programs. This program was designed for those who are already familiar with HDS products and technology and need additional refresher training before testing. On-site testing centers are available.
After the initial training session in the morning, students break out into study groups for counseling and chalk-talk sessions. The new Implementer sessions added late in 2008 complement the HCP-Foundations prep sessions, and there are plans to add Storage Manager prep sessions later this year.
Road shows play a significant role in recertification, as participants have found this format to be very time-efficient and effective. From a program development perspective, it is an outstanding opportunity to hear from the participants directly. Getting that feedback helps determine what’s working and what’s not, allowing the program to more easily identify trends and areas for improvement.
Benefits to Participants
Certification will provide IT professionals working with storage products with technology credentials validating their levels of expertise, helping set their companies apart as leaders in the storage industry. As always, certification participants will:
- Validate skills and knowledge.
- Gain peer recognition.
- Increase their organizational value.
- Target and build upon the skills of industry professionals.
- Gain more business due to validated expertise.
Peter Manijak is director of HDS Academy. He can be reached at editor (at) certmag (dot) com.