HP Launches BladeSystem Certification Track

Any way you cut it, the blade server market is hot. According to research firm IDC, the market is projected to grow from $2 billion in 2005 to more than $11 billion in 2010. IDC adds that spending on blades will soon represent 20 percent of customer budgets for new server hardware.

That’s a lot of blades going into a lot of data centers. IT vendors and value-added resellers are all out to capture their piece of the pie.

“Our blade business is growing, and our partners are really getting behind this solution,” said David Goodsell, business process analyst for Arrow Enterprise Computing Solutions’ (ECS) HP business unit.

Arrow ECS, a business unit of Arrow Electronics Inc., is a value-added distributor of computer products.

“Blades today are in a commodity market, like an industry-standard server,” Goodsell said. “This means almost anyone can sell them. However, this doesn’t mean that everyone has the appropriate knowledge level to sell blade-based solutions. A blade server is really an enterprise sell because of the sophisticated nature of the product.”

Goodsell’s colleague, Mark Reedy, concurs. Reedy is a business development manager for Arrow ECS’ HP business unit, focusing specifically on the blades business. He said it takes a consultative approach to selling solutions based on blades.

“We believe that resellers who want to sell blades should have a technical certification because a blade server is far more complex than a regular industry-standard server,” he said. “Whether the blade is being deployed for consolidation or virtualization, there are so many things involved — implementation is more complex than sticking a blade in the rack.”

To ensure Arrow ECS resellers are equipped with the proper knowledge for successfully selling and implementing blades, Goodsell turned to his hardware partner, HP, and asked the company to develop more in-depth training and a specialized certification track covering HP’s BladeSystem servers and related products.

As it turned out, HP was already beginning to develop its HP BladeSystem certification track, featuring three new technical credentials:

  • Accredited Platform Specialist – HP BladeSystem (2007)
  • Accredited Integration Specialist – HP BladeSystem (2007)
  • Accredited Systems Engineer – HP BladeSystem (2007)

The track launched in August, and the credentials are available to all HP certification candidates.

Prior to developing this separate track, the training and testing for blades content were embedded in the HP ProLiant server track, primarily as an elective specialty. With the vast growth in sales for BladeSystem servers and their related products, it was clear HP needed to place greater emphasis on training and certification for the more complex blade technologies to better meet the needs of channel partners and enterprise customers.

Meanwhile, the HP ProLiant server track continues to offer training and credentials focused on HP’s popular ProLiant ML and DL servers.

Get Started with the Fundamentals

A candidate who wants to attain any of these new blade credentials should start with fundamental knowledge and skills about industry-standard server architecture (ISSA) technology. HP has packaged the “server fundamentals” requirements so they can be used in a variety of HP certification tracks, including the new BladeSystem one.

The server fundamentals are building blocks consisting of the CompTIA Server+ credential and a set of basic HP server-related courses.

“We use the CompTIA Server+ certification as a prerequisite for many of our own HP credentials because it provides a good, solid knowledge platform for technical professionals who work with any kind of server,” said Chuck Mundt, HP certification program architect.
HP is developing its own basic credential similar to the CompTIA Server+ credential for certification candidates outside the United States, Mundt said.

“Whether a candidate holds the CompTIA credential or one from HP, we want him to have a good understanding of basic server technology before pursuing any of the blades credentials,” he said.

The second half of the server fundamentals background involves training. There are three base-level HP training courses that cover content about HP’s server technology basics, server product families and the complete set of tools such as SmartStart and Systems Insight Manager (SIM) used by all HP server products.

These courses, which are available worldwide, are offered in flexible formats. Some are offered as instructor-led, and others are downloadable modules or Web-based training, so they can be taken at the candidate’s convenience without spending time out of the office.

The Server+ credential and the courses of the server fundamentals package make up the basic prerequisite and core requirements, respectively, for the three credentials of the HP BladeSystem track. From here, candidates can select their preferred credential based on their job focus.

Next Stop: Blades Certification

The Accredited Platform Specialist (APS) – HP BladeSystem (2007) credential in the hardware service focus area of the HP certification program is aimed at IT professionals who provide basic maintenance for the server platform.

These professionals are not responsible for the initial software load but are responsible for driver loads/updates and ROM loads/updates. What’s more, they are expected to run any HP-provided diagnostics for problem identification and isolation, view alert conditions, properly identify the affected subassembly and perform repair and replacement procedures.

To attain the credential, candidates build on the fundamentals listed above by taking a course called Servicing HP BladeSystem. This course helps workers prepare to return the BladeSystem or its components to their operational state as shipped from the factory.

When candidates have completed the prerequisite and all the core requirements, and they think they have adequate hands-on experience, they can sit for the Web-based certification exam Servicing HP BladeSystem to earn the APS credential. The exam covers content from the fundamental courses, as well as the blade-specific training course. Candidates can review the exam preparation guide to prepare for the test.

Integration Proficiency

Another direction a candidate can pursue is the integration focus area, which has the cumulative credentials of Accredited Integration Specialist (AIS) – HP BladeSystem (2007) and Accredited Systems Engineer (ASE) – HP BladeSystem (2007).

The AIS credential is the first rung on the integration certification ladder. Candidates for this level are expected to be able to fully prepare a BladeSystem solution for customers so that it can be placed into a test environment or into production, or be ready for customers to install their applications.

Individuals will perform all aspects of installation and start-up services, including hardware configuration, operating system installation, HP driver installation and full management instrumentation. They also should have knowledge of performance-enhancement tools such as the essentials suite of products.

To get started on the path to the AIS credential, candidates must complete the requirements of the server fundamentals: CompTIA Server+ certification and the three basic server-related courses.

Beyond the fundamentals, there are two additional prerequisites and one core requirement before a candidate can take the AIS certification exam.

The first prerequisite is a third-party operating system, administrative-level credential from Novell, Microsoft, Red Hat, the Linux Professional Institute, SCO, Sun or other organizations.

The second prerequisite is a third-party networking exam or credential (such as various exams from Microsoft or Novell) or credentials from Red Hat, Novell, Microsoft, the Linux Professional Institute and other organizations.

Additionally, the candidate must submit proof of completion of the third-party requirements to HP. These prerequisites are important because they give the candidate a well-rounded background for being able to set up and configure the blades in the customers’ environments.

The one core requirement for the AIS credential is a five-day class called Implementing HP Blade System. This class covers hardware setup and configuration, operating system installation, driver installation, ProLiant Essentials installation and management instrumentation. The majority of class time is spent actually performing these activities and using the installed tools.

Along with acquiring the prerequisites, the candidate must pass the exam Implementing HP BladeSystem to attain the AIS – HP BladeSystem (2007) credential.

Integration Mastery

The top-level integration certification for HP Blade System is ASE – HP BladeSystem (2007). IT professionals who seek this credential are expected to be able to provide higher-level, solution-based services such as performance tuning through the operating system and HP tools such as SIM, scripting-utilizing Rapid Deployment Pack (RDP), server redeployment through migration tools such as ProLiant to ProLiant (P2P) or ProLiant to Virtual (P2V), virtual server configuration and management instrumentation and operating system/application/hardware problem isolation and diagnosis.

The ASE credential has two prerequisites and one core requirement. The AIS – HP BladeSystem (2007) credential is the first. The second is a third-party systems engineering certification pertaining to a server operating system such as Windows, NetWare, Linux or Solaris. The candidate must submit proof of completion of the third-party requirement to HP.

The one core requirement is the five-day course Implementing and Managing HP BladeSystem in the Enterprise, which covers virtualization, server consolidation and performance-tuning techniques.

The candidate who then passes the Implementing and Managing HP BladeSystem in the Enterprise exam has earned the ASE – HP BladeSystem (2007) credential.

A Better Customer Experience

“We’re encouraging our partners to pursue these HP blade credentials,” Reedy said. “We believe they will prove that a reseller has the right knowledge and skills to deliver a blade-based solution that will fully meet a customer’s expectations. Certification is invaluable to be sure the job is done right.”

To learn more about the new HP BladeSystem credentials, as well as other credentials offered by the worldwide HP Certified Professional Program, please visit www.hp.com/go/certification.

Linda Musthaler is a principal analyst at Essential Solutions Corp. She can be reached at editor (at) certmag (dot) com.

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