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What to expect from SASE certifications

What to expect from SASE certifications

Free and fee-based SASE certifications are cropping up from vendors including Cato Networks, Netskope and Versa Networks. Are they worth the effort?

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Secure access service edge (SASE) is a network architecture that rolls SD-WAN and security into a single, centrally managed cloud service that promises simplified WAN deployment, improved security, and better performance.

According to Gartner, SASE’s benefits are transformational because it can speed deployment time for new users, locations, applications and devices as well as reduce attack surfaces and shorten remediation times by as much as 95 per cent.

With the pandemic, adoption of SASE  has been on an upward swing. A June report from Sapio Research, commissioned by Versa Networks, finds 34 per cent of companies are already using SASE, and another 30 per cent plan to in the next six to 12 months.

Gartner puts SASE at the peak of its hype cycle and says it’s now just two to five years from mainstream adoption. It’s a meteoric rise, especially considering that Gartner only coined the term in 2019.

So is it too early to expect networking professionals to get certifications in the technology? Or is now exactly the right time?

Cato's two-level certification

SASE provider Cato Networks launched its advanced Level II version of its SASE certification on Sept. 1, after launching Level 1 last November.

“People are looking to understand exactly what SASE is, sift through all the noise, and understand what value SASE can bring to their enterprise IT,” says Eyal Webber-Zvik, Cato’s VP of product marketing.

Compared to other networking certifications, like the CCNA, which is more about how to operate the technology, Cato’s SASE certification is a high-level overview. “Our certification is more about what SASE means, what are the implications, and what it means to different IT teams,” says Webber-Zvik. “You see presentations, white boards, reading materials, and at the end of each section there is a quiz. When you complete all the sets and pass all the tests you get the certification.”

The majority of the material covered is not Cato-specific, he says. However, the certification does use Cato’s implementation of SASE in its examples.

Take, for instance, single-pass processing. According to Gartner, this is a key characteristic of SASE, and it means that networking and security are integrated. “We explain it according to Gartner’s definition,” Webber-Zvik says. “We also provide an example of Cato’s implementation and use that to articulate what single-pass processing can look like when it’s outside Gartner theory and in real life.”

There is no charge for Cato’s certification training and exam, but that might change, he says. The level one certification has twelve sections, and it takes about a day to complete. Level two has five stages, takes about half a day, and requires that applicants first complete level one.

The training and testing are delivered on the Credly platform. “It integrates with LinkedIn, so it’s automatically shared on your LinkedIn profile,” Webber-Zvik says.

As of September 1, more than 1,000 people have earned level one certification, and they represent multiple levels of professional experience and job categories. Half are current Cato customers, and some of the rest may be considering going with Cato, says Dave Greenfield, Cato’s director of technology evangelism.

The Cato SASE certificate offers some extra benefits for some companies. “Channel partners with certified staff get a greater margin and some deal registration advantages, more accounts to practice and demo on, and so on,” Greenfield says.

Netskope and Versa offer SASE certs

Other companies are also jumping onto the SASE certification bandwagon, and more will follow, says Liz Miller, VP and principal analyst at Monte Vista, Calif.-based Constellation Research.

Cato’s certification is unique in that it has more than one level, she says. “But pretty much anyone offering a converged platform will start to offer similar training and certification badges and honours,” she says.

SASE vendor Netskope jumped into the arena in June, launching its SASE accreditation course.

According to the company, the course is aimed at network infrastructure and cybersecurity practitioners and is designed to be vendor agnostic. The course costs $1,000 and is an interactive, instructor-led, and conducted virtually. After the course, students take the accreditation exam, and those who pass receive a SASE accredited-architect certificate.

The curriculum includes the basic technology and architecture concepts of SASE, covers important component technologies and models that collectively comprise the SASE models, and includes practical examples, case studies, and use-cases illustrating how SASE is implemented in real-world settings. The course is made up of two four-hour sessions and takes two days to complete. The exam is 45 minutes long.

Both of Netskope’s September courses are sold out, but seats are still available for  October, November, and December.

Another company offering SASE certifications is Versa Networks. It offers a free Versa SASE Essentials course and has a channel-partners program to certify companies on its SASE platform.

“The prescribed program training, certification and enablement activities focus on SASE design and deployment,” says John Atchison, Versa’s head of global channel marketing. “Upon completing exams proctored by a third party, Versa ACE Partners are certified and have access to the SASE Specialised badges.”

The way the system works, he says, is that individual professionals take the courses and certification exams. “Once the company has completed the requirements, they obtain status -- such as Titan Specialised -- and access the specialty badges,” he said.

Do you need SASE certs?

SASE certifications have value when combined with knowledge of the SASE framework and capability to help get a migration plan rolling, says Constellation’s Miller. “But does everyone need to run out to get this? Likely not yet.”

SASE is an important framework -- and it can’t be stood up in a day, or a week, Miller says. “It is a security framework to bring security and network connectivity into a single cloud platform. This is core to rapid transformation that is durable and secure not just today but as the edge and cloud continue their trajectory of expansion.”

Companies will need individuals who are well versed in the what and the why of converging cloud platforms. “This is where, potentially, certifications will come in handy,” she says. “Individuals who put in that time will also extract the knowledge and the insights needed to not just implement the framework but also to troubleshoot and specify needs within a specific scenario or enterprise.”

The new SASE certifications are nowhere near as involved as something like Cisco's CCNA certification, says Rik Turner, principal analyst for emerging technologies, at Omdia. But the certifications could still be valuable, Turner says, even if they are vendor specific.

“They will show you are familiar with at least one vendor’s SASE offering, and there should be a reasonable degree of commonality between them all. I suppose it’s a bit like, in a previous era, someone showing up for a job interview with Cisco qualifications, which might be of some use if you were a Foundry or Extreme shop. Or maybe someone who was familiar with HP-UX could be of interest to a Solaris shop.”

It will be interesting to see if an independent certification emerges.


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