James Governor's Monkchips

On Cloud Certification: EMC vs IBM

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Generally I prefer to avoid vendor spitting matches. If a company claims to have won a thousand customers from their arch-rival in a quarter, its funny how they haven’t counted the losses. Its actually called churn.

But cloud certification is kind of a big deal. Major waves in the tech industry tend to have an associated certification- think CNE, MCSE, ITIL and so on.  Today a VMware Certified Professional commands a premium in the market. Simples.

But the Cloud market has yet to coalesce around a standard set of certifications.

Chuck Hollis documented EMC’s introductory play in this area December 2010, with a follow up in March 2011, calling it the “first ever cloud certification”.  At that time 482 people were enrolled for classes.

I worked closely with IBM though on its Cloud Certification program, so I was a bit surprised when EMC claimed it was first to market – given IBM launched at Impact in May 2010. By March 2011 400 people had completed the course, and become IBM Certified Cloud Solution Advisors.

The obvious question is – why the hell did you wait til August to post about something that happened in March? You can blame WordPress draft mode for that…

More seriously, its not a big deal. Chuck is a good guy, and I suspect just had no idea IBM had already entered the market. The numbers of people going through the vendors’ courses were not that different at the time. No clear leader has emerged.

Of course other players are in the mix – including for example the Cloud Credential Council. Another obvious potential dominant player in cloud certification is Amazon Web Services. It is no surprise at all to see AWS pimping the University of Washington Certificate in Cloud Computing.

Meanwhile as far as I call tell Microsoft is so far focusing on Azure education rather than certification and authorisation.

I will write a follow up in the Fall where I get the latest numbers from EMC and IBM. They will just be reported numbers though- I don’t have an elaborate methodology for testing claims. Any other certification programs I should be looking at?


disclosure: IBM and Microsoft are both clients. VMware is too, but the EMC mothership not yet. Amazon is not a client.


  1. Greetings!

    You’re right, I wasn’t aware of IBM’s specific activity here when I wrote those pieces.

    And arguing “who’s first?” isn’t very productive either.

    I would encourage you to note, however, a key difference between the EMC and the IBM approach.

    It appears to me that the IBM offering you reference is focused on pre-sales advisory services to customers about how various IBM cloud-based offerings might be used.

    Or, if I’m being unkind, “How To Talk Cloud In Front Of Your Customer”: http://www-03.ibm.com/certify/certs/50001101.shtml

    Compare that with EMC’s cloud architect certification, focused entirely on design-build-operate of clouds in enterprise environments.

    A very meaningful difference if you think about it.

    Who’s first or who’s second won’t matter in the long run. The IT industry needs new skills to build, operate and consume variable IT services.

    And I hope we see more vendors investing in creating these more meaningful skills before long.

    — Chuck

    1. Chuck- I hope I made it abundantly clear that who first is not particularly useful. I know IBM’s program in more depth, and while it is connected to partner ecosystem accreditation, that is not all the the program is intended for. Its certainly not just a program to sell IBM.

  2. @Chuck – You’re definitely right about the fact that the IT industry needs new skills, but I believe also the non-IT industry needs them. Depending on which analyst you listen to (Gartner, IDC, Forrester, Grail Research) the cloud market will be between $100B – $150B by 2015. But organizations are struggling right now to adopt the cloud. Internal competencies are non-existent, there is no standard terminology and expectations are not aligned. Add to that some fear, uncertainty and doubt and the need for a better educated market (read “customer” if you look at it from IBM or EMC’s perspective) is paramount.
    The cloud certifications offered by the Cloud Credential Council are put together with support from the major cloud vendors (including EMC and IBM) and ultimately can act as a prerequisite before a professional takes vendor-related training.

  3. Forget vendor certification and look to universities to provide vendor-neutral degrees and certificates on the *concepts* (which are far more important than any particular implementation of them).

  4. This is indeed an interesting topic, so let me add my tuppence, FWIW…

    Clearly, the entire concept of “Cloud” spans so many traditional IT disciplines (and will spawn new disciplines that we don’t yet know about) that I think simply focusing on “one vendors technology certification over another” is a futile approach, unless it includes non-technical practical guidance for other critically important elements such as legal, financial and contractual terms and conditions.

    As I have said many times, tomorrow’s IT leaders will be much more akin to “service aggregators” than traditional leaders have been and therefore technology itself (and the applicability of vendor specific certifications to those other than who are representative of the vendor in some capacity) becomes less of a concentrated focus and the understanding of technology-to-business-value is a far more valuable proposition.

    As technology becomes consumerized and is simplified (per my service aggregation constructs) then the value of certification such as MCSE becomes further questionable. MCSE was invented to educate and certify against an incredibly complex set of “run in your own house” technologies.

    Along with Sam’s ideas of “higher education”, it would be (IMHO) very smart of vendors to contribute their expertise to the new wave of PRACTICAL certifications that deal with the real issues around this current phase of “Cloud” – including CCSK (https://cloudsecurityalliance.org/education/certificate-of-cloud-security-knowledge/).

    1. Cheers Christian. Certainly didn’t aim to say vendor certifications were the be all and end all – but any market will tend to have a dominant technology context.

      Sam – academia can help sure, but we don’t see too much relevance of academic certifications to enterprise adoption, do we?

  5. James

    Sorry if I mischaracterized IBM’s certifications. All I had was the link provided by you, and — well — you might understand how I came to my conclusions.

    Christian’s point on the “soft” side of cloud is very astute — the current hot buttons with our more progressive customers are now around the supporting business processes: finance, legal, HR, risk mitigation, governance, etc.

    Put differently, the technology-and-definitions debate has subsided somewhat, and now it seems that we’ve entered a long period of process re-engineering for both IT and non-IT processes.

    And, of course, there’s a huge gap in the required skills to do so.

    Interesting times indeed.

  6. Chuck – You’re absolutely right about the “soft” side of cloud. A survey of VMware from June 2011 listed the 10 reasons not to go Cloud and only ONE of the ten reasons is directly related to the technology (number 4).

    1. Security risks
    2. What is the cloud?
    3. Legal issues have not yet been tackled
    4. No fit with current infrastructure
    5. Risk of vendor lock-in
    6. Risk of unavailability of data
    7. Cloud is just a hype
    8. Fear of change
    9. Costs higher than yields
    10. Cloud is only for major corporations

    I couldn’t find the survey but here’s a link to an abstract: http://www.clusterofthoughts.com/content/vmware-survey-ten-reasons-why-organizations-avoid-cloud-now

  7. @Sam Johnston:
    I couldn’t agree more. I fear however that this requries the reversal of the trend of the last 10-15 years, which is that IT-related degrees are more and more becoming vocational trainings in vendor-specific solutions.

    I completed a MSc in Computer Science back in 1994, and have no difficulties with virtualization, because the concepts of virtual machines were part of the degree. Likewise, I understand network routing because this was taught conceptually (rather than only learning about 1 vendor’s specific implementation and commands).

    Corporate pressure to have university grads that could immediately perform specific tasks, and vendors pushing to corner the market have left IT education in a sad state I fear.

    1. eelco- superb point, completely undercutting my reply to Sam. in some areas academic programs *are* the flow of skills into the enterprise – see Java.

  8. My apologies for being late to this discussion. I own cloud partner programs for IBM, and I’d like to clear up a few things:
    1. The certification test Chuck references is targeted at sales professionals, not technical professionals or architects.
    2. We have a technical certification test that is focused on the design-build-operate aspects of cloud computing. You can learn more about it at:
    3. The number one request we’re getting from partners is for help with the business model of cloud computing. While the technology aspects of cloud can be challenging, the business aspects are the hard part. (Teaser: you’ll be hearing more about how we address the business requirements of partners this fall.)
    4. My personal opinion (not IBM’s policy) is that industry groups or academic organizations should be defining vendor neutral certifications and programs. If there’s one lesson that IBM learned in the late 80s–the end of the Mainframe’s domination–is that whenever a single vendor positions itself as the bearer of industry architectures or standards, that vendor is eventually perceived as an Evil Empire and that is eventually bad for business. This is why IBM likes open source. This is why we don’t try to dictate an industry architecture by ourselves or even define a vendor neutral cert. So for the programs I help define, the certifications will be IBM-centric.
    Thanks, Amy

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