What to expect from SASE certifications

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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%.

With the pandemic, adoption of SASE has been on an upward swing. Gartner predicts in its most recent SASE roadmap that 80% of enterprises will have adopted a SASE or SSE architecture by 2025, up from 20% in 2021. (Security service edge, or SSE, is a security-focused subset of SASE that’s basically SASE without SD-WAN.)

It’s a meteoric rise, especially considering that Gartner only coined the term SASE 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 SASE, SSE and business certifications

An early player in the SASE certification market is SASE provider Cato Networks, which launched Level 1 of its SASE Expert certification in November 2020, followed by Level 2 in September 2021.

In 2022, Cato added to its SASE certification lineup with new security-focused SASE certifications. The SSE Expert certification was launched in July, and SASE Advanced Security certification is also available.

Cato also added two business-focused SASE certifications in 2022. The courses are SASE Deployment & Management and SASE Business Impact & Strategy.

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

Compared to other networking certifications, like the CCNA, which is more about how to operate the technology, Cato’s SASE and SSE certifications are high-level overviews. “Our certification is more about what SASE and SSE mean, what are the implications, and what it means to different IT teams,” says Webber-Zvik. “You see presentations, whiteboards, 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 and SSE 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 SASE Expert Level 1 certification has twelve sections, and it takes about a day to complete. The SASE Expert Level 2 has five stages, takes about half a day, and requires that applicants first complete level one.

CATO’s SASE Deployment & Management and Business Impact & Strategy certifications each take about half a day to complete. On the security front, Cato’s Advanced Security and SSE Expert certification each take about half a day to complete.

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 mid-December 2022, more than 2,500 people have earned the level one certification, and they represent multiple levels of professional experience and job categories, says Dave Greenfield, Cato’s director of technology evangelism.

“The level two certification has seen 950 people certified, and the SSE Expert certification has been awarded to 545 people,” says Greenfield. “As for Cato’s Advanced SASE Course, 75 certifications have been issued for SASE Business Impact & Strategy, 73 for SASE Deployment & Management, and 109 for SASE Advanced Security Certification.”

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, Versa and Palo Alto 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.

“Vendors are consolidating, and single vendor offerings are picking up speed, which will also accelerate attention on certifications and put those SASE certifications in an even bigger spotlight,” she says.

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

Versa Networks

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 Specialized 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 Specialized – and access the specialty badges,” he says.

New for 2022, Versa announced two SASE Sales enablement courses and certifications for its ACE partners. Capitalizing on SASE Growth with Versa is meant for partners that want to become SASE Sales certified, and Winning with Versa SASE – Sales Workshop is meant for partners that wish to become SASE Sales specialist certified.

Versa says that training sessions are held in local times live and on-demand, and thousands of partners were trained and earned Versa SASE Sales certifications in the past year.

“These enablement courses and certifications are explicitly designed for partner sales professionals to help them understand the market dynamics accelerating global SASE demand, identify opportunities, and offer Versa SASE solutions to meet the growing needs of enterprise customers,” says Atchison.

According to Atchison, partner enablement will remain a key focus for Versa in 2023, and the company plans to continue to enhance its curriculum and certification courses.

Netskope

SASE vendor Netskope jumped into the arena in June 2021, 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 is valued at $1,000 but is currently free; it’s 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 and can be attempted twice.

Netskope is currently offering four classes a month. Registration is available online, but seating is limited, so classes can fill up. Participants are not required to complete any prerequisites before taking the course.

Palo Alto

Palo Alto Networks jumped into the ring back in October 2020 with its own SASE course, Prisma Access SASE Security: Design and Operation.

The class is a four-day instructor-led course that offers students hands-on experience with configuring, managing, and troubleshooting Prisma Access SASE.

The course is taught virtually or in person and is offered by Palo Alto authorized training partners worldwide, usually costing around $4,000.

Palo Alto says that participants will receive a certificate of completion after taking the course, and the SASE course can supplement other recommended courses for those preparing for the Palo Alto Networks Certified Network Security Engineer exam.

According to Palo Alto, the primary audience for the SASE training is security administrators, security operations specialists, security analysts, network engineers, and security engineers.

Palo Alto says participants must complete the Firewall 10.0 Essentials: Configuration and Management course and the Panorama 10.0: Managing Firewalls at Scale course as prerequisites before taking the SASE course, or have equivalent experience. Participants must also have experience with networking concepts, including routing, switching, and IP addressing.

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 not just to 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, senior principal analyst for emerging technologies at Omdia. But the certifications could still be valuable, Turner says, even if they are vendor specific.

“The SASE market is growing, so any certification held by a networking professional is going to be of greater value going forward, and its importance is only going to increase as the market continues to expand,” he says.

The certifications will show you are familiar with at least one vendor’s SASE offering, says Turner, 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,” he says. “Or maybe someone who was familiar with HP-UX could be of interest to a Solaris shop.”

There are currently no independent organizations offering SASE certifications, but that is likely to change as the technology matures.

Copyright © 2023 IDG Communications, Inc.



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