29 top cloud certifications

When it comes to the most in-demand skills, the cloud is the place to be. Our guide to top cloud certifications looks at programs designed for AWS, Google and Microsoft services -- as well as vendor-neutral certifications.

cloud computing business services
Getty Images / motionxcom

It seems like everything is moving to the cloud these days – servers, storage, applications, devops, internet of things (IoT) data, advanced analytics -- you name it, it’s happening in the cloud, either in a public, private or hybrid cloud environment.

Maybe it’s time for your career to make the jump to the cloud as well.

A cloud certification can catapult you to the upper echelons of the IT pay scale. According to the latest report from Global Knowledge, the top-paying position for 2019 is Google Certified Professional Cloud Architect at $139,529. The Amazon Web Services (AWS) Certified Solutions Architect ranks 4th among all IT certifications; employees with AWS certification can expect to make $132,840; and a Microsoft Certified Solutions Expert: Server Infrastructure checks in at 6th overall, earning an average salary of $121,288.

ZipRecruiter paints an even rosier picture, putting the average annual pay for a cloud architect at $154,102 a year, with the majority of salaries ranging between $124,500 and $174,000.

When it comes to the most in-demand skills and the most job openings, the cloud is the place to be. The single most sought-after skill in 2019 is cloud computing, according to an analysis of LinkedIn search data. OpsRamp recently surveyed 124 IT managers, 94 percent said it was difficult to find candidates with the right cloud technology skills.

A quick survey of various online job boards, like Indeed and Simply Hired, also indicates where the cloud jobs are. Tops on the list for cloud-related openings, with more than 7,500 total job listings, is AWS Certified Solutions Architect, followed by Microsoft Cloud Platform and Infrastructure at 4,200 and Cisco CCNA Cloud at 3,600.

Vendor-specific or vendor-neutral certifications?

In the cloud computing world, there are two distinct certification paths: certifications specific to a cloud services provider and then general certifications that are associated with a specific role rather than a specific vendor.

If you’re looking for a certification based on which cloud services company has the most market share, AWS is the clear leader, followed by Microsoft Azure, then Google.

And experts aren’t predicting any major upheavals in this ranking. In fact, Gartner is forecasting further market consolidation, with the top five players continuing to dominate. Gartner says AWS has 48 percent market share, Microsoft has 16 percent, China-based Alibaba has 8 percent , Google has 4 percent and IBM 2 percent. In terms of growth, the total Infrastructure-as-a-Service (IaaS) market is surging at more than 30 percent per year. AWS, with the largest installed base, grew at 27 percent in 2018, while the smaller players like Microsoft and Google jumped more than 60 percent on a smaller base.

So, you can’t go wrong no matter which vendor-specific cloud certification you select.

And the trend these days is for companies to adopt multi-cloud strategies, so one certification might be just the start. According to Global Knowledge, 64 percent of cloud professionals were cross-certified as of last year, and that number is only growing. 

A recent Kentik survey indicated that 35 percent of AWS customers also use Azure and 24 percent of AWS customers also use Google. So, your decision on which certification to get depends on what your company is currently doing in the cloud, what it plans to do in the future and where the talent gaps lie.

There are a few wrinkles that need to be mentioned. Microsoft has changed its certification structure, completely eliminating the popular Microsoft Certified Solutions Expert: Server Infrastructure certification and replacing it with four role-based certifications: Microsoft Azure Fundamentals, Azure Administrator Associate, Azure Developer Associate and Azure Solutions Architect Expert.

In January, Google announced that it was planning to add four new certifications to its existing portfolio. The new certifications are Professional Cloud Developer, Professional Cloud Network Engineer, Professional Cloud Security Engineer and G Suite Certification. The three original, core certifications are Professional Cloud Architect, Professional Data Engineer and Associated Cloud Engineer.

Similarly, AWS has eight different certifications that validate technical skills in areas like security, networking, devops, big data and solutions architect.

Other vendor-specific options include Cisco cloud certifications, Red Hat certification in Red Hat OpenStack and IBM certification in the vendor’s cloud. Of course, IBM just acquired Red Hat, so it’s not yet clear how those certifications will shake out.

Among the vendor-neutral certifications, some of the most noteworthy are the Certificate of Cloud Security Knowledge from the Cloud Security Alliance and CompTIA’s Cloud Essentials.  

Amazon Web Services

Amazon offers role-based certifications to validate expertise for those in Cloud Practitioner, Architect, Developer and Operations roles, plus specialty certifications to validate advanced skills in specific technical areas. The Foundational certification is AWS Certified Cloud Practitioner and requires six months of fundamental AWS cloud and industry knowledge. Associate certifications require one year of experience solving problems and implementing solutions using the AWS Cloud.

Those certifications include AWS Certified Solutions Architect and AWS Certified Developer Associate. Professional level certifications require two years of comprehensive experience designing, operating, and troubleshooting solutions using the AWS Cloud. Specialty certifications include AWS Certified Advanced Networking Specialty, AWS Certified Big Data Specialty, AWS Certified Security Specialty, AWS Certified Machine Learning Specialty and AWS Certified Alexa Skill Builder Specialty.

AWS Certified Cloud Practitioner: This certification is for individuals in technical, managerial, sales, purchasing or financial roles who work with the AWS cloud. AWS offers free self-paced training. The exam is a 90-minutes multiple choice test and costs $100.

AWS Certified Solutions Architect: The AWS Certified Solutions Architect - Associate examination is intended for individuals who perform a solutions architect role and have one or more years of hands-on experience designing available, cost-efficient, fault-tolerant, and scalable distributed systems on AWS. This 130-minute exam costs $150.

 AWS Certified Developer-Associate: This certification is individuals who perform a development role and have one or more years of hands-on experience developing and maintaining an AWS-based application. Exam is 130 minutes and costs $150. Hands-on experience is the prerequisite.

 AWS Certified SysOps Administrator-Associate: This certification is intended for systems administrators in a systems operations role with one to two years of experience in deployment, management, and operations on AWS. Exam is 130 minutes and costs $150.

 AWS Certified DevOps Engineer - Professional: This exam is intended for individuals who perform a DevOps engineer role with two or more years of experience provisioning, operating, and managing AWS environments. Exam is 170 minutes and costs $300.

AWS Certified Solutions Architect-Professional: The AWS Certified Solutions Architect – Professional exam is intended for individuals who perform a solutions architect role with two or more years of hands-on experience managing and operating systems on AWS. The exam is 170 minutes and costs $300.

 Google Cloud Platform (GCP)

 Associate Cloud Engineer: This is an entry-level certification for people who can demonstrate the ability to deploy applications, monitor operations, and manage enterprise solutions. This individual is able to use Google Cloud Console and the command-line interface to perform common platform-based tasks to maintain one or more deployed solutions that leverage Google-managed or self-managed services on Google Cloud. There are no prerequisites. The exam is two hours long and costs $125.

Professional Cloud Architect: With a thorough understanding of cloud architecture and the Google Cloud Platform, this individual can design, develop, and manage robust, secure, scalable, highly available, and dynamic solutions to drive business objectives. The Cloud Architect should be proficient in all aspects of enterprise cloud strategy, solution design, and architectural best practices. The Cloud Architect should also be experienced in software development methodologies and approaches including multi-tiered distributed applications which span multi-cloud or hybrid environments.

Recommended experience: 3+ years of industry experience including 1+ years designing and managing solutions using GCP. The exam is two-hours and costs $200.

 Professional Data Engineer: A Data Engineer should be able to design, build, operationalize, secure, and monitor data processing systems with a particular emphasis on security and compliance; scalability and efficiency; reliability and fidelity; and flexibility and portability. A Data Engineer should also be able to leverage, deploy, and continuously train pre-existing machine learning models.

Recommended experience: 3+ years of industry experience including 1+ years designing and managing solutions using GCP. Two-hour exam costs $200.

Professional Cloud Developer: This person builds scalable and highly available applications using Google recommended practices and tools that leverage fully managed services. This individual has experience with next generation databases, runtime environments and developer tools. They also have proficiency with at least one general purpose programming language and are skilled with using Stackdriver to produce meaningful metrics and logs to debug and trace code.

Recommended experience: 3+ years of industry experience including 1+ years designing and managing solutions using GCP. Exam is two hours and costs $200.

Professional Cloud Network Engineer: This person implements and manages network architectures in Google Cloud Platform. This individual has at least one year of hands-on experience working with Google Cloud Platform and may work on networking or cloud teams with architects who design the infrastructure. By leveraging experience implementing VPCs, hybrid connectivity, network services, and security for established network architectures, this individual ensures successful cloud implementations using the command line interface or the Google Cloud Platform Console. The exam is two hours and costs $200.

 Professional Cloud Security Engineer: Through an understanding of security best practices and industry security requirements, this individual designs, develops, and manages a secure infrastructure leveraging Google security technologies. The Cloud Security Professional should be proficient in all aspects of Cloud Security including managing identity and access management, defining organizational structure and policies, using Google technologies to provide data protection, configuring network security defenses, collecting and analyzing Google Cloud Platform logs, managing incident responses, and an understanding of regulatory concerns.

Recommended experience: 3+ years of industry experience including 1+ years designing and managing solutions using GCP. Exam is two hours and costs $200.

Microsoft Certified Azure Certifications

 Microsoft Azure Fundamentals: Candidates should be able to prove that they understand cloud concepts, core Azure Services, Azure pricing and support, and the fundamentals of cloud security, privacy, compliance, and trust. Also, an understanding of how to deploy websites, a basic understanding of virtualization, a basic understanding of Active Directory concepts, including domains, users, and domain controllers, and a basic understanding of database concepts, including tables and simple queries. Exam is $99.

Azure Administrator Associate: An Azure Administrator is responsible for implementing, monitoring, and maintaining Microsoft Azure solutions, including major services related to compute, storage, network, and security. Earning this certificate will validate that you are able to manage Azure subscriptions and resources, implement and manage storage, deploy and manage virtual machines (VMs), configure and manage virtual networks, manage identities, evaluate and perform server migration to Azure, implement and manage application services, implement advanced virtual networking and secure identities.

While it's not a strict prerequisite, it is recommended that you earn your Microsoft Azure Fundamentals certification prior to training for your Azure role-based certifications.

Azure Developer Associate: Microsoft Azure Developers design, build, test, and maintain cloud solutions, such as applications and services, partnering with cloud solution architects, cloud DBAs, cloud administrators, and clients to implement these solutions. The exam measures your ability to accomplish the following technical tasks: develop Azure Platform as a Service compute solutions; develop for Azure storage; implement Azure security; monitor, troubleshoot, and optimize solutions; and connect to and consume Azure services and third-party services. Exam is $165.

 Microsoft Azure Solutions Architect: Must have expertise in compute, network, storage, and security so that they can design solutions that run on Azure. Two exams are required for this certification. One exam measures your ability to accomplish the following technical tasks: deploy and configure infrastructure; implement workloads and security; create and deploy apps; implement authentication and secure data; and develop for the cloud and Azure storage. The second exam measures your ability to accomplish the following technical tasks: determine workload requirements; design for identity and security; design a data platform solution; design a business continuity strategy; design for deployment, migration, and integration; and design an infrastructure strategy. Each exam is $165.

IBM Cloud Certifications

IBM offers a number of cloud-specific certifications, including the Certified Solution Architect v2. Solutions architects will demonstrate the design, plan, architecture, and management capabilities for IBM’s cloud computing infrastructure. The mission of the solution architect certification is to provide a reliable, valid and fair method of assessing skills and knowledge; provide IBM a method of building and validating the skills of individuals and organizations; and to develop a loyal community of highly skilled certified professionals who recommend, sell, service, support and/or use IBM products and solutions.

How to prepare: You should have a working knowledge of key cloud computing fundamentals, as well as basic knowledge of IBM cloud computing essentials, and will be required to confirm that knowledge by passing a certification exam.

Cisco Certified Network Administrator Cloud

An entry-level credential, CCNA cloud the targets IT professionals working in roles such as network or cloud engineer and cloud administrator. The CCNA Cloud credential validates a candidate's ability to support cloud-based Cisco solutions. Candidates should possess a basic knowledge of cloud infrastructure and deployment models, cloud networking and storage solutions, provisioning, preparation of reports, ongoing monitoring and other cloud administrative tasks.

Two exams are required to earn the CCNA Cloud. Training is highly recommended, but not required. Each exam is 90 minutes, 55-65 questions, and costs $300..

Cisco Certified Network Professional Cloud 

The Cisco Certified Network Professional (CCNP) credential is designed to validate the skills of administrators, designers, architects, engineers and data center professionals working in a cloud-based environment. This is a professional-level credential for experienced cloud practitioners. Candidates should be well-versed in cloud-related technologies, such as Cisco Intercloud and Infrastructure-as-a-Service (IaaS), and cloud models (hybrid, private, public). Successful candidates should possess the skills necessary to design and implement network, storage and cloud infrastructure solutions and security policies, troubleshoot and resolve issues, automate design processes, design and manage virtual networks and virtualization, provision applications and IaaS, and perform life cycle management tasks. Candidates must also understand Application Centric Infrastructure (ACI) architecture and related concepts.

Prerequisites: Candidates must first obtain either the CCNA Cloud or any Cisco Certified Internetwork Expert (CCIE) certification. In addition, candidates must pass four additional exams covering cloud design, implementing and troubleshooting, automation, and building applications using ACI. Each exam is 55-65 questions over 90 minutes and costs $300 for a total of $1,200.

System Administrators in Red Hat OpenStack 

This certification measures a person’s ability to design, build, deploy and manage private clouds based on the Red Hat OpenStack platform. IT pros with this certification can install and configure Red Hat OpenStack, manage users and projects, and manage storage using Swift and Cinder. The exam is four hours and costs $400. Candidates should be already be a Red Hat Certified System Architect or Red Hat Certified Engineer or demonstrate comparable work experience and skills. The certification counts toward becoming a Red Hat Certified Architect.

Vendor Neutral Certifications

Certification of Cloud Security Knowledge (Cloud Security Alliance)

The CCSK is a web-based examination of an individual’s competency in key cloud security issues. Launched in 2010, the CCSK is a widely recognized standard of expertise and is the industry’s primary benchmark for measuring cloud security skillsets. The CCSK is intended to provide understanding of security issues and best practices over a broad range of cloud computing domains. The CCSK is applicable to a wide variety of IT and information security jobs in virtually every organization. The 60-question, 90-minute exam costs $395.

Cloud Certified Professional (Arcitura Education)

Arcitura Education is a leading global provider of vendor-neutral training and certification programs. With a worldwide network of certified trainers, training partners and testing centers, Arcitura accreditation programs have become internationally established. Architura offers a number of vendor-neutral cloud certifications, each based on a one-day course module and aimed at competency in specific areas of cloud computing. There are certificates for Cloud ArchitectsCloud Technology ProfessionalsCloud Governance, and Cloud Security, among others.

How to prepare: Arcitura offers self-study kits as well as on-site and remote workshops and study sessions and instructor-led workshops to help prepare applicants for the exams.

 Cloud Credential Council 

The Cloud Credential Council (CCC) is an international body that drives standards training and certification for cloud computing professionals. The CCC is independent and vendor-neutral, and members come from the public sector and academic institutions, cloud providers, cloud consumers, cloud brokers, professional associations and international certification bodies from across the world. The certifications are geared toward cloud consumers, cloud vendors or cloud solutions and services providers who want to improve their skills in defining, choosing, building, operating and managing cloud services. Currently, CCC offers one Cloud Technology Associate certification and five Professional Level cloud certifications, ranging from the Professional Cloud Administrator to the Professional Cloud Solutions Architect.

How to prepare: The Cloud Credential Council offers courses and preparation material on its website.

 Cloud Genius

Cloud Genius offers certifications in Cloud Technologies, Cloud DevOps, and Cloud Architecture and Design. The bootcamp-based program is heavily focused on hands-on experiential learning. The coursework requires twice-weekly on-campus attendance, as well as team collaboration on real-life projects. The program also offers a solid foundation in cloud technologies, modern DevOps practices and some basic programming in Ruby and Chef.

How to prepare: Each certificate requires, at minimum, 24 classroom hours (3 hours, twice a week for four weeks). In addition, the program directors suggest devoting additional time to view video lectures, working on group projects and practicing materials you've learned.

Cloud Institute

The Cloud Institute Certification program is based on the findings and recommendations of the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) of the U.S. Department of Commerce, which is geared toward greater and faster cloud adoption in government and public service verticals. The program also includes a focus on security and privacy challenges. There are currently two online certification programs, Certified Cloud Architect and Certified Cloud Professional, and one open assessment available.

CloudU (Rackspace)

According to Rackspace, CloudU is a vendor-neutral curriculum designed for IT professionals and business leaders that covers and certifies knowledge of the fundamentals of cloud computing. CloudU content is available to any professional at any time, but if you want a formal recognition of your knowledge about cloud computing, you should complete the courses and requirements for a certificate.

How to prepare: Study each CloudU lesson whitepaper, and then successfully complete each of 10 CloudU lesson quizzes based on the whitepaper’s content. Successfully complete a 50-question final exam drawn from materials covered in the 10 CloudU lessons.

Cloud Essentials  (CompTIA)

This certification covers the fundamentals of cloud computing and shows that individuals understand cloud computing from both a business and a technical perspective. In addition, the certification covers migration to the cloud and governance of cloud computing environments.

How to prepare: CompTIA offers study and training materials, and while it’s not required, CompTIA recommends that individuals taking the exam have at least six months experience working in an IT services environment.

CloudMASTER (National Cloud Technologists Association)

CloudMASTER training and certification reflects a portfolio of skills related to the leading public cloud service providers through practical activities and lab exercises. Students learn and are able to demonstrate their ability to use common SaaS, PaaS and IaaS solutions including AWS, Azure, Rackspace, Puppet, Chef, etc. Certifications include Certified Cloud Technologist, Certified CloudOps Specialist and Certified Cloud Architect.

Exin Cloud Computing Foundation

Exin offers two certification levels, Cloud Computing Foundation and Cloud Technologies Advanced. The programs cover the main cloud computing concepts as well as what's involved in planning, procurement and management. The certification is geared toward DevOps professionals responsible for making the business case for cloud solutions, evaluating vendors and systems and then integrating them with legacy technologies.

How to prepare: Exin offers exam preparation guides and sample exams as well as ebooks covering these concepts. These materials are available on Exin’s website.