Skill development has always been a must for anyone in an IT career, but this is especially true as cloud services mature and the components of cloud infrastructure trickle down into the rapidly evolving corporate data centre.
Whether you are looking to refresh existing skills on the latest technologies or branch out into a new specialty there are a host of invaluable resources available at no cost to you from some of the biggest vendors in the computing industry.
The result for IT pros is that vendors’ marketing budget could very easily be your ticket to advancement should the skills they teach become needed where you work now or at a different organisation.
In this case, the old adage, “You get what you pay for,” isn’t necessarily true. Many of the training libraries listed here alphabetically by company name are top notch, featuring videos, reference material and in some cases even full lab environments or free software tools.
"Many of these training libraries offer completion certificates or badges and some facilitate your path to recognised industry certifications by preparing you for proctored exams."
Some of content provided by the eight vendors listed here is fully free, but registration is required in most cases. In many cases additional training content may be available only to known customers or business partners, in which case you’ll likely need to work through your business rep to gain access. Many vendors offer premium memberships in the form of paid subscriptions or purchased training credits.
Here the focus is primarily on training libraries that are open to anyone, offering self-paced training at no cost.
AWS can provide a huge array of services and offers an equally impressive range of courses. The AWS training library is structured to support both beginners and seasoned veterans, for either technical pros or for less technical roles such as sales, management and planning.
Many of the courses are offered in languages including English, Spanish, French, German, Italian, Chinese, Japanese, Korean, Indonesian, Thai and Vietnamese.
Course materials consist of text and video content with periodic knowledge checks to ensure you are retaining the material being covered. Playback speed of course videos can be adjusted to breeze through content you are already familiar with.
The training also offers AWS Cloud Quest, a cheesy but innovative training platform that operates like an open-world role-playing game. You can navigate it to complete tasks and solve business problems through puzzles, labs and quizzes.
AWS offers both free and premium training libraries. The free library contains over 500 courses, practice tests for certification exams and the Cloud Quest game. Premium users gain access to three exam-prep courses, over 100 lab environments, additional Cloud Quest roles, as well as access to a second role-playing game AWS Industry Quest for US$29 per month or US$299 a year.
Skills for All from Cisco
Cisco’s Skills for All offers a wealth of beginner and intermediate courses across broad topics like networking and cyber security. These courses are bundled into learning collections of up to 70 hours of training and there is even training for a career path in cyber security totalling 160 hours of coursework.
The courses are available primarily in English, but many are also available in Spanish and French and to a lesser extent Portuguese, Russian and German.
Skills for All courseware includes video-based training and interactive lessons designed to optimise learning and encourage engagement with the materials. Cisco offers downloadable resources including their network-configuration simulator tool, Packet Tracer and virtual machines preconfigured to facilitate hands-on lab work for some of the cyber security courses.
As you complete modules and courses in Skills for All you can unlock achievements and earn digital badges to use on your resume or social media.
Cisco doesn’t offer certifications directly through Skills for All, but its cyber security career path does align with the exam objectives for the IT Specialist – cyber security certification offered through Certiport and the Skills for All Python Essentials 1 and 2 courses prepare you for the Certified Entry-Level Python Programmer (PCEP) and Certified Associate in Python Programming (PCAP) certs from the Python Institute.
Fortinet Training Institute
Fortinet Training Institute offers free access to their Network Security Expert (NSE) courses Levels 1-8, the first three of which allow you to earn associate-level certifications within the course. Each of the NSE courses builds on existing knowledge by providing a progressively advanced overview of security threats and protection measures.
Fortinet also offers self-paced training courses on a broad range of its security products. Some offer supplemental materials in the form of books or on-demand lab access, both of which incur a fee, but they are not required to complete the course material.
Training content is primarily made up of videos, but interactive components are used for knowledge checks and skill validation. Full lesson scripts are available for download in PDF format.
Many Fortinet courses offer completion certificates and may also be used to earn Continuing Professional Education credits for (ISC)2 certifications such as the Certified Information Systems Security Professional (CISSP). The courses identify how many hours of credit you earn and what certification domain they correspond to.
Juniper Networks learning portal
Juniper’s learning portal is largely focused on Juniper certification tracks with free training available based on the Juniper certifications you already hold. For example, Juniper Specialist certifications require you to hold a Juniper Associate-level certification, so the Specialist-level training is only available to individuals who hold an Associate-level cert.
Without a current Juniper cert you are limited to associate-level certification, which still allows access to a course for each certification track. Upon completion of a certification-focused course you can earn a 75 per cent discount on an exam voucher.
All Juniper cert-prep courses up to the Professional level are free providing you meet prerequisites for the certification. There is a fee for Expert-level cert-prep courses. Additional courses available on the portal aren’t certification-related, but the selection is limited.
Juniper also offers free access to their vLabs platform, which provides pre-built lab environments to practice and validate your skills. Sign-up for vLabs is separate from the main learning portal and must be approved by Juniper prior to gaining access.
If your needs reach that level, on-demand training courses are available for a premium—US$950 to US$4,750 per course. Alternatively, you can purchase an all-access pass that provides unlimited access to all on-demand courses and labs and also gains Juniper Networks Certified Internet Expert (JNCIE) Cert lab exam bundles and an exam voucher for US$5,995.
Microsoft’s training library offers material on topics relevant to the modern data centre including Active Directory, Windows Server, Hyper-V, clustering and high-availability, storage and file services and myriad hybrid or Azure-based workloads.
Most of the content in Microsoft Learning is self-paced and text-based, meaning you’re going to spend quite a bit of time reading through course material, reviewing diagrams and consuming tabular content. It’s not as engaging as interactive training material, but it represents a wealth of content, most of which corresponds directly to Microsoft certifications.
Microsoft Learning offers digital incentives to completing coursework, including badges and experience points (XP) to help level-up your reputation score. Microsoft also occasionally offers learning challenges that can earn different rewards including exam vouchers.
Microsoft’s certifications have been popular for more than two decades and while the company continues to offer a variety of them, at this point most focus on cloud platforms like Azure and Office 365.
In addition to their core industry certs, Microsoft has begun offering Fundamentals certifications, which lower the entry point somewhat for certification. Fundamentals certification exams are available for free to verified students.
Red Hat Training
Red Hat’s free library offers 12 courses that cover key technical topics including the basics of Red Hat Administration, OpenStack, OpenShift and Ansible. Each course feeds into either a Red Hat Certified System Administrator (RHCSA) or Red Hat Certified Specialist (RHCS) certification.
In addition to courses, Red Hat offers training videos via Red Hat TV. They don’t offer the interactivity or step-by-step learning process that some other vendors do, but content is highly technical and can bring a lot of value to IT professionals looking to get up to speed on the Red Hat’s latest offerings.
For US$6,000 a year, Red Hat offers individual access to a much larger library of courses, each of which is also available a-la-carte, as well as hands-on labs and additional certification paths.
VMware Learning’s free Basic subscription offers primarily text-based product overviews and high-level technical briefings in bite-sized chunks with diagrams and interactive elements sprinkled in. If your training needs specifically involve preparation for an industry cert then you are out of luck with a Basic subscription, although VMware does offer certificates of completion for their courses.
VMware Learning also exposes VMware’s video library, which is publicly available even without a Basic subscription and provides quick access to additional content that may align with your learning goals.
If the resources available in the Basic tier don’t meet your needs, for US$269 per year you can buy a Premium subscription, which offers intermediate-level content, courses focused on exam prep (VMware Certified Technical Associate and VMware Certified Professional), as well as the Customer Connect learning environment.
KubeAcademy is a free learning environment focused on Kubernetes and is curated by VMware but operated separately from VMware Learning. It focuses on pure Kubernetes without any VMware spin, which makes it valuable to anyone looking to get up to speed managing container-based apps on Kubernetes in general. The content is primarily video based with speed controls.
KubeAcademy also provides learning paths for different topics and experience levels, intended to allow you to build on your knowledge over time.
Training courses and videos also offer downloadable transcripts, which are great for the hearing impaired or for checking back later for clarification. Courses may also link to other reference material or even Slack channels to connect you with a community of fellow pros.
As for providing proof of training you’ve completed, KubeAcademy is pretty spartan. There are no certificates, training doesn’t map directly to industry certifications and achievements seem to be visible only on your own profile page.