EMC has added information lifecycle management (ILM) to its Proven Professional training, emphasising its increased focus on the technology.

The addition of ILM comes as a result of the firm's acquisitions from last year. In July, it bought back-up storage company Legato, and in October, snapped up Documentum, a content management vendor.

"With the continual expansion of our product set, over the past 18 months we have developed a new strategy around ILM," said Rod Gilbert, business development manager for EMC global education, calling for a complete revamping of the training curriculum, originally introduced in 2001. "Market needs have changed around data, and it was necessary to enhance the programme to take advantage of the new technologies," he added.

Gilbert said there are other vendors who provide storage-specific certification, but he claimed that EMC's is the "most comprehensive" because of the depth and breadth of the programme. "We cover all aspects [of ILM] - whether it's planning, designing, implementing, or managing, maintaining and supporting the infrastructure needed to carry out ILM."

The training program includes six tracks that "cover an entire spectrum of roles that people would participate in," Gilbert said. Four of those tracks - storage administrator, technology architect, customer engineer and implementation engineer - are for authorised service partner certification, and the storage administrator track is also available for customer certification. The other two tracks are for sales and presales systems and sales engineers. They are geared toward authorised reseller partners.

The storage administrator track has five areas of specialisation: storage management, networked storage (SAN), networked storage (NS solution), Clariion solutions and business continuity. In addition, there are three levels of certification achievement: associate, specialist and expert level, which "cover everything from basics to the advanced."

Gilbert emphasized that the certification is "not just hardware or storage-centric" but includes both hardware and software, and even covers applications from other vendors like Oracle and Microsoft, and what their role is in the lifecycle of information. "In the expert level it gets into third-party applications where we look at how applications integrate with the infrastructure EMC provides."

At the expert level, the technical architecture track also covers third-party standards, the ITIL principles of designing and other things that have "nothing to do with EMC, but are really methodologies regarding how to design or plan IT infrastructure or solutions," he explained.

The higher the level of certification, the more hands-on the training gets, Gilbert noted. In the expert level, about 65 percent of time is spent in labs, versus 35 percent lecture; the hands-on/lecture ratio at the specialist level is about 50/50, while at the associate level it's predominately an 80/20 lecture/lab split, he said.

An alternative to lectures at any level is to take the e-learning option. "It's a challenge for customers these days to take time out of their schedules and attend a class. After listening to customers and partners through a number of vehicles, including our customer council and online surveys, the input was that, 'anything you can do to minimize our time out of field to sit in class is very valuable to us'."

The cost of certification varies, but exams are offered at Prometric worldwide for about $200 each. "If you're an expert with EMC or a guru, you can just take the exams, but if you're new to the technology, you need to progress through the curriculum." Since most of EMC's technology has been refreshed in the last six months, Gilbert said the firm strongly advises that certification candidates first take the free practice test and, based on the results, proceed either directly to the exam or take the course.

A training subscription for $9,995 is available at the expert level. "It's like an unlimited pass for one year." For some of the smaller tracks, EMC offers bundled packages or "value packs". A customer who just wants to take Clariion training at the specialist level, for example, would be paying somewhere around $5,000.

It remains to be seen whether students who carry these credentials will have the "opportunity to maximize their earnings potential," Gilbert admitted. "But if I was a CIO and had two candidates in front of me, and my organization had a large Oracle financial database, if one of them was a basic DBA and other had some underlying knowledge of infrastructure and training, my move would be to choose the one with additional credentials."

Bill Ross, co-chair of the certification council at CIPS National, pointed out that this type of certification, much like Microsoft's MCSE designation, is "useful for organisations that have a particular technology and expect people to be competent at managing that technology."

He said ILM certification could become increasingly desirable the more companies are required to manage certain types of data - for example, payroll and tax information - over longer periods of time. "They've got lots of information, and sometimes it could get lost or forgotten. If you provide a certification that keeps people aware (of those issues), that may be useful."

An employer who would consider listing ILM certification as a requirement would first need to have bought into ILM as a principle, Ross said, adding that it's important to balance the certification against the practical experience of using the vendor's products.