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Building a World-Class Distance Learning Program at Open University

Wed, 01/31/2018 - 08:26

We recently had the opportunity to sit down with Andrew Smith, Senior Lecturer in the STEM School of Computing and Communications at Open University. In this interview, he discusses how Open University solved its distance learning challenges and now delivers IT training to students all over the world.

Interviewer:  Thank you, Andrew, for joining us today. We’re excited to learn about the program you’ve built at Open University, and how you’re helping students all over the world get the IT training they need to advance their careers. Can you start by describing what you do there?

Andrew: I’m a senior academic. My main role is to run the Cisco Networking Academy for Open University, where our traditional cohort is teaching CCNA and CCNP students. But with that I do a lot of work around Linux, around forensics, around security, and around vendor engagement. So I do a lot of work with LPI, CompTIA, VMware, Cisco, Microsoft, and many others.

Interviewer: Can you tell us a little about the students you serve?

Andrew: Open University was created in the 1960s to be the university that could offer everybody a chance to get a degree. Today, we have over 150,000 students. It’s completely distance learning and adult based. Anybody under the age of 25 is unusual for us. Typically our main population — if you think about a histogram — is in the 25 to 45 population, and then it drops off, because that’s the prime time when people are looking for a degree or a master’s degree. They’re looking for that degree opportunity they didn’t have or didn’t want when they were younger. Currently, we do not typically have many 18 to 25 year olds, but we do have some. And after about the age of 45 it goes on a long tail out into retirement.

Interviewer: Got it. Where do your students go after Open University?

Andrew: We find that a lot of our students, especially at the postgraduate level, are already in the industry or in an area of the industry. They’re using it for personal development or personal progression. Some of our students are serving in the Armed Forces, because Cisco technology is a NATO-approved technology, so that is an advantage. And we’ve got some going off all over the world to do both mundane and fantastic things. One of my students who is doing the security module is traveling around Thailand fixing systems. I had another student on a mobile oil drilling platform in the South China Sea. It’s quite entertaining to keep track of where they work.

Interviewer: Does Open University primarily focus on degrees?

Andrew: Yes, we’re a full degree-awarding university. That’s where we get our money and reputation. We offer certification courses as a bonus. The Cisco and Linux certifications that we offer are part of our degree program. It’s a great benefit for students to be able to get their degree and these certifications as well. It’s powerful when they’re able to leave saying, “I’ve got a master’s degree in advanced networking, and I have the full CCNP, CCNA, and security certifications.” It’s about creating a win-win situation. We’re seeing that same thing with NDG’s Linux Essentials content. We’ve got a number of alumni who want to go and get that extra certification, either for their personal development and interest, or to help them move forward in their careers. So they’re seeing a double win in it.

Interviewer: Absolutely. Certifications can be a powerful differentiator on the job market. You mentioned that you’re using NDG’s Linux Essential course. Can you tell us a little more about that?

Andrew: We run what we call a non-accredited course, which is our terminology for any professional development course, and we use NDG’s Linux Essentials content for that. And that runs like a dream. Because we’re a Cisco ASC (Academy Support Center) as well, I’ve got a couple of academies that are very big on Linux. I’ve got a university in Hertfordshire and a school in Bedfordshire, which are counties near us, who are just big fans of Linux, and they are using the content to underpin their qualifications, whether it’s tech qualifications for schoolchildren or part of an undergraduate program. NDG’s Linux courses have made it really easy for us to support these other academic institutions and reach a wider community of students.

Interviewer: I understand that you’re also using NDG’s NETLAB+ platform to deliver online IT training. Can you tell us about that?

Andrew: We’ve had the NETLAB+ Academy Edition since 2005, and we’ve been using the Professional Edition since about 2010. We heavily use the NETLAB+ for our Cisco networking students, predominantly our CCNP students. But we also use it for our CCNA, because when we distance teach, we’ve got about 400 to 600 students learning networking, and a number of them cannot attend our day school classes because they’re serving in Her Majesty’s Armed Forces, or are disabled, or caring for family members. So to ensure that they have the right hands-on skills, we use NETLAB+. But otherwise we make them go to centers around the UK and get hands-on with live equipment in front of them.

Interviewer: Why did you choose NETLAB+? What were you using before that?

Andrew: NETLAB+ was one of the keys that solved our distance learning problem. Before NETLAB+ was available, we were still going to do the day schools, but we weren’t going to have any time for the students to develop practical skills. The challenge is they have to learn all the technical skills, they have to learn how to configure, and they have to learn how to cable. The content is good, but it can be very dry and theory-based without the practical. So, we were going to do the day schools, but we had to compress a lot of stuff into the day schools, and we were going to have to turn them into long weekend sessions, which were going to be very expensive to run and a huge logistical problem to solve.

But, of course, as soon as NETLAB+  came along, we were able to reduce it down to one day. The students are able to do all the practice remotely on NETLAB+, so then we can just bring them in for a day to work on condensed activities, and then do the assessment.

And the bookable interface on NETLAB+ is an absolute bonus, because I can create community rules and I can control how much time students get on the equipment, and then they can manage their own time accordingly. So they get to choose, but within the constraints we give them.

Interviewer: Wonderful. It sounds like you identified some clear benefits to NETLAB+ at the very beginning. Are there any other advantages that you discovered after using it more regularly?

Andrew: Yes. For the alternative learning students, they have to complete some practical activities, and we have to be able to see that they’re doing it. NETLAB+ has a feature that lets you go into all the accounts and look at the logs of what they’re doing. At the moment we’re in the window of the final day school. We have a technician that goes in and just checks. So students say, “Oh, I’ve done that.” And you go and look and you just go, “Oh, dear, no you haven’t,” or, “That looks like a lot of commands for one line.” Most of our students are very honest individuals, but every once in a while you’ll get one or two that will try to see what they can get away with.

Also the students might make mistakes, and we’re able to go in and just look and say, “Aha, you did that.” So even though it’s a totally asynchronous experience, we can email them and say, “Next time just don’t do that. Do this.” And they have their personal “aha” moments. For TSHOOT it’s fantastic. (The TSHOOT is the CCNP troubleshooting certification.) The fact that NETLAB+ loads the trouble ticket, prepares it, and then students can save it and move that save through to another booking—it’s very powerful. We limit the amount of time our students can spend on the system to stop individuals from “camping” and let others use it too. But because of that feature, we’re able to let students save their work and push it through to the next session, where it will boot up and let them pick up where they left off. It’s simple, but it’s very good.

Interviewer: What does the future hold for NETLAB+ at Open University?

Andrew: We’re actually quite keen to explore how to use NETLAB+ to connect other technology. We have an open STEM lab where we have robotics equipment and National Instruments equipment. We have a telescope in Tenerife. We have a Mars Rover, because we do a lot of work with NASA. And we’re looking at how we can use the NETLAB+ bookable interface with all of that technology. As well as looking at routine networking scenarios, because it’s quite a straightforward platform to use. Basically it’s sending control signals. It’s got good bookable interface. And now that the Virtual Edition also has a HTML5 applet, it will actually become more friendly to things like this. It’s shiny, shiny friendly, which I do like.

Interviewer: Do you have any advice for other institutions who might be considering using NETLAB+?

Andrew: Yeah, buy it! Know what you want it for and why you’re going to use it. Once you understand that, it is an incredibly powerful and agile tool. I have a server room filled with lots of routing and switching equipment and NETLAB+ systems, and I do a lot of show-and-tell activities, taking senior management and other notables alone. Because everything is in the cloud, until I take them in the server room and they see it. And suddenly it starts making sense, even if they’re not technical. They get to see inside our server, and see the NETLAB+ system, and see all the flashing lights, and see that there are students on there at all sorts of weird and wonderful times.

Cisco Networking Academy Helps Close the IT Skills Gap at Chapel Hill High School

Wed, 01/24/2018 - 08:01

A new school year is underway, and at Chapel Hill High School (CHHS) in North Carolina that means a new class of students who will begin something very different from the traditional set of humanities, math and science classes.

CHHS is part of a growing movement among high schools to offer computer science and engineering classes alongside standard college prep curriculum. These schools recognize that a solid technical education is a prerequisite for many careers in today’s technology-driven world. And it’s essential to addressing the looming IT skills gap—currently estimated at 1 million unfilled positions.


The World’s Largest Classroom: Inside the Cisco Networking Academy

Like many of its counterparts, CHHS is a member of the Cisco Networking Academy (NetAcad). NetAcad is a corporate social responsibility program run by Cisco, the world leader in networking equipment. The program gives educational institutions access to the curriculum and support resources they need to deliver IT training and provide students with hands-on experience with technology.

The Cisco Networking Academy is a great resource for high schools like CHHS. It provides operational support through regional Academy Support Centers (ASCs), training to teachers through its network of Instructor Training Centers (ITCs), and a complete library of proven curriculum.

“At Chapel Hill, we’re lucky to have Stanly Community College as our ASC,” explains Jennifer Walker, a NetAcad instructor at CHHS. “Just this past year, I needed to upgrade our lab equipment, and they suggested vendors and provided information on the equipment to match the courses in our Academy. Every year they host ASC meetings, during which they provide curriculum updates, industry trends, and connections to businesses. The ASC team at Stanley Community College is always available to help and share their expertise. They’re just great.”


A New Approach to Instructor Training

Stanly Community College also serves as the NetAcad ITC for CHHS. Walker had prior experience with the Cisco Networking Academy, but desired training updates in the course curriculum. So three years ago when Walker needed to complete instructor training to teach the CCNA Routing and Switching curriculum, she took the first ITC course over the summer at Stanly Community College. She followed up with the second course during the fall semester.

It can be challenging for busy teachers to take career development training, especially in complex subjects like IT networking. “Instructors today just don’t have the time or money to travel to training and spend a week in a classroom,” notes Kelly Caudle, Program Head at Stanly Community College. “That’s why we use NDG’s NETLAB+ system to train instructors at other Cisco academies. With NETLAB+ we’re able to give them remote access to equipment and teach those courses online.”

NDG’s NETLAB+ is a remote access solution that allows academic institutions to host real IT equipment, virtual machines, and a wide variety of curriculum content options. NETLAB+ includes all the software needed to provide an environment through which instructors can manage IT courses, and learners can schedule and complete lab exercises.

“I had to take the Routing and Switching Essentials course in the fall, in addition to teaching,” explains Walker. “Being able to complete the course online really helped. I loved the ability [NETLAB+ provides] to access equipment remotely. It’s such a great platform to use, especially useful for those taking the courses online.”

Now Walker and the other instructors who have been through the ITC at Stanly Community College are equipped with the training they need to teach the students in their communities. In total, the ASC and ITC program at Stanly supports 62 academies (high schools, community colleges, and universities) in North Carolina, and 140 academies total across the Southeast.

Read the case study to learn how Stanly Community College is using NETLAB+ to build a world-class IT training program in rural North Carolina.


More than Technical Training

The value of career technical education (CTE) programs like NetAcad extends beyond the material students are taught. Research shows that high school students who participate in CTE programs are less likely to drop out, have higher academic performance, and are more prepared for both college and careers.

“I love CTE,” Walker says, “I see that students are able to understand and apply what they learn in their other classes. We’re able to pull in science, math, social studies, language, arts, and vocabulary related to each. We give students a way to apply information from other classes and see the importance of those classes now, rather than wait until they get a job or go to college.”


Closing the Skills Gap in North Carolina, and Beyond

More than 9,000 institutions in 170+ countries have joined the Cisco Networking Academy since its inception in 1997. Together, they have helped prepare nearly 7 million people for IT careers. The numbers are certainly remarkable—but what’s even more impressive is the impact that the program has had on individuals and their communities.

Walker explains, “So many of my students continue to IT careers, and they often report that the skills they learned in the Cisco Networking Academy courses were a great foundation and made future courses easier to understand.” Many of her students receive professional IT certifications and then continue their education at universities and community colleges.

Readers interested in seeing the extraordinary impact of Walker’s program can follow her on Twitter (@LearnITWalker).

Northern New Mexico College Expands IT Program with Virtualization Platform

Tue, 01/16/2018 - 11:17

Northern New Mexico College (NNMC) is a small college that primarily serves minority students in the rural communities surrounding Española, NM. NNMC’s IT program has only been operating for nine years, yet it’s been awarded several prestigious National Science Foundation grants and has quickly expanded both its curriculum and its reach. In this interview, Department Chair Dr. Jorge Crichigno discusses the unique challenges of serving rural communities and how NDG’s NETLAB+ platform has contributed to NNMC’s success.


Interviewer: Thank you, Dr. Crichigno, for joining us today. We’re excited to learn about the IT program you’ve built at Northern New Mexico College. Can you start by telling us a little about your program and your students?

Dr. Crichigno: Sure, we’re located in a rural area in New Mexico, in the northern part of the state. It’s a small college, with about 1200 students. We’re in a region that suffers from chronic poverty. Our students are mostly minorities (74% Hispanic and 11% Native Americans), and they are often underprepared for college.

NNMC was a community college until 2005, when it was decided to begin offering bachelor degrees. And one of them was in Information Engineering Technology (IET). The IET program started in 2009 with around 15 students, and we’ve grown to about 70 students today. We partnered with Cisco for the Cisco Networking Academy in 2011, then VMware in 2015, and soon we’ll be adding Palo Alto Networks. As you know, we use NETLAB+ to deliver much of the laboratory experience that is essential for the employers here.

Interviewer: That’s great. Why did you decide to use NETLAB+ to deliver your labs?

Dr. Crichigno: Northern New Mexico is in the Rocky Mountains. We get a lot of snow during the winter, and many of our students live in remote villages. They have to drive maybe an hour in normal conditions—and the snow makes it much more difficult and dangerous. So, we wanted to have a laboratory setting that allowed students to do their labs remotely, regardless of weather conditions.

The other reason is that NETLAB+ makes our lives easier. I teach classes. I’m the Chair of the College of Engineering, and I have plenty of other responsibilities like working on grants and accreditation. I don’t have a technician to help me with the labs. NETLAB+ makes it easy, because students just login to the website, reserve a time and complete the lab. There’s no need for me to set anything up, manage scheduling or do any of the troubleshooting that may be required in a physical setting. Everything is just ready to go.

Interviewer: How has NETLAB+ impacted your program?

Dr. Crichigno: Now students all over northern New Mexico can access the labs remotely. They can complete labs whenever they want. During the day, late at night, on the weekends—lab use is much better distributed over time. So we’re able to use less equipment to serve the same number of students.

NETLAB+ has also enabled our program to expand. NNMC is about 30 miles from Santa Fe, the state capital. There’s only one community college in Santa Fe, and no public four-year institutions. We recently opened a branch of NNMC in the Higher Education Center (HEC). HEC is a center built by the state of New Mexico where four-year institutions can offer bachelor degrees. NNMC decided to offer the IET program in Santa Fe as well. We don’t have an IT laboratory in Santa Fe. But with NETLAB+ students are able to connect to the equipment here on our Española campus. NNMC is expecting to grow, because Santa Fe is a larger city than Española and there is a need for four-year programs in the IT area.

Interviewer: It’s exciting to see how NETLAB+ is enabling your program to grow. I saw that you were recently awarded an National Science Foundation grant to develop a cybersecurity concentration. How is NETLAB+ helping you there?

Dr. Crichigno:  CCNA Security labs are very long, and they use many pieces of equipment. If a student wants to do a CCNA Security lab, it takes a whole pod with three routers and switches and a security appliance. For a 10-student class, it is hard to do the lab, because it takes a lot of time, two to three hours to finish the lab, sometimes more. Now with a NETLAB+ setting, preparing the network topology takes just five minutes, and that’s nothing compared with the 30 to 60 minutes that it may take to set up the network topology in the physical environment. And of course they can do it at any time.

Plus, NETLAB+ gives us access to all the curriculum. If I had to develop the curriculum, it would take quite a bit of time. It might not even be possible with all the responsibilities I have. NETLAB+ makes it very easy to adopt the curriculum. That’s one of the great features. It’s ready, robust, and it works.

Interview:  Last question, as we wrap up. What do you enjoy most about teaching at Northern New Mexico College?

Dr. Crichigno: The most rewarding part of my job is seeing students graduate and get job offers that are life-changing. Students who are coming from a very poor region, at the end of the road they’re getting offers from $80,000 to $90,000 per year, which changes the life of an entire family, not only the students. There are challenges, and it is not easy. Many of our students have families, work full-time, and  have to study at the same time. These imply multiple responsibilities and economic needs. Yet, despite all that they are able to finish the program and get a better life after graduating.

Read the case study to learn how NNMC is using NETLAB+ to overcome geographical challenges in rural New Mexico.

NETLAB+ Content Additions: Palo Alto, VMware and Cisco

Wed, 01/10/2018 - 16:23

NDG is pleased to announce the following additions to our supported curriculum content options for NETLAB+.

Palo Alto Networks Firewall 8.0 Essentials (EDU-210) 

These labs will enhance the student’s understanding of how to configure and anage Palo Alto Networks next-generation firewalls. The student will gain hands-on experience configuring, managing and monitoring a firewall in a lab environment.

VMware vSphere Install, Configure, Manage v6.5

These labs provide hands-on training in the skills needed to install, configure and manage VMware vSphere using a variety of vSphere functions and features.

CCNA Security 2.0 – Updated Lab Design

The CCNA Security curriculum prepares you to design, implement, and support security for networked devices. Add a security specialty to your CCNA networking skills and expand your career opportunities. This course will help you will aid you in developing a working knowledge of network security principles, tools and configurations.

  • The lab design has been updated to support the use of an ASA-5506 device. Labs have been added to support the use of the ASA-5506 for CCNA Security 2.0 labs that require an ASA. Do note that labs with the tagging of [ASA 5506] are to be completed using only the ASA-5506 device in the MAP w/ASA pod topology, otherwise the labs without the tagging can be completed using previously recommended models of the ASA.
  • Please see the NDG website for details on the CCNA Security 2.0 labs, including compatible topologies and class settings.
  • Please refer also to the details on implementing a Multi-purpose Academy Pod with ASA.

From Packages to Packets: Northern New Mexico College Graduate Launches New IT Career

Tue, 01/09/2018 - 09:22

Just a few years ago, Chase Harrison was working as a shipping clerk in a Colorado paper warehouse when a routine upgrade to the warehouse logistics network brought the shipping department to a standstill—and set him on an inspiring new path towards a career in IT networking and high-performance computing.

“We were waiting for a switch to be installed, and the contractor didn’t show up,” recalls Harrison. “Shipping and receiving was completely shutdown. We couldn’t ship anything or order anything, and my boss asked if I could figure it out. I said, ‘Sure.’ I started Googling stuff and figuring it out, and then the installer finally showed up. I talked to him while he was installing it, and that really piqued my curiosity about networking.”

Little could he imagine how far his curiosity would take him. Harrison bought a Force10 switch off eBay, installed it on his home network, and started playing with it. That experience led him to earn his associates degree, and then get a job as a desktop support specialist at IBM. He went from there to Anthem BlueCross/BlueShield, where he had the opportunity to install new Cisco switches to upgrade the network. He fell in love with networking.

He also fell in love with a girl, his now-wife Tina. He moved to New Mexico to start a life with her and pursue a career in networking. He recalls, “She said there’s Los Alamos National Laboratory out here. They’re really into IT and high-performance computing. They need students. Would you want to come over and finish your Bachelor’s degree? And I was like, ‘Yeah, that’d be great.’ So I quit my job and moved everything over here. That’s when I discovered Northern New Mexico College [NNMC].”


A New Approach to IT Training

NNMC offers an ABET-accredited bachelor degree in Information Engineering Technology and is a member of the Cisco Networking Academy. The college serves mostly rural communities within a 40-mile radius of its campus in Española, New Mexico.

Because of the challenging terrain and weather conditions in the Rocky Mountains, NNMC uses Network Development Group’s NETLAB+ platform to provide remote access to its IT laboratory equipment. This enables learners to complete IT labs from anywhere they have an Internet connection.

Harrison credits the NETLAB+ system with helping him complete his degree and obtain the hands-on networking skills sought after by today’s employers. “NETLAB+ made a huge difference for me,” Harrison explains. “I was working full-time and going to school full-time, so my only free time was late at night and on the weekends. Mostly Saturdays and Sundays were my catch-up time—reading chapters, doing the labs, trying to catch up on everything throughout the week and be prepared for the next week. So it was a great benefit being able to do it from home, whenever I wanted to.”

Read the case study to learn how NNMC uses NETLAB+ to overcome geographical challenges in rural New Mexico.


Ready for Opportunity—and a New Career

The great film producer Samuel Goldwyn once said, “The harder I work, the luckier I get.”

Harrison’s journey has been a testament to the truth of this statement. His diligence as a student at NNMC led the IET Department Chair Dr. Jorge Crichigno to invite Harrison to work on a NSF-funded project to deploy a 10-Gbps network on campus. Harrison later learned that Los Alamos National Lab (LANL), where he worked as a system administrator, used the same technology in its lab. This enabled him to join the HPC team at LANL.

“Then after I graduated from Northern,” he continues, “I got hired full-time as a computing system professional, and they opened up a new job where I’ll be doing not just networking, but I’ll be doing file systems, I’ll be doing architecture, I’ll be working with future technology. So I was excited to get my hands on more high-performance computing stuff. That’s what I’m doing now.”

Harrison believes that a successful IT career begins with a passion for learning: “With IT, it’s like being a doctor. All this new technology comes out, so you can’t just be comfortable. You’ve got to keep researching, you’ve got to keep looking at the future. It’s a good thing, always learning, That’s what I always strive to do is just learn, learn, learn, as much as I can.”

Harrison has enjoyed an incredible journey from the paper warehouse to his dream job at LANL, and he’s grateful to the IET program at NNMC for preparing him for the future. “NNMC is a great place. It’s very affordable, and the teachers there are just amazing. They’re passionate about what they do and what they teach. I’d highly recommend the program to anyone interested in an IT career. I learned so much and just had the best time there.”

“I’m also grateful for my mentors at LANL,” Harrison notes. “I wouldn’t be where I am today without all the help and support I’ve received from Jeremy Martinez, Adrian Romero, Susan Coulter, Jesse Martinez, Chuck Wilder, Alex Montano and James Cash.”

Developing the Next Generation of Linux Engineers at UKFast

Wed, 12/27/2017 - 07:37

We live in an increasingly open-source world. Look around, and you’ll find Linux in everything from cars to space ships. But what you won’t find are many unemployed Linux professionals. The rapid adoption of Linux in these and thousands of other applications has led to a growing Linux skills gap. Today, 65% of hiring managers are looking for Linux talent, and 89% say they have a hard time finding qualified open-source talent (Open Source Jobs Report, 2017).

The Linux skills gap is a growing problem for many businesses. But for UKFast, a UK-based hosting provider, it presents a great opportunity to develop new capabilities and meaningfully contribute to its community.


A Business Built on Solving Tough Challenges

In 1999, Lawrence and Gail Jones started UKFast to fill a gap in the UK hosting industry and help small- and medium-sized companies get their businesses online. Like many of their customers, they bootstrapped their business, so expensive proprietary hardware and software licenses were not an option. Instead, they took an open-source approach, setting up customers on Linux-based operating systems and boxes.

Over the years, UKFast developed numerous open-source innovations to enable it to compete against bigger competitors. Linux-based load balancing, protection against DDoS attacks, caching, and more. The company excelled at solving customer problems with open-source software. This approach gave UKFast’s customers significant cost and performance advantages—and it helped fuel the company’s growth.

Today, UKFast is the largest privately-owned hosting provider in the United Kingdom. Yet, this success brought its own set of challenges: Namely, how to find the top-notch Linux professionals the company needs to sustain its rapid growth.


An Innovative Approach to the Skills Gap

Accustomed to solving tough problems for its customers, UKFast applied its entrepreneurial energy and vision to addressing its own talent shortage.

In 2007 the company teamed up with Aaron Saxton (now UKFast Director of Training and Education) to build an IT training program for apprentices. “There’s a huge skills gap globally,” explains Saxton. “So how do you find the right talent? Well, we said, ‘Why don’t we grow it? Let’s build our own education and training program here. Let’s look at how we can develop our team and inspire young people in the community to be the next generation of Linux engineers.’”

What initially began as an apprenticeship program and qualifications for the UKFast team has since expanded into a much broader effort to bring digital literacy to Greater Manchester. Today, UKFast hosts a Code Club and free Linux training for young people; it offers teacher training for teachers across Manchester; it has partnered with LPI to develop qualifications with exam boards; and it is even working with the Dean Trust to start a new secondary school focused on digital literacy.


UKFast and LPI: A Powerful Partnership

From the start, UKFast recognized the importance of having Linux-certified engineers. The company sought out a vendor-neutral qualification to ensure that its team could work with any configuration or distribution of Linux.

“The first thing we did,” Saxton explains, “was look for a vendor-neutral qualification that would provide the basics for our Linux curriculum. That’s where I met Bill Quinn at the Linux Professional Institute (LPI), and Bill has been instrumental in providing us with the means, the resources, the energy, and the vision to create something quite special.”

UKFast and LPI have built a great partnership over the years. UKFast designed its curriculum around LPI’s proven, vendor-neutral certifications, and it now delivers that training to hundreds of apprentices, employees, customers, students and teachers every year. At a time when many businesses grapple with the skills gap, UKFast has ready access to a large pool of qualified Linux engineers.

Meanwhile, LPI has benefited from working with an industry partner at the forefront of both technical and educational innovation. In addition to preparing individuals for LPI certifications, UKFast serves as a testing center and beta exam development partner.


Linux Training with NDG and Cisco NetAcad

As UKFast’s training program grew, the company realized that it needed a cost-effective and scalable way to deliver curriculum, labs and assessments to a wide range of learners. That’s when Saxton discovered NDG’s Linux courses in the Cisco Networking Academy (NetAcad).

“It was a no-brainer to incorporate NDG’s Linux courses as a core part of our curriculum,” explains Saxton. “One of the challenges any training organization has is ultimately the labs. They take time to set up, maintain and keep up-to-date. Having the labs in the NDG courses makes our task a lot easier.”

NDG offers three Linux courses aligned to LPI certifications. With NDG’s Linux courses, learners don’t need to navigate the confusing world of distributions or know how to set up their own Linux machine. All they need to do is launch the module in a web browser. The Linux courses include a live Linux virtual machine alongside the course materials, so learners can immediately start entering commands and learn by doing.


Read the case study to learn how NDG is helping UKFast train the next generation of Linux Professionals.


A Bright Future for UKFast and Manchester

“It’s our aim to put Manchester on the map as the digital capital of Europe,” notes Jonathan Bowers, Managing Director at UKFast, “and we believe our relationship with LPI fits very much at the heart of that.”

Bowers notes, “One of our dreams is to inspire other businesses to also consider the routes we’re taking in education. We certainly can’t create the digital future on our own, and it’s amazing how much support we have in the community in Manchester. We hear all kinds of companies saying, ‘It’s brilliant what you’re doing, and we’d love to get involved. Tell us how we can help.’ Right now, they can help by contributing to curriculum, by providing afterschool clubs, and by inspiring young children to come to our school. Further down the line, they can help by setting up their own schools, their own educational trusts, and using their expertise to help grow the digital toolkit for the future.”


Preparing Veterans to Become Linux Heroes at Richland College

Mon, 12/18/2017 - 10:05

There’s never been a better time to earn a Linux certification. With Linux as the foundation for so much technology and innovation around the world, demand for certified professionals continues to increase in everything from cloud computing to space stations, and beyond.

According to the 2017 Open Source Jobs Report, 65% of hiring managers are looking for Linux professionals. Studies show that half of all hiring managers look specifically for Linux certifications, and certified employees are rewarded with higher pay increases and bonuses than their non-certified colleagues.[1]

There’s little doubt about the value of Linux training. But it can be challenging for schools and universities to design and deliver effective Linux classes. The problem isn’t the lack of course material—there are plenty of good Linux textbooks. No, it’s the labs.

Very few programs can afford to have a dedicated Linux lab—meaning instructors have to spend valuable time setting up virtual machines before labs, and then reconfiguring them for Windows afterwards. Add this to the time it takes to develop the labs in the first place, and you have a very daunting proposition for time-strapped instructors.


Richland College Pilots New Approach to Linux Training


Get the case study to learn more about Richland’s IT training program.


Richland College recently faced this challenge when it partnered with Amazon to develop a certification program for veterans. A member of the Cisco Networking Academy, Richland has been a leader in IT training in Dallas County, Texas, since the early 1990s. The college offers a broad range of courses to help students obtain the professional certifications and hands-on experience they need to enter the IT workforce.

But Richland College did not have any Linux courses. So when the college recently partnered with Amazon to design a certification program to prepare veterans for apprenticeships at Amazon Web Services, it needed to quickly find a way to take students with zero Linux knowledge and get them ready to pass CompTIA’s Linux+ Powered by LPI certification.

Richland College hired Juli Hart, an experienced IT consultant, to develop and deliver the courses. Hart looked at a variety of books and training options, but struggled to find something that met the program’s needs. “We have a virtual system here that we use for some networking, but it’s difficult to maintain,” explains Hart, “And we can’t have dedicated Linux machines in the classroom, because the classrooms are all multi-use. The students who come in next are going to expect Windows, because that’s how you get to the Internet.”

The college didn’t have the time or budget to develop its own labs and lab environment. So Hart was intrigued when she discovered NDG’s Linux courses in the Cisco Networking Academy. NDG offers three courses—Linux Essentials, Linux I, and Linux II—designed to give learners foundational Linux skills and prepare them for IT careers. After seeing that NDG’s Linux I and Linux II courses were built for the Linux+ certification required by Amazon, Hart went through the courses and the Linux+ exam herself to see if they would be suitable for her learners.

“They really matched what I needed,” says Hart. “It was all online, so I didn’t have to have a dedicated lab for everyone at certain hours of the day. You can run the courses on any laptop with an internet connection. That made it so much easier for me than trying to come up with virtual machines and lesson plans and everything else on the fly.”

NDG’s courses are uniquely equipped with a live Linux virtual machine alongside course materials. This enables learners to immediately begin using the commands they learn as they go through the material. Hart found this to be a big advantage: “If you use the virtual machines as you go through the reading material, you’ll really understand how each of those commands work and gain a lot of experience doing it.”


Virtual Linux Labs Get Students Ready for Real-World Success

Some of the veterans in the certification program had no prior networking experience; others had multiple networking certifications and years of experience. But one thing they all shared in common was their lack of Linux knowledge. Like many people, they thought Linux was difficult and intimidating.

Yet, they also knew that Linux is a critical skill to have in today’s increasingly open-source world. “I can have all the experience and certifications in the world, but not having Linux on my resume put me at the bottom of the pile,” explains Latoya Caldwell, who has multiple networking certifications and a decade of experience as a network administrator in the Army.

With the help of NDG’s Linux courses, Hart’s students were able to quickly overcome their initial apprehension and start building confidence and knowledge. “Learning Linux looked like a scary monster at first,” recalls Charles Johnson. “But NDG’s courses made it easy. I liked having the ability to log into the labs and follow the instructions and get a better understanding of how Linux really works.”

The students enjoyed the unique combination of course content beside a live Linux virtual machine. This enabled them to learn by doing, and gain critical hands-on experience at the same time. “With IT, you need practical experience to succeed,” notes Franklin Pierre. “The way NDG’s courses combine the book environment and virtual learning environment really helped me understand what I read. Whenever I had an issue, I could just go into the console, type it up, and see what was going on. It was actually learning in between the lines that helped the most.”

Thanks to the online accessibility of the courses, the Richland students were able to complete the labs as many times as they needed to, from anywhere they had an internet connection. “If I didn’t understand something during class, I could go back in my off hours and go through it again,” observes Nicole Moss. “Going into the exam, I felt very confident in what I knew because I had the hands-on experience from the labs.”

After completing the 13-week class at Richland College, all fifteen of the program’s participants passed the CompTIA Linux+ Powered by LPI certification exam. They now have the Linux knowledge and hands-on experience they need to take the next step in their careers, and will join Amazon for a year-long apprenticeship program to get on-the-job experience. After that, they will be given the opportunity to interview for a full-time job at Amazon Web Services.


Learn More About NDG’s Linux Courses

Whether you need to teach Linux or learn it, NDG’s Linux courses make it easy with proven content and labs alongside a live Linux virtual machine. Explore the courses




NDG Online is a platform for online learning aimed at developing IT professionals. Offering a live Linux virtual machine alongside course materials, our Linux courses give you the easiest and most effective way to learn essential command line and system administrator skills. Take command of your career and start learning Linux today at




For more than 40 years, Richland College has focused on teaching, learning and community building. Richland helps students build their future through courses that can be applied to the first two years of a baccalaureate degree, as well as one- or two-year certificates in a number of career fields.







Cisco Networking Academy, a Cisco Corporate Social Responsibility program, is an IT skills and career-building program available to learning institutions and individuals worldwide. To learn more about the Cisco Networking Academy, visit


[1] 2017 Open Source Jobs Report, CompTIA HR Perceptions of IT Training and Certification Study.

Closing the Skills Gap in Rural North Carolina, and Beyond: An Interview with Kelly Caudle at Stanly Community College

Fri, 11/17/2017 - 09:50

We recently had the opportunity to sit down with Kelly Caudle, Program Head of the Cisco Networking Academy, VMware Academy, and IT Academy at Stanly Community College (SCC). In this interview, he discusses his experience using NETLAB+ to deliver IT courses to students and instructors across the Southeast.

Interviewer: Thank you, Kelly, for joining us today. We’re excited to learn how you’ve been able to take a small community college in rural North Carolina and build a world-class IT training center. Can you start by describing what you do at SCC?

Kelly: I’m the head of the Cisco Networking Academy, which includes an Academy Support Center and Instructor Training Center. I also run our Online IT Academy, which teaches Cisco, VMware, Palo Alto Networks, and we’re going to offer Red Hat here shortly. We use NDG’s NETLAB+ product to deliver online training to students around the world.

Interviewer: That’s great. Do you only use NETLAB+ for online training?

Kelly: No, we use it for seated too. We have a classroom with Cisco gear so students can put their hands on it, but the building is closed at night. We use NETLAB+ to make sure that the Cisco gear is accessible 24 hours a day, seven days a week, so students can do labs outside of the classroom.

That’s one of the big benefits that NETLAB+ delivers to us. Utilization. When you invest three-quarters of a million dollars in a room full of servers, you don’t want it sitting idle just because the building is closed. With NETLAB+, our students are able to access that gear from anywhere, simply by using a web browser.

Interviewer: I bet that’s really helpful for the students.

Kelly: It is. They really like the system. The ability to have access anytime when it is convenient for them is very nice. Plus, in the classroom you can do things with NETLAB+ systems that you can’t do with real gear. You can have an entire class, for example, on one piece of gear. There will be one router, and the whole classroom will be watching someone configuring one router—without having to crowd around a computer. They’ll all be logged in as a team and can do labs. So the students really like it.
Once a student gets into one of our classes, and sees how we can provide them hands-on experience in an online environment, they really tend to stick around. They’ll take one class and they’ll say, “This is amazing. Do you have anything else like this?” And we do. We have courses in Cisco, VMware, Palo Alto Networks, Microsoft, and Linux—all built using the same system.

Interviewer: Fantastic. How do your instructors like the system?

Kelly: NETLAB+ offers what I like to call a force multiplier. Going into it, you know that the equipment will be available 24/7, but until it’s actually available, you don’t realize how convenient that is. I can be sitting at home and need to check a lab, or access a couple of Cisco routers and switches to test something, and all I need is a web browser and an internet connection, and I’m able to jump in there and do it immediately. Once you have that ability to access these high-level technologies from just your web browser, it really changes things.

It also helps our instructors teach more effectively. You can see when students have logged in. It’s really amazing because when they do a Cisco lab, you can literally see every single command they’ve typed into the device. So you know if they’re learning the material and completing the labs. The system gives you a lot of flexibility in tracking student performance.

Interviewer: You’re also an Instructor Training Center (ITC). Can you talk about the how you’re using NETLAB+ there?

Kelly: As an ITC, we use NETLAB+ to train instructors at other Cisco academies to be able to teach the Cisco curriculum. We would not be an ITC if it wasn’t for NETLAB+, because we would not be able to offer those courses online. Instructors today just don’t have the money to travel to training and spend a week sitting in a classroom. But if you can get in them in an class that’s just eight weeks long and online, then they can take the course.

Interviewer: And take that training back to their classrooms?

Kelly: Exactly. And then they take that training and give it to their students. So that students in, say, the mountains of North Carolina can get high-tech skills in Cisco, and then be able to go get jobs in the IT field. It’s really neat.

At last count, we had 62 academies in North Carolina that we support: high schools, community colleges, and universities. And we have 140 academies total in the Southeast, comprising Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina, Florida, Georgia, Alabama, and Tennessee.

Interviewer: That’s amazing. Can you tell me about your students? What are their backgrounds and where do they go after Stanly Community College?

Kelly: It really runs the gamut. We get the student who is already working in IT and wants to either move into a new position or be promoted. Or, honestly, they’re doing PC helpdesk support, and they want to move to another company doing more advanced IT work. We see kids straight out of high school. We see returning workers. I’ve had people that have been working in mills their entire lives, and then they come back and retrain.

Interviewer: What proportion of your students is online?

Kelly: It’s probably a 50-50 split between online and seated students. We divide our program between continuing education (mostly online) and curriculum (in-class). For continuing education, we have roughly 350 VMware students every eight weeks from around the world. Brazil, Australia, the UK—pretty much everywhere.

On the curriculum side, we’re not a big school. In fact, we’re a very rural school in North Carolina, so we’re not pulling huge numbers into our curriculum courses. But we’re able to offer those curriculum students much higher technology than we would be able to otherwise, because we’re also offering continuing education and using that to give our curriculum students access to the same advanced technology.

Interviewer: I’m constantly reading about the skills gap that we face as a nation. Can you talk about how Stanly Community College is addressing that?

Kelly: The job of a community college in North Carolina is to provide people with the training they need to get good jobs. And if you look at and you search for Cisco or VMware or Linux or Microsoft, you will find job after job after job. And so we are preparing students with skills that directly relate to jobs that are out there right now.

We’re constantly looking at what skills are needed. That’s one of the reasons we made a big push with Palo Alto Networks for security and with VMware for virtualization, because those are the big players right now in those two areas. So we are definitely mapping what we teach to the skills gap.

Interviewer: Have your graduates been successful in obtaining new careers?

Kelly: Definitely. In the past two to three years, we’ve placed 46 students in jobs here locally. And that’s not counting all of the students online, all over the world. We’ve got several at Cisco, several at the city of Charlotte, we’ve got them all over place. I have one gentleman who was running a Go-Kart repair and Go-Kart supply store, saw the writing on the wall that it wasn’t going to make it, and got retrained. He now works for the city of Charlotte as a network engineer. And he works with a kid who came here straight out of high school. Now the two of them are working there together. We’ve had a lot of great success stories like that.

Interviewer: That must be tremendously rewarding. What’s next for your program there? Are you working on anything else to help prepare your students for tomorrow?

Kelly: One of the great things about NETLAB+ is the breadth of technologies it supports. Everything from cybersecurity to virtualization. You can teach just about any class you want on it, because you can build your own custom content.

This year we’re going to rollout the Red Hat Linux Academy using NETLAB+. We’re also going to take the Microsoft courses that we offer on the curriculum side and deliver them online to our continuing education students. Those are our two big projects.

Beyond that, we’re working on a project to provide access to smaller schools. We’ve always wanted to do what we call “NETLAB+ on Steroids,” where we build a NETLAB+ super center that can serve schools that could never afford to build their own Cisco labs. This is already being done in California by the Western Academy Support & Training Center. And we’d like to the same thing here, so that other schools can give their students the IT skills they need to obtain rewarding careers and make an impact on their communities.