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MCSE or CCNA - Which is better? A Microsoft Cert or a Cisco Cert

Updated on October 5, 2009


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Computer Network Certifications

In a previous hub we discussed the value of getting a Computer certification. But here what we need to look at is determining which network certification is better, Microsoft or Cisco.

Network Certifications

To become a computer professional, expertise is the highest requirement that must be achieved. This comes from years of practice and study. Indeed, one should not even pursue a computer technology career unless one is willing to study and study and study. Computer technology changes every few years and that means that in order to keep up with the changes, one must delve into the topic or topics. For instance, the Internet only became popular in the early 90's. Not everyone jumped on the band wagon. Even Bill Gates decided to move Microsoft from a software company, to an Internet company. This was in 1991.

But there were other companies that did see the rise of the Internet and prepared for it. One such company was Cisco Systems of California. They specialized in Routers and Switches. Hardware. Microsoft, a software company also entered the Internet but from a software point of view. To see the difference between these two companies let's look at an example of how a network is designed.

Let's look at a parking lot. Let's say that this parking lot has 100 slots available. There is a booth with an attendant that allows cars in, and collects fees as they exit. The attendant monitors the lot, it keeps track of the cars entering and exiting, it collects fees, and if necessary keeps other cars out because the lot is full. So let's say that when the lot is full, he calls over to a lot across the street and asks the attendant there if there are spots available. If there are, the first attendant redirects the remaining cars to the other lot.

But to get to the other lot, the cars have to go through an intersection which is governed by a traffic light. The traffic light hasĀ  four signals, red, amber, green, and a directional signal - to go left or right.

Now let's talk about networks. The parking lot would be an example of a Microsoft network. The toll booth would be a Microsoft server which is managing all of the "computers" in its lot. It would assign them a number, keep track of their location, track their time on the lot, and assign a fee. The traffic light is like a Cisco router, it has only one function, to direct traffic across the intersection.

With that in mind let's talk about the two types of networks.

A Microsoft Network

A Microsoft network begins with a Server. This is a specially configured computer that has specific functions. It can keep track of the computers in its domain or workgroup. It keeps track of users and their passwords. It also has leasing options, where it gives out network numbers, called IP addresses, which are unique.

A Cisco Network

Cisco networks on the other hand do not keep track of computers. Their function is to keep track of other routers so that they can redirect traffic from one server network to another. They don't keep track of computers, rather they keep track of the IP numbers that pass through them and redirect them to different routers. Cisco routers are very limited in function. They are not used for word processing, nor for graphics design. You don't play an Internet radio for you either. But they can be used to download a word processor program from a web site on one side of the country to another, or a graphics program, or allow the Internet to send the music from one location to your computer. Routers do those functions, they allow traffic from one location to get to another location.


Now that we've covered how different networks exist and how they work, let us look at the requirements to become a network professional under Microsoft or Cisco.

MCSE: Microsoft Certified System Engineer

This it the highest certification that one can get from Microsoft. It requires that the prospective student take 7 different exams in order to show Microsoft networking expertise. These exams range from installing client software or server software; how to manage and plan networks. How to troubleshoot network problems; how to design different network components. The exams are multiple choice, they usually run about 1.5 hours with about 50 questions, although that can vary depending on the exam.There are simulations in which one must complete a series of tasks on a computer.Typically the pass rate for the first attempt is between 75 and 80%.

The exam is graded immediately with a pass or fail grade given, although the score, out of 1000 is given. Most of these exams require a passing score of 750. The exams typically cost 150.00 and one must register beforehand with Prometric by phone or online. One then can select the date, time, and location where the exams will be taken. One can reschedule the exam up to 24 hours before hand.

Cisco CCNA: Cisco Certified Network Associate

Unlike the seven exams that are required by Microsoft in order to get certified, Cisco only requires one exam.

Yes you read that right. One exam.

But it is a very hard exam with the failure rate at 60% on the first attempt. The questions are also multiple choice and there are simulations. You have 1.5 hours to answer 45 questions. The reason that the Cisco exam is hard, is that the material is not intuitive. You have to learn about subnetting, routing protocols, the ISO layer, VLANS, and so on. These are topics that you would not get in any other area. So it is hard to learn because these concepts are unique to networks.

Cisco certifications last 3 years, and then one must re-certify. Microsoft certs don't have a time limit. But Microsoft changes the server technology about every 3 to 4 years. So you have to recertify on the new server technology if you want to continue to be a professional.

Which Cert is Better Cisco or Microsoft?

The main difference between the two, aside the number exams is what type of work each demands. A Microsoft server is supported on a weekly, if not daily. A Microsoft server has to keep track of users and computers, the IP numbering scheme, applications, e-mail, databases, and security operations. If one is a Microsoft engineer, one will work with the server frequently.

The Cisco network support is very different. Once a network is designed and the router is configured, one is unlikely to touch the router again for at least six months, maybe even a year. They are quiet workhorses. When the routing protocol is set up, the paths throughout the local network are laid out. The path to the Internet is also setup. One does not need to change it.

From a work perspective, most companies will hire a Microsoft Engineer to run the daily operations of the server. Companies will outsource router operations to specialists, for example, those with a CCNA cert.

The salary difference is also different. A Microsoft Engineer will typically start at 40-45 thousand. A Cisco engineer will start at 45-50 thousand. Then depending on technical skills and development, the two will probably max out in the 70 thousand range for the MCSE and in the 80 thousand range for the CCNA.

Finally, under Cisco, you can pursue other certifications like the CCNP and CCIE. The CCNP, Cisco Certified Network Professional has 4 exams. The CCIE, Cisco Certified Internet Professional, has two exams, a written exam and a two day lab exam. Microsoft has other certifications in its library, but the MCSE is their top Cert.


To learn more about Microsoft or Cisco certifications check out the following URL's.


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    • profile image

      Vishwas 4 years ago

      Really a beautiful explanation. Thanks.

    • profile image

      Ras.A 4 years ago

      tnx alot for your helpful post

      but i think microsoft networking is more intersting than cisco

    • profile image

      wise1 5 years ago

      wow now i know what i want to persue

    • profile image

      thomasgrayy 5 years ago

      I like this hub because it provides informative details. I am a Microsoft certificated professional and had done MCP course and working in a reputed IT firm. As far as I am concerned both Microsoft and Cisco certifications have equal and global demand.

    • profile image

      teenhelp 5 years ago

      Informative hub with helpful information on MCSE and CCNA. The detailed information the difference between the MCSE Engineer and Cisco Associate is very helpful to gain more details on the work nature of the professionals. I would like to refer this hub to my friends as well.

    • profile image

      bong 5 years ago

      very well said, i have never known the difference until i encounter this site. you have a brilliant mind.A very simple analogy but very helpful.Keep it up

    • profile image

      Brata Chakraborty 5 years ago

      Really, We are very thankfull to you for your Usefull knowledge about CCNA and MCSE.

      Thank You, 9051621288

    • profile image

      Vashishth Bhardwaj 5 years ago

      Please tell me what is better ccna or mcse certificate & which institute is better for studdying.

    • profile image

      durga prasad 5 years ago

      Thanks for your valuable suggestions . . .I want to become a network engineer . . Presently iam ready to take admission in an institute for CCNA certification. .

    • profile image

      irfan 5 years ago

      thanks for you good explaination, but dear i want to study MCSE so how can i admission the institute please tell me the way, online studing way is easy or any institute and what intitute is better for studying.

    • profile image

      Good Points 5 years ago

      I am currently preping for my CCNP, but has been wondering what MSCE cert holders really do, thankz for d break down.. I would advice an early starter in the IT world to aim for both as that would make d person a Guru..

    • profile image

      maksic 5 years ago

      really amazing, the only non forum explanation separating between the two of them, thank you

    • profile image

      Shahzad 5 years ago

      Brilliantly explained. You must be pro dude.


    • profile image

      Louis Nwadocheli 5 years ago

      I really appreciate your explanation. I was kinda confused not knowing the function and importance of MCSE. Presently i'm preparing for my CCNA. Thank you for given me more focus on my studies.

    • profile image

      priya 5 years ago

      thnx 4 xplaination, one read,, nd brain simple absorbed it like a blotting paper !!

    • profile image

      ram kumar 6 years ago

      iwant to be nteworking eng. what should i do now.

    • profile image

      Sunny 6 years ago


      U have cleared all the things in a simple way

      amazing thanks a lot

      if i wud get a chance to rate this post i will give 10 out of 10

      thanks alot