Training Materials

The high demand of Cisco certifications especially CCIE has given rise to a whole ecosystem of training companies, equipment vendors, and rental rack providers. It is a good phenomenon for you as a CCIE candidate as you have an abundance of resources to choose from. I myself used study materials from Internetwork Expert and Cisco to prepare for the CCIE lab. These training materials filled skill gaps and provided practice. I would recommend choosing a well known training provider like Internetwork Expert (INE). It would ensure access to quality training materials developed by renowned experts. Most training providers also have online forums for students to discuss problems. I would strongly recommend joining and actively participating in these forums. Ask questions and answer others too; it is a great way of building knowledge by helping others. I joined and participated in the Cisco Learning Network http://learningnetwork.cisco.com. I also used Google extensively to search older threads from online forums of INE and other vendors and found it helpful.

How to become a CCIE Video Part 2

 

Here are the specific products from Internetwork Expert and Cisco I used for my own CCIE lab study:

  • CCIE Routing and Switching Workbook Volume I. This workbook by INE was my first step in hands-on practice for the lab exam. It contains hundreds for labs focused on individual technology areas. I found that the configurations here were rather straightforward because a very specific technology area is covered in each lab. In order to get the most out of this volume, the technologies involved in each lab should be thoroughly researched and understood. Just rushing through these rather simple configuration scenarios would not be very productive. Completing this workbook established the foundation and prepared me for more complex full labs resembling more closely to the real CCIE lab exam.
  • CCIE Routing and Switching Workbook Volume II. This is the second volume of the series by INE and included 20 full scale labs for practice. These labs are similar to the real CCIE lab in complexity and are a great resource. The basic topology used for both volumes is the same so I was able to use the same home lab for practicing both volumes. I practiced all these labs, some of them two or three times. These labs are meant to be completed in 8 hours just like the real CCIE lab but when I was doing them for the first time I did not time myself. The reason for this was that I had to go back to a book or a document, study a certain topic and then move on. If you use a rental rack to practice you may need several sessions to complete the lab and would cost you a little fortune. These labs should be used as a way to build knowledge as you would not get the similar scenarios or similar questions in the real lab. So use them to build knowledge which cannot be done just rushing through the configurations. Once you have learnt all technologies and you are close to the exam you can use the same labs strictly timing yourself to assess your readiness for the real lab.
  • Cisco 360 CCIE R&S Exercise Workbook. I went the extra mile by purchasing Cisco 360 CCIE R&S Exercise Workbook. Cisco 360 is the brand name used by Cisco for its own CCIE training program. The core of this program is the Cisco 360 CCIE R&S Exercise Workbook. This workbook contains 35 full scale labs of difficulty level that is the same as the real CCIE lab. Each lab contains both troubleshooting and configuration parts helping you prepare for the corresponding parts of the real lab. This workbook greatly improved my ability to tackle the real lab under pressure.
  • Cisco 360 Troubleshooting Videos. I found these troubleshooting videos to be especially useful for learning a structured troubleshooting methodology. Using show running-config and looking at the configuration is not the correct way to approach the troubleshooting part of the CCIE lab exam, I learnt from these videos. You have to develop a mastery of all the relevant show and debug commands in order to develop effective troubleshooting skills. I watched these a number of times and found them to be an excellent resource for preparing for the troubleshooting part of the lab exam.

I did not use the INE videos, boot camps, DVDs, or lectures. However I had the chance to read blog post by several current or former instructors and interact with some on Cisco Learning Network. I find myself impressed by the total command Scott Morris has on networking concepts and technologies and the rare ability to explain and present difficult concepts in an easy to understand manner that Anthony Sequeira possesses. I believe the INE workbooks are the collective contribution of several INE instructors, so kudos to all of them for the good work.

I had a nine-to-five job and I was juggling my lab prep with that so I assume it took a little longer than expected to complete my CCIE. CCIE Routing and Switching Workbook Volume I was the first step in CCIE lab preparation. As it contains labs focusing on individual technology areas, I used to do one technology lab at a time whenever I found time, reading provided explanations and reading other books and external resources like relevant Cisco IOS Configuration Guides, chapters from reference books, online documents, RFCs. It took around six months to complete these 600 or so individually focused technology labs. While configurations of these labs might look stratight forward, they can make a solid foundation for two reasons. First they cover the whole spectrum of topics on the CCIE blueprint. Rushing through these labs will be useless as the real lab would be much more complex and various technologies will be interacting. So if you don't do the research and reading to understand these technologies while doing these labs, you would not be prepared enough to take advantage of the full labs.

Volume II should be considered as real lab practice for the configuration part of the CCIE exam. I spent another six months doing the full labs on weekends and holidays because they required 8 - 10 hours of continuous work which was not very practical on work days. After failing the lab for the first time I focused mostly on developing my troubleshooting skills as this I was not able to do in the first attempt. The hardest part of the CCIE Routing and Switching exam is invariably the troubleshooting part and need to be prepared well using all possible resources available.

On a side note, the topology used by INE, Cisco 360, and most other training providers contains around four switches, six core routers, and three backbone routers. The topology resembles the topology used in only the configuration part of your real lab. But the troubleshooting part of the real lab is a completely different animal. It was quite a shock seeing the real troubleshooting topology on my first lab attempt that consisted of more than 30 interconnected devices in a virtual environment. Yes, there is no physical equipment involved in the troubleshooting part of the real CCIE lab exam. It is a virtual environment made up IOU (IOS on UNIX) and L2IOU (Layer 2 IOS on UNIX) over the Linux operating system at the backend. It seems IOU has been around for some time and was used by Cisco employees internally. It is officially not available to the outside world but some commercially available practice labs by Cisco are built using the same technology at the backend.

Reference Books

In addition to the books already mentioned for written exam studies, I also used the following books as reference for my CCIE lab studies from time to time:

  • Troubleshooting IP Routing Protocols
  • Internet Routing Architectures, 2nd Edition
  • Cisco LAN Switching Configuration Handbook, 2nd Edition
  • Cisco BGP-4 Command and Configuration Handbook
  • MPLS Fundamental
  • MPLS and VPN Architectures
  • Cisco Frame Relay Solutions Guide
  • Deploying IPv6 Networks
  • Inside Cisco IOS Software Architecture
  • Network Security Technologies and Solutions

The books you choose for additional reading and the time you devote to each would depend on your specific need to fill knowledge gaps. Know your strengths and shortcomings and act accordingly.

Documentation

You are provided access to Cisco documentation in your real CCIE lab. Exactly the same documentation is available at Cisco's public website http://www.cisco.com. You should make this documentation a part of your study from day one. I extensively used this documentation consisting primarily of configuration guides, command references, and the master index for Cisco IOS 12.4T. I have included the links to this documentation here:

  • Cisco IOS Configuration Guides
  • Cisco IOS Command References
  • Cisco IOS Master Index
  • Catalyst 3560 Switch Command Reference

All of the above documentation can be accessed starting at http://www.cisco.com/cisco/web/psa/default.html and navigating your way to the desired location. Please note that the search facility is disabled in the real lab exam so you should be very familiar how to navigate the online documentation. This is the only resource available for reference in the real exam in addition to the command line help. Bookmark it, read it, eat it, sleep it. But do not expect to refer to the documentation frequently during the lab exam. For the troubleshooting part you have 2 hours and almost ten trouble tickets, as such you have 12 minutes to solve each trouble ticket. That time is hardly enough to figure out the fault and fix it. So forget about the documentation for the troubleshooting part. You are a little relaxed during the configuration part and can refer to the documentation a few times. I made use of the command line help mostly and referred to the documentation just a few times. Remember that the CCIE lab is not the time to learn a new technology from documentation; there is simply not enough time to do that.

The Final Months

In the final six months of your preparation you should intensify your studies and it is early in this final phase when you should take your written exam. You would have built enough knowledge by then to pass your written exam without difficulty. Right after passing the written exam you can register for your lab exam. Practice using full labs on your home lab, read configuration guides, watch training videos. Time yourself strictly while doing full labs at this stage because your not only have to be able to do all configuration and troubleshooting tasks but also do them in the allocated time. I would recommend taking at least two weeks off before your scheduled lab date and devote it to full time lab prep.

You can register for your CCIE lab exam without making a payment first but the payment is to be made latest by three months before the exam date. If you are registering the lab for date earlier than three months, the payment it due at the time of registration. If you need visas to travel to your desired lab location make arrangements before registering. Choose the lab date carefully giving enough room for final preparation. You cannot reschedule or cancel the lab once payment is made without forfeiting the paid amount.

Lab Experience

The CCIE Routing and Switching lab exam consists of two parts: troubleshooting and configuration. The total duration of the lab is 8 hours: two hours for the troubleshooting part which comes first, followed by the six hour configuration part. You have to pass the both parts separately to clear the lab exam. A candidate may pass one part but fail the other and he will still fail the lab. It is believed that, on average, it takes around three unsuccessful attempts before passing the CCIE lab exam. I was myself not able to pass the lab exam in the first attempt. People have passed the lab in the first attempt also but it is not the norm.

When it comes to running a virtual model of a network in a computer, there are two species of computer programs: simulators and emulators. They have an important distinction. A simulator is a software program that attempts to mimic the behavior of another system. Cisco Packet Tracer is a simulator and though I obtained and installed it early in my studies, I very quickly realized that many IOS commands were not even available on Packet Tracer. I did not use any simulator for the rest of my CCIE studies. They may have some use for CCNA and possibly CCNP studies but CCIE tests the depths of your knowledge and its scope goes well beyond the basic IOS functionality that these simulators implement.

On the other hand an emulator implements a processor in software so the programs written for the processor can be run using the emulator. Dynamips is a processor emulator for the MIPS microprocessor architecture. Cisco routers run on MIPS microprocessors so Dynamips can run the software written for Cisco routers namely IOS. GNS3 which is a front end for Dynamips is a much better option for CCIE studies as compared to simulators. However, GNS3 has some serious limitations in the switching area. Switches also run the IOS but many features are implemented in Application Specific Integrated Circuits (ASICs) which are not implemented in GNS3. So that's why GNS3 is not a complete solution to practice for the CCIE lab and I recommend owning a private lab.

How to become a CCIE Video Part III

 

As a matter of fact, the CCIE lab exam not only tests you theoretical and practical knowledge but also your ability to apply that knowledge under pressure. I would try to draw a picture of what the lab exam is all about and share some tips:

  • Arrange your travel plans such that you arrive at hotel with plenty of time in hand the day before the exam. Make reservation for two nights to leave the day after the exam, not the same evening. You don't want to be preoccupied with travel considerations as you take the lab.
  • Choose a hotel close to your Cisco lab exam facility. After reaching the hotel the day before the exam, visit the lab location in the evening. I still vividly remember the look on the face of that CCIE lab candidate as he entered the lab after arriving more than an hour late simply because he was lost. He was allowed to take the lab but he had lost precious time. Don't let this happen to you.
  • Have dinner and take a good night's sleep; some of my friends have faced problems sleeping the night before lab so consider taking a sleeping aid if that's the case.
  • Get up early as the exam would start 7:30 in the morning; it may be a little different at your lab location. Take a healthy breakfast and head toward the lab location. Frankly, the lab start time of 7:30 am was a little too early for me but I was there in time. You should reach the testing center at least 15 minutes earlier and you may find there other candidates who are taking the lab exam with you.
  • The proctor will lead all the candidates to the testing room at the allocated start time and would give a brief overview of the testing center rules. He will assign a station to you and provide you with the login credentials to access the workstation.
  • The tools available at your Windows based station in addition to the exam environment itself are Notepad, Calculator, and Cisco documentation. You would also be provided scratch paper and color pencils for writing.
  • In the case of Routing and Switching, the lab exam consists of a two-hour troubleshooting part followed by a six-hour configuration part. If you finish the troubleshooting part earlier (not a likely scenario) you can move to the configuration part. Almost midway of you 8 hour lab time there will be a lunch break of around 30 minutes. You would have lunch with the proctor and other candidates who are taking the exam that day and can socialize if you feel like. The lunch time does not count toward your allocated lab time.
  • If you suspect hardware failure or believe that a router or switch is not showing normal behavior, point it out to the proctor immediately. That's what the proctor is there for who would typically be a guy with multiple CCIEs himself.
  • Do not spend excessive time on a single trouble ticket for the troubleshooting section or a single configuration task for the configuration part. Make note of the part you are unable to do, skip it, and return to it later if time permits. You just need to score around 80% to pass the lab and if you do the rest right, you may still be able to clear.
  • Be aware that many candidates do not pass the CCIE lab exam on first attempt. Have a plan B for taking the exam a second time. This will help you keep your nerves calm during your first try and you may never actually need the plan B.
  • Lab exam results may be available as early as the next morning; the official version though is that lab exam results are available within 48 hours.

CCIEs are required to recertify every two years to maintain active CCIE status. It can be done by passing any current CCIE written exam or any current lab exam. CCIE can also be recertified by passing the current CCDE written exam or the CCDE practical exam. I plan to recertify my CCIE by passing the CCIE written exam of another CCIE track.

When you achieve your CCIE, you have accomplished something you can be proud of. Regardless of what your initial reason for pursuing was, the CCIE is sure to get you better visibility in the job market, employer and peer recognition, and better career growth prospects.

Summary

Here goes a recap of what you should (or should not) do in order to make your CCIE journey a success:

  • CCIE is currently offered in eight different areas of expertise or tracks: Routing and Switching, Voice, Security, Service Provider, Service Provider Operations, Wireless, Storage, and Data Center. Choose the CCIE track that best suits your interests and current expertise in networking.
  • Select a renowned CCIE training provider, and use self-study material and instructor-led classes if needed for the CCIE lab. Do an analysis of your current knowledge level and then choose the most suitable training materials.
  • Invest in building a private lab because rack rentals are expensive while simulators and emulators available in the market are not good for practicing the whole range of topics covered in the CCIE blueprint.
  • Start preparing for the CCIE lab exam right away and take the written exam when you reach the final phase of your lab preparation.
  • Make the official Cisco documentation part of your study plan and use it for reference because it is the same documentation that would be available to you in the real lab exam.
  • The total time it takes to achieve CCIE would vary depending on your current knowledge, skills, experience, and capabilities. It took me more than six months to prepare for the written exam and more than a year to pass the lab exam.
  • CCIE is expert-level certification and as such requires a lot of reading and a lot of practice. Get familiar with Cisco website, as well as available books from Cisco Press and other publishers. Read books to fill theoretical knowledge gaps.
  • Join and actively participate in online forums by your training provider and the Cisco Learning Network.
  • Use practice workbooks by your training providers and practice on your home lab as much as you can. Never give up a chance to configure or troubleshoot a router or switch at work.
  • It is not unusual to fail the CCIE lab exam on the first attempt; if it happens to you don't let it dishearten you. Learn from the experience and try to achieve it the second time.

In conclusion, we hope this article gives you great insight into how to become a CCIE. If you found this article to be one of the best guides on what it takes to become a CCIE, please link to it, Like it and every other thing possible to help other CCIE candidates become successful in their career pursuits. Then when you become a CCIE, please drop us a line to tell us about your success as maybe adding your experiences to this article will help others!

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History of the CCIE Certification