Note: This is a review of NOT of IPexpert’s graded lab product – kinda. Let me clarify that: it is a review of using the free lab (Volume III lab 1) offered on IPexpert’s site with the Verified Labs grading offered with a Proctor Labs rack rental. This basically allows you to test drive IPexpert’s lab workbook and get a $35 mock lab in the process. Surf over here for more details. I’m putting this caveat in my review because I do not own the IPexpert lab workbook so the couple of minor issues I mention in the review most likely are due to this fact.
First off: NEVER lab with a hangover. The night before I took this lab I went to the Twins-Sox game at the Metrodome. The Twins won and I got hammered. My lab began the next day at 7 am. I rolled out of bed just after 7 am. Straight to the home office sans coffee, aspirin, or a shower. Already off to a bad start.
It’s a good idea to review the the Verified Labs “how-to” videos before you begin your lab (quick version and longer version). The process is pretty simple. Login to Proctor Labs and then click on “Connect to vRack”. You’ll get a pop up asking if you want to make this a graded lab. Click “Yes” and then choose the lab that you will be attempting.
To get all of the documentation that you will need for this lab go to IPexpert’s live demo and choose Workbooks, then select ‘Download Workbook PDFs’.
In this FREE demo, we have made available to you the complete “Lab 2″ sections of the Workbook*with its accompanying sections of the Proctor Guide and video “walk-throughs”
*Actually, these links point to the Volume III lab 1 documents.
At that point you will see a timer showing the amount of time left in your session as well as the amount of time left for the mock lab (“Time left to initiate grading”). Proctor Lab sessions are 7 hours and 45 minutes long. I did not write down how long you had to complete the lab (I think that you get 7 hours and 25 minutes or remaining session time – 20 minutes), but it’s less than the rack session (obviously) so you need to take this into account. You will need to complete this lab in less than 7.5 hours if you want it graded.
The next step according to the video is to load your base configurations. I checked the box for each device and then “load configs” but this did not seem to work. I kept getting a “There are no saved configs available for this device” message. I went out and grabbed the configurations and loaded them manually. This issue may be due to the fact that I don’t own the workbook so there were no initial configurations associated with my account.
You login to the access server with your Proctor Labs username and password. The first time that you login to each device you will need to do the same. Be warned that the base configurations do not include “no ip domain-lookup” or “logging syn” so you’ll want to add those to your configs (I got burnt on mistyped commands initiating a DNS lookup a couple of times).
One odd thing about the lab topology is that there is no R3. R1 – R9 but no R3:
Default domain is not set
Name/address lookup uses static mappings
Host Port Flags Age Type Address(es)
R6 2006 (perm, OK) 0 IP 10.1.1.1
R5 2005 (perm, OK) 0 IP 10.1.1.1
R4 2004 (perm, OK) 0 IP 10.1.1.1
R2 2002 (perm, OK) 0 IP 10.1.1.1
R1 2001 (perm, OK) 0 IP 10.1.1.1
cat3 2015 (perm, OK) 1 IP 10.1.1.1
cat2 2014 (perm, OK) 8 IP 10.1.1.1
cat1 2010 (perm, OK) 8 IP 10.1.1.1
BB3 2013 (perm, OK) 8 IP 10.1.1.1
BB2 2012 (perm, OK) 8 IP 10.1.1.1
BB1 2011 (perm, OK) 8 IP 10.1.1.1
R9 2009 (perm, OK) 8 IP 10.1.1.1
R8 2008 (perm, OK) 8 IP 10.1.1.1
R7 2007 (perm, OK) 8 IP 10.1.1.1
cat4 2016 (perm, OK) 22 IP 10.1.1.1
I did not open a session to line 3 so this messed me up for the duration of the lab. I would go the to access server and would be fine if I went to R1 or R2, but if I tried “5″ to get to R5 I would end up on R4 (due to the missing line 3). I eventually got used to this, but it did end up making me configure the wrong device a couple of times.
I kept getting a pop up:
Your session is almost over. You must begin grading your lab no later than 20 minutes prior to the end of your session.
This appeared even though I still had over 7 hours left on the grading timer and 7.5 hours on my session. I think that this this was triggered because the time remaining in my session was within 20 minutes of the time remaining for the graded lab (the amount of time that might be needed for the grading script to run). I clicked on the option to ignore this and it went away.
I printed off the lab and the topology and was set to go. The topology consists of 4 pages: IP Addressing, Frame-Relay Layout, IGP Routing, and BGP. These pages are sparse but functional.
There are 9 routers (3 more than IE’s topology) but R3 is not available and R8 is not used in this lab. I forgot to pull the platform version for the routers but they were all newer (2800/3800) running 12.4 code. Some of the routers had Ethernetswitch modules, so you had routers with a number of Ethernet ports. This is great, especially if you’re used to another vendor/rack rental pod. There are 4 switches (1 3550 and 3 3560s). There are 3 backbone routers, but only 2 were used in this lab.
Speaking of the backbone routers, this was where I encountered my only real problem in the lab. The configuration files for the two backbone routers were “show run” outputs. I applied these to the backbones. Later in the lab I could not figure out what devices the BBs were connected to (there is no physical wiring diagram). I was able to find the connections for all of the other devices using “show cdp neighbors” but not the BBs. I finally telnetted to the BBs and found out that their (Ethernet) ports were shutdown. That’s because Ethernet ports were in shutdown by default. The “show run” output will not specify “no shut”. I took the ports out of shutdown and all was well. This may not be an issue if you are able to load your configurations automatically, but if you’re applying the configurations manually, then keep an eye out for this.
As I mentioned, there is no physical wiring diagram included with the free lab. Most likely, owners of the entire workbook will have that diagram. This was actually a good experience as I had to build my physical wiring diagram (especially the Layer 2) by finding the CDP neighbors. Although this is good practice, it also eats into your time.
By the time I had everything loaded and printed I had 6:25 left to complete the lab. By the time I had diagrammed my Layer 2 topology and read through the lab, I was down to 5:57. Some of this lost time was due to my hungover brain and poor planning. Even so, be prepared to complete the lab quickly. A lunch break is most likely out of the question.
I don’t want to go too deeply into the lab as I don’t want to give away any “spoilers” for those taking the lab. Suffice it to say the lab wording and structure was different from IE but not so much so that you would be thrown off too much. I strongly suggest doing a lab or two from another vendor (or preferably the Cisco Assessor lab(s)) to get a feel for different “flavors” of labs. I found only one question that was “wrong” (it asked for output on a device that was not capable of producing that output). There were a couple of “fuck this” moments concerning using IEEE names and RFC references in the question (I knew the IEEE name from my CCIE written and was able to find one of the RFCs referenced in the DOCCD). There was one task that required a feature that I had never heard of before (it’s burned in my memory now!). Otherwise the test was fair but challenging. On IE’s scale I would rate this lab as a 7.
One thing that was different about this lab was the 5-point tasks that were present. IE generally has tasks ranging from 2 – 4 points (with a few very rare 1 point tasks). I don’t remember any 5 point tasks in the IE labs that I’ve completed. There were two 5-point tasks in the IPexpert lab along with at least 6 4-point tasks. While the lab appeared to have fewer tasks than a typical IE lab, those tasks often contained more steps.
Once you are done with your lab you simply click the “Start Grading” button. I accidentally clicked this once in the middle of my lab. You can (thankfully) cancel out of this. You’ll be asked to clear all of your lines (you can do this manually on the access server or automatically via the Proctor Labs website). A grading script will run and you’ll get your results within 20 minutes (I got mine much quicker, but allow 20 minutes). You can access your grade by clicking on “My Account” then “My Verified Labs” and then selecting the graded lab. You
So how did I do? I put myself so deep in the hole with my starting time that I had to rush through the lab. I ended up skipping an entire section (IOS Features/Services) as well as five other tasks. This meant that I was sure not to get 80 points (I left 24 points “in the lab”). I finished my last task with about 6 minutes left in the lab. I did not get a chance to go back and verify my work. I hit a couple of rat holes – a few of which I should have avoided. I guess that I can be proud that I only missed two sections that I attempted. Of the tasks that I did not attempt, I think that I could have picked up 7 more points easily. The other skipped tasks were more difficult and I may not have gotten those points.
My final score was a respectable 70. I was not surprised by my results as I was strong on core tasks, weaker on BGP (only two tasks – one not attempted) and pathetic on Security/IOS Features. This is consistent with my other labs.
The score report looked a little odd at first because some of the section tasks seemed to be in the wrong section. For instance, one of the Frame Relay tasks was under Bridging and Switching. That’s because the default view is “Cisco Lab Blueprint Format”. Just click the tab labeled “Section Format” for a completely linear listing.
There are four different icons associated with each task. The first (check-mark) just shows whether or not you passed that task.
The grading script icon (magnifying glass) shows you how each task was graded. This is awesome. You can see how each task was graded and if you missed something you can see what you messed up on. For instance I missed this task:
Section 1.2: Spanning-tree
Begin Cat1 Section 1.2 Testing
Cat1#show run | incl mst
Cat1#show spanning-tree vlan 12 | incl root
This bridge is the root
Cat1#show spanning-tree vlan 67 | incl root
This bridge is the root
Cat1#show spanning-tree vlan 100 | incl root
Cat1 Section 1.2 is not Correct
This bridge is the root
This bridge is the root
This bridge is the root
I must have forgotten to include VLAN 100 in my root primary statement (dumb mistake). I knew that this lab would be graded by a script, so I had many moments of uncertainty about what method/password/ACL to use for a task. The grading script is very flexible in this regard.
Seeing what the grading script looks for is very interesting. For the IGP redistribution task the script simply pinged all of the addresses. Extra configuration does not seem to mess up the script. For a RIP task I used ‘passive default’ under all of my processes and then explicit “no passive interface” statements on the interfaces. The grading script looked that the RIP configuration and did not choke on my configuration. In the BGP peering task the IPexpert Proctor Guide peering between loopbacks on all devices. I only did this on one peering (because it had redundant point-to-point serial links). The grading script checked the “show ip bgp neighbor” output and did not mark my configuration wrong. Lest you think that the script will let you cheat, I did jury-rig an OSPF filtering task by creating an ACL with each filtered subnet explicitly stated when the task asked for the smallest possible ACL. The grading script did catch my “cheat” there. Kudos to whomever created the grading script.
Clicking on the streaming videos (TV) produced:
Session Timeout – Please Try Your Request Again
The web site you are accessing has experienced an unexpected error.
Please contact the website administrator.
I tried this in Internet Explorer and Firefox (v2 and v3). My guess is that the streaming videos are another feature that you only have access to if you own the IPexpert Volume III workbook. If they included the streaming videos for free then this already great bargain would become ridiculously great.
The information icon will show you training resources associated with that section:
Section 2.2: Virtual-Templates Learning Materials
* IPExpert VLecture Frame-Relay
* Cisco IOS Frame-Relay Configuration Guide
* Configuring PPP over Frame-Relay
* Configuring Media Independent PPP
* Optimizing PPP Negotiation
The only thing that I wish were included is the statistical breakdown of your lab results compared to other candidates. This is something that IE provides on their mock labs and it really helps you to judge where you are at compared to other lab candidates. I may have thought that a 70 was a decent grade, but then found out that the average test taker scores a 90. Or I may have been disappointed with my grade only to find that most candidates do far worse.
Well let’s wrap this review up before it stretches from novella to full blow epic novel.
I was very pleased with my experience. There were only two cons:
Amount of time to complete the lab (7.5 hours – set up time).
BB configuration files.
No statistical breakdown of lab results (compared to others’ results on the same lab).
There were two other cons that I attribute to the fact that I do not own the Volume III workbook (ability to load configs and streaming video breakdowns). None of these are significant other than the time issue and even that is not a con at $35.
Grading script is outstanding.
Exposure to different flavor of lab and topology.
So was it worth it? At $35? Fuck yeah!!! You’d be insane not to give this a shot at this price.
Right now IPexpert offers their five gradable Volume III labs with 5 rack sessions for $500. That breaks down to $100 per mock lab. That is the same price as IE is currently charging for their mock labs. Of course, the downside to this is that you cannot purchase individual labs as you can with IE.
Reward to those who read this far : Today Mike Down at IPexpert posted on his blog a deal in which you get one free Proctor Lab session for each one that you pay for. This means that for $35 you can get a mock lab as well as another session. Do read the fine print on his posting as you need to contact him directly via email to take advantage of this deal.