CCIE Pursuit Blog

March 31, 2008

Internetwork Expert: Mock Lab I Review

Mock Lab: 1
Difficulty Level: 6
Date Completed: 26 March, 2008
Final Score: 89

NOTE: I will be discussing very few details about the actual tasks on this lab.  If you are planning on taking this Mock Lab then you can read this post as will have few (if any) “spoilers”.   :-) 

I purchased 4 of Internetwork Expert’s Graded Mock labs back in December when they were on sale for $99.  The current cost is $129.  I completed the first of my 4 labs last Wednesday.

On your IE member page you’ll see a section for Graded Mock Labs (emphasis mine):

Your mock lab number will be locked in 1 hour prior to your session start. Once your session has started, a “Start” button will appear. Click the “Start” button to receive your lab, topology, physical topology, and configs.

If you do not click the “Start” button within 1 hour of the start of your session, it will automatically be started for you. Once your mock lab has started, you have 8.5 hours to complete it, and a timer will appear telling you how much time you have left. You will be automatically kicked off your rack at the end of the 8.5-hour lab.

Your mock lab will be graded by 9 PM PDT on the second business day.

Click “View” to open a pop-up window displaying your graded mock lab. Click “Overdue” to automatically send a support ticket about not receiving your graded mock lab.

NOTE: The password to open password-protected PDFs is your e-mail address.

My lab was scheduled for 10 am PDT (noon for me).  Sure enough, once noon rolled around there appeared a button to start the lab.  Once you click this button you will be presented with links for the PDF files for the lab, the topology, and the physical topology (cabling).  Anyone who has done the IE Volume II (or Volume III labs) will be familiar with the documentation.  You’ll get a logical Layer 3 document as well as a routing protocol map.  Although I did not need to provide a password, if you are prompted for a password for any of the PDFs, use the email address that you have registered with you IE account.

One thing to note is that the instructions on how to access your rack is located in a different part of your IE membership page.  It’s in the “My Current and Future Rack Rental Sessions” section.  You’ll probably want to familiarize yourself with the rack documentation.  I’ve rented IE racks before so I was familiar with the process.  Although I didn’t do it (only because I didn’t think about it), it’s probably a good idea to log into your rack and open your reverse telnet session before you click the button to get your documents.

One thing to be aware of is that as soon as you click the button to begin the lab the clock will start ticking.  You’re given 8.5 hours to complete the lab.  There is a cool countdown widget on your IE member page that will run through your lab so you can easily see how much time has elapsed and how much time you have left.

Mock Lab 1 Timer

As soon as you click the “start lab” button the clock starts counting down.  I didn’t think about printing the lab until after the lab had started.  Since I was at home I had to load drivers on my laptop before I could print to my ancient Canon printer.  By the time I had printed all of the documentation and logged into each of the devices I had already lost 15 minutes.  As I mentioned above, it’s a good idea to log into your rack before starting your lab.

One of the resources that becomes available once you start the lab is a zip file of the initial configurations.  I had already lost 15 minutes printing and logging in to the rack.  I was a little pissed that I would need to apply the initial configurations.  The initial configurations are already loaded on your rack so you don’t need to worry about that.  The intial configurations are provided so you can redo the lab later (or rebuild your rack if you really fuck up).  Whew!!!

So I was up and running with 8 hours and 15 minutes to go.  The IE documentation states that after 8.5 hours you will automatically be kicked off of your rack.  I’ll spare you the task of reading the rest of this post and just tell you that this did not happen in my case.  When the timer finally hit zero I was not kicked off of the rack. I didn’t make any changes at that point and the initial grading script ran within 1 hour of my time elapsing.  [I can't remember when it ran, it may have run right after time expired, but the score was on my member page less than an hour later]  Your experience my not be the same, so I would just assume that your going to be booted off. 

As I posted earlier the grading script will run and give you an initial grade.  Don’t get too depressed about your initial score from the script as it is likely that you will get more points once a proctor reviews your lab. 

Initial Scoresheet Graded By Script

Within two business days a proctor will manually grade your lab and you’ll be able to see a web page with your final grade along with the proctor’s comments and feedback. 

Proctor Feedback

I read the complete lab and made notes before I started configuring anything.  Reading the lab and creating a simple layer 2 diagram took 22 minutes.  After that I kept track of the when I completed each task as well as how confident I was that I had earned the points.  I had completed IGP redistribution and basic BGP peering just before I took “lunch”.  Lunch turned out to be the 20 minutes I spent picking up my son from school.  :-)

I had finished all of the tasks that I felt I could complete with about 30 minutes left.  I ended up not attempting 3 tasks. I spent quite a bit of time troubleshooting an issue that was probably due to an IOS bug, but I had plenty of time to complete the lab.  I did start getting mentally fatigued about 6 hours into the lab.  If I could have stayed a little more focused I could have finish about 30 minutes earlier.  When I finished, I felt pretty good about meeting my goal of getting 80 points.

When your time expires you’ll see a new link to the solution guide.  I didn’t have the energy or inclination to look through it at the time.  I looked at it briefly this weekend.  There are no breakdowns like in the Volume II labs, only the correct configuration as well as some good verification commands.  The Graded Mock Labs are supposed to include a Class On Demand breakdown of the lab.  I haven’t received a link to that yet.  That will probably include the task breakdowns.

I’m not going to go into details about the lab itself other than to say that it was fairly easy.  The lab has a difficulty level of 6 which is easier than the actual lab.  After spending most of the prior 10 days getting my ass handed to me on level 8 labs, this lab seemed pretty easy by comparison.

On Sunday I got the email saying that my lab had been graded by the proctor.  I was very happy (and a little shocked) to find that I had scored an 89.  Since I had skipped 9 points, so I only failed one of the tasks that I attempted.  I missed it due to a stupid mistake in an ACL, but I’m not complaining because there were at least 3 tasks that I got full credit on which I was unsure about my solution. 

Proctor Graded Scoresheet

Random Thoughts:

Finishing with 30 minutes to spare is nice, but I didn’t have time to go back over my tasks to catch stupid mistakes.  I still need to increase my speed.  As I stated earlier, there was a period about 6 hours in where I lost my edge.  I was making silly mistakes and I would end up reading and rereading tasks as well as configuring things twice (because I forgot I had just configured it) as well as forgetting what device I was on.  Nothing major, but in a more difficult lab this could have been a big problem.  As it was, I think that I probably lost 20 – 30 minutes during that stretch just to lack of focus.

I need to limit myself to items that will only be available in the lab as well as curb practices that will not be allowed in the actual lab.  I’m still using Tera Term as my telnet client.  It’s not hugely different from SecureCRT, but I need to make sure that I am more familiar with SecureCRT, especially the cut and paste hot-keys/options.  I also need to stop writing notes on the lab and lab diagrams.  This is not allowed in the actual lab.  I also need to start getting used to using notepad without saving or closing the notepad instances.  Finally, I keep the lab topology open on my laptop so that it’s visible in the background while I’m working.  This is not allowed in that lab, so I need to nix that habit as well.

I was lucky.  I done over 60 hours of IE labs over the 9 days prior to my mock lab so I had more practice with some technologies that I am normally weak on.  I also watched the IEATC session on setting up a logging server and configuring NTP the night before the lab.  Normally, I would have spent much more time using the DOC CD for those topics and I probably would not have received any of the points for NTP because I totally misunderstood key aspects of that technology until literally the night before the mock lab.  Multicast was very simple.  This is the first time that I’ve ever received all of the points for Multicast so you know it was dead easy.  :-)

I knew which technology to use for each task I attempted as well as how to implement it with minimal need of the DOC CD.  I’m not saying this to brag.  I’m saying it because I still finished with only 30 minutes left.  A more difficult lab would have meant more time mining the DOC CD and therefore more time to complete the lab.  I also completely skipped three tasks.  I somehow need to pick up my speed.

Anyhoo….I’m pretty pleased with my score, but I still realize that I have a LONG ways to go before I am ready for the actual lab.

February 24, 2008

CCOnlineLabs: Price Reductions

CCOnlineLabs has just reduced their pricing.  I really like their service and they have really good equipment (the racks I have rented all had 2800s running 12.4 code).  They used to be a little spendy if you were just doing a session here and there (as I do), but this recent price reduction makes them a great choice if you need some rack time:

Hello all,
 
You wanted lower prices?  Now you have them.
 
5.5 hour session @ $15.00/session
11.5 hour session @ $25.00/session

 
We have done away with the discount structure.  You will now get the same extremely low rate if you are purchasing 1 session or 20.
 
We will still offer our ‘cram session’ special.  If you are willing to commit that much time to us, then we are willing to give you an even better deal.
 
We want to continue to have you as repeat customers.  If there is anything else that we can do to make that happen, let us know.
 
Cheers,
 
Tony Schaffran
Network Analyst
CCIE #11071
CCNP, CCNA, CCDA,
NNCDS, NNCSS, CNE, MCSE
 
www.cconlinelabs.com

Your #1 choice for online Cisco rack rentals.

January 15, 2008

Micronics: New Cheap Rack Rental Vendor

There’s a new CCIE rack rental vendor, Micronics Networking and Training.  They have incredible pricing:

11 hours – $20
24 hours – $30
30 days – $700

You can choose from the following topologies:

Net-Workbooks
IPexpert
Internetwork Expert
Netmasterclass
Custom

Unfortunately there is no calendar to show open rental periods nor a list of equipment.  The booking process is as follows:

Step 1: Request time and date
Step 2: Await confirmation on time and date
Step 3: Pay for requested date(s)
Step 4: Await confirmation for request

I decided to give it a try and book a 24 hour session.  I got the bad news back rather quickly:

Our racks are fully booked till mid Feb, we are adding more racks, we will keep you posted.

At those prices, it’s no surprise that they’re booked up.

December 11, 2007

Internetwork Expert: New Lab Rental Process

I logged into my IE account today and noticed something new.  There is now a “Schedule Your Own Rack Sessions” section.  It looks like they are changing the way that they rent rack time. 

They have put up a Class-On-Demand detailing how to rent rack time (and book mock labs). 

Basically you buy tokens at a dollar apiece.  Then you can use those tokens to book rack time.

You can book rack time pretty much instantaneously.  You can also reschedule or cancel a session (72 hour advance notice) and the tokens go back into your account.  There are also some other cool features coming in a few months:

GUI Remote Power Control – Powercycle devices with a single mouse click!
On-Demand Hardware Diagnostics – Eliminate the guesswork of suspected hardware problems!*
Configuration capturing, archiving, and loading – Automatically save your configs and resume later!*
Initial configuration loading – Automatically load initial configs for any Internetwork Expert product!*
* – coming Jan 2008

Depending on how much the discount is, this could be a very cool feature [as I type this, session 3 is currently available for 7 tokens so it looks like this is going work pretty well]:

Additionally this system allows you to book rack sessions that are currently in progress for a discounted rate.

The only downside that I see is with the token system.  Anyone who has been to a fair and ended up with 3 tickets leftover when the minimum number of tickets to ride is 5 understands the downfall to the token system.  Also, it looks like you can only buy tokens in groups of 15.  Most of the (R&S) sessions are multiples of 10 or 15 (15, 20, 30) so this might not be too big of a deal.  But if you’re doing a 99 token mock lab or nabbing some session in progress for 7 tokens, you can see how you could end up with a total of tokens that are not a multiple of 10 or 15.

Once they implement the automatic loading of IE initial configs and the ability to save your configs for reloading later (two huge timesavers), this will be a very nice choice for completing IE labs.  That coupled with the ability to schedule immediately and to nab some discount sessions will likely overshadow any leftover tokens issues.

November 7, 2007

I Is Dumb….Dumb As Dirt

I booked a rack rental from Internetwork Expert for tonight.  I was pretty stoked because I nabbed a session from 9 pm – 2:30 am for $15.  That’s 9 pm to 2:30 PST.  Since my time zone is CST, that means that the session would run from 7 pm – 12:30 am because of the two hour differential.

7 pm rolled around and I tried logging in….about 10 times.  Readers with more than a sixth grade education will have already spotted my error, but it took me a trip to the InterWebs to find out that my sweet 7 pm slot would actually begin at 11 pm local time.

Oh well.  It looks like I’ll only be using a couple of hours of that rack rental.  Oh, and just to pour salt in my wound…the slot before this one runs from 5 pm – 10:30 CDT and costs….$15.   :-)

October 9, 2007

cconlinelabs Adds Two New Racks, Increase Rates

Due to increased demand, cconlinelabs has added two new rental racks.  They have also increased their rack rental prices from $20 to $25 for a 5.5 hour session and $35 to $40 for a 11.5 hour session (prices are lower with purchase of multiple sessions).  I’ve used their racks before and they use 2800 series routers with 12.4 code (plus 3 2560s and 1 3550 switches) on all of their racks.  I expect that the new racks will have the same top notch hardware.

Greetings all,
 
Due to the increased demand for our services, most of you may have noticed that our schedule is quite full and it has become difficult to find available time in our schedule.
 
To help with this situation, we are bringing up two additional racks asap.  These racks will be configured for Internetwork Expert Labs as that seems to be the workbook of choice for most users.
 
We will need to slightly increase our rates to help offset some of the cost of the new equipment.  The new rate schedule can be found on our Rates web page.  We hope that this small increase in our rates will not prove to be too much of an inconvenience as we continue to provide you the best service with the best equipment.
  
Cheers,
 
Tony Schaffran
Network Analyst

CCIE #11071
CCNP, CCNA, CCDA,
NNCDS, NNCSS, CNE, MCSE

www.cconlinelabs.com
Your #1 choice for online Cisco rack rentals.

October 2, 2007

CCBootcamp Increase Rack Rental Sessions To 8 Hours

CCBootcamp recently increased their rack rental sessions from 6 hours to 8 hours.  Their price per session has remained at $30.  This will increase the sesson time to match that of the lab as well as drive down the price per hour from $5/hr to a more competitive $3.75/hour.

August 22, 2007

NetLab Rentals Shutting Down

Filed under: CCIE Rack Rental,Cisco,Cisco Certification — cciepursuit @ 7:19 am

According to this post at CCIE Journey, it looks like NetLab Rentals may be shutting down soon:

Well I did have rack time over at netlabrentals.com but received this email from them yesterday.

Thank you for your recent purchase. Unfortunately, NetLab Rentals will no longer be accepting new reservations. We are in the midst of liquidating our assets. You will receive a refund of your entire purchase within the next 5 business days!
We have appreciated your business, and wish you luck in your future studies!

Regards,
NetLab Rentals

I’ve used NetLab Rentals in the past and found them to be quite good, especially for the price.  Here’s a review I wrote about them in response to a visitor’s comment:

Netlabs is very good in that they have good equipment and are running 12.4 code on all routers. Their setup is EXACTLY (down to the interface numbers) the same as the Internetwork Expert lab setup. Their online booking software is good (worked 2 times out of 3 for me). Their prices will increase from $10 to $12 (per 4 hour session) in July.

The only downside is that they give you a login but don’t seem to filter your acccess by time. I messed up and was logging in to my session an hour earlier than I was supposed to (I messed up the conversion because I did not take Daylight Saving Time into effect) and only found out that this was happening the third time that it happened. They have a JavaScript script running on their site that shows when the sessions start, but it doesn’t seem to be working too often. I also had other users logging in during my session and power-cycling the devices. Needless to say, this can completely mess you up in the middle of a lab.

Bottom line: if they fixed the access and tightened up their booking software, they would be an excellent lab rental. With their prices so low and their equipment so good, they’re still worth checking out.

August 19, 2007

Will Dynamips Kill Home Labs and Rack Rentals?

As I’ve spent more time using Dynamips, a thought crossed my mind:

Will Dynamips eventually end the need for home labs and rack rentals?

Dynamips seems to have a lot of momentum right now.  I have seen quite a few postings from CCIE candidates that are only using Dyanamips in order to lab up scenarios.  Dynamips has a lot of big advantages over the conventional rack rental/home lab.  It is free.  It is portable.  From what I’ve heard, you can lab up all kinds of different technologies (Frame Relay, ATM, MPLS, etc) and topologies.  The size of your Dynamips lab is only limited by the amount of CPU and RAM you can give it.  The vendors (so far just Internetwork Expert, but the rest of the Core Four can’t be too far behind) are starting to release workbooks geared towards Dynamips.  Why would anyone want to go through the headache and financial burden of building a home lab or spend money on rack rentals that tie you down to a specific window of time?

I think that Dyanamips will eventually become the most popular choice for doing labs for the CCIE (on multiple paths).  Does that mean the death bell will toll for rack rental companies and home labs?  No.  While I do think that we’re going to see some of the rack rental companies scale back, there will still be a need for real gear.  Dynamips cannot emulate a lot of the high-end switching features at this time (from what I understand, it never will).  This means that you’ll need to have access to actual Cisco switches in order to practice those skills.  Furthermore, even though Dynamips runs like a champ if you tweak it enough and give it enough resources, there are going to be candidates who simply won’t want to either spend the money to upgrade their systems (this will be less of an issue as time goes on and Moore’s law does its magic) or to take the time to tweak variables in the software. 

I also believe that the rack rental companies (especially the vendors’ racks) will still get business from candidates that are getting their employers to pay for their training.  Most (all?) of the vendors offer some combination of rack time packaged with their products.  If your employer is willing to pay for your rack rentals, why mess around with Dynamips?  One other advantage that the vendors have is that a good number of candidates are going to want to use their equipment because it matches the vendors’ lab topologies.  Also, there will be a sizable number of people (myself included) who will still want to use real gear, regardless of how closely Dynamips can emulate that gear.  If I run into a problem when I’m labbing on Dynamips, I note the issue and then lab it up on my rack to verify that it was not just a Dynamips bug.

My prediction is that Dynamips will increase in popularity as the program improves and as PC resources increase.  It’s going to put a dent in the rack rental business.  I think that the biggest casulty will be the home rack.  Why spend thousands on a rack that you’ll eventually try to sell back at the end of your studies, when you can have a portable lab with Dynamips (that you can augment with rack rental sessions).  One thing that is nearly certain, many more people are going to pursue CCIE certification because of Dynamips.  This software has effectively erased two big hurdles to CCIE certification: the cost and availability of Cisco network labs.  Finally, Dynamips is going to allow CCIE candidates to prepare for the lab much faster.   Candidates will not be tied down to specific windows of time (rack rentals) or the need to be connected to a home/work lab.  You can take your lab with you on your laptop.  This will maximize the amount of possible lab available to candidates.  More candidates with shorter study cycles will eventually lead to more CCIEs in the future.

August 6, 2007

Rack Time Rentals – New Users Get A Free Session

Filed under: CCIE Rack Rental,Cisco,Cisco Certification — cciepursuit @ 4:45 pm

I really want to get some lab time in this week.  I don’t have remote access to the lab at work (I’m going to push for that on Friday).  I do have Dynamips set up with a few routers, which will work fine for routing protocols, but I’m working on switching right now so I really want access to some real 3550s and 3560s.  Since I was booking on such short notice, I did not find any openings on some of the other rack rental vendors.  I decided to take a look at Rack Time Rentals since they had absorbed my favorite rack rental vendor, Bradshaw labs.

Rack Time Rentals have 11 CCIE Routing and Switching racks (9 set up for Internetwork Experts and 2 set up for NetMasterClass).  Their rentals run 11.5 hours and cost $45 a session.  I really wanted the longer rental period even though the rate per hour is a little higher than other rack rental vendors.  The thing that I really liked about Bradshaw Labs was their scheduling software.  You were able to instantly book a session and submit payment via PayPal from their site.  Rack Time Rentals use the two-step system that most other vendors use (submit a request for the session and then after they get back to you via email, submit payment).  They do get back to you rather quickly and book your session.  You get the information to access the rack after they receive payment.  It’s not as automated as Bradshaw Labs was, but it is pretty quick.

The big bonus is that Rack Time Rentals offers new users a free session:

As a new customer to Rack Time Rentals, I would like to welcome you, and offer you one FREE session, with your first purchase.  Please go to http://www.racktimerentals.com/scheduling.htm to schedule your free session.  The total for your session above is $45 U.S. dollars.

I was able to book another session for Thursday.  So I got two 11.5 hour sessions for $45.  This breaks down to $1.96 an hour, which is a great rate for a rack rental.

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