CCIE Pursuit Blog

June 23, 2009

R.I.P. CCIE Assessor Lab

I received the following email today:

Dear Anonymous Blogger Jerk,

As you know, the CCIE Assessor Lab has been retired. As someone who has used or expressed interest in the Lab, we want to make you aware of a new program to replace the CCIE Assessor Lab. The CCIE Assessor was the first product of its kind to provide candidates with an experience similar to the actual CCIE lab exam. Our recently introduced Cisco 360 Learning Program for CCIE Routing and Switching now offers a complete experience in gaining expert level knowledge and preparing for the rigorous CCIE certification exams including classes, assessment labs and mentoring.

If you have not yet achieved your CCIE certification, you can use the Cisco 360 Learning Program to differentiate your skills and take your career to the next level with the only authorized Cisco expert training. The program is available individually or in value-priced bundles, Essentials, Preferred or Premium packages. Currently, 90% of students completing the Cisco 360 Learning Program successfully pass their R&S lab exam and achieve CCIE certification on their first try!

The Cisco 360 Learning Program is a comprehensive, blended learning program designed to accelerate expert-level competency. In as little as six months to one year, you will elevate your command of technical topics and develop the skills necessary to tackle the types of expert-level configuration and troubleshooting challenges that appear in real-life networks and in the recently updated CCIE lab exam. You can also purchase the program by individual components that can benefit someone with your familiarity of the CCIE materials and examinations.

If you are interested in learning more contact your local Cisco 360 Learning Partner and schedule a free demo of the Cisco 360 Learning Program.

The following resources are available for more information:
Cisco 360 Learning Program website
Solutions Overview
Locate a Cisco Learning Partner
Training Component Details

Best of luck on your networking career,
Learning@Cisco

Actually, I did not know that the CCIE Assessor Lab had been retired.  I used this product before my first attempt.  For $399.00 you received two mock labs.  Since this was Cisco’s official mock lab offering, I decided that it was a good investment of $400.  The labs were obviously getting long in the tooth even then as the first lab only used two switches.  While spendy, it was nice to get a look at the Cisco question verbiage and topology.

The death of the CCIE Assessor is part of the push to make the 360 program the single, official Cisco offering for CCIE training.  There was recently an announcement about the unbundling of the 360 program(something I’ll blog about later).  I think that it’s funny that the email bascially tells you that the 360 program – which can run into 5 figures – is the logical replacement for the CCIE Assessor Lab.  If there is an unbundled 360 mock lab product, then it would have made sense to point out that product.  :-)

Kind of a side rant: The 90% pass on first attempt statistic is compelling, but what are the raw numbers?  90% of x?  If x is a low number (say 10) then that impressive percentage means less.  I would also think that given the high cost for the 360 program, that companies – and I have to believe that few individuals are footing this cost – that are willing to invest that type of cash into training are spending it on highly qualified engineers(there was a recent GroupStudy posting that showed evidence that this was the case).  BUT…as always, I could be wrong and the 360 may be the ultimate CCIE training program.  Maybe I’m just hating cuz I can’t afford it.  :-)

February 19, 2009

IPexpert: Free Graded Mock Lab – Plus Two Free Rack Rental Sessions

I checked my inbox today and found this great deal from IPexpert:

FREE CCIE R&S Graded Lab Assessment

Are you wondering if you are ready for the real lab exam? Here is the perfect opportunity to find out – FREE – while test-driving IPexpert’s training material and Proctor Labs’ online vRacks!

You will receive FREE access to electronic files for the following training components:

* Graded Assessment Mock Lab: You will receive a full-scale, 8-hour “Mock Lab” designed to deliver the true challenge of the actual CCIE lab exam. The configuration files are included, allowing you to compare your work to that of our instructors that created the industry-leading practice lab scenarios seen in our lab preparation workbooks.
* Proctor Guide: This is the detailed solution guide providing you with detailed written explanations for the Mock Lab taks.
* Video Tutorials: After you complete the Mock Lab, you will receive a detailed grading report, listing each section of the lab with your results. On that page, with the click of a button, you can watch videos of the instructor walking you through each section, step by step! You will be amazed by the level of detail as the instructor painstakingly walks through every task and solution involved in the lab. There is nearly 10 hours of video included for THIS FREE LAB SCENARIO (as well as every lab included in IPexpert’s lab mentoring kit)!

Online Rack Rental Sessions:

Included with this free offering, you will also receive:

* TWO Online Rack Sessions for you to test your skills using a full rack of the latest and greatest Cisco gear at Proctor Labs.
* Both sessions provided are 8 hours in length and can be scheduled back-to-back or at different times.
* At the end of each session, you will receive a detailed grading report breaking down every section of the lab.
* See exactly what you got right and compare your work to the Verified Labs™ grading engine to see what you got wrong and why.

CLICK HERE to get started!

If you click on the link above, you’ll go to a page where you can get access to the mock lab materials:

To get started, simply click the green “Buy Now” button below. You will see that the price remains at $0.00 through the checkout process. When your order is complete, you will have immediate access to the lab, solution guide and configuration files. You will get an email with two voucher codes for easy scheduling of your vRack sessions.

This is an amazing deal.  You’re basically getting the “$35 Mock Lab” that I reviewed here but for free…plus another 8 hours of rack time thrown in for free as well.  You’re getting $70 worth of free rack time, plus a graded mock lab.  I would strongly recommend this for candidates who are just dipping their toes into the CCIE waters to get a taste of a full-scale mock lab, as well as candidates on their final approach using a different vendor who want to be exposed to another vendor’s labs.

***Update***

I received my vouchers for the two free rack sessions within 15 minutes of ordering.

February 10, 2009

Internetwork Expert: New Poly Labs Rolled Out – Seminar Tomorrow

Internetwork Expert recently rolled out their new Poly Labs.  I had a chance to do some beta testing with these labs (not as much as I would have liked due to my schedule) and they are going to be a great addition for CCIE candidates.  Basically, you choose your knowledge level for each major section and then the testing engine will generate a random lab based on your abilities.  You take the lab and the testing engine automatically grades your lab.  Your ability per each section will then be updated based on the results of your lab.  This will show you your weakness and – presumably – after taking enough Poly Labs you will get a good idea of whether or not your ready to take the lab.

The cost is $25 per Poly Lab.  This cost does not include rack rental which will add anywhere from $8 – $60 to the cost (depending on whether you rent one or two 5.5 hour sessions and what the dynamic rental price is at).

[NOTE: It looks like IE has limited the cost to a max of $55 for a Poly Lab and two rack sessions]

Internetwork Expert will be hosting an online seminar tomorrow with more details.

September 11, 2008

Internetwork Expert: Beta Testers Needed For New Mock Lab Grading System

Graded Labs is rolling out a new grading feature for mock labs.  They are currently recruiting beta testers.  You need to be a current customer of IE as well as have previously taken a graded mock lab:

Graded Labs is looking for CCIE candidates to help improve their grading services. In order to insure the quality of their new grading platform, Graded Labs is now accepting sign ups for current Internetwork Expert customers to join the Scaffolded Automation & Grading Engine (SAGE) Beta. SAGE is Graded Lab’s next generation platform for grading and rack automation. Beta candidates will be IE students who have already taken Internetwork Expert Mock Labs and are wanting to retake them using the new Graded Labs engine.During the Beta, you will be able retake a CCIE Routing & Switching Mock Lab and grade on-demand during any of your active rack sessions. If you are interested in becoming a beta tester, please visit the sign up page here http://www.gradedlabs.com/beta/. The Beta testing will be limited to 100 customers.

This sounds like the current grading script that IPexpert offers on their mock labs.  If so, then I am a big fan of this idea.

This is a great opportunity for anyone who has already taken an IE graded mock lab to get a free retake and help IE work out bugs.  If you’re interested then you should sign up soon as there are only 100 beta positions available.

August 4, 2008

IPexpert: $35 Mock Lab Review

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’.

Download FREE sample sections:
Workbook
Proctor Guide
Startup Configs
Topology

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:

PL-POD-109-TS-RS#sh host
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:

NOTICE!
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.

Verified Lab Results

Verified Lab Results

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#
Cat1#show spanning-tree vlan 12 | incl root
This bridge is the root
Cat1#
Cat1#show spanning-tree vlan 67 | incl root
This bridge is the root
Cat1#
Cat1#show spanning-tree vlan 100 | incl root
Cat1#

Cat1 Section 1.2 is not Correct
Expected:
VLAN12
This bridge is the root
VLAN67
This bridge is the root
VLAN100
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

And sometimes:

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.  :-)

Conclusion

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.  :-)

Pros:

Price.  :-)
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.

July 31, 2008

Internetwork Expert: $1,995 Mock Lab Workshop and Goodbye LockLizard

Scott Morris will be teaching some of the upcoming Mock Lab Workshops.  Not only that, but IE is knocking $1,500 off the cost:

Join Scott Morris for an upcoming CCIE Routing and Switching Mock Lab Workshop. Workshops are currently scheduled in central locations such as San Jose CA, Dallas TX, and RTP, NC. Each CCIE Mock Lab Workshop offers the student the chance to be led through Internetwork Expert’s exclusive Mock Labs with personalized feedback from a world renowned instructor.

Dates and locations:

September 22 – 26 – Dallas, TX
October 6 – 10 – San Jose, CA
October 27 – 31 – San Jose, CA
November 17 – 21 – RTP, NC
December 8 – 12 – Dallas, TX

This is the class that I attended in June and I really loved it.  At $3,500 I think that it was probably too expensive for self-financed candidates (my employer reimbursed my costs) but I definitely recommend the class.  The $1,995 price point is a great move.  This makes it one of the lowest cost live training classes and brings it into competition with Narbik’s boot camp.  Hell, for only $500 more than I paid for the workshop, you could do both.  :-)

I would suggest that if you are planning on attending the Mock Lab Workshop to attend it at least 28 days out from your lab (28 days from the end of the workshop).  The workshop will give you a good feel for how prepared you are for the lab.  If you’re not quite ready, then you can easily change your lab date.  If you get the thumbs up from Scott, then you can just as easily move your lab date up quickly as there are generally a number of slots open within 28 days of booking.

If you’ve completed any of the IE Graded Mock Labs, then I would check with IE before booking the class to see which ones (if any – they may have new labs now) of these labs that they will be using for the workshop.  I don’t know how long they will continue with the $1,995 price, so you may want to talk to IE about their reseat policy.  In my class there were a couple of guys who attended but did not do the labs because they were still early in their studies.  They planned to reseat the class at a later time.  That might be an option if you want to lock in the lower price.

In other IE related news, IE has decided to nix LockLizard.  LockLizard is PDF security software.  IE started using it with the beta releases of the new Volume I v5 workbook.  In order to open a PDF you needed to have LockLizard installed on your machine (Windows only – no Linux/Mac) and have a license from the publisher.  I used it briefly with the betas and it did make reading the PDFs a little sluggish.  I think that there were issues with needing to renew the license every couple of weeks and printing/number of computers used as well.  LockLizard was implemented to reduce piracy, but the end user experience was bad enough that IE is yanking it:

After reviewing the customer issues with our secure PDF application LockLizard we have decided to switch back to standard PDFs.   You will find in the next coming days that the existing products secured using LockLizard available through your members’ site account in standard PDF format.

The idea behind us using LockLizard was to cut down on the amount of piracy our support team has to deal with on a daily basis.  BUT if our measures to fight piracy cause our paying customer’s headaches then it’s not a good solution.

We have implemented a few new solutions to deal with piracy and one of them uses steganography to ensure that each user’s PDF is unique in addition to the standard watermarks (email address, IP address, etc).  This means that even if a user removes the watermark and reprints or converts the PDF into a new PDF it will still be identifiable by our support team as to who’s account it came from.  We had to add some bigger servers for this since the PDFs are generated on the fly.  We additionally had a crawler written that goes out and looks for pirated material and then automatically gets the files removed.

Lastly anyone want to buy a $10,000+ secure PDF application. ;-)

Brian McGahan discussed this a bit further in the comments section:

From the beginning Brian and I have always struggled with the tradeoff between convenience to the user and protection of our intellectual property. When downloading free software or training or whatever from the Internet it’s easy to just write it off as being from some huge nameless corporation, and let’s be honest, none of it is that hard to find if you look for it. What is also easy to forget though is the amount of time and effort it took the author to produce it. Brian and I have invested literally thousands and thousands of hours of our own lives into developing these products, maintaining them, supporting them, and ensuring that they are the highest quality out there, so sometimes we do take it personally when we see them floating around.

Unfortunately for everybody any type of DRM is always a constant struggle between the numbers of legitimate customers who should be able to access their material that they purchased at their leisure in the most convenient fashion, and those out there that have to ruin it for the rest of us.

Hopefully this new steganographic solution will work out better, because from what we’re seeing of it now it’s very unobtrusive to the user, while nearly impossible to defeat. Unless of course you have memorized the exact output that every single “show” command in IOS is supposed to return

July 22, 2008

Internetwork Expert Mock Lab Workshop Review – Part II

Note: This is part 2 (actually part 3) of my long, rambling review of the Internetwork Expert Mock Lab Workshop in Reno.  See here and here for the other posts.

I ventured down to the training room around 7:30 am and found a handful of people seated there.  I asked if this was the Mock Lab Workshop and was told that it was.  It turns out that Internetwork Expert was running a 12-day boot camp which is a the 5-day boot camp plus weekend sessions plus the Mock Lab Workshop.  That explained the “Routing and Switching Boot Camp” sign in the hall.

I got settled in and tested the wireless connection.  I had installed Ubuntu on my laptop during a layover on my outbound flight (my XP CD was too scratched to work) and had not been able to verify the wireless.  I’m happy to say that the Hardy Heron worked fine sans wires.  It’s a good thing too, because my backup laptop had an old B radio card in it.  I don’t think that anyone would appreciate me dropping the connection to 11Mbps.  :-)

The room was catered with fruit, juice, coffee, and pastries each morning.  After lunch the breakfast items were removed and a selection of sodas were made available.  For those who need their energy drink fix, there is a gift shop on the main floor of the hotel which stocks Red Bull and Rockstar (yuck).

Soon enough Brian Dennis and Petr Lapukhov joined us and the class was underway.  One of my classmates pointed them out and said “There’s Brian Dennis.”  I had heard his voice (over and over again) on the IECODs so it was interesting to put a face to that voice.  I was very surprised at how young he was.  Then I figured out that I was looking at Petr and not Brian.  :-)

There were about 20 people in the class.  All but a handful of them (like myself) had been there for the previous seven days.  As I stated earlier, we had a virtual United Nations going in the class.  There were students from many different countries.  We did brief introductions (name, experience, and lab date).  Most of the students had scheduled the lab within the next 1.5 months with about 5 of them going within a week.

The format of the workshop is lecture in the morning (starting around 8 am and ending around 11 am) followed by a mock lab each day except for Friday.  Monday’s lecture was about the class structure and (mostly) about lab strategies.  If you’ve completed the IECOD or viewed the free COD on lab strategies, then you will have already seen a lot of what was presented.  To my surprise there was a lot of new (to me) information presented.  Here are a few of the things mentioned (these may or may not be verbatim):

What you can take into the lab is generally up to the proctor’s dicretion.  Officially you cannot bring in anything.

The lab is in a binder with about 15 – 20 pages with plastic covers on each page.  You can pull the pages out of the binder.  Do that.  Put them back at the end of the day.  Do NOT take the pages out of the plastic cover.

The old version of the lab was on red paper with black ink (difficult to copy).

Most redistribution will take 30 minutes.  Do a workaround and come back to it.

The Brussels lab location is incorrect on Google maps.  Don’t stay at the Cisco recommended hotel in Brussels as you cannot walk to the lab center and driving there is difficult.

Make sure to put a slash on the end of univercd (/) or the web filter will filter.

The telnet client is SecureCRT running version 4 (or something close to it).  No menus.  No tabs.  You can change the colors.  You can change the keyboard mapping.  Brian mapped the ~ key to perform copy and paste.  Set your scrollback buffer to max (9999 lines).  You can use access server or open a unique window to each device.  IE recommends to practice labs with the lab restrictions for the last two weeks so you are used to them when you get to the real lab.

Draw your own diagram.  IE says that you will get a routing protocol diagram in the lab.

The goal is to try to finish 2 hours early and then use the remaining 2 hours for verification.

There is quite a bit of grading by script in the Routing and Switching lab.

BGP is usually mentioned at the end of the discussions by Cisco, so it’s likely at the end of the test.

You don’t need to build scripts if you are running short on time.  Just ping some sample routes.

When you’re done with “full reachability” you should have around 40 points.

Save your configurations after each task.

You want to score 95% of the Frame Relay, IGP, and Ethernet sections in order to pass the lab.

As I mentioned earlier, you will receive $40 worth of meal vouchers for each day of your training.  These vouchers are good anything (booze included) at a number of restaurants in the resort.  There is a buffet, bistro, sport bar, hamburger joint, sandwich shop, and others in the resort. IE also had a Starbucks gift card available for anyone to use to get free coffee at Starbucks (also in the hotel).  You’re not going to go hungry.  :-)  Do keep in mind that the vouchers do not include gratuity, so bring some cash to tip the waitstaff.

After lunch, we started the first mock lab.  I had done this lab months ago and scored an 89 on it.  It was a difficulty level 6 lab and did not have a lot of interlocking questions – or so I thought.  I was given the opportunity to substitute a different lab for this one since I had already taken it.  I decided to do the lab because of the breakdown lecture and because I was coming into the workshop with very little time on the CLI in the prior month.  My moral was at a low point and I needed an “easy victory” to get my spirits up again.

One thing that I’ve learned that surprises me is that I am not memorizing labs.  My experience with practice exams is that I quickly memorize the question (and answer) so repeated attempts really don’t do me much good because I tend to remember the answer.  This has NOT been the case with practice labs.  I was initially worried that repeating labs would be fruitless because I would remember the answers.  Not so.  Maybe it’s due to the length of the labs or the fact that when I do repeat a lab it’s usually been weeks or months since my previous attempt.  I did Mock Lab 1 back in March and have not looked at it since.  Keen readers will sense that I’m setting the scene for a poor showing on this lab.  :-)

For the first time, I followed the advice of completing the core task first and then going back to complete the non-core tasks later.  This worked out really well.  Brian stated in his lecture that there are certain people who have a hard time skipping tasks.  I am in that camp.  I can skip (most of the time) non-core tasks that I have no clue how to solve, BUT if I think that I know the answer then I will wrestle that sucker until I complete it.  This has thrown me off on a couple of timed labs.  I eventually finish the task, but lose so much time and momentum that I screw myself over on the rest of the lab.  By sticking to core tasks only, I was able to get full reachability in around 3 hours.  Of course I would lose that advantage later when I spent about an hour trying to mine the documentation for a 3 point task instead of verifying my configuration.  :-(

I finished all of the tasks that I knew how to do with about 1.5 hours left.  My false sense of confidence – “this is an easy lab and I’ve seen it once before” – plus my mental exhaustion lead me to skip the verification stage and try to mine points on the tasks that I was unsure on.  I’m still hitting the wall about 6 hours into a lab.  At that point I had zero fucking interest in going through each task line by line.  I do verification after I complete each task so I should be golden right?  I think we all know the answer to that question.

The start times of the labs were slightly staggered so once you were done with your lab most people went back to their rooms or went to dinner.  Most would reconvene in the conference room later to take advantage of the rack rentals or just the free wifi.  The labs were all graded by the start of the next morning’s session.  Brian mentioned that the labs are hand-graded by a CCIE in India.  That guy really earned his pay during the week.  He had to grade up to 20 (there were a couple of students who did not do the mock labs) mock labs a night.  Many times my grade report was done by the time I got back from dinner.

I was unable to download a (free) telnet client that worked with Ubuntu.  I DID get Putty installed and working, but could not figure out how to cut and paste.  I eventually just used the terminal program in Ubuntu.  While using this lead to bouts of anger because of the difference in the copy and paste function (I use Tera Term in “real life”) it was good practice as it made me adjust to a different environment.

One other surprising thing: I was not affected by the noise around me.  I had brought ear plugs just in case, but I was able to focus on my lab and not get thrown off by the surrounding noise.  I will still bring ear plugs to the lab (VoIP phones ringing will most like throw me off) and it should be noted that there was not a lot of noise in the workshop outside of the occasional groan and the constant clicking of keys.

Anyhoo…I’ve droned on long enough.  I’ll try to get this review completed by the end of this week.  If you’ve been reading these reviews so far, you know that it’s pretty unlikely that I will be able to hold to that schedule.  :-)

July 21, 2008

IPexpert: $35 Mock Lab?

I haven’t given this a shot yet, but I probably will in the next couple of weeks.  IPexpert offers rack rentals (via Proctor Labs).  One of the new features that Proctor Labs is touting is the ability to have your IPexpert Workbook Volume 3 labs graded (called Verified Labs).  You can check out a couple of videos detailing this feature here.  Basically, you will be able to load the initial configurations for a Volume III lab (only labs 1 – 5 presently) then choose to have the lab timed and graded.

IPexpert has made the first of the Volume III labs available for free (sans solutions).  So…in theory you could rent a rack at Proctor Labs ($35 for 7 hours and 45 minutes), load the configurations for Volume III lab 1, and chose to have your lab graded.  Voila!  $35 mock lab.

IPexpert explains the process here:

Proctor Labs now offers FREE detailed grading reports when you complete the first 5 Mock Labs in Workbook Volume 3, described above…
You can measure your successes, failures and focus on improving your weak areas!

Test drive the system yourself. Just use our FREE SAMPLE MOCK LAB (Volume 3, Lab 1) during a regular Proctor Labs R&S vRack session and receive a free graded assessment of your preparedness.

This a a very cost effective way for a CCIE candidate to either get a feel for where he is in his preparation or for a candidate using one vendor’s mock labs to get a feel for a different topology and style of questions.  I fall into the second category and will definitely give this a try.

The only caveat is that the Proctor Labs site has this warning on their page detailing the graded lab process:

NOTE: These videos make reference to another new feature that will allow you to Save and Load configurations for IPexpert labs. This feature is not yet live, but will be very soon! (You can see it in action in the longer video above.)

It might be worth shooting off an email to Proctor Labs to make sure that you will be able to load the initial configurations prior to booking this.

***Updated 21 July***

I sent an email to Proctor Labs to get clarification about ability to load and save configurations.  They got back to me very quickly (in a minute – seriously):

Currently the saving and loading of configurations is available for the R&S pods only; which you are an R&S candidate correct?

This means that you can use the free Volume III lab 1 as a graded mock lab for just the cost of a rack rental.

While on Proctor Labs’ site I saw that they offer a workbook of 5 mock labs for $199.  I asked if these are the first five labs of the Volume III workbook (those are the ones that are currently compatible with Verified Labs grading) and the answer is “yes” “no”:

***Updated 21 July***

Oops!  I misread this response to mean that the CCIE Routing and Switching Lab Preparation eBook contained the first 5 labs of Volume III:

The gradable labs are the first 5 labs in the IPexpert R&S volume 3 workbook.  I do believe we also offer packages that include just the gradable labs with rack time included; if you’d like details on pricing of either products, I would be more than happy to forward your inquires onto our sales department.

IPexpert contacted me to clear this up:

The Proctor Labs eBook is a TOTALLY different group of labs than the first 5 in Workbook Volume 3.  These labs were made exclusively for Proctor Labs and released last September.  Just an extra 5 full mock lab scenario’s people could use and we marketed directly on the Proctor Labs website.  These are not gradable either
 
The gradable labs (which you could buy as a bundle) is the first 5 in Volume 3 of the R&S workbook (which consists of 10 full labs, the other 5 labs should be gradable sometime).  You could purchase 5 vRack sessions along with the first 5 of Volume 3 for $500 (or the whole BLS for $999.)
 
Hopefully this clarifies things a bit — Don’t wanna get people too confused!!!

Sorry for the confusion.  Disregard the following:

So you can get 5 graded mock labs for $374 ($199 + $175 (5 rack sessions at $35 each)).  That works out to $74.80 per mock lab.  PLUS you might be able to get this even cheaper by contacting Proctor Labs’ sales department and inquiring about a bundle.

I think I have it clear now.  You can use the free lab 1 with a rack session for $35.  You can purchase the 5 gradable labs with rack time for $500.  That works out to $100 per mock lab.

Thank you to Glenn and Mike at IPexpert for responding in an insanely quick manner.

Reader ahenning left a comment confirming the $35 mock lab as well as a review of his experience:

I did this mock lab just a few days ago. At the price its a give away. It is quite a hard lab. On a scale of 1 to 10 I would give it a 8. What is great about the grading is that they actually show you the output of the verification on your devices. I had two questions that worked when I verfied them but did not when the script did. Normally I would argue the point, but because of the output, I had to think a bit. One changed because I rebooted the device and the multicast failed when the script checked because I made a change to the unicast table right at the end. So in short, the grading was correct, if it wasnt for the output I would probably have said that the script needs more work.

Im not sure how long the sample will run, but anyone within a few months of a lab date will be silly to not take advantage of it. It is basicly a free mock lab thrown in with a rack rental. Hopefully we will see more of this.

 

 

 

July 17, 2008

Internetwork Expert: $99 Mock Labs Are Back

Filed under: Cisco,Cisco Certification,Mock Labs — cciepursuit @ 4:51 pm
Tags: , , ,

Internetwork Expert’s $99 Graded Mock Lab special is back once again (announced on Twitter).  Until 14 August you can book Graded Mock Labs for less than a C note:

gradedlabs Summer of Success: Mock Labs $99 Special! Beginning now and ending August 14th, all mock labs will have their prices reduced to $99! 33 minutes ago from web

***Updated 18 July ***

The $99 Mock Lab special is still on, but the Mock Lab competition is a no-go (via comment from GradedLabs):

The Mock Lab competition has been postponed. I’m sorry about slipping the announcement out there prematurely, however the $99 Mock Lab specials are officially live!

For those with a competitive streak, the following announcements will interest you:

gradedlabs Summer of Success: Mock Lab Competition. Top 2 Mock Lab scores per week will have their tokens refunded! Details@ gradedlabs.com & ieoc.com about 1 hour ago from web

More details here:

Summer of Success Mock Lab Competition

For 4 weeks this summer we’re dropping the price of our CCIE Routing & Switching Mock Labs to $99. In conjunction with the $99 special, we’re holding a Mock Lab Competition! Each week we’ll announce a Mock Lab of the Week. At the end of the week, we’ll announce the top 2 scorers, publish their score reports, and refund the token cost for their session!

Week 1 – Friday Jul, 18th to Thursday Jul, 24th Mock Lab 1
Week 2 – Friday Jul, 25th to Thursday Jul, 31st TBA
Week 3 – Friday Aug, 1st to Thursday Aug, 7th TBA
Week 4 – Friday Aug, 8th to Thursday Aug, 14thTBA

If you would like your mock lab to be entered into the competition please send an email to Graded Labs Customer Service with your Internetwork Expert’s members account information, and the rack and session that you will be taking your mock lab on. You can also follow the contest and weekly results on Twitter and on Internetwork Expert’s new Online Community. Good luck!

 

May 28, 2008

Internetwork Expert Graded Mock Lab 5: First Impressions

Filed under: Cisco,Cisco Certification,Mock Labs,Status Updates — cciepursuit @ 10:22 pm

Wow.  I feel completely dead.  I finished Mock Lab 5 and felt like I had just gone 15 rounds with Mike Tyson (circa 1988).  I knew that I did not get 80 points, but I was feeling pretty good about breaking 60.  I just went through the solution guide, and I will be lucky to break 40 points.  Between points left on the board and simple mistakes, I probably lost 40 points.  There were a lot of tasks that I had the right idea, but missed a single line of configuration. 

For the second mock lab in a row, I fucked myself over by spending way too much time on some optional (non core) tasks.  Right out of the gate I tripped all over myself on this one.  I WAY over-thought (and under-thought?) a dot1q tunneling task.  I lost about 40 minutes and had to rip out all of my configuration and reload the switches.  I eventually caught back up on time.  I completed IGP redistribution with 3.5 hours left.   Since BGP was already built, I should have been able to finish the lab with some time to spare.  It was not to be.  I spent another 30 minutes trying to match a BGP debug output.  I should have just moved on, but I kept thinking “Oh, this HAS to be it”.  I CANNOT allow myself to do crap like that.  I have this stupid personality trait where I’ll spend time on something if I think that “I’m just about to get it”.  In real life that type of persistence may pay off, in the lab it’s just a long, dark rabbit hole to failure.  Needless to say, I missed out on the points anyways.  I could have used that time researching ‘service nagle’.  :-)

I always seem to lose it around the 6 hour mark.  I have no idea why that is.  I start getting punch drunk and making stupid mistakes.  I lost points on a QoS task because I configured Bc using AR instead of CIR.  ARRGH!!!!! 

I’m pretty sure that I nailed IGP redistribution and I spent less time on it than normal (still too much time).  I missed some easy BGP points because I forgot to add a “permit the rest” type of statement at the end of my route-map.  I left another easy BGP task on the board because I didn’t have time to come back to it (yet I found 30 minutes to dick around with debug output).  I need to commit to memory who authenticates whom in PAP and CHAP. 

I’m not ready for the lab, that’s for sure.  I’m thinking that I will keep my October date.  I have really had a shitty time over the last 1.5 months.  Family and work are gnawing into my already limited study time.  I feel like I’ve plateaued in my progress.  My first mock lab score was an 89.  The next two were in the mid-fifties.  This one may well fall into the forties.  Granted, the tests are progressively more difficult, but I’m still flailing.

IE opened up beta testing on version 5 of their Volume I lab book (just the Bridging and Switching section so far).  I’m going to run through that this weekend and then start repeating some of the Volume III and II labs before heading out to Reno for the Mock Lab Workshop.  I can’t believe that it’s nearly June already.

I need to really spend some time on my weaknesses: BGP (I’m slowly getting better), Multicast, Security (I am miserable at this section – at least with Multicast I can fake the funk).  There are still some minor technologies that I’m not “aces” at: dot1q tunneling, PPP authentication, OSPF route filtering, and private VLANs.  Maybe one more pass through the Volume I labs will sort some of this out.

Oh well….off to bed.  Tomorrow I get to go back to work to try to catch up on 5 days of backlog (counting the holiday and the weekend).  I can’t believe that I’m taking vacation days just to get my teeth kicked in on these mock labs. 

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