CCIE Pursuit Blog

August 17, 2009

Internetwork Expert Volume IV (Troubleshooting) Workbook Review: Part 3

Once you get the initial configurations loaded you’re ready to begin the lab.  This is when the “fun” begins.  Those of us who are used to starting labs with barebone configurations and searching for a few misconfigurations will be in for a bit of a shock.  This is not how this troubleshooting will go.  You’ll be looking at a fully configured network…which you did not build. It was at this point that I should have realized that this would not be easy and that the 2 hour time limit – which initially sounded like all of the time in the world – would be an issue.

When I tell you that you’re looking at a fully configured network, that means things like QoS, Multicast, and IP Services.  You can start to see how difficult Cisco can make these labs.  Throw in a number of devices that you cannot access and INE’s recommendation that you only use show and debug commands, and you’re looking at a bad day on the CLI.

The lab document starts with a “Baseline” section.  This will give you a list of the devices under your control as well as details about how the network has been configured.  This is broken down by well-known sections.  For instance, Bridging and Switching might tell you which devices are STP roots, which VLANs are present, which flavor of STP is running, if and how VTP is set up, etc.  The IGP section describes the routing protocols, any route filtering, redistribution (yes, there is plenty of that), etc.

I read through the baseline and then started making network maps.  INE has some nice examples of the maps that you’ll want to build and how long it should take in the solution guide:

We recommend making your own diagrams, including the following
information:
• IP addressing + IGPs.
• Layer 2 topology.
• BGP diagram.
• IPv6 topology.
• Multicast and Redistribution diagram.

Overall, don’t spend too much time building the baseline – the goal is to spend around 20 minutes. By the end of the baseline analysis phase, you should have clear understanding of the protocols and applications deployed in your network.

It took me a LOT longer than 20 minutes to get my head around what was going on in the network.  It’s much harder to get quickly up to speed on a complex CCIE network when you haven’t built it from scratch.  :-(

After getting a basic idea of what was going on, it was time to start looking at the tickets.  There are ten tickets, each with a point value between 2 to 4 points.  The total amount of points is 30 points, so each ticket will average 3 points.  Like the “classic lab”, you’ll need to fix each issue completely – no partial points are awarded.  There may also be tickets that you cannot resolve unless you’ve already fixed previous tickets.  For example, ticket 10 in lab 1 has the following requirements:

Ticket 10: Multicast
Note: Prior to starting with this ticket make sure you resolved Tickets 4 and 5

Since you need 80% to pass the troubleshooting portion of the lab, you’ll need to get at least 24 points.  This means that you can only really miss about 2 tickets (depending on point values).

Logging is turned off on the devices.  I would strongly suggest enabling logging buffered on all devices(remove the configuration before finishing the lab).  There are a number of logging messages that will point to some initial issues that you might miss if you’re not on the device when the log is generated.  This way you can issue “show log” and see what’s going on.

Another suggestion: work on the tickets that seem easy first.  Then work on any tickets that are requirements for other tickets.  Finally, work on the tougher tickets last.

I used some of my basic, initial troubleshooting habits to find a couple of issues.  In the lab – after building each section – I do basic troubleshooting.  For instance, once all Layer 2 configuration is complete, I verify that I can ping across each link.  After each IGP configuration, I verify that the proper routes are being advertised and received, as well as pinging (at least a subset) of the routes.  I would suggest putting together a “toolkit” of common commands to run on each device when approaching the troubleshooting section such as ‘show ip int br | e ass’, ‘show ip protocol’, ‘show ip [protocol] route’, etc.

Let’s look one of the (easy) tickets from Lab 1:

Ticket 4: Connectivity Issue
• Another ticket from VLAN7 users. They cannot reach any resource on VLAN 5 – all IP Phones have unregistered, and nothing else works.
• However, they are still able to reach the local resources.
• Using the baseline description as your reference, resolve this issue in optimal manner.

3 Points

You will notice this issue if you do a Layer 2 check by pinging across directly connected links.  Basically, you cannot ping from r4 to sw1 on VLAN41.  Looking at sw1, I could see that the SVI interface for VLAN41 was not up.  Sounds like an easy fix.  Make sure that VLAN 41 has been added to the VLAN database.

Actually, it VLAN41 was in the VLAN database.  The IP addressing was correct.  All of the other SVIs were up and working.  WTF?

Here is the configuration for the SVI:

interface Vlan41
ip address 164.16.47.7 255.255.255.0
ip access-group REMOTE_DESKTOP in
ip pim sparse-dense-mode
ntp broadcast client
ntp broadcast

Hmmm….I’ll bet that INE has a dastardly access-list configured.  Let’s see the configuration for that sucker:

ip access-list extended REMOTE_DESKTOP
dynamic RDP timeout 10 permit tcp any host 164.16.7.100 eq 3389
deny   tcp any host 164.16.7.100 eq 3389
permit ip any any

Oh fucking joy.  A dynamic access-list.  But I don’t see how this would be breaking connectivity, let alone keeping my SVI down.  Just to be sure I removed the ACL.  The SVI remained down, but I did catch a break when issued ‘no shut’ after readding the ACL:

*Mar  1 02:19:56.300: %SPANTREE-2-ROOTGUARD_BLOCK: Root guard blocking port FastEthernet0/14 on VLAN0041.

Interesting.  According to our baseline guidelines sw1 should be the root bridge for all active VLANs.  The initial configuration reflects this:

spanning-tree vlan 1-4094 priority 8192

Fa0/14 is a trunk link to sw2:

interface FastEthernet0/14
switchport trunk encapsulation dot1q
switchport mode trunk
spanning-tree guard root

So it looks like someone is generating a better BPDU for VLAN41.  Wanna bet that it’s either sw3 or sw4 – the two switches that are restricted?  :-)

Rack16SW2#sh spanning-tree root

Root    Hello Max Fwd
Vlan                   Root ID          Cost    Time  Age Dly  Root Port
—————- ——————– ——— —– — —  ————
VLAN0001          8193 0017.0e3f.3900        19    2   20  15  Fa0/14
VLAN0003          8195 0017.0e3f.3900        19    2   20  15  Fa0/14
VLAN0005          8197 0017.0e3f.3900        19    2   20  15  Fa0/14
VLAN0007          8199 0017.0e3f.3900        19    2   20  15  Fa0/14
VLAN0009          8201 0017.0e3f.3900        19    2   20  15  Fa0/14
VLAN0013          8205 0017.0e3f.3900        19    2   20  15  Fa0/14
VLAN0018          8210 0017.0e3f.3900        19    2   20  15  Fa0/14
VLAN0026          8218 0017.0e3f.3900        19    2   20  15  Fa0/14
VLAN0041          4137 0012.4337.1880        19    2   20  15  Fa0/17         <-NOTE!
VLAN0043          8235 0017.0e3f.3900        19    2   20  15  Fa0/14
VLAN0055          8247 0017.0e3f.3900        19    2   20  15  Fa0/14
VLAN0062          8254 0017.0e3f.3900        19    2   20  15  Fa0/14

Rack16SW2#sh spanning-tree vlan 41
VLAN0041
Spanning tree enabled protocol ieee
Root ID    Priority    4137                <-less than 8233 on sw1
Address     0012.4337.1880
Cost        19
Port        19 (FastEthernet0/17)
Hello Time   2 sec  Max Age 20 sec  Forward Delay 15 sec

Bridge ID  Priority    32809  (priority 32768 sys-id-ext 41)
Address     001f.9e4a.fa00
Hello Time   2 sec  Max Age 20 sec  Forward Delay 15 sec
Aging Time 300

Interface        Role Sts Cost      Prio.Nbr Type
—————- —- — ——— ——– ——————————–
Fa0/4            Desg FWD 19        128.6    P2p
Fa0/14           Desg FWD 19        128.16   P2p
Fa0/17           Root FWD 19        128.19   P2p             <-goes to sw3 not sw1!

I think that I’ve found my problem.  sw3 is advertising a lower priority for VLAN 41.  I went ahead and set the STP priority to 0 for ALL VLANs.  INE chose to only change VLAN 41.

Me:
Rack16SW1(config)#spanning-tree vlan 1-4094 priority 0

INE:
spanning-tree vlan 41 priority 0

Either way, this unblocked f0/14 for VLAN41 and restored the STP instance on that VLAN, which brought up the SVI…which brought up IP connectivity.  :-)

*Mar  1 02:33:29.608: %SPANTREE-2-ROOTGUARD_UNBLOCK: Root guard unblocking port FastEthernet0/14 on VLAN0041.

That should give you an idea of one of the easier tickets.  Even though this was a fairly easy issue, it threw me off my game because 99.99% of the time when I see an SVI down, it’s because the VLAN is not in the VLAN database.

In the final part of the review I’ll discuss the solution guide as well as my overall impressions.

August 10, 2009

Internetwork Expert Volume IV (Troubleshooting) Workbook Review: Part 2

Access to the Volume IV workbook is the same as for all INE workbooks.  Once you’re logged in you’ll find (at present) three troubleshooting labs available.  The workbook will eventually contain 10 troubleshooting scenarios.  Each lab contains 10 trouble tickets which vary in value from 2 – 4 points.  You’ll also get the lab topology, along with initial configurations and the solution guide.

INE Workbook IV

INE Workbook IV

I rented some rack time at INE’s rack rental company, Graded Labs.  I booked a single, 5.5 hour session and planned to attempt the first two labs.  You’re allotted 2 hours for each lab, so I figured I should be able to complete both labs.  I was very wrong.

Graded Labs has a number of configurations for the INE product line which you can choose to have automatically loaded to your rack.  Unfortunately Graded Labs does not have the configs for the new Volume IV workbook yet.  This means that you will initially need to connect to each device and load in the appropriate config.  I had rented rack 16 and was worried that I would need to parse the initial configurations replacing IP addresses to fit the rack number, but INE has the initial configs for 31 different racks (1-30 and the mysterious rack 42) so you don’t need to go through the configs and change the IP addresses to match the rack.  It was just a matter of cutting and pasting in the appropriate configurations.

Initial Configurations For 31 Racks Included

Initial Configurations For 31 Racks Included

After loading the configurations, it was time to take a look at the lab.  I would very strongly recommend that you take the time to read the Workbook Introduction.  This six page PDF explains INE’s methodological approach to troubleshooting.  You will want to be familiar with it before attempting the labs as it will help you with troubleshooting as well as prepare you for the explanations in the solution guide.

After digesting the Workbook Introduction, it was time to look at the lab.  This is where the first surprises appear.

Lab Do’s and Don’ts:
•  Do not access the routers that are marked as restricted for your access.
•  Do not use the show running-config or show startup-config commands or their equivalents when performing troubleshooting.
•  Do not change or add any IP addresses from the initial configuration unless required for troubleshooting.
•  Do not change any interface encapsulations unless required for troubleshooting.
•  Do not change the console, AUX, and VTY passwords or access methods unless otherwise specified.
•  Do not use any static routes, default routes, default networks, or policy routing unless otherwise specified.
• Save your configurations often.

Those first two restrictions are killers.  While you will use the tried and true INE lab topology for these labs, each lab will include a number of restricted devices – outside of the normally restricted backbone devices.

The topology used for every scenario is the same that we use for all our RS products, including VOL1 (technology- focused labs), VOL2 (configuration mock lab scenarios) and VOL3 (core technologies scenarios).

However, unlike our previous workbooks, we restrict access to some of the devices in the lab topology. For every scenario this “restricted” set may be different and it is clearly outlined in the scenario’s baseline. Using this technique we increase the scenario complexity by allowing candidates to see only “one” side of the problem. When looking at the lab diagram, you will clearly see routers not under your control as being displayed in orange color. Also, when you log onto the “restricted” device, it will warn you using a banner message.

Lab 1 Topology - Note Restricted Devices in Orange

Lab 1 Topology - Note Restricted Devices in Orange

In lab 1 for instance, you are not allowed to access BB1, BB2, BB3, R2, R3, SW3, and SW4.  You’re pretty much on the honor system for the internal network devices as the you’ll be warned by a banner message, but only the first time you connnect (or if you telnet to the device(s)).

For instance, r3 is a restricted device:

Rack16R1#telnet 164.16.35.3
Trying 164.16.35.3 … Open

User Access Verification

Username: cisco
Password:

*****************************WARNING******************************
*                                                                *
*           Per the requirements of this scenario                *
*         You are not allowed to access this router              *
*                                                                *
*****************************WARNING******************************

Rack16R3>

You will not see the exec banner as long as the session to the console line is open from from the access server.  Regardless, it is important that you do not access the verboten devices during the lab.

While the restricted devices threw me an unexpected curve, it was the second requirement that really floored me.

In addition to the above restriction, we highly encourage you not using the show running-configuration, show startup-configuration commands or any other command that shows you the textual representation of the router’s configuration. This requirement makes you focus on using the show and debugging commands, which is invaluable when troubleshooting the real-world scenarios.

Our ultimate goal is not only prepare you for passing the Troubleshooting section of the CCIE R&S lab exam, but also to teach you a structured troubleshooting approach. As opposed to simple guessing and peeking at the routers running configurations you should learn using the debugging commands and interpreting various show commands output.

INE is serious about this too.  The solution guides will only use show and debugging commands to determine the root cause of each issue.  I don’t know if this will be a requirement in the actual lab; I certainly hope not!  In “real life” though, the use of debug commands is pretty much forbidden in the environments that I’ve worked in.  There’s a saying at my job “If you turn on a debugging command you had better have created a network change ticket, otherwise you’ve just created a job change ticket.”  Still, using the debug commands is a very good way to understand the underlying technology and there are some instances where you will get important troubleshooting information for a debug command that you cannot get in a show command.

For every ticket, we are going to follow the same structured procedure to resolve the issue.

Here is an outline of this procedure:

1. Build and Analyze the Baseline
2. Analyze the Symptoms (propose hypothesis)
3. Isolate the issue (gather more symptoms)
4. Fix the Issue (by comparing to the Baseline)

We recommend making your own diagrams, including the following
information:
• IP addressing + IGPs.
• Layer 2 topology.
• BGP diagram.
• IPv6 topology.
• Multicast and Redistribution diagram.

Overall, don’t spend too much time building the baseline – the goal is to spend around 20 minutes. By the end of the baseline analysis phase, you should have clear understanding of the protocols and applications deployed in your network.

This is a brief review of the systematic troubleshooting procedure that you’ll be using for the labs.  You’ll be familiar with the topology drawing bit from your practices labs.  Although, I did pick up some good tips from the solution guide about making topology maps.

Okay, enough jibba jabba about the labs.  Let’s actually dive into one.  That will be the focus of the next part of the review.

August 7, 2009

Internetwork Expert Volume IV (Troubleshooting) Workbook Review: Part 1

As we’re all painfully aware, the next version (4.0) of the CCIE lab exam goes live this October.  For those of us who did not nab a date before the cutover date, we’re looking at a different beast come October.  In addition to a number of new technologies (such as MPLS and Zone Based Firewall) and the dread Core Knowledge questions, there will be a brand new addition: troubleshooting.  Between the Core Knowledge section and the actual lab exam, there will be a troubleshooting section.  While details are still a little vague, here’s what Cisco has said about this section(may require CCO login):

Troubleshooting is allotted two of the eight hours required for the CCIE lab exam. Candidates will be presented with a series of trouble tickets for preconfigured networks and will need to diagnose and resolve the fault or faults. As with previous CCIE labs, the network will need to be up and running for the candidate to receive credit.  Candidates who finish the troubleshooting section early can move on to the configuration section, but they will not be allowed to go back to the troubleshooting section.

Here are some additional details culled from a recent Ask The Expert Section:

  • The Troubleshooting section will be independent from the Configuration section, i.e., it will be presented on a different scenario.
  • Once you finish the Troubleshooting you will move to the Configuration section that will be presented on a new scenario or topology.
  • The Troubleshooting section will have a maximum of 2 hours. The candidate will be presented a series of questions or ‘trouble tickets’ for a given scenario or topology. The referred topology will pre-configured.
  • Based on the information provided such as IP addressing diagrams, IGP routing diagrams, and so on you will work to identify and fix the issues. You will be given points for working scenarios.
  • The Troubleshooting section will have a certain number of trouble tickets and points allocated to the section. You will receive credits for the points you get. Your score on this section will show as, 30%, or 50%, or 80%, and so on.
  • You will need to get a minimum of 80% on each section of the exam to pass on the CCIE lab exam.
  • Yes, we are planning to post a sample Troubleshooting questions/trouble ticket for study reference.

Internetwork Expert has a poll up asking CCIE candidates which part of the new lab format scares them the most.  Troubleshooting is the number one choice.

I’ll admit that when I first heard about the addition of troubleshooting to the lab, I was unconcerned.  While I don’t spend any time(outside of practice labs) building complex OSPF networks, I do troubleshoot networks for probably a good 30% – 50% of each workday(not to mention after hours when on call).  Plus, I’ve always been pretty good at the initial troubleshooting sections in the vendor labs.

Petr Lapukhov from INE emailed me recently and gave me access to the first couple of labs in the new Internetwork Expert Volume IV workbook.  This is INE’s new product covering the troubleshooting section of the lab.  I agreed to try the first couple of labs and write my thoughts.  My first thought? I vastly underestimated how potentially difficult the new troubleshooting section could be!

While I have spent a considerable amount of time troubleshooting networks over the last ten (sigh) years, they’ve always been MY networks.  Well, at least they’ve always been networks with which I was very familiar.  So if a server goon bitches about not being able to ping his heart beat IP address, I can quickly re-educate (an exercise in futility) him about the fact that this network exists on a layer-2 only network that is not trunked nor associated with an SVI so he’ll only be able to ping other heart beat IPs sourced from the heart beat IP address on his box.  If I was not aware of the design of this network, then I would have to start with the usual battery of pings and traceroutes to (hopefully) get to the same conclusion.  In other words, familiarity with the network design will make troubleshooting much easier and quicker.  I also overlooked the fact that a good 90% of my daily troubleshooting is really mundane shit like checking speed/duplex, verifying MAC addresses, checking ARP tables, etc.  It’s thankfully very rare that I ever troubleshoot any complicated layer 3 issues.

So while I might feel (justified or not) that I have a lot of troubleshooting experience, a lot of that experience will be worthless in a lab scenerio…as I was soon to discover.  :-)

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.  :-)

April 7, 2009

IPexpert: Free CCIE R&S Core Knowledge Quizzer Released

IPexpert released a free quiz application today with a bank of CCIE (R&S) Core Knowledge questions.  CCIE Journey has a review up over on his blog so surf on over and give it a read. [CCIE Kid has a review up as well.  Check out the video.  :-) ]

I just downloaded the app and am starting to play with it now.  I like the fact that it’s an .air file.  You’ll need to install Adobe Air (link is on the IPexpert post) but this also means that you can run the application on Linux boxes (and presumably on a MAC).  I have it running on an Ubuntu box right now.

Anyhoo…this is a great application for CCIE candidates to get a feel for where they are as far as the Core Knowledge questions.  And at $0.00 it’s definitely “recession priced”. :-)

March 28, 2009

Internetwork Expert: Advanced Technologies Live Online Class $495

If you’re a CCIE candidate and you’re on twitter, it would behoove [HAH! I just used 'behoove' in a sentence] to follow the vendors’ tweets as they will occasionally offer discounts and even free stuff.  This weekend Internetwork Expert is offering a great deal:

Weekend Special: CCIE Advanced Technologies Live Online Class – Only $495, Discount code “ADVTECH09″ http://members.internetworkexpert.com/

You can choose the live (online) version of the Advanced Technologies Class for any track.  Plus you get access to the recorded online COD as well.  Normally the live version sells for $1,495 so you’d save $1,000.  Even if you’re only interested in the recorded version, you’d still save $500 off of the $995 price.  This is a great deal for anyone who has been looking at getting the Advanced Technologies COD or who wants to start on another track.  You’ll need to hurry though because the offer is only good this weekend.

For those using twitter, you’ll want to follow:

http://twitter.com/inetraining - Internetwork Expert
http://twitter.com/ipexpert - IPexpert (they have various accounts based on geography as well)
http://twitter.com/mekahldownish - IPexpert social network guru

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.

February 5, 2009

IPexpert: New Training Company Formed – NOT Offering Cisco 360 Training

IPexpert announced today that they will be creating a new ‘sister company’ (IPexpert Training) to begin training for ‘lower level’ certifications such as CCxP and others.  This consistent with their already announced push into this market (earlier announced as IPexpert University).  Internetwork Expert has announced a similar push.  My speculation is that this is a way of increasing market-share borne out of goals of expansion – or simply to contend with the loss of Cisco training due to the Cisco 360 program.

Thankfully, this announcement will not affect the current CCIE training that IPexpert offers.  They have also announced that they will NOT be offering the Cisco 360 CCIE training program – an idea that they seemed to be considering earlier.

* The IPexpert CCIE Team will not be participating in this initiative.  We have created a 2nd “sister company” to leverage the IPexpert brand, however – our CCIE Lab efforts will not be diluted and our CCIE Instructors will remain focused on CCIE Lab training, product development and support. The IPexpert Training developers and instructors are different individuals who have already proven themselves in this different (lower-level) market.

* There will be different websites, different communities and different “legal companies”.  However, the management team and sales team will remain the same – giving you sales reps that understand technology and management that understands how to deliver a phenomenal product and ensure a successful delivery with a high customer satisfaction rating.

* These classes will *NOT* be Cisco authorized and neither business unit will endorse or offer the Cisco 360 CCIE Lab offering.  After understanding the 360 program, products and Cisco’s initiative – I have made the decision that the current CCIE Lab offerings we have (already shipping) are much more mature, proven, more up-to-date and more cost-effective for our clients.

As long as the CCIE training will not suffer, I think that this is a great opportunity for students coming up through the Cisco certification ranks, especially those with their eyes on a future run at the CCIE.  The downside is that there may not be a lot of space in this new market space with the economic downturn and a number of already established training vendors competing in that space.  If IPexpert (and IE) port some of their training method and principles (lots of hands-on lab work, class-on-demand videos, integrated workbooks, communities and forums) then they should be very successful.  The good news for CCIE candidates is that there will continue to be multiple CCIE-level vendors competing for your training dollars…and that will only drive more innovation and improvement over the long run.

February 3, 2009

GroupStudy: Great CCIE Study Strategy

This recent posting to the GroupStudy mailing list contains a lot of great suggestions for CCIE candidates who are crafting/refining their study strategy:

1st) Do practice labs! It’s that easy, do as many as you can from a reputable vendor. I’m not here to prop one vendor over another…just find 1 (more if possible) that has a proven track record and do their labs. *The key is not so much the material but how you study it! Do the labs just like you’re are going to do the real lab! Meaning…in the real lab you don’t get to see the questions or the topology before hand, you don’t get to go to a proctor guide or google when you get stuck, you have 8 hours. So, when you have a lab manual, schedule your 8 to 10 hours, don’t look at any of the material before hand…then just sit there for 8 hours straight, beating your head against the wall, using only the doc cd. When you start, don’t touch a router until you have read through the whole lab, written down your “blue print” and point values and have a plan for the lab. Then go at it, if you get stuck or stumped, don’t look up the answer! Track your points and save your configs (maybe a show ip route or ip bgp or what ever is relevant as well) to your PC for grading yourself later.

When you have finished (either right after if you’re that impatient) or the next day go through the lab and grade it, be honest with yourself, and find out what you missed, then study it, learn it and understand it. (Those are your “off” days). Then, schedule your next Lab session and do it again!

At first you’ll get owned, feel like crap and wonder what in the hell you are doing. Probably will take you more than 10 hours to get through the labs, but do it all. After the first 5 to 10 you’ll get to where you can finish them in 8 hours, hopefully even sooner after 15 or 20 (the assumption is the labs get progressively harder but you are getting even faster). *part of completing a lab, is going back through the questions and verifying each task…without fail you will find at least one thing you did wrong or missed…that means you need to calculate that into your 8 hours. Get in the habit though

2nd) Once you have done 5 or 10 labs, if you are in a position, do a graded mock lab or… 7. See how you do. I wouldn’t worry so much about the score or “explanations” after the fact, but more of “did I come up with A solution for every section?” “Did I finish it in time?” “How was my time management?” “How well did I think on my feet?” (While I did not pass one of my mock labs, I always completed them, came up with solutions and learned how important it is to notice the little details) Use the mock labs to evaluate your testing strategy.

In all I did over 30 full labs (including my mock labs)…so sitting down for 8 hours in the real lab was nothing for me, I had been doing it 2 to 3 times a week for months. That kind of experience is crucial for success in the real lab. What’s more, I finish my lab (had a solution in place for each question) in 5 and a half hours and was able to spend the next 2 hours going back over each question. I easily earned between 15 to 25 points that way. Having that extra time allowed me to re-read scenarios, pick up on key-words, verify syntax et…You need to be able to get through the lab quickly…if you have done 20+ “labs” all ready, the real lab isn’t nearly as daunting in terms of time or manageability.

The point is this, you can’t do practice labs one way and think that you’ll do the real lab another. The real lab should be 2nd nature in terms of your initial read through and assessment, your time management and troubleshooting of individual scenarios, and your re-read and verification at the end.

I hope this has been helpful. Doing simple math 8 hours X 2 or 3 times a week = a lot of time and that doesn’t include the “off” days where you need to “grade” your self, study weak areas, practice configs, and browse the doc cd. It’s a huge investment of time, but if you’re going to do it, do it right and don’t “cheat” yourself.

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