This post is late in coming, considering that I’ve been back from Cisco Live for a good couple of weeks now. Nevertheless I’m posting it now, so hopefully someone finds the information useful.
Without going into the details of the entire Cisco Live experience, I’d just like to talk about the class I took on the first Sunday of the show–or the day before the show officially starts, depending on who you talk to.
On Sunday I attended a full-day mock CCIE R&S lab (Session LTRCCIE-3001). This was an instructor-led affair, with Bruce Pinsky (Distinguished Engineer) and Bruno van de Werve (Product Manager) acting as facilitators and proctors. Considering Bruno’s experience as both a proctor for the actual R&S lab, and now the head of the R&S program, this was an experience well-worth having if only for the ability to ask questions.
Unfortunately for all of us, and through no fault of either Bruce or Bruno, the in-class network was crashed from the moment we all got there. There were a number of failures, including some bad cables (how do you miss that in testing) which resulted in all of us essentially sitting around for over an hour.
To make up for the delay in getting started, someone from Cisco came in and apologized and handed out gift cards to Mandalay Bay. It was a nice gesture, but considering the gift cards had a face value of five dollars, it might have been better to not hand out anything. It had the affect of actually irritating several students, and giving the rest of us something to joke about for a while. The class cost $1000 (or 10 Cisco Learning Credits) so the value of even an hour should have been closer to $125 or so.
After that snafu, and a brief presentation by Bruno and Bruce on numbers of CCIE in the world, with breakdowns by region, we got started with the meat of the class: the labs themselves. We were all looking forward to this, since it was being run by Cisco and had the smell of real-world vs. some of the third-party labs (note that I use third party labs for training, and have no problems with them, but this was officially sanctioned and so had a little something extra, at least in “feel.”)
The troubleshooting section came first, and used the same system as the real lab so that was a nice touch. In our case we had only five trouble tickets to complete in one hour vs. the real lab which has ten in two hours. I believe this was done to facilitate the “instructor led” nature of the class, and allow us to ask plenty of questions. Bruce and Bruno were stellar in this regard, coming around to any student with a question and helping them to understand the problem or just passing out hints to those who still wanted to figure it out on their own.
I learned a lot about myself and my troubleshooting techniques during this portion of the day, as I got bogged down on the first ticket and blew the rest of my time. It was a relatively straightforward ticket where a particular address wasn’t answering an ICMP Echo to another device. It was a few routers together, with BGP. I spent the entire hour re-architecting the BGP–down to bare metal and rebuilding the config from scratch–and almost was done when time expired. As it turned out, it was a simple address statement that was missing.
Bruno got a chuckle out of this and pointed out that the lab is not intended as a “best practices” lab. He said that in most cases you won’t be removing configuration at all during the TS section; you’ll simply be adding something missing or correcting route statements, etc. It was helpful for me to hear this and to go through the experience, because it taught me that I really need to focus on finding the simple problem quickly and not rebuilding things the way I think they ought to be built. After 17 years in the industry, that’s a difficult habit to change, but one I’ll have to in order to be successful on the real lab.
After a brief recap and break, we moved on to the configuration section. For the most part there were no surprises here, and I had my Layer-2 (Frame, Spanning-tree, VTP, etc.) and IGP (RIP, OSPF, and EIGRP here) set up quickly enough. Redistribution was what you’d expect, with a lot of everything going every which way. Again, no one in their right mind would ever design that network, but it’s what you can expect to see in the lab.
The one thing I did miss and had to have Bruno point out to me, is in a redistribution task regarding OSPF. The task wanted a route from one area to show up in area 0. I got the route there, but Bruno said that I had it wrong. Reason? The area where the route originated was discontiguous, or detached from area 0. We all know that typically means you want a virtual link, but since the task didn’t specify this I simply brought the route into area 0 as an external. Bruno said that the task “implied” a virtual link, and while I disagree with the wording of the task and the nature of implied configurations, it was helpful to hear since this is likely the same kind of thing I’ll see in the real lab.
Where I slowed down–and I knew I would–is on the MPLS and BGP configuration sections. As a long-time enterprise engineer, I simply don’t touch either of these technologies in the real-world, and I haven’t spent enough time with them in the lab to feel comfortable. I still muddled my way through some of it, but with the amount of time it took I’d never make it through the real lab. The message for me here is that I really need to take some time with these technologies until I not only understand them well, but can configure them quickly.
Overall, this was a very valuable experience and one I would heartily recommend to anyone looking to take the R&S lab. It gave valuable insight into the time pressures you’ll face, as well as the number of tasks, the wording, and the level of difficulty you can expect to see. This is just one more reason that Cisco Live is where you want to be every year if you’re at all serious about your networking career.