Wednesday, January 15, 2014

my PEC Gold Lab experience

Yesterday i did my first PEC Gold Lab. For everyone who doesn't know that this is, it's a simulation education/exam lab offered online by Cisco to its partners and it's available for free to everyone who has partner access to There are many more things available under PEC (a lot of them being quite interesting), but in this post i will try to describe my experience with the CCIE-SP Gold Lab.

I will avoid adding any screenshots, because i don't know the exact NDA details.

First of all you have to schedule your 3h session in advance, otherwise i don't think you'll be able to find any slot at the last moment. CCIE-SP Gold Labs include 7 x 3h sessions, which follow a lot of topics from the current CCIE-SP blueprint. Since i had various accessibility problems to the Gold Labs site, i scheduled them totally in random, which proved to be quite troublesome for my first try. Sometimes you might get lucky if you try to enter the lab some minutes earlier than your appointment; all this extra time is for you.

I started with lab #5 and i had no idea what was happening in the network, because many things were preconfigured and i had to look thoroughly at every router's configuration in order to find the details. That cost me some time initially, but since the topics of every lab are quite limited in scope, in the end it proved that 3 hours are more than enough to write down the network details, configure appropriately all the required devices, do your verification and then spend whatever is left from your time to test various other scenarios. Of course the right order would be to do them from #1 to #7; that way you can build the network yourself, because you configure all the details as you progress further on.

Access is provided by running an RDP session from your desktop to a Windows XP VM, which is the host from where you initiate the telnet sessions to all the routers/switches. Communication is a little bit sluggish through RDP, so for example when you paste a large (9-10 lines) configuration into a router, you miss all the copy-paste action; you just see the end result after a while.

The remote screen is quite small (1280x800) and you can hardly fit 4 default-sized Putty windows into there. I had 4 of them (core network) open at the four corners and anything else was minimized. When having to work on more that two minimized windows at the same time, i had to be extra careful not to configure it on the wrong window. Although after a while i got used to the environment, i really hope that in the actual lab the screen space is much larger.

Telnet to all routers is accomplished using Putty (v0.60), which was pre-configured with all required router/switches sessions. You might want to change some settings; the ones i changed was to rename the window title according to the router's name, enable logging for each router session, increase the scrollback buffer to 20000 and disable the "reset scrollback on display activity". Fortunately the mouse buttons behavior was the expected one: right button pastes.

Access to all 13 x 7200 routers (IOU running 12.2(33)SRE2) was through console, while access to 2 x IOS-XR routers (C12k running 3.9.2) was through a vty line (there were 4 switches too, but for this lab i didn't need any access on them; probably lab #1 will use them). You need to configure "line default exec-timeout 0" on the IOS-XR devices, otherwise you might see the session being cleared after some inactivity. Also "term mon" must also be activated if you want to keep an eye on the logs.

Configuration-wise everything went according to the plan. I met some known gotchas which i had already documented in the NTS, but nothing new that i didn't know of. Lab #5 was about 6VPE combined with an Inter-AS VPNv6 scenario, and as expected, included a lot of IPv6 which is my favorite. The instructions (which you can download before the exam starts) leave a lot to be defined by the user (this is good and bad), which i don't think will be the case on the real lab too.

I didn't meet any strange/unknown behavior on the equipment (mainly due to IOU) and i did try 2 reboots just to verify my configuration. Although i was expecting some form of automatic grading to happen at the end, i didn't see anything. At the right side of the screen there was a table with grading info, but maybe it's used in other labs.

I have already scheduled the remaining 6 of the labs, unfortunately in the worst possible order, something that will probably make my exercise "harder". Since the scope of each lab is limited to very specific technologies i am fine with it. Imho, the Gold Labs is also a great chance to test many of your scenarios without renting some racks.

For everyone interested, all the CCIE-SP Gold Labs instructions are included under the "Study Documents" in the Cisco Learning Network site.

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