Monday, December 30, 2013

Lab Week #3

From 23/Dec/2013 to 29/Dec/2013

This was the third week of my lab preparation. I did another full scale lab from INE, a lot of IS-IS,OSPF,RIP and Inter-AS L3VPN short labs on GNS3 and i spent quite a few hours on reading about IS-IS.

Total average has increased from 50,6% to 54,2%, while the most noticeable difference has been on IS-IS and Inter-AS L3VPNs.

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Countdown continues...48 days left...

Almost 10 days after i started my lab study i feel i am progressing too slowly. The major issue is with the available time for studying daily, due to many projects running on work. On the weekends things are much better. Also, i am spending a significant amount of time organizing the information and presenting it on this blog.

The positive part is that due to Christmas and New Year's Eve holidays falling on weekdays, i will be able to spend more time studying on these 3 days. Also the next two weeks will probably be less intensive on work, because many people will be on leave and we have a network freeze.

Another positive thing is that i familiarized myself with the enhanced-by-me INE's GNS3 topology, so i'm not spending too much time while preparing the virtual environment. Next full scale lab will probably run during Christmas and i plan to have another one before the end of this year. Then i'm moving to Rack Rentals for some real action.

My target is to reach at least 65% readiness one month before the deadline, which means i'll have to push myself harder in the remaining 18 days.

PS: That Google+ message that appears every time i edit a page is the most annoying thing ever!

Monday, December 23, 2013

Lab Week #2

From 16/Dec/2013 to 22/Dec/2013

This was the second week of my lab preparation. I did another full scale lab from INE, a lot of IS-IS and MPLS short labs on GNS3 and i spent quite a few hours on reading about Multicast and MVPN.

Total average has increased from 48,9% to 50,6%, while the most noticeable difference has been on IS-IS, Multicast and MPLS/LDP.

Monday, December 16, 2013

Lab Week #1

From 09/Dec/2013 to 15/Dec/2013

This should have been the first week of my lab preparation, but it was actually a half week. Although most time was spent on work projects, i did find some time to prepare my virtual lab in GNS3 and also do a full scale lab from INE's workbook. Also i did a quick review on some VPNv4 matters.

Total average has increased from 46,5% to 48,9%, while the most noticeable difference has been on CsC and MVPN (where i had no practical experience at all).

Saturday, December 14, 2013

Countdown starts...58 days left...

Today i am officially starting my lab study. I just did my first home lab and it took me more than 11 hours to finish it, but i spent a lot of time on fixing INE's GNS3 topology and configurations.

Unfortunately INE's full scale labs do not include any initial configuration for GNS3, so i had to create my own from their rack rental configs. Also i had to create mappings between rack rental devices/ports and GNS3 devices/ports.

I'm satisfied from the end result in this first lab. I graded myself with 69/100, but i could definitely achieve a higher score if hadn't done some silly mistakes in a few minor tasks. There was only a single task that i spend around 2 hours without any success, because i couldn't think of any viable solution; and that was the Multicast BGP. Lesson learned...

From tomorrow i am planning to start writing down my notes like i did in the past, but this time i'll do it on this blog (so other people can take advantage of that too). So while i read and test things on my home lab, i will be documenting everything that i feel is important as a note or as a reference. Then these notes (to be found under "Notes: The Series" as a summary) will be transfered on my MP3 recorder, so i can have access to them any time, especially during the last days of my preparation.

I have also created a countdown at the right side of my blog, just to keep me (and all readers) informed about the deadline (58 days from now). My aim is to be 100% ready (in terms of taking notes) at least one week before the lab exam, which is on 10th of February 2014. The last week will be spent on doing labs and reviewing things.

Friday, December 6, 2013

my Last days before initiating preparation

The last two weeks i had to deal with the projects at work. There are various projects of major importance running simultaneously for the past few months and unfortunately another one came up last week, so this weekend will be spent on that one.

Although i didn't have enough time to spend on my preparation, i'm not worrying. I got my two new books from Book Depository and a full pack of inks for my Canon printer from Amazon. Also i bought 6 x 8h rack rentals from INE, but i am not planning to use them immediately; probably January will see most of them being used.

I didn't have time to prepare the dynamips/GNS3 environment, but i hope i'll have that ready during the weekend. On the other hand, i have my rate papers (a printed xls file where i rate myself and write down any remarks) ready from my previous CCIE, so i just need to change some titles and print a bunch of them.

Btw, i also made a donation to the GNS3 team who are running a crowd-funding campaign for the new GNS3 1.0. Although i am more of a hardcore dynamips user, the guys are doing an excellent job there and i hope they create one of the best training tools.

Regarding my preparation, i don't believe i'll be able to start on 10th of December as i was initially planning, but most probably the weekend after that. I don't think that will be a problem; i'll just need to spend more time the first few days in order to catch up.

I'm planning to start my actual preparation by running a full scale lab in GNS3, just to get an idea of the level of my actual/practical knowledge. I don't care about the time (i can even spend 12 hours in this first lab), i just need to provide as many correct answers as possible, while at the same time using the Cisco documentation for refreshing things of the past. This will also help me get accustomed to the documentation available during the lab exam. In the next labs, i will try to decrease the time but always focus on providing correct answers. All labs during my preparation will be rated by me and afterwards logged in "Lab Ratings".

Next update will be on 13th-16th of December 2013...

Saturday, November 16, 2013

my Schedule

After playing for a few days with the online lab scheduling, i managed to schedule my lab exam for 10th of February 2014 (this means that i had to pay at the same time). Since i wasn't so lucky to find an earlier date (there are various work projects scheduled for February 2014, where i wanted to be free of non-work matters), i started looking for important things (besides dealing with these work projects) to do before the 10th of December 2013, where i am planning to actually start my lab study.

First of all i needed to find some mock labs in order to rate myself. Unfortunately i couldn't find any, because as it seems only R&S mock labs are available from most trainers. Since no SP mock labs are available, i decided to follow another path. Get some time on rack rentals, find some workbooks with labs inside and make my own version of mock labs. What does this mean? Run an 8-hour lab on online racks and then grade myself based on the expected results. Like i did in R&S, honesty is what counts most, so even the smallest error will make me lose all the topic points.

I did a quick research and i ended up with INE's rack rentals in combination with their workbook (a bundle for which i got a nice offer). The workbook contains 4 full scale labs, 2 of which i'm planning to run at least twice. So in total i am planning to run my own version of 6 mock labs. I don't know if i'll be able to do some of the other staff in the workbook (besides the labs), but i hope i do find some time to test a few of those things too.

At the same time, i am planning to run some of the above labs on my upgraded dynamips environment, in order to get used to the technologies that i feel weak. That means that i'll have to prepare my virtual lab for that. I'm not planning to use IOU/VIRL/etc, because my current hardware setup is able to cope easily with the required amount of dynamips resources and i mostly want to focus on the technologies themselves rather than on the virtual environment or the actual device configuration.

After i covered the practical side of preparation, i needed to do something for the theoretical too. So i ordered two new books based on the list at My library already has most of these titles, so i went for "MPLS-Enabled Applications: Emerging Developments and New Technologies" and "Traffic Engineering with MPLS" which seemed interesting, although the topics are well-known to me.

Last but not least, i ordered a new MP3 player/recorder (my old had broken one year ago). The reason i use such a tool has been described in my previous CCIE. I still consider this hear-yourself tactic as of major importance for my preparation.

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Take a break

From 05/Nov/2013 to 08/Dec/2013 the lab exam...

...take a vacation... new printer inks... with projects at work...

...prepare the virtual lab at home...

...get some new books... for online SP labs...

Monday, November 4, 2013

Refreshing matters

Today i passed the CCIE SP Written (350-029) exam, something that was mainly done in order to renew my CCIE certification.

I was positively surprised to meet the following topics:
  • A lot of questions about IPv6, CGN, etc.
  • Many questions about AToM, EoMPLS, VPLS, etc.
  • Quite a few of questions about fast convergence and MVPN
  • Some references from Cisco Live slides
On the other hand, ATM/FR had their section and the usual annoying questions that nobody cares to remember had a small presence too.

If Cisco removes completely the last part (like it partially did for latest R&S), then this is going to be one of the most interesting exams for service providers. I entered more than 20 comments as a feedback (i love doing that), hoping to make the exam even more useful in the future.

I spent a whole week studying for this exam (with an average of 5 hours per day), but i fell happy when i realized that this was a nice push to refresh my knowledge. Luckily, due to my daily job, i knew most of the staff quite well, so i had only to take a review on most of them.

Since i answered some questions totally in random but i passed with a high score, i tend to believe that some of them were put there as an evaluation and they were not actually graded. After all, why does the candidate need to remember all those numbers included in IANA & IETF docs? When i need to find something like that, i just need to know where to look for it; that's where the exam should focus.

Written Week

From 28/Oct/2013 to 03/Nov/2013

After one week of exhaustive reading for the written exam, this (46,5%) is my personal rating. Please keep in mind that most of these topics were already known to me, due to my daily job.

I can't say i'm happy with this as a starting point for the lab, but i feel confident enough that i can increase it using the right pace.

Sunday, November 3, 2013

my CCIE Service Provider Lab Exam v3.0 Checklist

After having a look at the topics that are included in the CCIE Service Provider Lab Exam v3.0 Checklist, i decided to make my own version of a checklist, from which you can find a sample below.

Next to each topic, i have rated my current perceived knowledge/experience about the specific topic, so i can easily keep track of my weaknesses and my progress. I only rate the sub-topics (x.y.z); everything else (x.y and x, as you can see in the 2nd sample below) is computed automatically as a weighted average of the included sub-topics.

Some explanations about the rating i have used:

Rate Explanation (move from 90% to 10% when checking your progress)
10% You have heard of this feature and you know where it applies to
20% You know the theory behind this feature and you are able to explain it
30% You know enough details about this feature in order to start experimenting with it
40% You have done some basic experimentation with this feature
50% You have used this feature in the past, but you need to freshen it up
60% You have used this feature recently, with some external help (friend/docs/etc.)
70% You use frequently this feature, sometimes with external help (friend/docs/etc.)
80% You are able to use this feature without any external help (friend/docs/etc.)
90% You are an expert on this feature

Generally, if something is rated above 50%, then i feel confident enough due to having both good theoretical knowledge & practical experience; i just need a recap. If something is below 50%, then i need to focus on that and definitely test it on a lab. Anything below 30% means no practical experience at all. Although the written exam might include some different topics, i don't think you should try the written exam without having at least 20% on half of these topics and above 40% on most of the others. You'll be cheating yourself otherwise.

I haven't used 0% and 100% for the following reasons: 0% means you haven't heard of that feature, so don't even bother taking the exam (especially if it's a critical topic). 100% means you know everything about this feature, so you're probably lying to yourself (unless you wrote the code yourself).

I consider achieving something around 75%-80% in all topics is more than enough to help me pass the CCIE SP lab. Actually some topics (the ones that aren't used as a base for others) do not need such a high percentage, but from a general knowledge perspective it will be good to reach that number in every topic.

You can watch my progress by clicking the "Progress" tab on the header of the home page. Once i start my lab preparation, i am planning to make updates once per week, most probably every Monday. At the same time i will also try to make some posts about various interesting things i am encountering while preparing for the exam.

Monday, October 28, 2013

Looking for excuses

Excuse #1
Some years ago i was discussing with Mike Down (who was working for IPexpert at that time) about a possible collaboration. I still remember his words in his last email: "I can't wait to read about your trek for your SP CCIE! 2 months this time???".

Excuse #2
Some days after my first CCIE, i was already blogging about my next one: "CCIE Service Provider is already quite known to me, because i work for many years in an ISP and i know most of the stuff. I just need another 3-4 months (hopefully) of hard preparation and surely a good understanding of MPLS. Maybe i'll also try the CCIP before it, just like i did with CCNP. "
CCIP was completed some months afterwards and as you can see in this new blog, 3-4 months became 2 months.

Excuse #3
Two weeks ago i got a reminder from Cisco. It was about time for my CCIE recertification, but I had almost forgotten it.

So i thought: Seizing the opportunity, why not try another CCIE? What do i have to loose, besides another 3 months of hard preparation?

Then i thought again: 3 months is too much right now. My current job includes a lot of important and complex projects which cannot be delayed for such a long time, so i must make it even shorter.

So i booked the written exam for next week...

CCIE SP Written @ 04/Nov/2013

Thursday, October 24, 2013

Under construction

October 19, 2013 

Dear Tassos: 

Our records show your CCIE recertification deadline, January 18 2014, is approaching. We want to encourage you to prepare for and schedule one of the available CCIE written exams to satisfy the recertification requirement.

The time has come... If 3 months were enough the first time, what about 2 months this time?
And i'm not talking about the recertification of my old CCIE, but for a new CCIE certification.

This is also an experiment about how easily a new blog can be learned by the people, without any actual advertisement (or any type of link announcement) from my side. At the end of my journey i'm planning to publish all the page view statistics. Also during my preparation i will be collecting votes about the possibility to pass the CCIE lab in just 2 months.

Stay tuned...