Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Countdown continues...14 days left...

There are two week left till the lab exam and i have almost finished my core studying. I have labbed most of the topics referenced in the lab checklist and i have completed a full round of labs.

I did all four full scale labs on racks rentals, plus the 7 gold labs.The gold labs proved to be easy enough in comparison to the full scale labs, and i hope the actual lab is somewhere between. It was nice that i left some weeks between doing the same lab on GNS3 and on real equipment, because i had to do most of it without remembering all the details.

Although i was planning to do some of the full scale labs on GNS3 again, i decided to skip that step because i need to have a look at less important topics and increase my knowledge about them. I feel i am almost ready regarding the core topics, but i also need to spend some time on less critical topics because they can offer some easy points.

Regarding the blog, i updated the progress page with various interesting graphs showing my study time. I'm keeping track of almost everything (i've made the exam look like a project), so i just transformed it into graphs and it surely looks much better. After all, it's interesting to see your progress through some pictures.

For the next few days, i'm having three more 4h rack rentals, just to test some things on IOS-XR mainly. At the same time i will be spending a few hours per day on reading about core topics in some of my books. Unfortunately my work projects are very important too and i cannot spend the time i would like on reading, like i did on the previous CCIE where i had taken many days off from work.

This will probably be my penultimate post, if not the last one. Time is closing by and i need to focus as much as possible on my preparation. Of course, NTS will be updated in the meantime, but with lower priority.

Lab Week #7

From 20/Jan/2014 to 26/Jan/2014

This was the seventh week of my lab preparation; two more weeks and then i'm done. I did the last two full scale labs on Rack Rentals (the fourth one proved to be tough once more), 4 Gold Labs (which seemed easy), and many short labs on GNS3 about MPLS-TE.

Total average has increased from 67,8% to 70,3%, with noticeable difference in QoS, MVPN, L2TPv3 and CsC.

Monday, January 20, 2014

Lab Week #6

From 13/Jan/2014 to 19/Jan/2014

This was the sixth week of my lab preparation and i feel that the judgment date is closing by. I did my second lab on Rack Rentals (which i could have finished in a shorter time, but i spent over an hour on a silly mistake), 3 Gold Labs (one of them with interesting scenario), many short labs on GNS3 about MPLS-TE, and a lot of reading about IS-IS, Multicast and MPLS-TE.

Total average has increased from 64,6% to 67,8%, without showing any major increase in a specific area.

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 cisco.com. 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.

Monday, January 13, 2014

Lab Week #5

From 06/Jan/2014 to 12/Jan/2014

This was the fifth week of my lab preparation and i feel exhausted but also happy. I did my first lab on Rack Rentals (which proved to be easier then my initial try on GNS3 one month ago), a few of short labs on GNS3, mainly focusing on L3PVNs and L2VPNs and i spent quite some time on reading about Multicast and Inter-AS VPNs.

Total average has increased from 60,6% to 64,6%, while the most noticeable difference has been on Frame-Relay, EIGRP, MPLS-TE, L3VPN and VPLS.

Saturday, January 11, 2014

Countdown continues...30 days left...

There is one month left till the lab exam and i have almost finished my first round of studying. I have read at least once everything referenced to the exam checklist, i have labbed most of it and i have done all full scale labs from INE's workbook.

The previous week has been a exhausting one, because i wanted to speed things up and judging from the result i am satisfied. I also did the last full scale lab, which was the most time consuming one. It took me almost two full days to finish it, because for every issue met i was spending a lot of time trying to resolve it, without resorting to any external help. I also did (and then expanded upon them) various tasks from the workbook, especially the ones that my practical experience was limited.

During the last days there are moments where i'm thinking that i'm already prepared to give the exam (after just one month?), but after a second thought i feel this happens because i'm eager to finish this marathon and get back to my "normal" daily schedule.

Regarding the blog, i finished the re-organization of the information in various parts and i hope now it's better cataloged. I also updated the progress page, where i added a graph showing my daily study time (it's something i keep a track on, so i thought it would be interesting to share too). As you can see, there are some days where i spend half of the day studying for the lab (with blog time included too). As time passes by and lab date is getting closer, i am expecting to see such days becoming more common.

For the next days, i have booked a 8,5h rack rental session this Sunday where i'll try to re-run the 1st full scale lab. This time i'm heading for a much faster time compared to the one i had while doing it on GNS3, while improving my score at the same time. I'm planning to do an 8,5h rack rental session every Sunday until the lab exam.

I also booked a few of 3h PEC Gold Labs, the ones that are related to the CCIE SP exam. Everyone working in a Cisco partner company should have free access to those and judging from their content they seem quite similar to the actual exam (plus the fact that they use the same virtual routers). My first impressions about the accessibility of the Gold Labs aren't the best ones, because i had to try many times to access the specific pages and schedule the labs. I hope the actual Gold Lab is much better in these matters.

Hopefully by Monday my readiness score will be around 65% which is good. After that i'll start repeating most of the core stuff, until i am sure i'm able to configure all of it in a timely manner.

Tuesday, January 7, 2014

Lab Week #4

From 30/Dec/2013 to 05/Jan/2014

Happy New Year!

This was the fourth week of my lab preparation and it was the most intense until now. I did the last full scale lab from INE (it took me almost two whole days!) and a lot of short labs on GNS3, mainly focusing on very specific areas that i didn't have enough practical experience.

Total average has increased from 54,2% to 60,6%, while the most noticeable difference has been on CsC, L2VPNs and Multicast VPN.

Friday, January 3, 2014

Countdown continues...38 days left...

It's been almost 20 days since i started my lab study and some things are becoming a routine, which is good. I am satisfied with myself when it comes to finding solutions (although i seem to prefer strange solutions), but i'm still moving slowly when doing the configuration. That's probably expected, because i am trying not to use copy-paste when doing repetitive configurations. That way i feel i'm getting a better practice on learning the actual configuration. Maybe at later labs i will start doing more copy-paste, especially when it comes to BGP configurations, which are getting longer and longer.

Although during the holidays period i had enough free time from work, i spent quite a few hours on visiting relatives, so the actual study didn't go as fast as i expected. I did manage to progress a lot in a few specific areas, but i could have gone much better if i had spent more time on studying.

Regarding the blog, i re-organized the information in some parts so it becomes easier accessible and i am planning to do even more in this area in the next few days. I might be losing some time from my study doing this, but i feel it will be for everyone's benefit.

Also, i just finished running INE's full scale labs on GNS3 and i'll soon start doing them on Rack Rentals. I'm planning to do 4 labs in January and another 2 labs in February, while at the same time i might repeat some of them on GNS3 too. I still haven't decided how much leave i need to take from my job.

My target still remains to reach at least 65% readiness one month before the deadline, which means i'll have to push myself even harder in the remaining 8 days. I hope next Friday i'll be at that level.