R&S CCIE Lab Study

02 Mar 2011 - Lab-Rat

Route Switch Lab Tips is NOT a CCIE study guide. It’s a collection of tips and tricks I have picked up along the way toward the exam. It’s helpful as you are getting to your final preparation. Before that, it’s important you have a SOLID foundation before you attempt the lab. I spent the last year studying, earning my CCENT, CCNA, CCNP and passing the the CCIE written. I’ve read a ton of books (about 8 feet worth- yes, I stacked them up), sat through more than a few bootcamps, and if I had to start over again, this is how I would do it.

Start with the CCNA

The CCIE does not require you to have a CCNA or CCNP to take it. HOWEVER, if you can’t pass those exams save your $1400 do them first. I had a CCNA that expired 10 years ago. The difference in difficulty between today’s CCNA and that one from a decade ago was humbling. Don’t think it’s a simple exam, Cisco can be darn tricky on their exams. There’s two books put out by Cisco that are great- the CCNA Official Exam Certification Library.

Get the CCNP

The new format on the CCNP is great, and makes a lot more sense. You do a routing test, a switching test, and my favorite, a troubleshooting test. Try the demo questions and see how you do. Again the Cisco Press books are the best- but be sure to get the latest version- the previous version was dull and a bit painful to follow. I like Odom’s style of writing and teaching- you probably will too. Pick up: CCNP Routing and Switching Official Certification Library. The CCNP Routing and Switching Quick Reference is also very handy for nailing down those hard to remember commands.

Think the CCNP was challenging? We’re not even started yet. If you’re going to go for the CCIE from the get go, it is of some (limited) value to check out the book list. You’ll notice it’s a bit outdated, but there’s still some good ones here.

CCIE Lab Reading

First off, you need to get Jeff Doyle’s books:

Routing TCP/IP, Volume 1
Routing TCP/IP, Volume II

I was torn between recommending them before the CCNP books- but I think if you read the CCNP books as an introduction, Doyle’s books will give you a MUCH deeper understanding.

For QOS, I liked:
Cisco QOS Exam Certification Guide.

A word about books here. For most certifications (and college/grad school for that matter), you can get away with reading the book carefully once. It’s not like that with the Cisco technologies. You’re dealing with 30 years of committee developed and proprietary protocol development. The level of expertise required on the lab is pretty much instantaneous recall of volumes of information. I had an instructor tell me that the Routing and Switching CCIE is “a mile wide and an inch deep.” Which means you need to know a bit about a TON of topics. That comes from many hours of rack time and tons behind the book. Expect to read a book at least twice, sometimes 3 times. When they’re 1000 pages long that hurts, but you’ll find that each time you go back you learn more. I still read and refer back to these books regularly.

Troubleshooting IP Routing Protocols
is a must have when you’re seriously getting into the lab preparation phase. In addition to the 2 hour first part of the exam (fail that and you’re done), invariably something will be broken on your configuration phase, and this book gives you a solid basis for finding out what the problem is. Flowcharts and where to start for each protocol make this a must have.

For multicast, check out:
Developing IP Multicast Networks Even though it’s now more than a decade old, it still has great information, and presents it logically. No, there’s not anything newer that’s better. 😉

Last book, but certainly not least, there’s the:
CCIE Routing and Switching Certification Guide

At 1000 pages this is one of the bigger books in the bunch- and frankly it’s too short. The reason why is that it touches on the vast majority of items on the lab blueprint- but because there are so many topics, there’s not as much depth as I’d like. Of course if they did that, they’d have two 1000 page books…

Anyway, it’s an excellent book, just use it to identify your weak spots and then follow up with more specific books on the topic. Also, at this stage of the game you should be using the Doc CD (it’s not a CD anymore, it’s a special area on the website) BEFORE Google to look up any questions. The reason why is so if you need to check something on the real lab, you know exactly where to go to in the documentation you have available. Nothing makes you appreciate the search capacity of Google quicker than trying to find some obscure command in the Cisco documentation, but it is a valuable skill.

Finally, the CCIE Lab is a practical exam. That means theoretical knowledge will certainly help, but is not enough for you to pass. There is no weakness that you cannot fix by spending enough time on the actual equipment. Build. Tear Down. Build it again. Break it in new and different ways, and debug the output. Plan on spending at least 500 hours on the routers before you travel to Cisco for the big day. You’d be surprised how fast that goes once you get into it.

What about brain dumps?

In a word, no. Don’t do it. Why? Because when you sit down for that lab, you had better know exactly what you’re doing, because they throw all kinds of twists and turns your way. Not to mention the fact that when you actually get a job as a CCIE you’re doing a disservice to us all if you can’t handle the real world. No shortcuts- read the books and spend the hours with the equipment, and earn it. The digits will mean something.

Okay, that takes care of the background and builds the foundation- here’s what to do after you’ve passed the written- How to Study for the R&S CCIE Lab.