Back in February, I wrote about my experience with the Cisco Certified Networking Associate (CCNA) certification process. Well, here it is about six months later, and I recently completed the gauntlet of studying, practice labs, and exams required to achieve Cisco Certified Networking Professional (CCNP).
I wanted to give back a little bit of the helpful portions of my journey on this blog, which will hopefully inspire and encourage others who are going after a similar goal.
The CCNP exams required a lot more lab and study than the CCNA, which makes sense as it is the next tier up. I spent roughly two months preparing for the exams, which breaks down to about one month for Route, another month for Switch, and a week on Troubleshoot.
How did I practice for the Route and Switch?
Tons of lab time, really. Every concept laid out in the books (below) were set up in a Netsim lab (below) to better understand. While I have very little practical experience doing these things, I hoped that the lab time would compensate for some of it. I also read the books a few times over because some of the concepts are very complex (BGP still kinda blows my mind). The blueprint was also rather handy, although a tad broad at times.
You might be asking why the Troubleshoot exam required so little study?
The difference is in the exam type. Route and Switch are large, deep exams in a multiple choice / simulation / hotspot format. They require learning a lot of new concepts (for me, at least) as I had not really worked with things like HSRP, BGP, OSPF, and GLBP. The Troubleshoot exam, on the other hand, is all about applying that knowledge to fix issues with a known network topology. I spent about a week memorizing the topology, similar to knowing your own network layout in your work or for a client, so that I could more easily solve issues during the exam. The format of Troubleshoot is a series of trouble tickets that were submitted by a user with an issue, and you use show and ping commands to isolate the problem. Taking the exam while Route and Switch were fresh in my mind was part of the strategy.
My main resource for the exam was this site: TSHOOT Topology
I snagged a few books and applications that helped out.
Cisco CCNP ROUTE Simplified (Amazon): Contains pretty much anything you can think of as it relates to routing, and is really cheap if you get the Kindle version. I had a lot of trouble reading through this book because I found the material so boring, and the format is very dry.
Cisco CCNP SWITCH Simplified (Amazon): Contains pretty much anything you can think of as it relates to switching, and is really cheap if you get the Kindle version. I enjoyed this book a tad more, but then again I find switching more interesting than routing.
Boson Network Simulator (Boson): This thing is crazy awesome for those who can’t afford to have a bunch of Cisco equipment at home. And by “afford” I mean space, heat, or spouse disapproval. 🙂 I used it heavily to get practical knowledge, and it contains a ton of CCNP lab exercises that are ready to rock. Highly recommended.
Graphic Network Simulator GNS3 (GNS3 Site): While it can’t really do a switch (no software ASIC possible), it is great for routers. I used GNS3 heavily for CCNA, but much less for CCNP. Still, it is a good / free resource.
In addition to the resources above, I also snagged a Cisco 3550 switch to work on a physical switch. It was about $80 online (used) and came with the latest Cisco IOS (12.2-44) that is supported for this switch. While it really is kinda worthless as a “real” switch because it’s only 100mb, it is a great cheap way to get some stick time on a piece of hardware, and you can insert it in a GNS3 build to fill the switch gap. I mainly used it to practice switch commands by hooking the console cable up to an ESXi host and passing it through to a VM.
Final Destination – Cisco UCS
My ultimate goal is to obtain the Cisco Data Center Unified Computing Support Specialist certification, which is a kind of fancy “Cisco UCS Ninja” achievement, and requires 9~10 exams total:
- CCNP (4 ~ 5 exams, depending on how you do CCNA)
- Cisco DCNIS – Data Center Networking Infrastructure Support Specialist (2 exams)
- Cisco ICSNS – Data Center Storage Networking Support Specialist (1 exam)
- VMware VCP – VMware Certified Professional (1 exam)
- A capstone Cisco DCUCI exam
- Here’s a flowchart I made to keep track of the exam path
He needs more UCS ninjas!
I’m quite pleased to have achieved this certification, as it took me well outside of my comfort zone and expanded my knowledge considerably. Cisco does a great job in designing tests that are “tough but fair” in both question format (multiple choice, simulations, hot spots) and tested skill set. I will admit that I failed the Switch exam the first time I tried it (got a 780, needed 810 to pass), as the “live simulator” exam question type was completely new to me and I think I blew it on a few spots.