The CCNA Data Center Exams – My Experience

While attending Cisco Live a few months back as the official Roving Reporter, I revealed on the vBrownBag Podcast that I intended to develop a course for TrainSignal (now Pluralsight) to help those looking to become a Cisco Certified Network Associate – Data Center (CCNA DC). This is a relatively new certification offered by Cisco, and is focused on professionals who touch many different technologies in the data center. And although I have taken the CCIE DC written exam, I wanted to finalize my course development for the CCNA DC by actually taking the exams. Nothing trumps actual experience, right?

The CCNA DC requires passing two different Cisco exams:

Having spent the past several months developing a course for the 640-911, I managed to nearly ace it. I did about as well on the 640-916, although a few questions … surprised me. We’ll get to that.

The exciting world of CCNA Data Center

Exam Content

The exams were very thorough and covered a wide range of topics. This makes sense, as the data center exam blueprints list a lot of technologies that are included as fair game for questions. According to Cisco, you should have 1 to 3 years of experience with the following:

Basic Cisco router and switch operations, Cisco Nexus 1000v, 2000 and 5000 Series switches, Cisco UCS B-Series and C-Series Blade Servers, Cisco ACE Appliance, and Cisco WAAS

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I will understand if you raise an eyebrow on WAAS, as it’s a technology used for WAN acceleration that I rarely see in the wild. No offense intended, Cisco. 🙂

With that said, I will state that the questions seemed fair and reasonable. The multiple choice answers were clear cut, which is something I’ve typically disliked about Microsoft exams that force you to choose the lesser of several evils. Both exams also contained hot spot and lab simulator questions, and allow you to use the “?” command and Tab to finish commands. I still remember when this wasn’t the case, so thought I’d let you know.

The DCICN focuses very heavily on more of the routing and switching skills needed for a CCNA, such as routing protocols, spanning-tree protocol, knowledge of the OSI layers, and so on. It felt very similar to the ICND1 exam for the CCNA Routing and Switching, which I have also taken a long time ago. The DCICT is more product and solution focused, honing skills required to create data center interconnects, work with UCS and SAN switches, and operational knowledge of different product lines. It felt a bit like a mix of ICND2 and some of the UCS Specialist exams I have taken. Some of the 640-916 exam material deviated from the blueprint, which I found surprising, and I’m not entirely sure what beans I can spill. Or at least, I find no mention of needing to study some of the technologies they tested on. Very curious.

The Smug Cisco Guy is watching you

I feel it would be more difficult, but definitely not impossible, to pass these exams without hands on experience. After all, the test is a written exam and not a live lab, and thus if you can study hard enough you definitely have a chance.


You definitely have a huge leg up if you’ve ever worked Vblocks or FlexPods, as they are practically a Data Center exam in a box that include: Nexus 5500 switch (typically with unified SAN these days), sometimes a Nexus 7010, MDS 9000 series switches (rarer as time progresses), Cisco UCS B-series (blades), and the Nexus 1000v.

Here are great resources to prepare you for the CCNA DC:

  • “Introducing Cisco Data Center Networking (640-911)” course on TrainSignal (Pluralsight) – Top of your list should be the CCNA course on the 640-911 exam that I’m nearly done developing. I go through every step of the exam blueprint with a fine toothed comb, including live lab demonstrations using a real Nexus 7010 switch. It’s not an easy switch to acquire.
  • NX-OS and Cisco Nexus Switching: Next-Generation Data Center Architectures (Amazon) – This is a great tomb of knowledge that I used to prepare for the CCIE DC written exam. It’s entirely overkill for what you need in the CCNA, but it contains all of the knowledge on Cisco Nexus you should ever need and makes a great reference source. The authors go through all sorts of different switching technology, such as the Nexus 1000v and features that only exist in Nexus, in a very reader-friendly manner.
  • The Cisco UCS Platform Emulator (UCS PE) – Most of us do not have a Cisco UCS blade / rack environment sitting in our home lab. Even if you have one at work, chances are good that it’s sitting in production and won’t be something you can kick the tires with. Enter the UCS PE. It’s a small sized virtual machine that lets you get your hands dirty with Cisco UCS. It’s imperative that you get some stick time with this bad boy to set up your Fabric Interconnects, set port types, build blades, build rack servers, and check out the finite state machine.
  • The Data Center Overlords blog – This is a great resource that I read without fail. Written by Tony Bourke, a sky diving Cisco Certified Systems Instructor (CCSI), who passed all of the CCNA DC and CCNP DC exams in about a week when they first came out. He’s also very helpful on social media. Some day I hope to take one of his courses. 🙂

Good luck on your exam!