CCIE or bust! And other going-on’s

The time has come…

I’ve finally made the committed decision to pursue my number for CCIE Routing and Switching. Like most folks in networking, I’ve gotten to the point where I’m feeling quite confident in my skills; solid foundations with just a few cobwebs here and there to knock out (mostly due to re-focusing). This decision has come to me after moving on from my VAR support job, which covered the entire breadth of Cisco but prevented my skills from becoming specialized, to a network engineer doing implementation for a financial org. Since I’m settling in to the new job, I’ve come to realize that all the nitty-gritty routing and switching bits are what interest me the most. Sure, I’ve done a bit of this and a bit of that in other areas (mostly in wireless and data center) but I’m an R&S guy.

Which brings me to my next bit of personal news – I’ve now gone from support to implementation. For those in the NOC’s or VAR’s, I would highly recommend it as a next step after you’ve gotten your feet wet in the trenches of support. It’s nice to learn what happens when things break and how to resolve issues, however, in my humble opinion, in order to have that deep understanding, you have to be there to know *why* something is configured or designed a certain way. Delving into the world of real-world business challenges and requirements, as well as ITIL and change management (ugh, how I loathe thee…a “necessary evil” some may say), I know get to make decisions on how my network looks and how it functions to accomplish a certain goal. Whatever those goals may be, such as a new project or business requirement. For those who are looking to move up in the world of networking, implementation is required experience.

So, while I haven’t been blogging much here (seriously, just so much to learn and write about…some may say too much!), I will be focusing on hitting the books and lab prep. I’m shooting for a Q2 2014 target. Wish me luck!

PS: There are so many good blogs out there with CCIE “notes” – however, I could start banging out tidbits here and there for things that stump me or just bother me…More to come.

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CCIP completed, onto a different brand of Koolaid

Earlier this month, I sat for my Qos 642-642 exam to complete my CCIP certification. Other than a few gripes with out-dated information, the exam went over pretty smoothly and I hammered out a pass. I’ve written previously of my motivations for obtaining the CCIP cert and am glad to have stuck with it. Even though the certification will officially retire in a week or so, a lot of the topics covered will also be on the CCIE R&S version 4.0 blueprint. I doubt I’m finished with BGP, MPLS and QoS so I’m keeping that knowledge tucked away for the time being 😉

Just one last note on CCIP, I would highly recommend Wendell Odom’s Cisco QoS Exam Cert Guide for anyone looking to learn about QoS on Cisco IOS. This is one of the best Cisco Press books I’ve read and continue to reference it for everything IOS QoS.

Now that I’ve a broad brush of Cisco R&S technologies with my CCNP and CCIP, I’ve decided to re-visit my Juniper studies. While we don’t work all that much with Juniper at $DAYJOB, we have Juniper gear in the lab to play with. Recently, I’ve been using EX4200 and EX4500 switches as well as working through Juniper’s free JNCIS-ENT study guide. Coming from a Cisco background and particular having gone through CCNP, I’m finding there’s a good amount of overlap. It’s just learning all the JUNOS hierarchies and “where is that feature” in JUNOS.

Upcoming posts will cover some basic JUNOS switching on EX and interoperating with Cisco Catalyst 3560/3750’s. I’ll also be finishing a lot of my draft posts from earlier this year covering BGP, MPLS and some vendor ranting 😛

Stay tuned.

BGP+MPLS Exam Passed! QoS and other things

Hi All,
I’ve been staying away from the Twitters and blogging to focus down on my BGP+MPLS composite exam. I wrote it this afternoon and passed, w00t! I wanted to give a HUGE thanks to Jarek Rek at his blog hackingcisco.blogspot.com. His labs are great to practice configuring Cisco IP routing and I recommend anyone preparing for CCNP ROUTE, CCIE R&S or anything routing-related to check it out. Thanks again Jarek!

So other than beating my chest, I will be finishing up some outstanding blog posts around my BGP and MPLS studies before moving on to my QOS exam. I’ve also been involved more and more with Juniper at work, along with trying to get up to speed with L2VPN technologies like basic EoMPLS. Metro Ethernet is a whole other rabbit hole that I wish to descend into eventually but at the moment, it’s still a bit of a mystery. It makes keeping up with blogging and goofing off at home challenging since I’m in study mode for CCIP while getting pulled in twenty different directions for real-world job stuff.

I’m currently looking for my next book go to through in prep of my QOS exam. My coworker had recommended Cisco Press’ “End to End QoS Network Design” while most of Learning@Cisco seems to recommend the IP Telephony QOS Exam study guide. That’s still up in the air until I review the exam topics. If anyone has a solid recommendation for 642-642, please let me know in the comments!

Last update, I picked up the newest edition of “TCP/IP Illustrated Volume 1”. Stevens book is often recommended by the experts and is considered the bible of Layers 4 and up. It’s a comprehensive tome and a great reference.

More technical posts coming shortly.

CCIP retired, new CCNP Service Provider offers no bridge for current CCNP’s

Last week, Cisco announced the retirement of the Cisco Certified Internetwork Professional, the professional-level Cisco certification for service provider networking:

Retirement of CCIP Certification

Beginning October 29, 2012, Cisco CCIP certification will be retired and Cisco will no longer issue new certifications. Individuals interested in pursuing a professional-level Cisco Service Provider certification are encouraged to obtain the new Cisco CCNP Service Provider certification.

Source

The CCIP certification has been a logical next step for individuals completing their CCNP route/switch certifications. A lot of the topics covered (specifically in ROUTE and the old BSCI) also apply to the service provider routing basics which makes it a logical bridge for many CCNP engineers. Essentials such as BGP, IS-IS (removed from ROUTE) as well as controlling routing information such as route filtering, redistribution, path manipulation, etc, are all covered in length throughout the CCNP and should be very familiar for those coming out of their R&S studies.

With the recent announcement of CCIP’s retirement and with the new SP track, this bridge is no longer possible.

Referring to the new CCNP Service Provider curriculum, the following exams are required for certification under the new track:

  • 642-883 SPROUTE Deploying Cisco Service Provider Network Routing
  • 642-885 SPADVROUTE Deploying Cisco Service Provider Advanced Network Routing
  • 642-887 SPCORE Implementing Cisco Service Provider Next-Generation Core Network Services
  • 642-889 SPEDGE Implementing Cisco Service Provider Next-Generation Egde Network Services

Not to mention also under the new track, a valid CCNA Service Provider is required to be certified for CCNP SP.

For those who have had their CCNP’s for some time, much of the CCNA SP topics in the exam blueprint is pure review. Oh the topics in the CCNA SP blueprint(s) (oh yeah, there’s two $250US exams for CCNA SP) I could only find the following topics that aren’t covered in CCNA/CCNP R&S:

  • Basic IOS-XE & IOS-XR CLI operations and router configurations
  • Transport Technologies such as SONET, SDH, DWDM, ROADM
  • Describe relationship between users, user groups, tasks groups and task IDs in IOS XR
  • Configure Resilient Ethernet Protocol (REP) on Cisco IOS switches
  • Configure QinQ on Cisco IOS switches
  • Carrier-grade NAT (CGN) and NAT64
  • Manage IOS XE and IOS XR software packages

Every other topic that is in both SPNGN1 and SPNGN2 exam blueprints covers CCNA-level routing and switching basics, with a few CCNP-level topics thrown in as well such as GRE tunnels and First Hop Redundancy Protocols, amongst others.

What this means is CCNP engineers must now commit both the time and money to acquire the CCNA SP certification before even attempting a CCNP SP certification. With so much overlap in the R&S certification track, it’s a real wonder why Cisco didn’t think to have some sort of bridge exam to get CCNP’s up to speed in preparation for CCNP SP material.

While it’s not completely unexpected that this track got a significant facelift; after all, covering just QoS, BGP and MPLS leaves out a lot of Cisco’s product-centric features such as promoting their IOS XR routing platforms, it has now put a deadline for those considering CCIP studies. And while Cisco has provided a migration for existing CCIP’s, it still puts prospective certified engineers in a crappy spot. What as now 3 exams (2 if you took the BGP+MPLS composite) are 4 brand new exams with nothing but instructor-led training courses…which are also not cheap.

So for those CCNP network admins who are considering Cisco’s service provider certification tracks, here are the exams (with associated costs) required to reach professional-level certification:

For CCIP (last day to certify October 29, 2012):

  • 642-902 Implementing Cisco IP Routing (ROUTE): $200 USD
  • 642-642 Quality of Service (QOS): $200 USD
  • 642-611 Implementing Cisco MPLS (MPLS): $200 USD Last day to test July 27, 2012
  • 642-661 Configuring BGP on Cisco Routers (BGP): $200 USDLast day to test July 27, 2012

Taking into account that you should have ROUTE or BSCI through your CCNP certification, you are looking at a total of 3 exams at $600 USD total*.

*note: You can also taken composite exam 642-691 BGP+MPLS, also last day to test July 27th this year, making total exams 2 at $400 USD.

Now, if you’re interested in going down Cisco’s new SP track, you’ll be starting at ground-zero with CCNA-Service Provider before moving into CCNP SP:

For CCNA-Service Provider:

  • 640-875 Building Cisco Service Provider Next-Generation Networks, Part 1: $250 USD
  • 640-878 Building Cisco Service Provider Next-Generation Networks, Part 2: $250 USD

For CCNP-Service Provider:

  • 642-883 Deploying Cisco Service Provider Network Routing: $200 USD
  • 642-885 Deploying Cisco Service Provider Advanced Network Routing: $200 USD
  • 642-887 Implementing Cisco Service Provider Next Generation Core Network Services: $200 USD
  • 642-889 Implementing Cisco Service Provider Next Generation Edge Network Services: $200 USD

Cisco is offering a credit towards 642-883 for those who have completed the ROUTE exam (which is part of CCNP). Other than that, with the new SP track, you are tasked with a total of 5 exams, totaling a cost of $1100 USD ($500 for CCNA-SP, $600 for CCNP-SP).

This year will be a rough transition for those looking to enter the service provider track. Actual CCIP certification will only be available until October 29th of this year, with both the BGP and MPLS core exams being retired by the end of June. And for those looking to go down the newly released track, training material will be sparse and not as widely available as those offered by Cisco Press covering BGP and MPLS.

In any case, it’s something that I’m passion about and will be looking forward to seeing developments with these certifications. Since I obtained my CCNP last year, I’ve always been interested in large service provider networks so naturally I’ve gravitated towards this side of Cisco certification. I also hold a lot of respect for the titans of our industry, namely Ivan Pepelnjak, for their deep knowledge of MPLS, BGP and everything routing.

In the meantime, I’ll be looking to crank out some blog posts to compliment my studies currently with MPLS. For those looking to learn more about the protocol, I must recommend Luc De Ghein’s fantastic book MPLS Fundamentals. Further on my reading list is Ivan’s book MPLS & VPN Architectures, Sam Halabi’s Internet Routing Architectures and Randy Zhang & Micah Bartell’s BGP Design and Implementation. If I can fit a certification in between all that information, that’ll be fantastic. However, with Cisco’s current and newly updated SP track, it’s not as high on my agenda. I doubt it’s high on other network pros’ to-do lists either.

UPDATE: After making a similar post on the Cisco Learning Network forum, I received a reply from Rigo the Community Manger, who explained that a valid CCIP certification can be used as a prerequisite towards the new CCNP SP certifications. CCNA Service Provider is not required if you already have a valid CCIP. This makes things a little easier this year while CCIP is still being issued new certifications (until October 29th this year).

My thoughts of certification in 2012

Last week, I was in San Antonio, TX, attending a 5-day course for implementing Cisco Wireless VoWLAN networks course, IUWVN of the CCNP Wireless track. I got the chance to learn how to implement Cisco VoWLAN, configure Cisco 2504 WLC’s, WCS and 7921 Wireless IP Phones for voice & video over WLAN, and a lot of the details in between. The week was great — weather was beautiful, our instructor was awesome with 20 years of RF experience from the US Marine Corps and I got to interact with a lot of other network pros. 🙂

For this blog post, I wanted to pose a question regarding certification in our industry…and specifically, how much certification is too much? When does it show technical proficiency, and when does it become a check box for Layer 8? Working for a Cisco Partner usually means that there are times that certifications are business requirements for maintaining Partner status and not necessarily technical requirements for designing, implementing and maintaining an enterprise network. What about the average network wizard?

With how much any modern business depends on the IT staff to keep the data flowing, certification can certainly be an annoyance or a chore. On any given exam, you may be asked any number of esoteric protocol details, or vendor-specific implementation and design guidelines (trust me when I say that Cisco is certainly not the only culprit) but usually you’re not tested on applying your real-world skills in the testing centers. In fact, sometimes the gear we work with everyday behaves in ways that flies in the face of the Cisco Manifesto (I’m looking at you, Catalyst 6500). I would imagine this to be the position of most of the networking gurus out there – we’re all busy enough maintaining our environments and keeping our users happy.

What does this mean for the network newbie such as myself? Certification will most definitely help getting the ever-crucial “foot in the door”. But while having “CCNA” on your resume or LinkedIn profile will help with recruiter keyword searching, it doesn’t just end there. You have to be able to prove to the IT Manager in the interview you can apply it to solve real-world problems or at least have the drive to soak up as much knowledge and experience to become a productive network admin.

Certification, for me, means that for this technology, I have a declaration that “I believe” in the Dogma of the Vendor. But its the time outside of exam cramming that is spent in lab and solving difficult problems that will actually prove that I can make it in this business.

CCO Gems: Cisco Aironet Antennas and Accessories Reference Guide

In an attempt to wrap my head around a lot of the Layer 1 details in the Wireless LAN world, I came across the following doc on Cisco’s website under their wireless antennas product info:

Cisco Aironet Antennas and Accessories Reference Guide

One of the most important units of measure to understand when working with RF is the decibel (dB). While this unit is used in many other fields such as sound and audio, this doc presents it in a clear and concise manner as it relates to WLAN’s:

Decibels
The decibel (dB) scale is a logarithmic scale used to denote the ratio of one power value to another.
For example:
X1`dB = 10 log10 (Power A/Power B)
An increase of 3 dB indicates a doubling (2x) of power. An increase of 6 dB indicates a quadrupling (4x) of power. Conversely, a decrease of 3 dB reduces power by one half, and a decrease of 6 dB results in a one fourth of the power.

Increase

Factor

Decrease

Factor

0 dB

1 x (same)

0 dB

1 x (same)

1 dB

1.25 x

-1 dB

0.8 x

3 dB

2 x

-3 dB

0.5 x

6 dB

4 x

-6 dB

0.25 x

10 dB

10 x

-10 dB

0.10 x

12 dB

16 x

-12 dB

0.06 x

20 dB

100 x

-20 dB

0.01 x

30 dB

1000 x

-30 dB

0.001 x

40 dB

10,000 x

-40 dB

0.0001 x

If you’re a newbie like me, this makes a lot more sense than some of the other documentation I’ve read on the subject, especially with the table above that clearly shows how dB increases logarithmically.

Now that we know a decibel is a relative value, we need to know what values are being measured and referenced. In the wireless world, those two values are Received Signal Strength Indicator or RSSI, and Signal-To-Noise ratio (SNR).

RSSI is a vendor-specific grading of received signal strength. Because it is vendor-specific and not a standard measure, these values cannot be used to compare between vendors. It is usually measured in decibel milliwatt (dBm), which is basically the ratio of power referenced to 1 milliwatt. For example, 3 dBm is 2mW of power. Again, the Cisco Aironet Antenna reference guide provides a good chart for common dBm values to give you an idea of how dBm scales in reference to wattage.

Table 2. Common mW Values to dBm Values

dBm

mW

dBm

mW

0 dBm

1 mW

0 dBm

1 mW

1 dBm

1.25 mW

-1 dBm

0.8 mW

3 dBm

2 mW

-3 dBm

0.5 mW

6 dBm

4 mW

-6 dBm

0.25 mW

7 dBm

5 mW

-7 dBm

0.20 mW

10 dBm

10 mW

-10 dBm

0.10 mW

12 dBm

16 mW

-12 dBm

0.06 mW

13 dBm

20 mW

-13 dBm

0.05 mW

15 dBm

32 mW

-15 dBm

0.03 mW

17 dBm

50 mW

-17 dBm

0.02 mw

20 dBm

100 mW

-20 dBm

0.01 mW

30 dBm

1000 mW (1 W)

-30 dBm

0.001 mW

40 dBm

10,000 mW (10 W)

-40 dBm

0.0001 mW

Signal-To-Noise ratio is defined as the power ratio between a signal, such as a WLAN waveform, and the background noise. Again, we’re measuring in decibels since it is the ratio of the RSSI and the surrounding garbage RF noise.

Since I’m coming from a wired world where everything is essentially plug-and-play, I’m working from the ground up at Layer 1 to hone my WLAN skills.
Anyways, the Cisco Aironet document here gives a very succinct overview of various L1 WLAN concepts such as 802.11 modulation techniques, antennas ratings and specs, understanding RF power levels, as well as a slew of other little details. The first 1/3 of the document gives a nice overview of these concepts, while the other 2/3’s list all of Cisco’s Aironet antenna products.

This is one of those gems on Cisco’s site that I’m surely packing the PDF away for future reference (especially for my Cisco wireless studies).

Crossroads: Cisco Wireless Certs Refresh v2.0

A couple weeks ago, Cisco Learning Network released the following announcement:

Cisco has updated its written exams and training courses for the CCNA Wireless and CCNP Wireless certification programs. The changes reflect the addition of more relevant materials that include an update to the current version of software including Autonomous, WLC, and Clients.

CLN Announcement

As with any time Cisco brings down a new exam version and topic refresh, candidates (such as myself for the Wireless track) are faced with a dilemma; do I go for the old version exam, or do I move towards studying for the updated and refreshed exam?

For those who have already been studying the previous version exams, such as the previous CCNA Wireless 640-721, you’re probably better off continuing with the current v1.0 versions. At the time of this writing, we’re still relying on the older Cisco Press study guides (for those doing self-study) so there will be some time spent in “Limbo” where there’s no official material for the newer exams.

It’s always useful as well to compare the exam topics to see how it fares with your knowledge.
Since I’m set to go for CCNA Wireless this year, let’s review the changes for the v1.0 and v2.0 exams (640-721 and 640-722, respectively):

IUWNE v1.0 Topics removed

  • Describe the Cisco Mobility Express Wireless architecture (Smart Business Communication System — SBCS, Cisco Config Agent — CCA, 526WLC, 521AP – stand-alone and controller-based)
  • Configure the basics of a stand-alone access point (no lab) (Express setup, basic security)
  • Describe RRM
  • Install Cisco ADU
  • Describe and configure encryption methods (WPA/WPA2 with TKIP, AES)
  • Install/upgrade WCS and configure basic administration parameters (ports, O/S version, strong passwords, service vs. application)
  • Configure and use maps in the WCS (add campus, building, floor, maps, position AP)
IUWNE v2.0 Topics added

  • Install and configure autonomous access points in the small business environment
  • Describe Radio Resource Management (RRM) fundamentals including ED-RRM.
  • Verify basic wireless network operation
  • Identify basic configuration of common wireless supplicants (Macintosh, Intel Wireless Pro, Windows, iOS, and Android)
  • Implement wireless Guest networking
  • Navigate WCS interface
  • Use preconfigured maps in the WCS (adding/relocating/removing access points, turn on/off heat maps, view client location, and view CleanAir zones of influence)
  • Generate standard WCS reports (inventory, CleanAir, client-related, AP-related, and utilization)
  • Configure authentication and encryption methods on a WLAN (WPA/WPA2 with PSK and 802.1x)

Looking at the v2.0 blueprint, most of the changes are slight reordering of the exam topics and clarification on others. I’m willing to bet that the majority of the changes is the result of the changes in Cisco’s wireless product portfolio (namely, the removal of ADU and MSE specific topics, and Cisco CleanAir features in WCS).

Some of the most important additions/revisions on the v2.0 blueprint is the addition of Implementing wireless Guest networking, 802.1X authentication and configuring common wireless supplicants in Mac, Windows, iOS and Android devices. I’m glad to see some of the more serious topics being added to the new exam since anyone implementing a Cisco WLAN network will need to know the basics of Guest wireless, 802.1X authentication and configuring all the different devices that will be using the WLAN.

So now, the newer candidates such as myself, are at a crossroad. Do we start studying the v1.0 blueprint? Or do we study the updated curriculum that contains all of the recent updates in Cisco’s product portfolio?

Personally, I think I will want to go with the v2.0 exam. While the official course-ware might not be available yet, the fundamentals are the same (with a few additions and updates). The new exam is available as of last week (Jan. 24th, 2012) and for current candidates, the old v1.0 exam will be available until May 11, 2012. What path you choose will depend entirely on you and your studies; either way, keep studying and best of luck!

CCNA Wireless IUWNE v1.0 Exam Blueprints 640-721
CCNA Wireless IUWNE v2.0 Exam Blueprints 640-722