CCIE Collaboration Lab: My Return Trip

If you follow this blog regularly (it says a lot about you, but that is for a different post) you know that last year, 2016, I took my first crack at the CCIE Collaboration practical lab exam. I took it in RTP (North Carolina) and it royally kicked my ass.

It is now nearly 12 months later and I am preparing for my second attempt. This year I have built my own lab instead of renting rack space from INE (who I believe I still owe money to from last year, but so far they haven’t come to collect). I am taking the exam on April 25 in RTP once again and while I am going to give it my very best shot, I am taking it because I honestly have no desire to attempt the written again and if I wait more than 12 months to attempt the lab my current written will be invalidated.

I’ll probably have more posts as the weeks draw closer, but the most important thing to note so far is that it is getting cheaper to purchase your own lab hardware. With Cisco coming out with the 44xx and 43xx ISR G3 routers the 29xx ISR G2 routers, which are still the hardware of choice for the current lab iteration, have become cheaper in the secondary market. I’m not saying that building a lab is cheap, by any means, but at least more folks now have that option. In my case,  my lab contains the following…

  1. 3825 – PSTN/BB Router. This is running CME for PSTN emulation. I am running PRIs to all 3 of the site routers; T1 PRIs the US sites and an E1 to the international site, I am using fractional PRIs to save on DSP resources.
  2. Dell Server 72GB Ram, Dual Xeon, SSD USB Drives (new addition) – This started life as a very weird CS-24TY but has now been revamped and runs all of my lab VMs easily.
  3. 2921 for HQ (2) PVDM-3 16 DSPs (this is actually enough for homogeneous video conferencing).
  4. 2821 for Site-B PVDM-2 64 DSP (good for voice only) (Generally Site-B is H.323 and possibly CUBE, a 2821 will run 15.1.x code which is not perfect but is close enough for that location). If I am asked switch/conference video at Site-B, I am S.O.L.
  5. 2811 for Site-C (CME)… I actually just ordered a 2911 and ISM-SRE-300 module to replace the 2811 as there are some serious differences between 15.1.x CME and 15.2.x and later CME i.e. CME 9/10.5/etc. I have a CUE module in the 2811 but I made the decision to spend money and get something closer to actual.
  6. 9971 phones as required (cheap enough used) and 7962 phones instead of 7965s as the differences between the two SCCP options are not that great and it saves some money.

In the back-end of the lab I also have a 3750 switch that I am using as a layer 3 WAN cloud instead of Frame Relay (which only matters in the QoS sections) and a 2960G PoE switch which I am using for phone power. I know the syntax is different but I cannot yet justify spending money or effort to aquire PoE  EHWICs.

I also have another Dell Server which hosts my “production” 11.5 CRS infrastructure which I can use for BB SIP calls as needed.

My setup is not perfect but perfect honestly costs to much. The fact that I can come down to my basement and practice whenever I want without having to reserve pricey rack space makes my setup perfect for me.

How about you? Do you have a lab? What are you running? Any suggestions? Comments? Questions? Leave them below!

-Justin

 

 

The Aftermath of My First CCIE Collaboration Attempt

A few days ago I wrote about attempting my first CCIE Collaboration Lab.

Its the night following my attempt and I’ll be honest, it did not go well. I was confident going in and I was confident for the first 3 or so hours. When we broke for our “speed lunch” I knew I was behind and as the hours,minutes and seconds ticked down in the afternoon I realized without much resistance that I was screwed.

That being said, my expectations were probably not properly metered. It was my first attempt and according to the most “recent” Cisco numbers that I have read, first time passing attempts are not common.

I also think that there are lessons to be learned, even in failure. I’ll list a few of them below.

  1. I was worried, going in, about things like the IOS and UCM Dial Plans, I’m pretty sure I nailed those.
  2. Unity Connection in either form i.e. SCCP or SIP is a relatively mindless process and I think I owned both of those sections as well.
  3. I do not know IOS switch QoS as well as I thought I did, that will have to change.
  4. Cisco Unity Express (CUE) is a bastard in any form and things that I assumed would work because they always have in my practices kicked my ass.
  5. Mobile Voice Access: This little gem was on my lab and none of the studying that I have done covered it in any way shape or form. I implemented it 5 or 6 years ago in a production environment but those brain cells were not present today. I guess I’ll be learning MVA.
  6. I didn’t read or see anything in the lab that honestly had me confused, I did however run out of time. I need to be faster, I must be faster.

Where does this leave me?

It leaves me with no CCIE number, it resets my written countdown clock but my goal is my CCIE number and without that this, even though I learned a lot, was a failure.

Tomorrow morning I’ll hop on a flight and head back to Denver. I’ll continue to study and work towards my goal.

I’ll be back Cisco, I’ll definitely be back.

-Justin

 

 

 

Prepping for My First Crack at the CCIE Collaboration Lab Exam

Well its finally here… On 4/26 I’ll sit for my first crack at the CCIE Collaboration Lab Exam in RTP.

I am excited and nervous but more than anything ready to get in there and do it!

After last week’s final (so far) demise of IP Expert, which I had rack rental tokens with, I was forced to shell out some cash for time on the INE racks. I don’t mind the INE racks but I seriously believe that had they stayed in business, the ProctorLabs (IP Expert rack rentals) would have been much better.

My home lab setup while better than some was not nearly verbose enough to allow to me study and prepare the way I wanted to. I could have probably built something at work to do the job, but I’ve been fortunate enough to have been given this week for nothing but prepping and going into the office just sounded like a bad idea. INE allows for a L2VPN connection to their equipment which allows me to use my own phones and thus get the “touchy feely” prep for the lab as well as the technical practice.

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With regards to the technical practice, I found a supposed lab scrape on a forum (don’t ask I don’t remember which one) and I have materials from when I attended an IP Expert CCIE Collaboration Lab 10 day boot camp last December. The IPs are different but the technology is the same.

As an engineer that’s been working in the Cisco AVVID space for 12+ years now, I’ve developed some bad habits and while it has been painful, I think my lab prep and study have helped me break at least some of them. For those in the same position, my best advice is below…

  1. Read. Don’t assume you know because you’ve seen it all before, just read.
  2. Think on your feet. Because you may have seen it all before (see point 1) you probably can figure out what just about anything the exam throws at you.
  3. Do you play the points vs. finishing game?  No idea. I’ll let you know after 4/26.

I guess I’m not truly sure how long 8 hours is, but I hope I can at least make a decent showing. My confidence right now after a week of prep is high but we’ll see what stepping into the exam room on Tuesday does to me.

Wish me luck!

-Justin