Monday, October 7, 2013

CCIE DC: How I passed the CCIE DC

Hi Guys!

As per the subject i passed my CCIE DC and in this blog post I will describe the process that worked for me. What worked for me might not work for you! So keep that in mind.

OK I am going to assume in this post you have already passed the CCIE DC Written and are looking at the lab.

There are several aspects to the CCIE DC Lab that are worth considering, the first is: Lab Rack availability, at the moment at least, is quite sparse, until this situation improves, I recommend at the beginning of your studies for the lab (and assuming you studied hard for the written) I would say make a lab booking within 4 to 6 months from when your ready to knuckle down and start studying hard.

The other aspect is Rack Rental availability from Vendors such as INE and IPExpert is also quite tight at the moment., which makes things difficult, in this blog post we will go through some of the stratergys to help with that situation.

Before I start getting too much into depth, let me take a quick chance to address the "Big two" of vendor training, INE and IP Expert.

I am absolutely not a fanboy by any strech of the imagination: I will use products from either vendor to achieve my goal. I just want to pass, each company has pro's and con's and by combining both, your more likely to get a nice mix. Don't dismiss other options such as traditional training from Cisco Vendor Partners like Firefly, Fastlane etc. It was through a firefly Course that I met a very good friend of Mine Adriaan Steyn,Believe me when i tell you he taught me PLENTY of great info about the Nexus line of switches, I also did a UCS Course with Housley Communications and that too was great training.

Good training, like good products is not restricted to a certain vendor: You might love Sony Headphones but hate Sony TV's for example, don't restrict yourself to a "Oh my training partner is XYZ", That is dumb.  Combine all the training you can, learn from whoever you can.

(Full Disclosure: I am likely to be doing training material for a training vendor at some point in the future.)

OK let's start talking about the study method I used.

First of all, You need to learn the protocols and topics on the blueprint, that much should be obvious, to study, i hand write all my notes, i always hand write my notes, never type: your brain is wired through thousands of years of evolution to hand write, you absorb the information more readily than typing, it is too easy when typing notes to just type and not really think about what it is your typing (especially if like me you can touch type). Hand writing forces you to slow down and the fact that you have to write it, means invariably you will reword it to make it shorter to write, meaning you will understand it better. Plus it's much much easier to draw a network engineers favorite tool: a diagram.

So, I got a book, I printed a copy of the blueprint out and stuck it on the inside of the book and started watching the INE video's, I went through every single one, hand writing notes as I went along. I started with the topic that most interested me and was newest to me, storage. (Incidentally, many idiots will tell you that storage is not a big part of the CCIE DC: They are wrong, it's a huge part, so many things depend on storage that if you don't know it backwards you will not pass)

Starting on a new topic got me enthusiastic and gave me interest I needed to stay motivated.

I then bought myself two Cisco MDS 9216i Switches, I cannot recommend this enough, you SHOULD buy these switches for your own home lab, they are about 500 bucks on ebay (I am selling mine if anyone is interseted, contact me, I am honestly not just pimping them because I am selling mine: it's INCREDIBLY useful to be able to test the storage stuff in a limited fashion in your own home, and for such a low price this is one of the few things in CCIE DC you can play with yourself. Be warned: they are VERY noisy. Make sure you get ones with Generation 2 modules, Generation 1 modules CANNOT do certain types of port channels and it can become very frustarting.

So now I was watching the INE Storage videos, taking notes, then testing on my home lab equipment what I could, certain topics like FCoE I couldn't test so at that point I would do rack rentals from either IPexpert or INE: Both of them have there pro's and con's, with IPExpert you get access to a FULL lab of the ENTIRE CCIE DC, _but_ the availability is quite low at the moment, with INE (and this may have changed, you would be best off asking them), you don't have access to the whole N7k yourself so you can't make your own VDC's for example, and you can't create a storage VDC, I also _BELIEVE_ that the current N5k is a 5010 or 5020 and not a 5548 which also limits some of the things you can do. You can still do a HECK of a lot with the 5020's, but if your desperate to make sure you have the exact same equipment as the DC Lab then you will want to get yourself some IPExpert time.

Speaking of the rack rental systems, I must say; the INE rack rental system that you use for booking and organizing etc is _EXCELLENT_. I did make a humble solution for improvement on it but all in all it is excellent, you can tell they have spent a lot of time working on it and it shows.

So now I am busy going through this topic and at this point I have not done any workbooks or labs, just going through the theory, testing it out myself. I started posting on my blog as well as this was going on. I strongly recommend starting a blog: being able to successfully communicate a concept to someone else means that you UNDERSTAND that concept.  Plus you can meet some great people through your blog, and it's a great way to organise your own thoughts and opinions.

So I kept this process up through all the individual topics, UCS, Virtualization, Ace, pretty much all the video's provided by INE I went through and studied each of those topics. Once this was finally done, it was time to start the practice labs.

Each vendor has technology labs and full scale mock labs and both have as I mentioned Pro's and Con's, I can't recommend enough doing both. You will always learn more. Data Centre, being a new topic has a few people with somewhat of a misunderstanding of some topics, this is probably the first CCIE I have ever done where I have _NOT_ been able to take whatever is said in the workbook and solution guide as gospel: the technologies are just too new, for some topics you really do have to study yourself, if the answer is unclear go ahead and check it. Be careful listening to other people, many people out there post flat out wrong answer to questions, the best way and only way in my opinion is to _TEST IT YOURSELF_

Perfect example, During my bootcamp there was a discussion about vPC and what kind of BPDU's vPC would send, which switch (primary and secondary) would send BPDU's and what commands you could do to tweak it, so instead of everyone arguing and trying to show how big there brain was, we said let's do a debug spanning-tree bpdu event or whatever the command is and CHECK.


There is SO much misinformation out there that you just HAVE to check for YOURSELF what works and what does not, how the technology works, this is how i try and structure my blog: I theorize how I believe a protocol should work or something should work, then I test my hypothesis, and I humbly submit my findings to you, my blog reader. It's a little thing you might have heard of called the scientific method: Adapt this in your studies, trust nothing, verify it yourself, prove to yourself you have an understanding as to exactly how it works.

To compliment my study regime, I started reading quite a few books, my friend Ron Fuller and David Yansen have a great Cisco Nexus book, for example, in no particular order I read the following books pretty much from cover to cover.

(Full Disclosure: If you buy the books below using the link on my webpage here I get a small percentage of that sale, it does not add any cost to you for the price of the book, I would consider it a favour if you buy the book to please use my links below.)

The first is a Nexus topic book, this was a great great book. There are some very good topics covered very well here and it really complimented the INE videos and helped me fill in the gaps of my knowledge. If you only buy one book for the CCIE DC studies make it this one.

NX-OS and Cisco Nexus Switching: Next-Generation Data Center Architectures (2nd Edition) (Networking Technology)
The second book is a great book on Cisco UCS, It's a little dated at the moment but I believe a second edition is on it's way
Cisco Unified Computing System (UCS) (Data Center): A Complete Reference Guide to the Cisco Data Center Virtualization Server Architecture (Networking Technology)
This book Is also highly recommended in the CCIE DC community, I must confess I have not got a copy myself but everyone who has read it raves about it:
Data Center Virtualization Fundamentals: Understanding Techniques and Designs for Highly Efficient Data Centers with Cisco Nexus, UCS, MDS, and Beyond
The final book I will recommend is a multicast concept book, Multicast is an important part of the CCIE DC and this book is extremely well written, actually kind of funny to be honest, the author is a funny guy and cracks jokes the whole way through, multicast was a mystery to me until i read this book for my CCIE R&S, it is now a tiny bit dated but multicast has not changed all that much so was a great resource for me. Developing IP Multicast Networks, Volume I (paperback)
At this point i was ready to begin discussing my thoughts on protocols with my friends and collegues studying for the same exam (or performing Data-Centre related work out in the field.) This is a crucial step: your friends will challenge your knowledge, if you don't know a topic well and they do, they will unveil this weakness to you: My friends and I did this to great success, we would give each other hairy questions and make friendly wagers on how a particular technology is meant to work, like how does vPC peer-switch actually work.  I confess to losing quite a few of these wagers!

I became active in the CCIE DC Facebook Group which you should definately join if your on this quest, you will get some great questions and tips and tricks for all your Data Centre work in this great little community. Respect the rules and join! (Full Disclosure: I am an admin of this facebook group, but I receive no compensation)

I also became active on twitter and tried my best to help people out there: Good questions can help you understand a technology better, but be careful not to claim you have an answer to a problem if you don't. Try not to mislead people! Too much misinformation out there.

For rack time, A great tool is the Cisco PEC: Use it! Remember, even though they have particular labs, if the equipment matches what your trying to learn your NOT restricted to JUST doing the labs they list in the PEC, the PEC is a valuable resource: use it.

So after I finished up the technology labs and a few mock labs I went on my CCIE Data Centre Bootcamp with Ipexpert, I always do this as my final preperation of study: The bootcamps should be your final step, don't go to a bootcamp as one of your first steps, it will be wasted on you. You can't possibly cram the massive amount of information you need to know and massive topic list into just 2 weeks or a week or however long you have, your bootcamp should be about solidifying everything and making sure you know what's going on. A sign your on the right track is throwing out great tricky questions to your lecturer.

After this I was ready for my first attempt and took it in brussels, while I was quite close, I failed, I was absolutely distraught: I really thought I had nailed it, I finished quite early, my mistake was not reading the questions carefully. I was humbled by the first attempt, it showed me that although I might have most of the technologies understood and I definitely have the speed i did NOT have the careful reading that is required of this CCIE DC exam.

I quickly booked a second attempt and during the time between first attempt and second I just studied my notes again, kept everything fresh as I already had the knowledge I just didn't have the careful reading required of the exam. I managed to pass the second time after being careful.

I hope this helps someone out there, to all my loyal readers and people with kind words: it honestly makes me SMILE from EAR TO EAR when I know that one of my blog posts helped you! I like to help people it's in my nature, I wish you all the luck in the world in your quest to obtain CCIE DC.


  1. Replies
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  2. Thank you for the shout out on the NX-OS book, Peter! I am glad it was helpful and again, congrats on earning the CCIE DC!

  3. Great tour of your preparation , Peter .....

  4. congrats Peter!!! Well deserved and thank you for giving us so much info and for participating on the CCIE DC FB group! :)

  5. Peter, Congratulations, I'm jealous.

    Can you give some examples of the 'tricky' questions that may be experienced? In R&S I got caught up on things like 'use the lowest number of lines of code to implement x' or routing loops caused later on in the lab after redistribution.

  6. Well done!! and useful examples
    Alberto M

  7. Congrats Peter. It seems my study method is almost identical to yours and I've been on this track for 6 months now (B/C booked for April, lab in June). I should re-iterate your comments - read, read and read some more! And also about the blog - if you blog/post that which is incorrect, you will soon be humbled by your peers. It really makes you think, understand and test before you write.

  8. Congratulations Peter! You've really inspire a lot of people who are also striving to pass the CCIE exam. Like you, I have also passed it last October 2013. But since v5 has just come out, do I still need to take it? Thanks

    1. I also would like to share with you where I got my rack rentals, their prices are very low and they have really assisted me through my way to obtaining my certificate. There's nothing to lose checking them out, right

  9. Peter , congrats man on ur new job . actually I used to work there . let's have some lunch soon

  10. Great reading. I have to search your blog to see if you have similar stuff on the CCIE R&S. I will be coming back to this blog more often from now on. (y)

  11. hello , could you tell me how to recognize a mds 9216i module 2 generation , some vendors don't advertise on this

  12. Thanks for your blog. I purchased one book through your link.

  13. I'm back to this nice article, Thanks for sharing and keep sharing.
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