I finally passed the CCIE Data Center Lab Exam on Tuesday, May 20, 2014. It was daunting to do the lab again especially since my first try was quite a while ago, and my attempts since then seemed to be ” so close, but no cigar. 🙁 ” However, I was successful this time due to a few things that I changed in my approach…
1. Don’t assume that best practices are the correct way to answer the question – I have about 4 years’ experience with UCS and Nexus 1000V. It is too easy to take a cursory look at the questions about those technologies and jump right in to config with what you know is best. “Best practices” may conflict with the requirements of the questions!
2. RELAX – This should be an obvious one, but it is worth repeating. You have essentially a whole business day to fulfill the lab configuration. While there is a lot on the syllabus, if you have enough experience and practice enough before the exam, you should have time to spare if you work at a moderate pace.
3. Do EVERYTHING in the questions according to what is written – Another obvious one, but it is tempting to ignore configuration requirements that you may not be 100% familiar with. However, not answering everything on the lab exam can cost you dearly. There is a limited set of Cisco documentation available if there are commands\options that you may have missed in your prep or if you blank on them during the exam (Hey, it happens!).
4. Do NOT read too much into the questions – That being said, do not over-analyze every question. If you go down too many rabbit holes, you may find yourself finishing only 10% of the test by the end of the day. Get a question’s configs working (or at least entered), and move on if you’re stuck on a particular requirement. Take note of it, and then come back later.
5. The “where” command is your best friend! – Can’t emphasize this one enough. With time constraints and the pressure, you may copy and paste the correct config on to the wrong port (possibly one containing a very critical part of your infrastructure like I did!). Before you copy and paste a full page’s worth of configuration commands from notepad, make sure you KNOW where you are!
6. Pacing is everything – Try to tackle the topic areas that are least familiar to you first. Due to my UCS background, I chose to focus on Ethernet and FC networking technologies before lunch. That way, you can work on your comfort-zone topics as your mind background processes any lingering questions you may have on your weaker topics.
7. Hands-on Practice is critical – Another obvious one, but it cannot be overstated. You can find great sample configs for every technology on the DC syllabus, but getting on the actual machines and seeing how they respond to variations in configurations, human error, etc. is critical since not everything may go perfectly in the lab, especially when you are under a time crunch! I used a combination of IP Expert Labs, INE Labs, and labs at work to prepare. Believe it or not, the external labs had more flexible configuration options and were key to me passing!
8. Take a boot camp if you need it – If you have significant experience with the syllabus technologies, you may not see the need for a boot camp. However, you may have a harder road ahead of you if you decide to go it alone. Experienced instructors live and breathe the CCIE syllabi since teaching them is how they pay their bills. By now, they may have answered hundreds of DC-related configuration questions). Both IP Expert and INE have boot camps. I’m not sure of any other credible organizations that have one.
To get the most out of a boot camp, though, make sure you have done a fair amount of studying and practice before going. If you go in there unexperienced, you won’t get the full benefit!
Do you have any helpful advice to give to aspiring CCIE Data Center candidates (that DO NOT violate NDA!!!)? If so, post them below…Seriously, I will remove any comments that violate Cisco Certification policies.