Sunday, July 22, 2012

The Road to CCIE-V

I meant to start a series on my "Road to CCIE-V" a while ago. Actually, it was one of the reasons I started a new blog. Of course, I didn't account for how much time I would be spending on studying and how it would affect my other extra curricular work activities (like blogging).

I guess we can say "better late than never?" as it has meaning that goes well beyond the confines of this blog. I have been working with Cisco voice technologies for a long time and I have conveniently excused myself from pursuing the CCIE Voice (CCIE-V). I have always spent a lot of time outside of normal work hours studying, exploring, and testing. So, working hard is not an issue. The issue was making the commitment. Well, this cowboy has put on his spurs and that horse is riding head first into battle. 

I say horse but it started off as more of a slow pony. It took a CCIE bootcamp to truly light a fire under my you-know-what. I have been working on CCIE studies for a few months now and it is progressing. To save me from going back in time and doing a play-by-play, I think it best to focus this entry on the one event that made a difference: the CCIE Bootcamp.

The Original Game Plan

I did the CCIE-V written in May 2012. My original plan was to shoot for a test by September. I referenced several blogs on the internet to get an idea of theory and lab hour commitments and came up with something in the neighborhood of 800 hours. [NOTE: 800 was the number I chose, the range I saw was between 600 and 900.]

Aside from building out a spreadsheet and updating my calendar to show intended study days, I didn't have much of a plan. I also knew that my original timeline was aggressive. Perhaps too aggressive. Despite the fact I have a lot of advantages others probably don't. I have a supportive company (NetCraftsmen) that works with the schedule and helped provide the gear I needed for the home lab. My team (which is an outstanding group of professionals) totally backs me up. Most importantly, my wife is 100% on board with the effort. She knows how important my work is to me.

The New Game Plan

Even with all of these factors in my favor I knew I needed some additional help and guidance. Obviously, I was going to get some workbook study materials. You can't take on something like this without some organized preparation. But I had to ask myself: "was that enough?". The answer is an emphatic "No!".
My start up process was a struggle. Primarily because it was hard to find the "path to modularity", as I like to call it. How do you take this big beast of a task and break it into small, more manageable pieces. Where are the boundaries? There is a lot of freakin' stuff in the exam. Figuring out where to start was only a small part of the problem.
After some deliberation, I knew that the best way to kick start the studying was to pick a reputable partner and do a bootcamp. NetCraftsmen is BIG on professional development, so when I said I was thinking about doing a bootcamp they were very supportive.
Choosing a Partner 
I think it is very important to have the right partner when tackling any large task. There are a few folks in my company that write CCIE study materials and that was very helpful for me. I also spoke with several colleagues who have pursued or achieved their voice IE. It was pretty easy to narrow the choices down to two industry leaders: INE and IPexpert.
I researched both companies and their voice instructors. Both are very reputable and have quality programs. I spoke with people that had reasons to prefer one of the other, but from what I could tell you couldn't go wrong either way. I thought of it this way, those dudes are not taking the test for you. They are preparing you to do your job. In the end, it is all on you and what you need from an education partner is flexibility in schedule, diversity in material, depth in experience, and just the right amount of structure to build a plan.
In the end, I chose to go with IPexpert. Primarily, this came down to scheduling. The bootcamps IPexpert was offering lined up better with my plans. I also really enjoyed Vik Malhi's VoDs and blogs. Vik's depth of knowledge and presentation style really works for me.
Bootcamp Numero Uno 
IPexpert has a 10-day bootcamp. The first week is essentially a walk through of a single lab with a deep dive on each major topic that is likely to be covered in the real lab. The second week is called the "One Week Lab Experience" where you are given three full mock labs to fine tune your "flow". 

I decided to break that 10-day bootcamp into two separate weeks. I thought getting through the first week sooner was the best approach for me. I wanted to jump into the material to zero in on a successful approach and I didn't want to wait. Now that I am a month down the road from that first bootcamp, I definitely think I made the right choice.
So, what were some of the immediate benefits I received from doing the bootcamp?
  1. Understanding the scope. The CCIE-V blueprint covers a lot of ground. If you were to study everything in depth, you would never see the end of it. You need to identify the core topics so you know where to focus. That isn't to say you ignore topics that are less-likely to be on the exam. It just means you focus developing your understanding (and speed) on the things you know are absolutely going to be on the exam. 
  2. Better appreciation for the home lab. Prior to the bootcamp, I thought I had a practice lab that was close to the real lab. Well, it wasn't close enough. When you are honing your skills to become more efficient, you want to have a practice lab that is almost identical to the real thing. Seeing how IPexpert built their pods helped me see a path to getting my own practice lab updated to being closer to the real deal. I had to compromise on a few things but having the home lab is proving to be a huge asset.
  3. Need...more....speed. I was slow during the bootcamp and I am slow now. Of course, I am not focused on speed yet, but it is always in the back of my mind. At this stage in the game, I am focused on improving my understanding. Where the bootcamp helped is that I have several tools that allow me to steadily progress in the speed department.
  4. I am in good company. Probably the best part of the bootcamp is that you meet other people who are on the same path. Granted, there is a mix of people who are just starting their journey and those that are tightening up loose ends. In all cases, it is really enjoyable to share ideas with some of the best and brightest.
Moving Forward 
I took the information gained from the bootcamp and used it to improve my original plan. Which is to say that I now have something that more closely resembles a plan. I also adjusted my timeline to be something more realistic.

My recommendations to those of you who are looking at pursuing any IE certification are:

First, get your "peeps" (spouse, team, company) behind you. You want to make sure everyone is on board and supportive. It is also a good motivator because (if your like me) you won't want to let those people down. 

Second, do a bootcamp. I recommend picking an education partner that has a phased bootcamp approach. Schedule the first week (or phase) early on in your studies. Not too early, give yourself 4 - 6 weeks with the workbooks before showing up. It helps.

Thanks for reading. If you have time, post a comment!


  1. Bell,
    Good luck but I think you are at or near CCIE level already. BTW, what do you recommend for people who can't afford bootcamp? What is the next best self-study method? Thanks

  2. Anon,

    Thanks for the confidence boost! I am lucky to have a lot of experience going into this but the CCIE tests more than experience. Speed is my nemesis, but we'll just keep plodding away.

    The bootcamp is not required preparation but it does get you focused and will help you when you plan out your study schedule.

    The most critical self-study tool is getting rack time. Whether you use a virtual lab solution like Proctor labs or you get your own gear. Building out a complete lab, that mirrors the actual blue print, could get pretty expensive. However, you don't need to mirror the lab fully. You will absolutely need a machine you can run vmware on and load the UC applications in the test (CUCM, CUC, UCCX, CUPS). If you have access to the software, putting together a decent vmware server (or 2) is relatively inexpensive. You'll also want a couple of phones and a voice gateway. At a bare minimum, this will help you get comfortable with interfacing with the equipment/software. But if you go the route of building a minimalist home lab, you will want to supplement it with some virtual rack time. I don't think there is anyway around that. You need to run through full labs to get practice doing things quickly.

    I suppose another option would be to join some online forums and try to seek out others in your area who are pursuing the same goal. See if you can form up a study group with people who have gear.


    -Bill (@ucguerrilla)

  3. I have no doubt that will come through with "flying colors" on the CCIE quest! Best of luck Bill. You have one fan in Calgary rooting for you :)

    Rob Huffman

  4. Huff!

    Thanks, brother. That means a lot! I have always been a big fan of yours too. The fact it's mutual puts a grin on my mug.


  5. Hi bill,

    I not have idea how to run CUCM, CUPS, CUC, UCCX in a vmware, I only got the DVDs. could you point me to the right path?.

    thanks a good luck!

  6. Alex,

    I think I can help you with that. The process is kinda lengthy for a comment. I actually have a tech note I put together on that topic a while ago. I'll dig it up and post it here. May take a day or two given current project load.


    1. Thanks Bill, the MS manager at my work give me 4 virtual server on their ESX4 to host CUCM, CUC, UCCX and CUPS.

      I found in google some tips in fact i think that only need put this vmware settings
      RedHat Enterprise Linux 4 (32bit)
      6144 MB RAM
      2x 160 GB HDD
      SCSI Controller is LSI Logic Parallel
      CPU: 2
      DVD: ISO-Image at datastore
      VMCI: not restricted

      Thanks again

    2. Alex,

      The short summary is you are close. I believe you can use the build as you describe. On 7x systems I have always used 2GB RAM. You must have at least that to get the software installed. You can drop it down to 1GB after install (if needed). I use 72GB disks. I have used 1 or 2 vCPU.

      One of the things that I do, which always avoids problems, is that I don't run the install/configuration wizard first. I skip it the first time I am prompted for input and then run it the 2nd time. I have found that doing it the other way around led to failed installs (not consistently, but noticeably).

      Again, I'll post more details later but I don't want you to have to wait on me to find time in my goofy schedule ;-)