Category Archives: Cisco

Thoughts on Preparing for the CCNP Routing & Switching Exams

Recently, Cisco has announced updates to the CCNP: Routing and Switching exams, with the old exams being phased out as of Jan 29. 2015. All discussion in this blog post refers to the previous versions of the exams: 642-902 ROUTE, 642-813 SWITCH, and 642-832 TSHOOT.

GN3 Capture
Pictured: One of the CCNP troubleshooting topologies available from GNS3 Vault

The blog has already jumped between multiple topics, but I’ll change gears yet again to talk about my preparation for the Cisco Certified Network Professional – Routing & Switching cert, which has been going on since the beginning of 2014.

Since the Cisco exams lean heavily on simulations, working with a training lab becomes the most important thing you’ll do in your Cisco exam preparation. While working with equipment, physical or virtual, in a hands-on scenario is important for any technical training, it will be the difference in an exam where the simulations make up a large portion of your mark. And sure enough, if you can’t pass the labs on a Cisco exam, it’s very unlikely you’ll pass the exam proper. Cisco does reward partial credit for lab questions, so even if you’re completely lost, you’ll want to complete as much configuration that you believe to be correct as possible. Cisco will provide a percentage achieved in each category of the exam, so if you happen to fail a lab related to that section, discovered by a low percentage in that category, it gives you at least one thing to focus on as you prepare for your next exam attempt.

Cisco Packet Tracer, a simulation tool for simple Cisco switched and routed networks, served me extremely well in my CCNA Routing & Switching preparation, it featured support for most if not all of the protocols and features that the exam will test You on. If you’ve used Packet Tracer then you know there are several idiosyncrasies in the program that you don’t find on actual production routers and switches, the most common example being that show run int will not work, forcing you to use show run and filter through to the interface information. It’s not a show stopper, none of the differences in the way the virtual equipment works, but it does slow you down. The trouble with Packet Tracer is obtaining it, I won’t advocate software piracy or using exam dumps on the is blog (in fact, to be clear I outright condemn them), so know that the only legitimate way to obtain Packet Tracer is to enroll in Cisco Networking Academy courses, more information on that can be found here.

So, if that option is a non-starter for a lot of people, what other ways to create a practice lab are there? Well, of course you can purchase actual used routers and switches through places like eBay. This is a fairly popular option, but while there is a lot of reward is working with the real thing when it comes to labbing, there is also a lot of risk. When you purchase a switch or router from eBay, you get whatever version of IOS happens to be currently installed on it, and because you purchased it second hand, you don’t have a software license that would enable you to download a backup or perhaps even newer version of the OS from Cisco. As for what equipment you’ll want to gather, well, Wendell Odom has excellent write-ups about creating your own lab with real equipment on his blog, so I’ll defer to the master on the subject. Head over there and read up!

What I’ve probably used the most in my personal lab studies is another virtual solution, an alternative from the exclusive (and by that nature, expensive) Packet Tracer. That solution is GNS3 (www.gns3.net) a set of emulators that recreate Cisco IOS routers (but not only Cisco devices) to allow you to build a virtual lab. There are some limitations, the biggest is that switching using ASICS (read about GNS3’s switching capabilities here) . Some Cisco platforms allow you to add in switching modules that will emulate some switching functions, but not enough to cover the full topic list that Cisco will test you on. The other big limitation is that you must provide the copies of IOS software yourself, which can be done by simply removing the Compact Flash card, provided that router uses one, and placing it unto a card reader to copy the image file, if you happen to have access to a suitable router. Cisco also lists some alternative methods for copying IOS images here. I used GNS3 quite heavily for my ROUTE training and now that I’ve completed my readings for TSHOOT I’ve actually begun to use the TSHOOT labs available for free at GNS3 Vault for practice, and they can be found here.

Sticking with your lab work, self-analysis of your work to identify the topics you struggle with, and then subsequently spending additional practice time on those topics all require a lot of dedication. I believe that those that stick with it, especially at the CCNP and above level, will be rewarded in time. With only a couple weeks to go, I am eager to complete my CCNP: Routing and Switching and move onto my next big goal, which will NOT be a networking cert to allow me a chance to both expand my own skillset and provide some interesting new material for this blog!