Since the beginning of 2014, I have been worked towards my CCNP – Routing and Switching certification. So far, I have completed the ROUTE and SWITCH exams, and I found them both the prep and actual exam attempts to be quite grueling. At the beginning of June, however, I decided to deviate from the obvious path of completing the exam trifecta with TSHOOT and take a “break” to complete the Alcatel-Lucent Network Routing Specialist I (NRS I) certification. Obtaining the cert currently only requires the completion of one exam, the 4A0-100.
Be honest, have you even heard of Alcatel-Lucent’s Service Routing Certification (SRC) program? I hadn’t, that is until very recently through a conversation with some coworkers, though I wasn’t shocked to find out it existed. It makes perfect sense for a company to other a certification program for their expensive and intricate routing and switching equipment and the proprietary OS that runs it all. And if such a program is executed really well, it could become a revenue stream of its own for both the company and third-party training providers. I’m sure, for example, that Cisco’s training program isn’t operating at a loss right now, but correct me if I happen to be wrong. With all that said, you might be curious as to what my motivation was in pursuing the cert if it didn’t seem to have a lot of cache for HR departments? My employer uses Alcatel-Lucent equipment in our core and transport networks, but the classroom training offerings available to the employees for this equipment are a bit sparse, so I decided that with my successive self-learning history in tech certs that I would make Alcatel-Lucent’s introductory level cert my next goal to boost my familiarity with equipment that my company is going to continue to use for a long time to come. Was this the only way to route to take? Certainly not, the technical manuals for both the 7750 Service Router and the 7450 Ethernet Service Switch are available to me, but I thought the cert guide would be more digestable. I was right. Buying the cert guide before reviewing the exam objectives is a bit like putting the cart before the house if you’re new to tech certs, but I felt sufficiently comfortable with what I expected to be tested on to do exactly that in this case.
Reviewing the exam objectives, which can be found here, they stack up with the CompTIA Network+ and the previous generation (pre October 2013) of the Cisco CCENT exam, although the CCENT has become more intensive in its latest incarnation. In all cases you’ll see similar themes: OSI/TCPIP models, dynamic routing protocols, spanning tree, VLANs, subnetting, and so on. The Network+’s exam objectives look like the most expansive of the three, but there’s an old saying to keep in mind where: the objectives are a mile wide but an inch deep. The NRS I and Network+ will cover a broad range of topics, but outside of the odd question or two, you are only going to be asked introductory level questions about the theory of any particular protocol. As an example, you’re not likely to be expected to memorize the scope of all of the LSA types of OSPF in these entry level exams.
Without reviewing the alphabet soup of my currently held certs, the only portion of the exam objectives that I expected a challenge in were the first two bullet points: describing the use of the stated Alcatel-Lucent equipment and knowing basic Command Line Interface (CLI) commands. As I mentioned earlier I’m fortunate enough to work with the exam’s tested equipment in my job, so this wasn’t completely foreign territory for me I purchased the official study for the exam and was a little amused by the suggestion of creating a practice lab consisting of several SR1s for practical application of the book’s lesson. Take a second and check out the eBay prices of a 7750 SR1. Can you see yourself putting together a home lab at that expense? Thankfully, Alcatel-Lucent does offer a saner alternative in the form of being able to buy time in their own practice labs, but that does come with an additional cost.
Amazon.com: Alcatel-Lucent Scalable IP Networks Self-Study Guide: Preparing for the Network Routing Specialist I (NRS 1) Certification Exam
I was generally happy with the content of the study guide itself, written by Kent Hundley. it won’t knock your socks off in the multimedia department, but I was pleased to discover it was well written. In terms of concisely providing the information needed for an entry-level exam, I’d actually say Hundley does a somewhat better job than Wendell Odom’s Cisco ICND 1 and 2 study guides. Odom’s strengths, and he is a fantastic author, become evident when the topics become more complex. Walking out of the exam, I felt like the written guide, which I’ll repeat over and over in this blog series is only part of preparation equation, did a sufficient job in covering the topics I found myself tested on. One knock against the book is that it contains no real bonus material such as practice exams. You can download a supplemental ZIP file from the publisher’s website but it simply contains PDFs of material already found in the book. Convenient, sure, but I’ve come to expect a certain amount further exam prep material to be included in these guides.
The fee for sitting the exam is currently $125 USD, a reasonable cost in comparison to other companies. For example, the Network+ currently costs $279 USD (hope your work will cover that one!) and the Cisco ICND1 costs $150 USD. Another matter entirely is the value of the certification in the eyes of employers, whether they are your current employer or one you hope to land a position with in the future. Cisco is light years ahead of the competition in this regard, their certifications have a desirability factor that networking certification rivals. An easy way to check this is to use your job search engine of choice to look for networking technician/analyst/engineer jobs and it’s a good chance that if a specific vendor is mentioned for certifications, it will be Cisco. In this situation, it was my current job duties that enticed me to pursue the certification as opposed to attempting to make my resume more attractive for a new position.
I am fortunate enough to have a private Pearson-Vue exam facility operated by my company, but this was the first exam I have written that was instead proctored exclusively by the other big certification exam company, Prometric. So for the first time I found myself venturing out to the private Prometric facility and I’m happy to say the experience was quite positive. The location was well-kept and the staff was polite and efficient. Obviously the state of testing facilities should have no bearing on my opinion of the exam and certification program at large, and to be clear they did not, but it did help make the whole process just that much better.
While I cannot go into detail about the exam contents, I can say that the objectives were accurate and that the difficulty level, relative to my knowledge and experience, of course, was just a little bit higher than the CompTIA Network+ exam. Know your subnetting! The Alcatel-Lucent CLI commands are obviously unique to these exams but there were no proprietary protocols, routing, switching, or otherwise, to study. It was industry standards only, a nice break from Cisco! The exam consisted entirely of multiple choice questions, it seems that labs are isolated to their own separate exam at the NRS II level. I passed the exam, and I’m quite happy to say than I am now Alcatel-Lucent NRS I No. 6766!
This exam was a break from my last year or so of Cisco-intensive study, and certain aspects of the Alcatel-Lucent program felt a little underwhelming. The biggest issues are the lack of variety in study guides, there being only one available, and a lack of any sort of video training. When you’ve been living in the world of the network certification leader (and the material from third-parties such as CBT Nuggets) it seems to warp your expectations when it comes time to venture out from the safety of multiple training options. With that said, what Alcatel-Lucent does offer the study material and practice labs was sufficient for me to achieve my cert goal. If you’ve written any of the Alcatel-Lucent exams and want to share your experiences, feel free to comment below or email me: email@example.com
Until next time!