Monthly Archives: July 2014

A Look at the Alcatel-Lucent NRS I Exam

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.

Alcatel-Lucent NRS I

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.

NRS1 Study Guide
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: jon@certmaniacs.com

Until next time!

A look at A+ Study Guides

Your first step after deciding what certification is choosing a good study guide to use as the starting point for your learning.  Your study guide is the introduction (or refresher, in some cases) to the topics that will be covered in your certification exam.  One thing you will notice about these A+ guides is that the introductory segments will often seem too simplistic in their explanation of their topics, but that is by design as a book for this ENTRY-LEVEL cert would ideally by written making no assumptions about previous knowledge as the exam has no prerequisites and is intended for ENTRY-LEVEL (emphasis mine as you might guess) IT jobs.

I’ve included Amazon.com links to each of the mentioned guides as they have a generous preview mode to allow you to review the guides and make your own decision on which book is right for you. If you sign in with your Amazon account you can view even more and I recommend this as these books tend to have lengthy Tables of Contents.

CompTIA A+ Certification All-in-One Exam Guide, 8th Edition (Exams 220-801 & 220-802)

Author: Mike Meyers

Although I have never used one of Mike’s study guides during my own exam preparation, I have read many recommendations for his work.  After reviewing his guide for this post, I can see where those recommendations come from.  His writing style is very easy to digest and comes off quite natural, nothing really feels stilted or robotic.  The book is about as engaging as a certification study guide can get while still providing the information you need to be ready for the exam.  Plenty of black-and-white photos and diagrams help to break up the tedium of solid blocks of text.  One critique that I would level against this book is that it is not segmented into sections for each of the two A+ exams, rather what the author does is occasionally mention if a topic will matter on one or both of the exams. What’s the problem, you ask? It’s not so much a problem, but as we’ll see in a later review, there’s a more eye-catching way to perform the same function. If you’re planning on just writing both exams in one go, and it’s not unthinkable to do so for a cert as basic as A+ if the exam center allows you to do so, this may not be a big deal. Ultimately, this “issue” with the structure hasn’t affected the popularity of this guide, so take my (very, very minor) concern about it as just one person’s opinion, and I’ll bring up a guide that I believe does it better.

The book includes practice exams (the most valuable “bonus” content for certain), free PC utilities that Mike recommends for A+ technicians, a small library of training videos, and a PDF copy of the book that appears to be hampered by Adobe DRM.

CompTIA A+ Complete Study Guide Authorized Courseware: Exams 220-801 and 220-802

Authors: Quenten Docter, Emmett Dulaney, and Toby Skandier

One advantage, at least as I see it, that Mike Meyers’ study guide has over this book is that it’s a littler more illustration heavy.  Yes, us adults often enjoy reading a long novel, but there’s a difference between walls of text about the design concepts of motherboards and the contents of a bestselling mystery novel.  Plus, screen captures of things like Windows management tools allow the author a bit of a chance to show rather than simply just tell, and make a great guide when you want to walk through a process on a test machine. There’s nothing terrible about this guide, and the material provided will get the job done, I just think the Meyers guide does everything a bit better. There is both a Standard and a Deluxe version of the guide available, both include a 10% off coupon for the exams, practice exams, and flashcards. The Deluxe edition includes a CD with instructor videos, which doesn’t appear to be comprehensive for all exam topics but is a nice bonus all the same, and eBook versions of the guide.

CompTIA A+ 220-801 and 220-802 Authorized Exam Cram

Author:  David Prowse

This next guide is a little more to the point than the other guides.  Why is that a factor? It’s because it makes this guide lose some value as a general “learn about PC hardware and Windows” book. That’s not to say that it cannot be used for that purpose, but this book in particular is designed to cover the basic knowledge needed to achieve the certification exam’s objectives.  You could level a similar criticism to all the other reviewed guides, but the Exam Cram guide takes this notion to a further extreme than the others, basically saying “Look, this is all you need to know for the A+ exam regarding this specific topic, now we’re moving on.”  As an example, the author spends about 1.25 pages on motherboard installations with no pictures, whereas Mike Meyers spends about 5 pages and includes pictures of several steps in the installation process.  Now, if you know how to install a motherboard from past experience and you just want to know what CompTIA is going to expect you to know about the process, the Exam Cram book achieves that goal quicker.  For my hard earned certification training dollar, however, I prefer the more in-depth approach taken in the other books. The book includes a companion CD including something that I really like, the Cram Sheet, which serves quite well as a refresher in your final week or two of exam prep, as well as practice exams.

A+ Guide to Managing & Maintaining Your PC

A+ Guide to Hardware

Author: Jean Andrews

The last guides, which are unfortunately sold separately, are the ones that I used in my own A+ studies. I was given hand-me-down copies from a friend for the 220-701 and 220-702 exams. Thankfully, the guides have been updated for the 220-80X exam series and it looks like they’ve retained their previous level of quality. What’s the first thing you notice about this guide? Color! The extra step up in print quality helps the book visually stand out from the competition. As with the Meyers guide, the author combines both exams across the books, the key difference here is that the when a topic or sub-topic is relevant to a specific exam it is marked with a very noticeable icon. Again, I don’t mean to imply that the Meyers guide does a poor job of calling out a topic’s relevance to a particular exam, this guide simply does it better. In terms of the quality of the material provided, the guide compares favorably with its competitors. The guide covers topics with a suitable amount of depth, and that’s something I would say about all of the books except for the Exam Cram guide, which falls in line with the entire intent of that guide being leaner and meaner. For colleges that offer A+ certification training as part of a computer/networking technician course, these will often be the textbooks used. The print version is hardcover but no bonus materials are provided.

My final recommendation between these four books is that Mike Meyers’ guide is the best choice in terms of value for your dollar. As much as I like the Andrews guides, you are paying quite a bit of money for the two of them. If you’re willing to invest in them I believe you won’t be disappointed. Before you make any purchase, however, take some time to review Amazon’s (or whichever site you purchase from) user feedback to help get a further grip on what the book offers.

Lastly, remember that a study guide is only one component of a successful cert exam preparation plan. What are those other components? Well, I need to milk this whole certification thing for a little longer so those will remain topics for another day!