Monthly Archives: August 2014

The Alcatel-Lucent NRS I Certificate Arrives!

Just a quick update today, one of the things I look forward to after successfully completing the requirements for a tech cert is the arrival of the physical certificate (and, in some cases, certification wallet card). It’s a nice token to show your accomplishment, but it’s very likely you’ll never show it to a potential employer. Rather, all certification offerings have a way to send an electronic proof of your employment to any hiring staff that may require it.

With all that said, here’s a look at the paper for a cert that a lot of folks probably haven’t seen, the Alcatel-Lucent NRS I.

Alcatel Lucent NRS I Cert

Maybe I’ll be able to add the NRS II to the collection in the next year or so? I have a couple of other cert goals to reach first, but I’m definitely considering the possibility!

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!

A+ Video Training Resources

Two posts ago, I took a look at three CompTIA A+ study guides for the current 220-801 and 220-802 exams. A study guide makes a good foundation for your exam preparation, but adults learn in a variety of ways and hacking away at a thick text book isn’t for everyone. One alternative to consider is training videos, but to be clear, I believe videos works best as a supplement to a study guide and not as a complete replacement. If you find the multimedia presentation alone serves you better, you should play to your own strengths. However, reading, watching videos both serve the same essential function in the adult learning cycle, and even if you both read a study guide and watch a full video course it’s not likely to be enough to achieve success when writing a cert exam. I’m going to drop my first mention of the adult learning principles that I follow, and these are principles that I plan on becoming quite important on CertManiacs going forward. While I don’t want to stray too far from the titular topic, consider this, studying a guide or passively watching training videos qualify as Experiences in this four stage process:

Experience – Something happens.
Reflection – What happened?
Generalization – Why did it happen?
Application – Make that thing happen yourself.

I’ll be returning to that process quite a bit in the coming months, but back to training videos. Today, I will take a look at two excellent A+ training video sources today, one free and one that can be a little pricey, depending on your point of view.

Professor Messer

I discovered Professor Messer when I first began searching for A+ training material during the very start of my certification career. I was thrilled to find FREE video training to complement my study guide (see my A+ study guide reviews here). As it turns out, it turned out to be quality content, Professor (James) Messer has created a comprehensive course that he updates for each new revision of the A+ exams, when I first used his content it was still for the 220-701 and 220-702 versions. He keeps each video segment fairly short (most are under 15 minutes) and very on point for the target concept, which helps keep the content digestable. The videos follow a fairly simple format, a camera records a full face shot of him speaking, which plays in a small window in the corner over his presentation, which is often a slideshow but he does live capture processes in action when it’s appropriate. At a total video run time of 19 hours, there’s a fair bit of content to be watched, but if you do, it will go a long way to preparing you for the exams. In addition to the videos, Messer will run A+ pop quizzes and study groups. I noticed there was a lull in his site updates over the past few months, but it appears he’s back in full swing. I should note that he seems to be working on updating his Network+ and Security+ content at the time of this writing. You are able to view replays of old study groups, and I recommend that you check out at least one to see if they will be of any benefit to you.

The only issue is that the videos must be accessed online (via Youtube), which depending on your mobile data capability, may be something of an issue. The site does offer a solution to this problem in the form of a downloadable training course for $200 that includes: the video training on DVDs, MP3s of the audio from them, and his slides in PDF format. The price seems a bit steep compared to the cost of one of the printed study guides I’ve previously review, however, Messer does offer PDF study guides of his own for $10 each, certainly a reasonable price and likely a good supplement to the video course. I cannot say how the guides stand on their merit (or for that matter as a companion to the videos) based on the small sampling provided, but they appeared to be formatted in a “quick study” manner to concisely review exam topics. If you’ve purchased them then please feel free to comment and add your opinion.

CBT Nuggets

We go from a free resource to one that has a subscription fee. CBT Nuggets is a reputable video IT training provider that covers a large number of vendors. I’ve been lucky to enough to get access to a subscription through my workplace, but the first thing we should discuss is the cost for their training. For individual learners who don’t believe they’ll need ongoing access to the catalogue, the cost is $99/month for the Basic plan, and while what “expensive” is for everyone is relative, it’s not an insignificant cost if you’re paying out of pocket. For that fee you get access to the complete video catalogue (must be viewed online (mobile apps are available) and their NuggetLab supplementary materials. I signed up for the 7 day trial to take a look at the A+ videos and unfortunately they do not make the NuggetLab material for the course available for trial so I cannot comment on the quality of that content. There is a higher tier plan available that requires a 12 month commitment that is actually cheaper per month and includes extra features such as offline video viewings (allowing you to download up to 20) and practice exams.

CBT Nuggets puts something of a focus on their trainers as personalities, and I will say for IT trainers, the CBT Nuggets instructors are pretty good. Jeremy Ciora is perhaps the most famous (or is it infamous?) instructor from the site, but James Conrad, the instructor for the A+ material, is a well spoken and engaging guide through the material. I’d give him the edge in presentation skills over Professor Messer. The video course, as with Messer’s, is comprehensive but between the two I’ll give the free course the nod in terms of layout. Its videos are shorter and dedicated to more focused topics than the CBT videos, which often exceed 25 minutes in length. The formatting of the videos for CBT is largely the same Messer’s, the instructor has a slide deck or whiteboard running as they lecture and will bring up pictures or live screen captures as necessary. Nothing revolutionary, but it works. I tested out the CBT Nuggets mobile app for iOS on my iPhone and it synced up my video progression from my PC to the mobile device perfectly, the app is simple to use and seems to work quite well.

So why bring up CBT Nuggets as the pay option? Well, it’s the one that I am most familiar with. Do not take my review of it or Professor Messer’s site as any kind of endorsement over any other free or paid option, my goal is to simply make you aware of training resources that are available for your A+ studies. While I’m not thrilled that you have to supply a credit card for their free 7 day trial, which does NOT automatically start a subscription when it lapses, I understand the barrier exists to stop people from repeatedly abusing the trial period.

You might ask, “Between these two options, which should I use?” For the A+ exams, I believe Professor Messer’s free video training will serve you quite well, and I can’t recommend paying the subscription fee solely for just the A+ material on CBT Nuggets.