CCIE Service Provider – My Thoughts

I’m happy to report that my first SP lab attempt in Brussels on Monday the 10th was a success! I must admit, like the JNCIE-SP I found it rather easy. MPLS/BGP is something I work with on a daily basis and so I wasn’t expecting anything out of the ordinary. Here I document my process and thoughts.

Sunday 9th March

My wife and I board the Eurostar bound for Brussels. Our train departs nice and early at 08:58. The weather for today is sunny and hot for this time of year and everything so far is good.

About 20 minutes outside Brussels, the train stops. After 10 more minutes there is an announcement that there is a power issue and the train can’t move. They try a number of things including restarting the power system on the train, but no good. They eventually blame Brussels Rail for not giving power, but it doesn’t move us anywhere. As it’s a hot and sunny day, and Eurostar has no open windows, the temperature rapidly rises. Some poor lady in our carriage passes out eventually. After 2.5 hours of sitting in the heat, two diesel coaches are dispatched to tow us into Brussels.

Problems happen, I understand that. But I was very annoyed that no refreshments were given out to anyone considering it was baking in that train.

The diesel coaches are quite slow, but we finally pull into Brussels:

Tip #1 – Always ensure you plan to arrive well in advance. If this happened in the middle of the night I would’ve probably missed my lab!

Once in Brussels, my wife and I head off to get some water and food. We then buy tickets for the short ride to Diegem. Most CCIE candidates doing their exam in Brussels tend to use the NH hotel. As I’m paying for this all myself I go cheaper and get the Ibis hotel which is about a 15 minute walk from Cisco. This has a few benefits. First, it’s cheaper. Second, the hotel isn’t actually that bad. Third, the 15 minute walk in the morning allows me to clear my mind and get my blood flowing. Better than dragging yourself the 100 or so meters from NH hotel to Cisco.

Tip #2 – You don’t have to go for the close fancy hotel. You need a bed, shower, and food. And hopefully something quiet. If it’s a kilometre or so away from the testing centre, use the walk to breathe fresh air and clear your mind.

I take is easy in the hotel. We’ve arrived just over three hours later than I planned, but as it’s still early afternoon there is no problem. We have a basic dinner, nothing too fancy, and I plan for an early night.

I did fall asleep quite quickly, but my rest wasn’t the best. I woke up a number of times and struggled to get a good nights sleep.

Odd, as I’ve never had issues before a lab before. I did get a good nights sleep the night before, so I’m hoping it won’t affect me too bad.

Monday 10th March

I get up, have a coffee, have some cereal. No big heavy breakfast for me thanks. I’ve got a couple of snacks to take with me. I’m allowed to take snacks into the testing room in Diegem, but the mobile lab in London forbid me from doing so. ALWAYS check before!

I ended up leaving the hotel about 10 minutes later than I wanted. Cisco open the doors at 08:00 sharp and the exam starts at 08:15. Generally candidates stand on the small bridge outside the building. By the time I got there at 08:02 the doors were already open and everybody was inside waiting for the proctor.

Just before 08:15 the proctor comes in and tells us to follow him. We go into the lift to the 3rd/4th floor, don’t remember the exact. He informs us to sign in and sit at our assigned desks. I believe I was the only SP candidate of the day.

The proctor informs us when lunch will be and what time we should finish. He also explains the rules and so on. After that we log in and begin. There is a big difference between the R&S and SP track in that the R&S has two sections, both of which you need to pass. You have two hours to fix 10 tickets and so you don’t really have time to mess around before starting. The SP has no defined TS section so my strategy was different. Everything is still on-screen, but you do have paper and multiple colours of pens and highlighters. I spent the first 30 minutes reading every section beginning to end so I knew what I was getting myself into. I then copied the overall diagram on paper and used coloured pens to write notes about what I was going to do where

Tip #4 – Read everything and plan your attack for the configuration section as quickly as you can. It doesn’t have to be perfect first time!

Once all the above is done I open the questions again and start with the first section and just crack on. At this point I do verify, but my verification is minimal. I want to do as much as I can before lunch which should then leave me plenty of time to verify.

Around 12:05 the proctor informs us that we are going to break for lunch in about 5 minutes. I had just finished a big section and didn’t want to start another big section with 5 minutes so I go back to my initial drawing and make a few alterations and fixes.

We are told to stop and get a voucher from the proctor. We are told we are to sit together, speak only in English, and not talk about the exam. This time I made sure I was in front of the queue. Last time it took 25 minutes for me to get food which left me with 5 minutes to eat everything! We get down to the caffiteria and I decide to go for steak. Why not? I’ve had a light breakfast and quite hungry. Besides I need to make sure this lunch is worth the exam fee in case the worst happens ;) – They load my plate with fries and some salad.

I finish the steak quickly and only eat a few fried. I don’t want to fall asleep upstairs after all. After 30 minutes we head back upstairs and the proctor informs us we can carry on as soon as we get to our desks.

About 5 minutes after we are back, one candidate leaves. Not sure if he finished really quickly or just gave up. Either way he is gone. 30 minutes later the guy sitting in front of me gets up with an odd look on his face. I don’t know if he is about to have a nervous breakdown, but he doesn’t look to happy. I’m pretty sure I heard him curse under his breath a number of times. Another candidate has about 12 cans of coke on his desk, and not the diet kind either. Not sure how that can be healthy.

It was at this point that I was checking something on a router and I lost access to it. Trying to telnet back into it failed. Checking the interface status on it’s neighbour the interface was down. Looked like a router crash… I inform the proctor who confirms it. He loads up the device tab and power cycles the affected router. That immediately reboots ALL of my IOS devices (which wasn’t supposed to happen!) – I save my configs pretty much every single time I configure anything on the router, so once all the routers are back everything is exactly how it was 10 minutes ago.

Tip #5 -Save often. Seriously.

About 90 minutes after we get back from lunch I’ve answered all the questions. I’ve got a few hours to verify which is exactly what I wanted.

Tip #6 – Nothing is configured until it’s verified! It’s essential that you leave AT LEAST one hour to verify. The more the better!

When verifying, you need to read the question again thoroughly. Think about what they are asking. If in doubt, ask the proctor for clarification. Think about how Cisco are going to verify your answer and check your work the same way. Be brutal with yourself. Something either is or is not, there are no maybes here. TCL scripting really comes into its own here, at least on the IOS devices. I’m not lying when I say I probably ran my TCL scripts over 50 times. Testing every conceivable failure scenario, checking I had full reachability, and ensuring no route churn. IOS-XR is a little more difficult as TCL isn’t supported on it, so I did manual testing wherever I had to.

I noticed at least three problems which were all fixed. Verify again, and again, and again.

About 30 minutes before end of time, I was all verified out. I decided to call it a day. Finish lab, hand paper back to proctor and make way way back. The long allowed me to think it over one last time. I felt pretty confident about it, but of course you can’t think anything until you get the result.

It’s at this point where you now check your email every two minutes. I waited 2.5 painful days for my R&S result, and a number of weeks for my JNCIE-SP result. That doesn’t stop you from checking though!

The Result

Soon after 18:00 local time, I get a Cisco email… That was fast, I wonder if it’s good news?! – I log into the CCIE portal to get the result and that’s when I see it:

Cue Celebrations!

So now the question is, what next?

© 2009-2020 Darren O'Connor All Rights Reserved -- Copyright notice by Blog Copyright