Joel's CCIE Data Center journey

joelsfoodjoelsfood Member Posts: 1,027 ■■■■■■□□□□
Like many of you, I'm now in the process of earning my CCIE. Being from a Server/storage background (though I did spend 7 months working on switches on a massive campus network several years ago), I'm going with the Data Center path. Luckily, my day job went with UCS four years ago, and I also do some side work, and was lucky enough to do a full UCS deployment myself earlier this year, though it was with Juniper network gear, not Cisco.

So this thread is just going to track my random thoughts, plans, etc, between now and my first lab attempt on April 17th.

Like the rest of you, I'm working through training videos (INE), labs (PEC GoldLABS only, so far), UCS Emulator, physical UCS gear, the recommended reading list, etc. I'm making a few changes though from the norms.

1. I've added Routing and Switching TCP/IP Vol 1 to my reading list. This was a recommendation from a friend who has CCIE RS and works with several CCIE DCs. He pointed out, and I think he's right, that despite the data center name, these tests are designed by Cisco employees who are steeped in the mindset of a network engineer. He recommended this book to help me think as a network engineer, and of course it will help with the routing bits of getting whatever Nexus gear I have to setup running.

2. I do all of the videos twice (at least), once in video, and once listening to it in audio. I used this same method when I was studying for my CCNA/CCNP using the CBT Nuggets videos. I tend to multitask a lot, and hate to be doing something without background noise (Dishes, laundry, walking the dog, whatever). So all of my training videos I also convert to mp3s, and I'll listen to them on headphones while I'm doing other things. Obviously, I need to watch them too, particularly when there's examples you have to see, but this helps get it all well into my head.

3. hands on, hands on, hands on. While I only have access to one Nexus and two MDS switches (and they're production), I currently have some method of access to 12 chassis, 13 FIs and a host of servers, several of which are unused blades so I can do actual deployments. The GoldLABS give me good access to real gear too, and I'm definitely happy to work for a partner so I can access them.

Only somewhat related (was more applicable to my CCNA/CCNP), but make friends with whomever manages your partner status if you happen to work for a Cisco partner. I was able to work out with him that I helped fill out some of our partner requirements (I've just about filled out the whole Datacenter specialization we needed as a company), and in return, I was able to get vouchers for CCNA:DC, CCNP:dC and my CCIE written.

Anyway, just basically creating a place where I can babble to myself about the process, and any input is of course welcome


  • BroadcastStormBroadcastStorm Member Posts: 496
    I've been in the fence between CCIE R&S and Data Center, as I don't want to wind up back to sys admin stuff, with UCS and SAN.

    I started supporting Nexus line in early 2010, and will be in charge of architecting it all the way to Nexus 7K, do you mind sharing your study materials?

    This is what I've got so far:

    Routing TCP/IP Volume I
    Routing TCP/IP Volume II
    CCNA Data Center (Sybex)
    NX-OS and Cisco Nexus Switching

    My background is routing, and I've studied hard for CCNP: R&S.
  • joelsfoodjoelsfood Member Posts: 1,027 ■■■■■■□□□□
    BroadcastStorm, my study list is something of a moving target over the next six months, as new products are released, and as I convince (or fail to convince) work to pay for things, but here's my current plan, along with what physical hardware I have access to, etc.

    Routing TCP/IP Vol 1, 2nd Edition
    Data Center Fundamentals
    NX-OS and Cisco Nexus Switching: Next-Generation Data Center Architecture
    Cisco Unified Computing System
    I/O Consolidation in the Data Center
    Storage Networking Fundamentals
    Data Center Virtualization Fundamentals

    CBT Nuggets 640-911
    CBT Nuggets 640-916
    CBT Nuggets 642-035
    CBT Nuggets 642-997
    CBT Nuggets 642-999
    INE CCNP DC Nexus
    INE CCIE DC Nexus
    INE CCIE DC NX-OS Primer
    INE CCIE DC Implementing Nexus
    INE CCIE DC Written
    INE CCIE DC Storage
    INE CCIE DC Unified Computing

    Physical Hardware
    Fabric Interconnects
    6248UP 2.2(1b)
    6248UP 2.1(3c)
    6248UP 2.1(1f)
    6140XP 2.1(3b)
    6120XP 2.2(1d)
    6120XP 2.1(3b)

    B200 M2
    B200 M3
    B230 M1
    B250 M2


    Ethernet Switches
    Nexus 5010 (hopefully, haven't heard from that client in a while)

    Fibre Channel Switches
    MDS 9124 5.2(2d)

    UCS Emulator
    VIRL (when it comes out

    INE Data Center Rack
    PEC GoldLABS racks
  • joelsfoodjoelsfood Member Posts: 1,027 ■■■■■■□□□□
    Add Labgear to my list of labs now too, now that I know about it. :)
  • BroadcastStormBroadcastStorm Member Posts: 496
    Thanks Joel, are those hardware you own or from work?

    I have access to basically everything I will need for CCIE DC from work which I'm going to architect and implement.
  • joelsfoodjoelsfood Member Posts: 1,027 ■■■■■■□□□□
    I wish I had half a million or more in equipment here at home. :)

    No, that's from work. Day job and consulting clients.
  • SteveO86SteveO86 Member Posts: 1,423
    I've got a growing list of some decent Nexus/UCS links that I have been using for my Data Center Studies

    CCIE: Data Center Study Links | CCIE or Null!
    My Networking blog
    Latest blog post: Let's review EIGRP Named Mode
    Currently Studying: CCNP: Wireless - IUWMS
  • BroadcastStormBroadcastStorm Member Posts: 496
    joelsfood wrote: »
    I wish I had half a million or more in equipment here at home. :)

    No, that's from work. Day job and consulting clients.

    Thanks to VDC masked as DEV & QA & CCIE LAB :D
  • joelsfoodjoelsfood Member Posts: 1,027 ■■■■■■□□□□
    It's been a hugely busy week at work, so I haven't studied as much as I wanted. Still watching videos right now, but I figured I'd throw up a weekly update while I could.

    100 pages in on first book

    10 videos this week, still watching as we speak

    PEC Labs
    6 modules completed this week (5 in DCNI-II, 1 in UCS)

    6 months and 7 days to go. :)
  • joelsfoodjoelsfood Member Posts: 1,027 ■■■■■■□□□□
    So it's been a hellish few weeks, between oncall last week, and just a crapshow this week (anyone need help troubleshooting Informix on an old HP-UX system?). So studying hasn't been what I hoped, but anyway

    60 more pages of Doyle's book

    Video/Audio (Videos converted to MP3 for when I'm walking dog, etc)
    29 these two weeks

    PEC Labs
    1 module this week. Or 1 that worked, 1 that didn't, and turned out to be lab problem, not mine, but wasted a lot of time on it

    5 months, 22 days left to study

    I was able to put my DC training (think the GARPs came up during the CCNP training, but it's fuzzy) to direct use to help shorten an outage this week though. We had a switch stack fail (master started just flooding packets on data plane) and I was able to shorten the troubleshooting when I knew that the "mac flapping" network team was seeing from UCS ports was actually just FIs GARP'ing as each of their port channels was flapping, so it was actually a problem on the switches, not my UCS. So seeing tangible benefits from all this work this year.
  • joelsfoodjoelsfood Member Posts: 1,027 ■■■■■■□□□□
    This week has been a bit more effective.

    100 pages more on Doyle

    22 and still going

    1hr playing around with a nexus lab (PEC Fabricpath lab pod), just getting faster and more familiar with nxos

    Heading out for a quick vacation this weekend though, so won't study too much
  • joelsfoodjoelsfood Member Posts: 1,027 ■■■■■■□□□□
    Continuing with labs, books, videos, audio, and everything else.

    I've also begun a new blog to track what I am doing. It can be found on tumblr here (Joel's CCIE Journey) and will eventually be on once DNS propagates.
  • fredrikjjfredrikjj Member Posts: 879
    blog looks good. I need to know more about data center stuff so I'll definitely be following.
  • joelsfoodjoelsfood Member Posts: 1,027 ■■■■■■□□□□
    Thanks Fredrikjj. Expect posts in the next few weeks breaking down Youtube, Cisco PEC and Cisco Dcloud resources (videos and labs) by the exam blueprint sections. All three posts are about done, but I have to space them out so I don't run out of material. :)
  • joelsfoodjoelsfood Member Posts: 1,027 ■■■■■■□□□□
    4 months and 3 weeks left to go. Still reading, watching videos, listening to audio, etc. Just hit up boss for the training/exam costs again (he has to get approval from his boss). Worst case, I'll just eat the cost, of course, but I'd rather have work reimburse me. :) We'll see what happens
  • Alex90Alex90 Member Posts: 289
    How many study hours are you putting in per day/week? I'm always curious to know because some people seem to study 20 hours per week while others are doing 35 or so when going for CCIE?

    I suppose it depends on the exposure you have the track you are persuing...maybe?
  • joelsfoodjoelsfood Member Posts: 1,027 ■■■■■■□□□□
    It really varies week by week, as I am still working nd taking care of family. It's probably in the 20-30 range right now, in large part because of the audio. Anything I get in video (free or pay), I convert to mp3 too, and cycle through it while I'm walking dog, doing chores, etc. I try to watch the video first, then the audio, and then I'll probably watch through all the videos again, at least stuff i"m not sure on.

    Most of my concern is with Nexus and then FCOE on the MDS. I've been using UCS for years, including one full install from scratch, by myself, that wasn't much different than the lab (though I used Juniper networking gear). So the server and storage sections don't worry me much. That definitely has some bearing on how much I study. That and wanting to still give my family all the time and attention they need.

    We'll see how well it works out. Some days I look through the blueprint or go through a full scale lab and think I'll be fine, some days I think I won't even pass the server section. :) Even on the networking side, I do have recent, useful networking experience, I just haven't done any of the Nexus specific stuff (Fabricpath, OTV, VDCs) outside of a lab environment.
  • joelsfoodjoelsfood Member Posts: 1,027 ■■■■■■□□□□
    This week's study is of course going to be a bit short due to the holidays and family commitments, but planning on a good lab week next week. Have Nexus gear scheduled in morning, MDS in the afternoon, for at least 30 out of 40 work hours next week (never sure how long, because the PEC labs will show as a 5 hr, or whatever, lab, but then might give me access to equipment for 7 hours.) So it's a little rough to figure the time.

    Of course, still reading (3 books right now), video, audio and hands on when I can. Playing with Nexus 1000V in nested vmware this afternoon, hopefully, as well as some more time with UCSPE
  • joelsfoodjoelsfood Member Posts: 1,027 ■■■■■■□□□□
    lab, lab, lab, lab. Running through all of the NXOS PEC labs trying to increase my speed on all of the tasks that I might need for the lab exam. I've gone through all 5 DCV MDS Labs, 13/15 DCNI-2 labs, and the FCOE multihop lab at least once, and probably twice for at least half by the end of the day tomorrow. UCS I know and can do fast, NX-OS I know, but I am still using ? more than I like, so practicing away.
  • lrblrb Member Posts: 526
    Nice work man keep up the hard work! Really enjoy reading this thread especially as I don't come from a server or DC background.
  • joelsfoodjoelsfood Member Posts: 1,027 ■■■■■■□□□□
    Thanks lrb.

    Just got the final purchasing approval, so lab fee has now been paid, and working on booking travel and my last few rack rentals. PEC/Dcloud/Labgear only cuts it so far. :)
  • joelsfoodjoelsfood Member Posts: 1,027 ■■■■■■□□□□
    I've been on call this week, so I haven't gotten as much training done as normal, but still a good amount. Working throught he INE UCS videos now, and the INE storage audio. I did my first IPExpert technology lab Wednesday (I have to get my speed up). I did manage to grab an 8 hour mock lab block too, but it's 120 days out (and only a week before real test icon_sad.gif ). I'll hopefully add at least one more to the schedule before my actual test. This morning I'm busy making sure I have access to lab gear every weekday for the last month of training. Which in this case means scheduling time with IPExpert, Labgear, PEC and Dcloud, as well as trying to pull together a live lab at work (though it probably won't be ready in time). I just want to make sure I have access to real equipment every day of that last month push to study, plus making sure I have access if I come up with problem areas I need to practice. That being said, spreading it out between all of my options so I'm not monopolizing any one resource, particularly the partner ones. I know how expensive a CCIE:DC rack is, and how hard it can be to schedule time, so I don't want my reservations to keep anyone else from their studies.
  • joelsfoodjoelsfood Member Posts: 1,027 ■■■■■■□□□□
    The last few days have mostly been binge reading blogs (David Varnum, Jeremy Waldrop, etc). Today I got up early though as I had managed to snag a 4 hr mock lab block from IPEXpert. Overall, it was a good experience. My main takeaway is that I have to get faster at everything on the network side. I got probably 90% of the network stuff finished, but I had to go to the docs more than I'd like. If I got full points for everything I completed would have gotten around 45 points in 4 hours. Of that though, 9 points was UCS setup in the last 20 minutes, so it is still VERY obvious, even after all my lab time, where my real world experience is.

    That of course just means more and more labs. I'll be going through the Detailed solutions guide here this afternoon just to double check my work. I've already scheduled IPExpert labs every monday/thursday I can between now and my test (other than weeks they have bootcamps and slots arent available). I will probably start some more labgear and pec labs to fill in the intervening weeks. And of course, ti's still a matter of keeping work happy.
  • joelsfoodjoelsfood Member Posts: 1,027 ■■■■■■□□□□
    Down to 3 months and 12 days. Still waiting for PEC/dcloud to open up, and proctorlabs (ipexpert) is booked for a bootcamp this week.

    I've spent the last week or so binge reading blogs (IPexpert, ine, david varnum, jeremy waldrop, etc). Just starting through the ipexpert videos now, as I picked up ipeverything subscription this morning. Jason over at ipexpert has been great with helping me out with various questions over the last couple of months. I highly recommend joining their Facebook group, even if your'e not a customer, as he's always over there answering questions.
  • IristheangelIristheangel CCIEx2 (Sec + DC), CCNP RS, CCNA V/S/R/DC, CISSP, CEH, MCSE 2003, A+/L+/N+/S+, and a lot more from m Pasadena, CAMod Posts: 4,133 Mod
    Looks like you're making some great progress. I'm on the Facebook group as well and you're right. Jason practically lives there. I've been going through the DC lab videos and I have to say I love Jason's teaching style. Good luck on the lab hours. If I remember correctly, you mentioned that you're stronger in servers and storage but weaker in networking, right? If that's the case, I would recommend doing the Tech Labs when you can. They have a lot more availability than the Mock labs and you have access to MDS, Nexus and JBOD - the UCSPE you can use on your own computer so that doesn't really matter.
    BS, MS, and CCIE #50931
  • joelsfoodjoelsfood Member Posts: 1,027 ■■■■■■□□□□
    Yeah, Jason answered posts and a PM on facebook today even though he's teaching a class too, so have no complaints there.

    I have tech labs scheduled every Monday/Thursday afternoon that they don't have classes between now and test, and something like 16 hours per week for last 4 weeks leading up to the test (and then labgear/pec/dcloud to fill out the other 3 days per week). I've definitely been impressed with their tech lab availability too. As long as there isn't a class, I can find tech lab time pretty much any day I'm not busy with day job. Other rack rentals seem to require planning ahead further than that. And of course I just got two more rack rental sessions with my IPeverything subscription today, so I'll be scheduling those soon enough.

    I'm looking forward to the new workbook now too, that Wayne and Jason keep mentioning.
  • joelsfoodjoelsfood Member Posts: 1,027 ■■■■■■□□□□
    Oh, and yes, you've got the strength parts right. I've been working through the UCS sections of workbook in UCSPE on my desktop, and using the rack rentals for the network sections. Still waiting to hear if I can setup a practice rack at work. Even if that doesn't end up happening (or happens after I finish test), I am starting to pull together gear for a Netapp/Brocade/Vmware/UCS/F5/EMC test lab for my coworkers. I keep having people say they want to learn, and we have the equipment, so about to make them put up or shut up.
  • WiseWunWiseWun Member Posts: 285
    Joel, are you able to consistently reserve mock lab with IPX? I'm aware of the 120 day window, but even then the sessions get booked quickly.
    "If you’re not prepared to be wrong, you’ll never come up with anything original.” - Ken Robinson
  • joelsfoodjoelsfood Member Posts: 1,027 ■■■■■■□□□□
    I have 3-4 mock lab sessions lined up between now and my test date, but you definitely have to hop right on each day as they open up (midnight eastern). I also check every day though,a s you can get cancellations, particularly over the lats month with holidays. That's why I had that four hour session on 1st (2nd?). Someone else had cancelled so I grabbed it. I check every day for new cancellations. :)
  • WiseWunWiseWun Member Posts: 285
    I was told the same thing by the salesperson but was a bit confused. Say you've just completed your session, shouldn't it be possible for you to book the same time 120 days from now? It's weird they open up at midnight, I hope my vouchers don't go to waste since they don't rollover.
    "If you’re not prepared to be wrong, you’ll never come up with anything original.” - Ken Robinson
  • joelsfoodjoelsfood Member Posts: 1,027 ■■■■■■□□□□
    Yes and no. The schedule is 120 days out, but it's not 120 days exactly, IE, the 4PM slots on May 16th won't open up in 26 minutes), it's 120 days each day at midnight.

    But if you check regularly, you definitely can grab slots. Someone cancelled (And I just grabbed) an 8 hour block from 4pm-12pm March 29th. It will be a late Sunday night for me, but less than 3 weeks out from lab exam, it will be worth it. That has me down to one voucher left now. Most of the studying really does work with the tech workbooks though.
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