Understanding the theory of each protocol is one thing, but being able to configure it is another thing. After reading a number of books, I purchased a collection of CCIE R&S practice workbooks. The first set that I purchased was Internetwork Expert’s workbooks (Vol1, Vol2 and Vol3) to get my hands on experience with each CCIE topic. Once I was finished the majority of INE workbooks, I bought IP Expert Volume 2 and Volume 3.
INE’S first volume is a technology based workbook. In technology based workbooks, each major CCIE blue print technology is presented and all of its features explained with a practiced labs. The second volume is a mock lab format, where tasks are composed of all topics instead of being focused on just one like volume 1. The second volume consists of 20 full labs with the first 10 having a troubleshooting and configuration section and the last 10 more in-depth configuration sections. Volume 3 is designed to help you work on your configuration speed. They also have Volume 4 which is troubleshooting volume that I had a chance to checkout. Below is a quick summary of my thoughts about INE’s workbooks.
- Workbooks are very nicely organized by topics and features, solution guides are well written in an easy to understand language.
- One of the biggest advantages of using INE workbooks is that you get constant updates and don’t have to purchase new labs every time there is an update. This one one of the selling points for me, as labs are corrected, bugs fixes and topics expended I was able to download them for free.
- Another aspect that I really liked was INE Product Forum such as Volume I forum. Each volume had each individual lab as dedicated forum for discussion. It was a great place to discuss any alternate solutions in a very well organized manner. Forum entries were a great way to deal with problems I encountered in the lab and at the same time see other people’s comments. It was easy to ask questions on a specific tasks without needing to explain the whole topology and get help from others, including INE employees monitoring the forum.
- INE Vol 2 workbooks were challenging. Each lab had new materials or special cases where you learn something new in the different 20 labs. I really like that this volume additionally had questions after each lab. I used these questions to study and review.
- All workbooks were readable on an iPad without any additional purchase. This was a huge pro for INE workbooks. I could read then in a train without carrying a laptop, which was very handy to have all labs, with notes and highlights on my iPad without carrying any printouts. I understand that many vendors have to protect their products, but at what cost to the students? INE made the right decision not to protect PDFs and allow you to open it on any device.
- Update changes were not documented, so it was hard to see what changed between revisions. You don’t know if changes were as simple as few spelling errors or as important as a technology description you studied few weeks ago. I think that this feature would make their workbooks extremely valuable.
- I wish alternate solutions would have been mentioned in the solution guides. This would make it a lot easier when trying to decide if your solution is correct or just different. I don’t mean full descriptions of alternate solutions, but maybe a short mention of them.
When I finished majority of INE Labs, I started on IP Expert labs. I always heard good things about IP Expert labs, but it wasn’t until I attended their bootcamp that I was introduced to their labs (see more at http://kemot-net.com/blog/ccie-bootcamps). Because of time limitation, I was only able to complete half of the IPExpert volume 3 configuration labs and all troubleshooting labs. Here are my thoughts on it:
- Very challenging configuration labs and troubleshooting labs. Vol 3 had different content than INE labs and that’s why I found it to be very useful.
- Labs took a lot of more time than 8 hours to complete. They had a lot more time consuming configuration tasks, which worked perfectly for speed and repetition practice. Their labs focused heavily on IGP and Layer 2 configuration.
- A number of the labs talked about alternate solutions, made it a lot easier to grade.
- IP Expert’s solution guides weren’t as detailed as INE’s.
- Each PDF is protected and can not be opened on an iPad. IPexpert does sell an iPad option but that comes with a large bundle which I was not able to get.
- Material wasn’t as organized and formatting looked a little bit dated.
Overall I can’t say which one was better than the other, they were different. All of the workbooks were crucial in my studies. I always argue for using study material from different vendors to get as much materials as you can. No one vendor will cover everything and a lot of it was complementary.
What I realized is that, no matter which vendor you go for the technology based labs, make sure you review them frequently. To prepare for my second lab, I reread them at least once before each test and each time I read it, I learn something new that might have been missed before.
Additional Notes on Workbooks
- Workbook Mock Labs – I try to practice mock labs just as the real lab. I used the same strategy that I use during the actual test (see more CCIE Configuration Lap Tips and CCIE Troubleshooting Lab Tips). I realized that each labs is there to teach you something new and will take a lot more time to finish than the real lab. After completing each lab, I made sure to grade it stringently based on the solution guides. The key part of grading was writing down all of the mistakes/typos and study them thoroughly. I studied this list not to make the same mistakes again.
- Solution Guides (SG) – when I started doing workbook labs, I would very get frustrated easily with the solution guide’s answers. At times, I had no idea how they came up with their solution. With experience, what I realized is that you have to take the SG with a grain of salt. The authors of these workbooks, are not going to show you the simplest way to do something (you can come up with that on your own), what they will do is demonstrate an alternative solution that not many people might have seen before. They do that to teach you different ways of solving these tasks.
- All Alternate Solution – The key in studying for the CCIE is knowing how to do the same task with all possible methods. If I only did that in the beginning, it would have saved me a lot of time. CCIE is not about solving a problem and being able to configure a network, it is about solving a problem in a way Cisco wants you to solve it by configuring in the way they want you to configure it. Without knowing all, or at least most methods of doing the same task, you might not be able to meet the requirements, which sometimes steer you in the direction of a specific solutions not widely known.