Stephen Wright, CCIE x3 #14998


I passed my CCIE Voice lab (14998) on my first attempt in Brussels this week having started my Journey in January 2013 and some 800 hours crammed into a short 5 months! This is my story and a thank you to Mark and INE for some great training materials. Sorry in advance for the long text but maybe my story of achieving CCIE Voice will help as motivation for any others pursuing this track.
My background is predominately Service Provider based having worked in both design and implementation based rolls on a consultancy basis with some of Europe's largest Service providers over the last 10 years. I already held CCIE SP and JNCIE qualifications which perfectly complement the work I do on large scale MPLS based ISP networks. However i have always had a personal interest in Voice technologies and while i have worked designing and developing networks for voice services I had not had much involvement with any large scale Cisco based Voice deployments. However at the start of the new year 2013 like many New Years resolutions I set myself the goal of passing CCIE VOICE.
Choosing INE
SInce passing my CCIE SP some 8 years ago I had always been aware of INE and followed with interest their products in the hope that one day I would find the time to try for another CCIE. While I had used some training products from another well known provider to prepare for CCIE SP I felt they lacked the personal approach and questioned the quality of some of their products. This lead me to immediately go to INE, I also had set myself the goal to pass CCIE R&S and DC over the next couple of years so INE's 2 Year "All Access Pass" was perfect for my needs. I personally fund my own training and prefer the self study approach combined with access to VOD tutorials so this product was the only one I was aware of in the market place that met my criteria and budget.
Home Lab
WIth my All Access Pass I got 1000 rack tokens and my original plan was to utilise the INE racks with my own phones for my whole Voice lab training needs. And yes the rack access is great but at the time I needed the flexibility to be able to study at short notice for maybe just an hour at a time. As I already had the phones, 3750 switch, 2821 and VMware server running the various software components. I was able to build a full lab from components off Ebay for about £2k that matched the INE racks with the addition of having the POE HWIC-4ESW cards. My plan being that I would save the tokens for the DC track where a home lab is not a viable option and I can sell my CCIE VOICE Lab kit and recoup some of that £2k investment.
The Plan
I did not set out to pass CCIE Voice in just 5 months, I had done CCIE SP in 6 months but that cert I was comfortable with due to my background. But CCIE Voice I was really starting from scratch and completely out of my comfort zone. I did consider going down the CCNA, CCNP voice route first but a Quad CCIE and Dual JNCIE friend I know always said to just go direct for the CCIE. I know this will not be right for everyone but I think if you already have a CCIE then there is some value in just going direct to CCIE if you have a sound networking background. I don't mean skip on the training materials for CCNA or CCNP, just skip on the exams especially if your goal is the CCIE.
The Journey
In Mid January I started the INE CCNA Voice v8.0 Video training and completed this in two weeks. I had many years ago got 50% through completing CCNP Voice but for various reasons did not complete it. This background experience had given me a grounding and the CCNA brought my knowledge up to date. While doing the CCNA I started to build my own home lab and also discovered that the CCIE track was likely to change in the next few months so my original plan of taking the lab at the end of 2013 changed and I was spurred on commit all my available time into getting ready for a first attempt on the lab sometime in June/July 2013. This was on the basis that I would need a few attempts at the lab so I would have time to do this before the blueprint changed. I also read Marks blog on CCIE Voice in 12 months and thought wow this is a lot of information to get though in 12 months but in 5 is this possible?
At the start of February i began to look at the CCNP material next but quickly decided to jump straight to the Deep Dive series for a couple of reasons. Firstly I was itching to get into configuration scenarios on my lab and the Deep Dive from what I could see looked to recap on a lot of the CCNP related topics. This saved me a lot of time in my schedule but had I have had time I would have done the CCNP materials as this would have helped give me a better understanding of some of the technologies which I later had to revisit the theory on. I realised from Marks CCIE Voice planning spreadsheet that I would need to put in about 800 hours to get to the right level and I quickly realised that I would need to put in 40 hours a week if I was going to be able to have a shot at the lab by the middle of 2013. I still had to juggle my job and family life around this schedule but fortunately I have a very understanding family.
The Deep Dive took 2 -3 times a long to complete than I planned as I would be constantly stopping and starting the recordings and configuring each scenario on my own lab, this I found the best way to commit each technology to memory. I also would revisit the technologies every 3-4 modules otherwise I found that I was forgetting things unless I keep revisiting them. It also takes many times I think to digest the material. It took me to the end of March to complete the Deep Dives but by this time I had some 320 hours on the Deep Dive Series and associated lab pratice.
By mid March I had not actually sat or passed the CCIE Voice Written so I scheduled the written as I felt I had enough time with the technologies to attempt the written and I was relieved to get this first time. I was feeling quite good with my prep so far I had committed myself 110% into the revision to such an extent that I felt like it was effecting my health, my eye sight was shot and I had to go get glasses for the first time. I was eating, sleeping and living this whole revision thing. I decided to commit to a lab date in the middle of June and hey If I was not 100% ready then it would be a good opportunity to find out what the lab was all about an what level I was at.
At the start of April I began to the the INE labs and from the beginning I decided to use the device based approach and base my test strategy on this. There are a few Youtube videos on this strategy and also strategy on how to quickly map out your Dial Plan. I spent a lot of time looking more into each of the technologies and making myself use the Cisco documentation without the search options as I would have to in the real lab. I also made mental notes of where handy bits of config were located for each of the technologies. Documentation is key in this exam, there are just some things you cannot and would not be expected to remember in the exam hence why they give you access to the documentation but the key is being able to find it fast!
By the start of May I had another 160 hours under my belt and had done every lab at least twice. I spent May simulating full 8 hour lab attempts to help improve my timing and also spent a lot of time simulating troubleshooting activities and doing a lot of log analysis and reading RFC's etc. I also worked through the Bootcamp VOD.
By June I was completing the labs in 5 hours and mixing things up to try and not get to confident doing the same labs again and again. You have to just be able to do stuff cold without thinking about it especially on the IOS devices, MGCP, H323, Translation rules, SRST etc. I had a standard config I could roll out for each eventuality especially stuff like Dial Plan where you can then just tweak it to match the questions. I also spent a lot of time looking into all the Unity options and UCCX scripts.
At the end of May I heard the news that CCIE Voice was to be retired and I felt physically sick at first but then thought Well I am committed to this now and my lab date was committed. Luckily Cisco reversed this decision with a migration path from CCIE Voice to CCIE Collaboration :)
The last week before my lab date I was feeling ready for my first attempt. I was not sure if I had the right level of preparation but I knew that I had put in a stupid amount of preparation over such a short time period and I was itching to have a go at the lab as I was getting sick of repeating stuff. I finished up with 4 full 8 hour labs just prior to my real lab.
The Lab
I flew out to Brussels from the UK the day before my lab and stayed at the NH Brussels Airport Hotel which is 5 minutes walk from the Cisco offices and offers a stress free start to your lab day. I spent the evening before the lab doing some light reading and checking over some notes I had made of things I must not forget to do. Best practice Service Settings in CUCM etc I created a phrase to help we remember service settings to check. Main thing was to get an early night sleep and I managed a good 7 hours before the lab.
Lab Day
I had a light breakfast and was at the Cisco offices for 8am. There were about 10 of us there for labs and the proctor met us at 8:15am sharp and took us up to the room. After the initial lab briefing we were given our desk numbers and so the lab started. Timing is key and I immediacy put my plan into action. I spent the first 30 minutes of the lab reading through all of the questions and implemented the device based approach as discussed. I marked down each question that related to a particular device or devices. After 30 minutes I had a sheet full of question numbers against lab devices and some dial-plan notes etc. Its a bit unnerving to spend 30 minutes just doing this without logging into a single device but for me it was my plan and I had practiced this method many times before.
I started configuring everything I could on the HQ router first, then the SB router and then the SC router. While I was doing the HQ switch config I was doing the CUE config in parallel due to the numerous reboots this module needs. This took about 1.5 hours so I was now 2 hours into the exam with out even having logged into CUCM. But I knew that my IOS based devices were about 90% configured. By this point I had a lot of things ticked off on my sheet against the IOS devices, things that I had not fully configured on them I marked in red. However at this stage I did not really have any tasks fully completed. Next I attacked CUCM and based on the early lunch time my goal was to get the phones registered by lunchtime, my original plan was to have voicemail operational by lunchtime but time was against me. I had my DP and phones operational by lunch and I returned from lunch, dealt with VM and started to attack all the individual tasks. This is where your point count really starts to add up fast most of the work is now just on configuring the various applications, but I had to revisit my IOS devices from time to time to fix mistakes or add missing config. Time was very tight for me, I did basic testing after each task was complete and I planned to do in-depth testing at the end but that time never materalised and I had to end my lab having missed a question and having not fully tested things. Its a very difficult exam but Marks Deep Dive and Bootcamp really helps prepare you for the exam. Speed and a plan of attack is key
I left the exam feel mentally and physically drained, it really is a stressful experience especially towards the end when your time is running out and you start shaking as you try and type.
The Result
I left the exam feeling mixed about my attempt. In one respect I felt that it had gone well for a first attempt and that I may have a shot but then I had not tested things fully and missed out a big point question. Its so easily to loose points for missing simple things I know that from doing the INE labs. This really tought me that you have to be a perfectionist in terms of your config so as to not miss anything. I was hoping and expecting my result in 24 hours as usually they need the lab equipment some someone else hence the no re-read policy. No result the following day and my anxiety was building. But 40 hours after finishing my lab my result arrived and wow was I and my family happy with the result. This has been by far the hardest exam I have ever done and by far the most amount of time I have ever put into an exam.
So to finish I would like to Thanks Mark and the team at INE for a great set of CCIE Voice training materials and I look forward to getting into another track once I have had a long awaited holiday.
Many thanks
Stephen Wright
CCIE SP & Voice 14998

I would just like to thank the people at INE, especially Brian Dennis and Brian McGahan, in assisting me in obtaining my 3rd CCIE in R&S. Having achieved CCIE SP some 8 years ago and JNCIE about 2 years ago I decided I wanted to further my knowledge in a number of areas I work in as a consultant and decided to sign up to the INE All Access Pass 2 year product back in January 2013. I wanted to pursue the CCIE Voice track, while this was a technology I did not have a huge background in, it was always interesting to me and I was always annoyed at myself for only having half completed CCVP some 5 years previous. So with the excellent teaching materials of Mark Snow and a full home lab made of parts purchased on eBay, I crammed some 800 hours of revision into about 5 months and passed on my first attempt in June 2013. I then took a well deserved break, got married and decided to hit the revision again in December 2013, this time pursuing R&S. I blame that on Mark Snow for having replied to a forum post and he said I should go for R&S as it would be easy based on my SP background. Well I can say I partially agree with that based on the fact I sat the R&S lab a few days ago and passed on my first attempt. However as I got into the revision back in December I soon realised there was a fairly large mountain to climb and a high time pressure based on the impending change to v5. I was planning to need a couple of attempts so set an initial date in late February but soon realised that this would be my only chance at v4 as all later dates became booked. So with about 12 weeks I hit the revision hard. Again I built my own home lab so with the addition of some extra routers and switches by Voice lab became an R&S lab. I did all the ATC videos, Workbooks, etc. clocking up an average 40 hrs a week of study on top of my working day. I think what also really helped was many years of experience especially in the method I used to attack the troubleshooting section. I also followed INE's advice and limited myself to 10 minutes per trouble ticket. 3rd ticket in I hit an issue and got to 10 minutes so I went to the next ticket and luckily the rest were ok and I came back to ticket 3 with 40 minutes to spare. With the pressure off as I knew I should have passed the TS section I had 40 minutes to resolve this 3 point ticket and I managed it in 20 minutes taking my time. One thing that I know from my last 2 CCIEs is that speed is key you have to be able and do the basics cold and fast. That helped me in the Layer 2 switching and Layer 3 routing sections as nothing particular phased me but that time saving then allowed me to really spend time on the various technologies they get you to configure. I still have another 11 months left on my All Access Pass subscription so plan to do DC next as I am currently working on a Nexus DC refresh project for a Swiss client.

Again Many Thanks

Stephen Wright
CCIE R&S, SP & Voice 14998

- Stephen Wright, CCIE x3 #14998 (CCIE R&S, CCIE Voice, CCIE Service Provider)

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