CCIE Study: 5 Months Deep

Just when you thought the four-month mark was busy, the fifth month shows up to sucker-punch your productivity. I don’t know about the experience of others, but I feel like this is also the time that you meet “the forgetting monster” — you start getting more flash-cards wrong, you begin to question the things you learned in the previous modules/months, and getting overwhelmed becomes a reality.

But the good news is, that you can push through all of this. I don’t think it’s common to go through a long-period of study without problems, struggles, or anxieties. In this case, my problems have all revolved around trying to get my house ready for adoption (cleaning, yardwork, renovation, etc), or motorcycle repair.

Where Am I Now?

Last month I was excited about finally being able to move on to a new topic, which was OSPF. Not working with it regularly meant that I was going to have to hit the books hard, and I think I can say that I really did. I read through the OSPFv2 chapters of “Routing TCP/IP Vol. 1,” and the CCIE 5.1 OCG, as well as the Middle Section of “OSPF: Anatomy of a Routing Protocol.” Along with these was several RFCs (ugh) and the Cisco Documentation on OSPF. The protocol came somewhat naturally to me, and I was even able to cram Redistribution (uggggggh) into this month as well.

The speed-run of the INE ATC Labs also happened, although I feel like it wasn’t a very speedy speed-run. These went pretty easy — I think the basics are sticking; the forgetting monster isn’t as effective as he seems. All of this is good news.

The bad news is that I didn’t get a chance to go over EIGRP OTP, or DUAL FSM states again. I feel like my grasp of EIGRP OTP is fine, but I would like to take a deeper look at LISP.

What’s Next?

Next month will be all about BGP (yet another protocol that I don’t deal with much). I expect it to take the majority of the month. If I’m lucky I’ll be able to include the “Protocol Optimization” module in and look at EIGRP LFA, OSPF throttling, etc. I’m curious as to how well I’m going to pick this up; I feel like I had the same attitude about OSPF, but it came naturally. Hopefully I’m wrong about BGP too?

Resources:

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CCIE Study: 4 Months Deep

I’ve been informed that three months is when the wear-marks begin to show when doing a long period of study; and if that’s true I’d like to claim that four months is the start of the second-wind. I’ve been busier than ever this month yet I’ve made serious headway.

As none some of you may know, my wife and I are working through the process of adopting a child. This month the adoption agency issued us homework, consisting of a workbook, an online course, several videos, and two books. Having to read two books while studying for your CCIE is absurd, but it got done.

When I started studying for the CCIE, it had been a few months since my last vacation. I was able to get through the first few months, but all the added hours were starting to take their toll. It was unsustainable. A three-day-weekend pass to Seattle was a quick remedy. One must learn to rest instead of quitting.

So where am I now?

After three months of restarts, broken labs, and disappointments, I was getting pretty burnt out on re-learning the same topics over-and-over; but the fourth month has brought new life into the game. I’ve been able to move on to a topic that’s fresh to me: OSPF! I’ve never had the privilege of running an OSPF network (in production; I have labbed OSPF as much as I could). I’ve always wanted to — so much so that I even moved jobs so that I could participate in a migration to OSPF from EIGRP (which I’m in the middle of). Starting a new(-to-me) subject has really made all the difference, as I now have far more desire to study. I’m hoping to put together some OSPF posts in the future.

Speaking of OSPF (and the job with an OSPF network): We’re in the middle of an OSPF migration for VMware NSX implementation. There were some initial foibles of working with NSX (and doing so through another team), but we’ve gotten it up and running, and stable in a lab environment. I’m planning to put together a post on this as well.

What’s Next?

I’ve barely touched the surface of OSPF, and I’ve got a ton of reading and labbing to do on this one. I need to make up for a wealth of inexperience. Hoping to plow through “OSPF: Anatomy of a Routing Protocol,” knock out some labs, and view a lot of packet captures. Also anticipating a quick re-read of some of the EIGRP DUAL FSM states, path recalculation, and EIGRP OTP. Finally, I want to do a “speed run” on the INE ATC labs up to where I am now.

Resources:

CCIE Study: 3 Months Deep

Month three of my CCIE training has not been an easy one. I started off with a cold that was making things pretty foggy, while I was trying to learn several topics much further in-depth. On top of this, I was being beaten to death by a heavy load of flash cards, as I had increased my “new cards” load from 20 to 30. As I stated in my 2 Month update, I had a lot of catching up to do.

After the restarts, lab-rebuilds, and relearning I had been feeling pretty defeated. There’s something about running into failures right away that leaves you feeling pretty demotivated. These demotivating feelings can lead to distraction, and negative attitudes that only make studying even more difficult. These feelings stack up and can eventually make one ready to give up.

Thankfully, I had the guys over at RouterGods to talk me through this, as well as a few of my mentors and friends, and of course my awesome wife. There was also a really good video put out by one of the RouterGods members, as well as a blog post. My bible-study group was also very helpful.

On the subject of subjects being learned, I spent most of the month covering PPP, and PPPoE, CEF, basic IP routing, PBR, and RIP. I also managed to get caught up on flashcards, and even made some good breakthroughs on concepts that I didn’t quite understand.

The Big Takeaway

Don’t give up! In the Marines, I learned that you can’t just give up when life is rough. There’s a reason that a CCIE is considered an “expert.” Being an expert isn’t easy; If it was, there’d be a lot less morons in the world. Becoming an expert takes time, effort, and discipline. That’s why they say “The master has failed more times than the beginner has even tried.”

Moving Forward

So what’s on the agenda for next month? For my fourth month of self-abuse studying, I’ll be working on EIGRP and hopefully OSPF. As much as I’d like to do more, I think that those two topics are pretty deep and I’ll be lucky to get both of them in the month. I would even contend that while I have pretty deep experience with EIGRP, my OSPF knowledge is thin enough to ensure that learning won’t come quickly.

Additional Resources

CCIE Study: 2 Months Deep

In my first month of studying I blew through several subjects worth of Videos-on-Demand, labs, and note-taking; I then promptly forgot most of it. This was due to not keeping up with that information, and not reading enough. I would learn a new subject only to forget the details of the old subject. The CCIE exam is not forgiving, and forgotten knowledge has no place in that world.

I realized the problem once I downloaded Jedediah Casey’s excellent Anki flashcard deck. I took the cards for subjects I thought I knew and added them to my daily study routine. The first attempt on the cards was enough for me to realize that I hadn’t read deeply enough, nor had I retained what I did¬†know well enough. Prior to that I thought I had conquered topics at a CCIE-level, only to find that I barely knew what I was doing. The cards I had created prior to using this deck were a joke.

So for the last month, I re-studied Spanning Tree, Ethernet, and Layer 2. I read almost every article in the Cisco documentation on the subjects. I read blogs on them, memorized flash cards, and made more extensive use of the debug command. I made my own labs. I even spent time improving my lab so that debug messages weren’t such a pain to use.

The Big Takeaway

Don’t get discouraged; the learning process is more complicated than most of us think it is.

Actually¬†plan what you’re going to study. It’s important to identify what you need to study, and make it a priority. Nobody becomes a doctor without a structured study plan, and I’m sure nobody becomes a CCIE that way either.

DO NOT just randomly blaze through topics. Brian McGahan, the instructor at INE lists a method for studying that goes as follows:

  1. Gain a high-level knowledge
  2. Basic hands-on experience
  3. Gain expert-level knowledge
  4. Expert-level hands-on experience

I’m sure I’m paraphrasing that a little bit, but the fundamental idea is there — At some point or another, you need to increase the depth of your studies. I made the mistake of not reading all of the documentation on a subject, or not reading the configuration guide or the command references. Once you’ve done the basic hands-on experience you should leave no stone unturned in your pursuit of routing knowledge.

The effectiveness of flashcards can make or break your studying. My flashcards were trash. Make flashcards that will challenge you. These are what’s going to make you retain the information; anything that doesn’t challenge you here is going to let your knowledge atrophy.

Moving Forward

I’m coming to the end of the catching-up phase of using the flashcards, but I suspect I’ll be totally done with re-learning information by the end of the month. This month will be consumed with re-learning the rest of the layer 2 technologies (PVLAN, CDP/LLDP, with a special focus on PPP/HDLC) followed by re-learning RIP and EIGRP if I can get that far.

Back to flashcards, in order to get “up-to-snuff” on retaining information, I had to increase the daily limit on “new” flashcards to 30, which has lead to some truly brutal days of studying them.

Additional Resources:

Study Pro-Tip:Console to Physical hosts with your ESXi Server

For the first few lab sessions I used a layer-3 port on my 3750G switches for console access. The plan worked well for the most part, though it had minor issues: debug messages typically don’t print to the vty lines, and if you were to make a mistake in your lab you could lose access to it until you made a physical change.

To be honest, I don’t have a lot of spare cash to buy spare equipment. That being said, the equipment I have access to has enough horsepower to get away with running an extra device on it. So I decided that I should take a minute away from studying to improve the quality of my lab.

What I Did

The basic idea is simple:

  • Plug your USB-to-Serial Adapters into your ESXi Host.
  • Create a Linux VM that will become your reverse-telnet server.
  • Configure “DirectPath I/O” (allow your VM to use the physical hardware).
  • Attach the devices to your VM
  • Set up your reverse telnet server (and allow via firewall)

I’ll walk you through each of the steps here below.

Create a Linux VM

Download your favorite Linux distribution and install it as a VM on your host. For any sort of server use I always recommend CentOS/RedHat or Debian (if you want fancy new packages Ubuntu also works in place of Debian). Once you have it installed, go ahead and plug your USB-to-Serial cables into your host.

Configure VMware Direct I/O

This part took some figuring out, but it really shouldn’t have. All you need to do is go to the “Configuration” tab under you ESXi host, and click on “Advanced settings.” There isn’t much on this screen, which makes it easy to look past it, but you’ll see an area that looks like so:

You’re going to want to click on the link that says “Configure Passthrough.” This will lead to another box that will let you select which devices you want to connect to your VMs. Typically you’ll choose whichever device looks like a USB controller.


Once this is complete you’ll need to reboot your host machine. Once that’s complete we can proceed to our next step.

Attach the devices to your VM

When the host comes back online you need to modify the hardware settings of your virtual machine. Make sure your virtual machine is powered off, then select your virtual machine and go to “Edit virtual machine settings.” Click “Add.” Choose the “PCI Device” option. You’ll be presented with the option to choose your PCI device. Choose the USB controller. You’ll need to do it for each USB controller you want the device to have access to.

Once that’s finished, you can boot up your virtual machine. Now all we have to do is…

Set up the reverse-telnet server

Log into your server and open up a terminal. The first thing we need to do is install ser2net. You can do this on CentOS like such:

sudo yum install ser2net

After installation, we need to see where our serial connections are mounted:

dmesg | grep tty

The output should be something along the lines of “/dev/ttyUSB0.” remember what they are because we’re about to modify a file that will use these values. Using your favorite text-editor, modify the /etc/ser2net.conf file. I used VIM, but you can use whatever floats your boat:

sudo vim /etc/ser2net.conf

We’re going to add the following lines to it. You’re should modify this file to meet the security needs of your environment.

ipv4,5001:telnet:0:/dev/ttyUSB0:9600 8DATABITS NONE 1STOPBIT 
ipv4,5002:telnet:0:/dev/ttyUSB1:9600 8DATABITS NONE 1STOPBIT 

Finally we’re going to start the service, enable it to run at boot-time, and configure our firewall rules. Keep in mind that this assumes you’re using the firewalld as well as systemd. If you’re not, you’ll have to do some research into what firewall you’re using.

sudo systemctl enable ser2net --now
sudo firewall-cmd --zone public --add-port 5001/tcp
sudo firewall-cmd --zone public --add-port 5002/tcp
sudo firewall-cmd --runtime-to-permanent

You should now be able to telnet to your device on the specified ports (tcp/5001-5002) and get console access to your devices.

Additional Resources:

Study Pro-Tip: Use Night-Light

Sleep is an important part of studying; without enough sleep, trying to focus on workbooks, documentation, or a CLI can be very difficult. What many people still don’t know about sleep is that blue-light can trigger your body to stay awake. That very same blue-light is emitted from your PC’s monitor, so if you’re up late labbing like most of us, it can interfere with your sleep.

Luckily for you, your PC most likely has an option to turn that blue-light off!
I’ll only be covering this for Windows, as that’s what I’m using to lab (I typically use linux in my personal life). I’ll try to find something for other devices to stick in the “additional resources” section.

How it’s done:

  1. settings>system>display
  2. Click the “Night Light settings” option, under the toggle
  3. Adjust as needed.
You should be looking at something like this

Additional Resources: