Ciscos ultimate certification costs $1,200 at a minimum and requires two days of lab work at Cisco. But did you know that there are several other titles you can earn on the way to the top?
The Cisco Challenge
Cisco’s ultimate certification costs $1,200 at a minimum and requires two days of lab work at Cisco. But did you know that there are several other titles you can earn on the way to the top?
- By Eric Quinn
- January 01, 1999
Cisco Systems, Inc. is widely regarded within the computer
industry as having the preeminent networking certification
title, the CCIE (Cisco Certified Internetworking Expert).
There arent many professionals who hold this titlejust
a few over 3,000 as of October 1998but those who
do often command salaries from $75,000 to over $200,000
a year. Sound outrageous? The fact is, supply is driving
demandfew certified experts exist in the field of
routing, especially with Cisco products. And in order
to achieve the CCIE, Cisco requires a hands-on lab that
can cost thousands of dollars. Thus, dont look for
a lot of CCIEs out there any time soon.
While plenty of MCSEs are looking eagerly at adding Ciscos
top title to their business cards, what they may not know
is that in addition to the three types of CCIE titles,
Cisco also offers four other certifications at two lower
levelsthe CCNA and CCNP. (The three CCIE titles
are CCIE-Routing and Switching; CCIE-Routing and Switching,
ISP Dial; and CCIE-WAN Switching). In this article, I
focus on the certifications within the Routing and Switching
tracks because those are currently the most popular.
Are You a Chosen One?
So youre wondering if you have the necessary level
of knowledge to be successful in pursuing Cisco certification?
In my experience as a Cisco trainer, the ideal person
starting this certification track has six months to a
year of occasional router configuration experience. In
addition to that, I recommend that he or she be either
a Microsoft Certified Systems Engineer (MCSE) or Certified
NetWare/Novell Engineer (CNE) with one or two years of
network administration experience.
At the very least, you should have a solid grounding
in networking and a good understanding of how TCP/IP works.
IP subnetting is a large part of all of the courses, beginning
with the Introduction to Cisco Router Configuration course.
While this introductory course explains subnetting, all
of the other Cisco courses assume you know it. Be forewarned:
The course spends very little time on subnetting compared
to Microsoft and Novell. You should arrive knowing the
From the Beginning: CCNA
The Cisco Certified Network Associate (CCNA) is Ciscos
entry-level title. While its simple in comparison
to the CCIE, the CCNA is still tough for the networking
beginner. With the MCSE, if you dont lay a solid
foundation (with the NT exams) you wont be much
of an MCSE. With Cisco, if you dont learn the basics
of routing protocols, you dont have a chance of
becoming a CCIE.
The CCNA exam, which costs $100 and can be taken at any
Sylvan Prometric testing center, confirms your knowledge
of routing protocols (IGRP, EIGRP, IP, and IPX RIP), routed
protocols (IP, IPX, and AppleTalk), and WAN technology
and protocols (serial connections, X.25, and frame relay).
It also covers quite a bit about the OSI model, dial-on-demand
routing, and packet filtering. These items comprise what
Cisco terms simple networks. A CCNA is supposed
to be able to support a small routed and switched network
The subject for this exam is taken partially from two
Cisco courses: Cisco Router & LAN Switching and the
aforementioned Introduction to Cisco Router Configuration.
The advantage of taking these classes to prepare for the
CCNA is that you gain the expertise of the instructor,
who can help you out if you get confused during the router
configuration process. This is helpful because for a beginner,
learning router configuration can be highly frustrating.
If you dont know the basics of routers and cant
take a Cisco switching course, then Cisco recommends you
spend time with two Cisco CDs: Internetwork Technology
Multimedia (ITM) and High Performance Solutions for Desktop
Connectivity. By themselves, these products will not give
you the knowledge necessary to pass the ACRE exam. They
are designed to be used with other materials. Cisco recommends
the ITM no matter how you study for the CCNA. In practice,
this often isnt necessary. Both self-study products
are available from Cisco for $100 each. The Additional
Information sidebar lists third-party products to
help you prepare as well.
Turning Up the Heat: CCNP
The Cisco Certified Network Professional (CCNP) builds
on the CCNA and is a notch up in difficulty and complexity.
A CCNP is expected to be able to support a complex routed
and switched network with dial-up access. (My version
of a complex internetwork involves at least 50 routers,
at least two protocolsIP, IPX, AppleTalk, Vines,
DECnet, etc.and at least two topology typesEthernet,
token ring, frame relay, ATM, X.25, etc.) You should know
items covered in the CCNA exams, as well as OSPF, ISDN,
BGP, ISL, bridging, route summarization, route redistribution,
variable length subnet masks, and asynchronous routing.
To become a CCNP, you must take either two or four more
exams, in addition to having earned the CCNA. If you prefer
to be tested on one topic at a time, you can take separate
exams for Advanced Cisco Router Configuration, Cisco LAN
Switch Configuration, and Configuring, Monitoring, and
Troubleshooting Dial-up Services. You can also take all
of these topics in one big exam called Foundation R/S.
This method is like taking a Microsoft beta exam, with
the added stress of knowing that a passing score has already
been set. The benefit is that you spend $200 instead of
$300. Either way, to become a CCNP, you also have to pass
the Cisco Internetwork Troubleshooting exam.
|Figure 1. Although the CCIE program
is independent of the CCNP and the CCNA certification
tracks, each tier tends to build on the others.
The Premium Title: CCIE
As a Cisco instructor, the most common question Im
asked about Cisco certification is: What do they
test you on when you take the CCIE? The only answer
I know is this: Configuring and troubleshooting
Cisco products. The CCIE lab has no equal in the
realm of vendor certifications.
Imagine that Microsoft had a lab requirement for a Master
MCSE certification. Youd arrive at the campus
in Redmond not knowing what to expect. The lab proctor
would give you a sheet telling you to set up an Exchange
server to pull mail from an ISP, set up user policies
on an NT server, and set up SMS to distribute an upgrade
to Office 98. Assuming you perform correctly, youre
told to come back the next day and fix the errors the
proctor will create in your absence that night. You may
be required to set up any feature suppoted by Cisco 2500,
4000, and 4500 series routers and Catalyst 5000 series
The CCIE consists of two exams that must be taken in
order; no other Cisco certifications need to be earned
before you attempt the CCIE. The first, called Qualification
Exam 350-001, is a computer-based test on which
you must score 65 percent or better70 percent if
youre a Cisco employee. Effective January 1, 1999,
the passing score will be raised to 70 percent for non-Cisco
employees as well. This exam, which costs $200, weeds
out those with no chance of passing the second examthe
lab. Once youve passed the computer-based exam,
youre ready to register for the lab. If youre
in the U.S., you can take the CCIE lab in San Jose, California
or Raleigh, North Carolina. Cisco also offers the lab
exam in Canada, Belgium, Japan, China, and Australia.
Each attempt costs $1,000 plus room, board, and travel
How Do You Prepare?
Although self-study can be useful for network professionals
preparing for the MCSE title, its not the best method
for Cisco certifications. While its possible (though
not recommended) to get through the initial certifications
that way, dont even think about trying the CCIE
lab after simply reading books (unless you really have
no other use for the $1,000 fee). Nor can some of the
written tests be passed by self-study alone. Some Cisco
exams include 100 questions that you must complete in
an hour. Without hands-on experience with Cisco products,
dont waste your money on the exams.
However, self-study is definitely an option if you have
experience with routers and switches or if your employer
is willing to buy or lease you a lab.
I know one student whose employer told him he needed
to become a CCIE within six months (he had several years
of experience). The employer then purchased $500,000 worth
of equipment for this student to practice on. (No, Im
not aware of any job openings at this particular company.)
Since most of you dont work for that company, youll
need to find an alternative. Your employer would probably
frown on your practicing on production equipment, so Cisco
has established practice labs in several cities. If youve
signed up for the CCIE lab, you can arrange to practice
on Ciscos equipment.
Career Specializations Announced
|In mid-November 1998, Cisco
Systems announced five career specialization
certifications as part of its Cisco Certified
Network Professional (CCNP) program. Youre
required to have your CCNP title in order
to pursue the specialties.
The Security track focuses on building
and maintaining Cisco security solutions,
including stand-alone firewall products
and Cisco Internetwork OS software features.
You must pass exam 640-442, Managing
Cisco Network Security.
A Network Management track drills down
on skills for implementing and supporting
solutions for multi-layer networks.
That requires two tests, 640-443, Managing
Cisco Routed Internetworks, and 640-444,
Managing Cisco Switched Internetworks.
The LAN ATM track focuses on building
and maintaining campus ATM networks,
which are based on LAN emulation services
offered over ATM switches. It requires
a single exam, 640-446, Cisco Campus
A Voice Access track, which requires
one test640-447, Cisco Voice Essentials,
Cisco Voice over Frame Relay, ATM, and
IPfocuses on the skills for implementing
and supporting data/voice integration
solutions at the network access level,
which include IP, ATM, and Frame Relay
uplink access products.
The SNA Solutions track requires two
exams640-445, SNA Configuration
for Multiprotocol Administrators, and
640-450, Cisco Data Link Switching Plus.
It focuses on the skills required to
install, configure, and troubleshoot
Cisco routers in SNA environments.
Cisco Certified Training Partners offer
classes tied to each exam.
The Classroom Route
Finally, if you dont have access to networking
equipment at work and arent ready for the CCIE,
you can take a class to prepare. As a Cisco instructor,
I favor this route, and Ill explain why. Classes
are perfect for someone who doesnt want to spend
$50,000 (minimum) on a Cisco lab and doesnt have
access to practice equipment at work. Its also good
for those who want assistance with labs and need someone
to ask questions of.
Also, Cisco is strict about certifying instructors. Each
instructor must pass exams covering the class he or she
wants to teach. The instructor must also attend that class
before teaching it. The hardest part of becoming a trainer
is going through what I call the mini CCIE,
also known as the Instructor Certification Process, or
ICP. During this, the potential instructor must teach
for 90 minutes in front of a CCIE, then configure a network
following a supplied list. Coincidentally, the configuration
on the list matches the labs in the Introduction to Cisco
Router Configuration course. The instructor has a maximum
of eight hours to configure a network that students will
be given three days to set up. In addition, the instructor
must be prepared to explain the logic he or she followed.
In short, Cisco makes sure its instructors are well-prepared
If you choose to take a Cisco course, shop around. There
are just 10 Cisco Training Partners in the U.S. with no
plans to add any more in the near future. The two things
that make a course worthwhile are the classroom environment
and the instructor. Because of the generally small number
of students in different locations, many classes are held
in hotels rather than permanent training facilities. Also,
while Cisco allows up to 24 students in a classroom, I
prefer smaller groups, since that lets me spend more time
with each student. Try to enroll in a class with no more
than 20 students and preferably fewer than 16.
Expect to spend between four and five days and $1,795
to $1,995 per class. (Prices differ, but thats what
my training company charges.)
Going It Alone
There are several products available if you choose self-study
for the introductory Cisco certifications. The first are
computer-based training lessons on CD-ROMs from CBT Systems.
They offer three ways of studying the Introduction to
Cisco Router Configuration and Advanced Cisco Router Configuration
courses. You can purchase each course separately for $1,300
apiece, or you can purchase both CD-ROMs in a bundle for
$2,200. Find out when the courses youre buying were
written. Make sure theyve been updated lately. Cisco
has put out two Internetwork Operating System (IOS) revisions
in the last year or so and should be releasing a major
upgrade sometime in the first quarter of 1999.
You can also purchase books from Cisco Press (Macmillan
Technical Publishing) and McGraw-Hill.
And, of course, you can tap Internet sources. www.ccieprep.com
is a subscription Web site run by a couple of CCIEs that
seeks to prepare people for the various certifications.
Theres both a free and a pay section available.
www.groupstudy.com is the Web site for a mailing list
of people interested in getting certified and sharing
information. Comp.dcom.sys.cisco is the Cisco newsgroup.
While dedicated to Cisco topics and mostly useful for
help in troubleshooting, the newsgroup welcomes certification
questions as long as they arent repetitions of ones
asked a day or two before. This is an invaluable group
as long as you follow proper netiquette.
Effort and Rewards
The CCIE doesnt come easy. You cant study
a few books and expect to pass the exams. It requires
hands-on experience and a lot of effort. The lower-level
certifications can be handled by self-study, but hands-on
practice is a big part. Using the self-study products
for exam prep is a long road for people used to a GUI
interfacethe Internetwork Operating System interface
and commands resemble Unix more than anything. But with
effort and drive, you can succeed. Terrific employment
opportunities await those with the knowledge and determination
to follow the Cisco certification road to the end.