I started my wireless CCIE journey in July 2012. Like any other CCIE track, most important task was planing the journey. For me I had an additional advantage of going through a similar process in 2008 when I did my R&S lab exam & knew what it looks like. It is not only about your sole sacrifice, but the contribution of your family, your friends & everyone else around you. Therefore first of all I got the permission from my wife to dedicate another 12 months for my wireless journey.It was not an easy task as well, since we are alone in abroad with two young kids, had to organize alternative ways of supporting my family during this time. My mother-in-law & father-in-law agreed to visit us & stay with us 6 months each.

Once environment is ready, I had to come up with a proper study plan. This was the other key element of this journey. While you are studying you should be able to track how you progress & make sure you get the confidence as time goes on. My strategy was 4 hours of study in every week day & 12 hours a day in weekends. Below is a sample of my time tracker in excel. I wanted to ensure not many red cells (actual hours is less than planned)

MyStory-01Your time management skills are really important for this journey. Also you have to have your goals setup with time line against each other. For me I wanted to finish this within year 2013 & I have already planned 3 attempts if needed (you have to be realistic with your targets as well).

Getting start was the hard part for me. Initially I thought doing small scale lab & getting ready for the lab exam would help me to pass written exam on my way. It was very difficult to be focused in that way & finally gave up that idea. Then I focused the written exam & developed a mini-strategy to clear that. In wireless , I did not have any formal certification like CCNA-Wireless, CCNP-Wireless & wanted to challenge myself to go for a CCIE without those. I purchased the below mentioned materials for CCIE-Wireless written exam & went through them.

1. CCNA Wireless (640-722 IUWNE) Quick Reference – by Jerome Henry
2. CCNP-Wirless (642-732 CUWSS) Quick Reference – by Jerome Henry
3. CCNP-Wirless (642-737 IAUWS) Quick Reference – by Jerome Henry
4. CCNP-Wirless (642-747 IUWMS) Quick Reference – by Jerome Henry
5. CCNP-Wirless (642-742 IUWVN) Quick Reference – by Jerome Henry
6. CCIE-Wireless Exam (350-050) Quick Reference – By Roger Nobel, Federico Ziliotto, Federico Lovison, Fabian Riesen, Erik Vangrunderbeek

Written exam is all about theoretical concepts, you are ready to go for the exam as long as you refresh your knowledge about blueprint topics. So I booked my wireless written exam on 30th Aug 2012 & cleared it first time. I started my own blog (www.mrncciew.com) to keep my notes & to stay connected with the world of similar interest. This was a very big + point for my success & it helped me to keep up my enthusiasm on right focus throughout my journey.

Immediately after that I have booked my lab exam on 7th May 2013. This is another important thing to remember in your journey, once you lock down the lab date you won’t be deviating your schedule much. I booked it on May purposely  to leave me 6 months for 2nd & 3rd attempts within 2013. Availability of the CCIE Wireless lab exam at Cisco’s Sydney was one of the crucial point for me. I wanted to sit for the exam under the similar timezone where I studied. Sometimes little things become important matters. It is not easy to adjust to completely different clock to do the exam where your body clock working in a different timezone.

First challenge was to find good study materials for the lab exam. It was the time where CCIE wireless blueprint updated to version 2.0 (done in Nov 2011) & none of the vendors (IPexpert & Fastlane)have updated their full materials. I purchased Fastlane CCIEW workbook & IPexpert Wireless Self Study Bundle since there were not many choices (only volume 1 was ready for v2.0 by that time  & it took nearly 8 months to ready their remote racks for volume 2). Therefore I had to setup my own lab to do my preparations & that was another key success of my journey. I was fortunate to find few equipments for free from my company as we did some refresh in our wireless environment. This was my home lab with 2×4402, 1×2106, 2×3750, 2×2960, 1×3725 (CME) 1×1841 (WAN) & ESX for ACS,WCS,AD,DHCP (Dell Optiplex 745)

MyStory-02You have to assess your strengths & weaknesses & then need to allocate time to your study. For me “L2/L3 network infrastructure” & “Infrastructure Application Services” were two of my strong topics. “Autonomous deployment” & “Unified deployment-specific to network security) were my weak areas. “WCS” &  “WLAN services” are ok, but need some improvement.

I was struggling to get hold a grip of those topics since I have very very limited experience with Autonomous deployments. There aren’t many good documentations about these deployments.So I had to spend lot of hours to get basic understanding while creating basic lab setup for each scenario (like Bridge, Repeater, WGB,etc). Then studied security & advanced configuration with that basic knowledge.

Another tough topic was wireless QoS, I spent many hours to test it by doing sniffers & finally get a proper understanding how it works in wireless environment. This is very important as QoS plays a pivotal role in wireless lab exam. Same goes with Multicast as well.

ACS was another topic of similar nature. I haven’t worked with it in daily basis & had to learn it from scratch. I had a good friend who is a CCIE-Security helped me a lot to get the basic understanding of ACS & how to configure it. Spend 2 hours in every weekend with that friend (via phone & remote sharing) to learn this topic.

I studied almost all the Configuration Examples & Technotes related to lab exam blueprint topics. I had all of them in one excel file, so I can easily refer them when needed.  Below is a part of that excel sheet with respect to 5508 related config examples. Here is the my complete excel file for any of your reference. CCIE-W-TechNote1.0

MyStory-03There was a boot camp in Australia  for CCIE wireless in Feb 2013.  I was very hopeful that we can learn from Jerome Henry who was well regarded as No 1 CCIE wireless instructor in the world since it was organized by  Fastlane affiliated company. Unfortunately by the time he has left Fastlane & joined Cisco, so we did not get any positive outcome from that bootcamp. We were given Fastlane workbook again & left us alone to do it.I was disappointing about that & had to fight with them to get additional rack hours due to the poor quality of the bootcamp.

I took 3 weeks off from my work to study for my 1st attempt on 7th May. I spent most of that time with IPexpert rented racks to do some sort of full scale labs. It was difficult to use their racks effectively since racks were not ready for Volume 2 ( 5 mock labs). I wasn’t 100% confident about ACS & Autonomous related advanced topics, but I had the confidence to give a good try.

I went to Sydney on 6th May from Melbourne. A wireless lab is held once a week every Tuesday in Sydney lab. I was the only candidate on that day (normally 4-5 people doing other tracks every day), and was comfortable in the lab environment. After the proctor’s initial briefing started my lab around 8:15AM. Even though I had a plan to finish reading the paper & do the initial planning work within 30-45 min, it was almost 1hr & 15 min once I complete that task. Then started to do pre-config verification & troubleshooting to get basic connectivity working. There were few questions in Autonomous & ACS related, which I did not know the answers, but for ACS I had some workaround & went ahead with zero points. When I reached the Unified deployment section I had the biggest hurdle in my exam. WLC’s GUI was very slow & I was never comfortable with that. Tried to use WCS for some QoS template configuration & encountered some errors. Finally did certain WLAN configs via WLC GUI in one of the controller & took a back up of it via WCS. Then try to derived CLI commands to apply it for other controllers. Time went very fast & I knew I never going to make it this time.  So in last 1-2 hours try to read some of the questions many times which I do not know the answers to better prepared for next time.

Around 4:45PM finished my lab exam & straight after took a taxi back to Airport. By the time I came home around 10:30PM, an email was there in my inbox which I did not want to see. As expected Unified deployment section I have scored very low & then Autonomous section. Even I thought  I did well in L2/L3, I did not score 100%. For the WCS section I got 100% & I was very happy about that.

Without much of thinking I went ahead & booked my 2nd attempt on 20th August. I had to wait 3 months as no other lab dates available in Sydney for wireless. Then re-assessed what happened to my first attempt & below are the weaknesses I found.

1. Slow Approach (planned for 30 min, took 1 hr & 15 min )
2. Heavily rely on GUI & GUI was very slow (couldn’t finish task on time, without knowing CLI, stuck in certain tasks)
3. Did not master ACS 5.2 configs
4. Did not know Autonomous advanced config
5. Felt questions was too long…
6. Lack of practice & felt my speed was too slow.

Between the first attempt & second attempt, I spent my time to fix my weaknesses. Most importantly I did not want to take any risk of being uncomfortable with slow GUI & rely on that to do my config. So decided to learn CLI method of doing things. Initially started with WLAN config via CLI & then move to Mobility, RRM, Video Stream & 802.11 band specific configs, SNMP, Syslog, RADIUS, etc. Once I did this multiple times I felt it was not too hard, as long as you know the commands it will take very little time to configure it on multiple controllers (simple copy & paste exercise).

I revisited Autonomous Config Guide, Config examples & Technotes. Also ACS configurations to see how I can do the same task in different ways. Again I spent time with IPexpert remote racks, by this time their racks were ready to do their mock labs. Once I did few 8 hours labs, I felt my improvements. Then I simulated few exam scenarios & made sure I can do that if it comes again. Also this time I had a very clear plan of sequence of configuration task I would do. In first time I went with the question flows rather my own way of tackling it.

Again went back for the exam on 20th August. This time there were 3 other candidates (for Voice, SP & RS) to do their exam. Exam started around 8:25AM & I started reading. Initial 30 min I did my own time/point tracking table, device connectivity table & WLAN table. Content was very similar to the previous time & did not have to read word by word to get what they asked for. Then started preparing my notepad with CLI commands required to do each task with verification CLI commands as well. By that time all other candidates started hitting their key boards & made environment noisy. I was bit nervous, but I knew I have practiced this routine earlier & need to keep calm & execute my plan. It took me around 45 min to complete my notepad, so again 1 hr & 15 min gone without doing any config task 😯 . But I was very comfortable this time knowing that I have answers in my notepad.

I started doing things in following sequence & every time I did some configuration task I have verified it via CLI. I had every thing in my notepad, it was just matter of “Copy & Paste”. By lunch time I was in between step 9-10. I was very confident as I have checked couple of WLANs connectivity before lunch & all worked. I felt everything was going according to my plan this time & did not panic at all.

1. Check NTP & reachability to NTP server from all switches & WLC. If not work fix those issues
2. Configure the Mobility groups
3. Configure the RRM requirement
4. Register all LAPs to each controller
5. Configure AP modes as requested (H-REAP & OEAP )
6. Configure RADIUS in WLCs
7. Configure the ACS policy & Rules
8. Configure SNMP & add controller to WLC
9. Configure WLANs
10. Check the connectivity with Anyconnect.
11. Configure Autonomous AP tasks
12. Add MSE & Maps
13. Configure QoS
14. Verify, Verify & Verify

Within 2 hours after lunch I completely finished my exam. I spent last 2 hours to go through GUI of each controller & see whether I have made any configuration errors. This is another effective way of finding your errors(by doing it in a one way- CLI & verifying it in another way -GUI) This is very important in any CCIE track, you have to have at least 2 hours for final verification. If you get this much of time then you are very close to pass this hurdle. I had couple of doubtful questions, but when I added up my points I got around 85 marks excluding those. So I was very confident that I gave my best this time & should get through it. In CCIE, it is too early to celebrate until you get the confirmation from Cisco.

I thought, I would get my result by the time I go home as last time. This time I could not wait for this email and checked couple of times prior to board onto the flight back to Melbourne, but no emails.I went home around 10:30PM & checked my email again, but nothing was there. I didn’t have a goodnight sleep and woke up around 5:00AM & checked my email, but no mails from Cisco. Then I went to work & checked my mail again. There were no email from Cisco, then I checked my spam folder & finally saw an email from Cisco. It has arrived around 8:00AM (15 hrs from my exam). Nervously opened that email & I found out finally I have become a CCIE Wireless

CCIE-Wireless-VerificationIn conclusion here are my advise to anyone who is willing to go for this journey.

1. Do your written exam early & just focus on that during early stages.
2. Book your lab exam immediately after you pass the written exam allocating sufficient time to study for lab exam.
3. If possible keep a blog running, this help you to connect with the rest of the world of similar interest & motivate yourself to pursuit your goal.
4. Build your home lab & start practicing technology area (not full scale labs)
5. Go through Config Examples & Technotes related to blue print topics/products of CCIE wireless lab exam.
6. If you can afford, buy training materials from a preferred supplier of your choice & practice it.
7. Towards end of your preparation, do full 8 hour labs (by using remote racks) & have your own strategy how to tackle it.
8. Learn about different ways of doing the same thing & select less riskier option better suited to you & practice it many times.
9. Go for the lab exam & try to execute your plan, if unable to succeed re-assess your strategy & go back again within 1-2 months.
10. Until you get below repeat step 9. You will get it one day 🙂

CCIE-Wireless-LogoRelated Posts

1. What Did I learn from my 1st Attempt
2. 20th Aug – My Lucky Day
3. My winning Strategy