Archive for Certification

Cisco ICND1 640-822 Exam Review and Study Guide

I am embarrassed to say that I am a (seasoned?) IT professional who has never quite found the time to get down and dirty with Cisco networking. As I am about to start a new role as a Solution Architect for a managed service company (who are big into their Cisco gear, MPLS etc), I thought now would be the time to bone up on my 1s and 0s and certify in the Cisco space!

I can imagine that for someone new to IT, the CCENT / CCNA would perhaps be quite daunting, but even having worked with MS, VMware and storage environments for the past 9 years, I discovered that I still had plenty to learn (and in a geeky way, quite enjoyably so!). I did add to my burden by simultaneously going through interviews, completing handovers at my old job, and generally being ridiculously busy whilst trying to find the time to study for this, but even with all that on the go I passed the first exam (640-822) less than 6 weeks from beginning to study the subject. Based on this I would suggest that anyone dedicated to complete the CCENT could comfortably learn the content in full, pass it in 4 weeks of part-time personal study (in my case a couple of hours a night on the nights I had time to work).

I would also say at this point that for those people considering whether to do the ICND1/2 (2 exam) route, or the single CCNA exam, I don’t really know why virtually anyone would consider the latter? The combined exam costs twice as much as the single exam (give or take £2-3), and splitting the exam gives you an initial qualification (CCENT) and an easier ride. Unless you are so time poor that you can only afford enough time to do a single exam (saving you a whole 2 hours of your life), why not take the pressure off yourself and split it? Also if you did happen to mess it up, then you’ve only lost £100, not £200!

The exam itself was not too bad. One question I came across seemed to be bugged, (the responses in the sim to certain commands were conflicting), but other than that it was perfectly reasonable. Bear in mind that the pass mark for Cisco exams is considerably higher than MS / VMware ones, so if you are used to these, ensure you adjust your expectations accordingly. It is also slightly disconcerting not to be able to go back to a previous question; not that I regularly use this feature in other exams, but its always nice to know it’s there if you need it!

In terms of the actual resources I used to study for the exam, they were numerically limited in comparison to those I may use for a VMware or an MS exam, (and more expensive as I generally stick to free resources!), but I felt that to gain the knowledge in the quickest time, it was worth a the meagre financial investment I made (~£45 for training materials, ~£45 for my lab, plus the exam cost – normally covered by my employer, but I was working out my notice period at the time, so even attempting to claim for exams whilst walking out the door isn’t exactly ethical and might get me a slap from my old boss!).

Being a relatively old certification, there is obviously a wealth of different resources out there on the net, but the ones I chose to use are as follows:

  • CCNA Bootcamp by Chris Bryant – $44 (voucher code BULLDOG)
    I’ll say off the bat this is a simply great resource, taught in Chris’ inimitable laid back, easy style. Hey not only teaches you how to pass the exam, but gives plenty of real world advice and anicdotes too. He is also more than happy to answer any questions and does so promptly via twitter, email, Udemy etc. 90% of my learning came from these videos, along with the brilliant binary / subnetting practice questions provided as part of the accompanying ebook.I found that the best way to use the videos was to watch them whilst taking copious notes, then practicing every command and activity discussed using my GNS3 lab. The more you practice this, the better it will stick. I enjoy Chris’ style and have such confidence in his teaching, I have already pre-purchased his CCNA:Security and CCNP courses on Udemy, for which I am hoping to squeeze some time in next year.
  • CCNA 640-802 Official Cert Library, Updated (3rd Edition) by Wendell Odom – ~£15 (Kindle Edition)
    In my case I used this book to supplement / consolidate my video learning, and read the book after completing the video course. It is very well written, and any subjects not fully explained in Chris Bryant’s course are covered in detail here. There are also useful tests at the start of each section to help you guage your progress.You also have the option of buying the same book split into the two exams (ICND1 and ICND2) but the cost of the combined publication works out at half of that of buying the seperately, so why would you?One thing I always mention when it comes to tech books, is that unless you have a need to fill the shelves of your home office with dead trees, I would always recommend opting for the ebook version over the hard/softback. There are several reasons for this, but the two biggest are that the ebook is cheaper (we all like saving money, right?), and what is the point in killing a few trees for a book you will probably only read once or twice, and will be out of date within a couple of years anyway? Add to that the portability of ebooks for later reference and you have a compelling argument… the only draw back is putting money in the pocket of a company who is not particularly great at paying taxes, but other vendors are available!
  • Cisco Binary Game
    Not only is this great geeky fun, but it will hone your brain to very quickly do binary maths without the use of big tables etc, saving valuable time in your exams, and in your actual job. Chris Bryant does a great job in his course of teaching you the simplest and “correct” way of doing binary. Once you have this down and practiced with the binary game, you will easily be able to do binary conversions and subnetting etc in your head (especially when you start to see the patterns used to create subnets etc).
  • GNS3 – Graphical Network Simulator
    For me, this is an absolutely MUST HAVE resource, both for your studying, but also in your day job, where you can safely test any new configurations or commands to ensure you dont break your production environment! In essence it is a Cisco (other vendors are available) simulator, which allows you to build virtual networks using actual Cisco IOS images, and mess with them to your heart’s content. CBT nuggets kindly did a free intro video to GNS3 (link below).Getting hold of the IOS images is also very easy. I would simply say google is your friend (especially when searching for exact IOS image names). To understand how the IOS naming works, see this great little article.Once you have your lab up and running, all I can say is practice, practice, practice! Throughout every video session I had my lab running in parallel, and implemented each command several times on several machines, to really ingrain the commands and knowledge.

    The only drawback of GNS3 is its inability to simulate / emulate the ASICs in Cisco switches. For this they simply give you a fake switch you config from the GUI. If you want to be able to practice switch configuration to a greater level, I recommend getting your hands on a cheap second hand switch. I bought a 24-port Catalyst 2950 switch for just £30 on ebay, and a rollover cable and USB adapter for about £5. This gave me the ability to practice switchport and VLAN commands, have a physical play with the kit, and even link my physical switch into my GNS3 environment using the NIC on my GNS3 host machine! The only drawback is that it’s very loud, so I try to minimise the use of it in my home office! I can imagine the WAF (wife acceptance factor) of a full blown lab would not be great, an even better reason for using GNS3 wherever possible!

  • Intro to GNS3 by CBT Nuggetsfree!
    Great little one hour course showing you how to setup a basic GNS3 environment. They also have a much longer course which you can pay $5 for a month access, but it isn’t necessary for a simple setup.
  • Official Cisco ICND1 Study Resourcesfree! (mostly)
    There are plenty of free videos, pdfs, presentations and even whole lab sims available on the ICND1 page. I would suggest you go through all of them.
  • Cisco Official ICND1 Practice Questions
    Make sure you are able to complete all of these successfully before attempting the actual exam.

In closing, I think the key thing to remember when learning Cisco is lab, lab and more lab… GNS3 is a great resource and more than sufficient for your CCENT (and I would hazard your CCNA) studies. If you have the budget to buy a cheap switch as well (e.g. a 2950) then all the better.

Next steps: New job, Xmas, then CCNA in Jan.

MCTS: 70-246 Monitoring and Operating a Private Cloud with System Center 2012 Exam Review

Well I am very pleased to say that I came back home today certified as an MCSE: Private Cloud… yay!

First off, I would say this is one of the trickiest MS exams I have taken. This is not because the subject is particularly difficult, but purely for the volume and depth of information you need to cover, as you are in effect being tested on your knowledge of no less than 7 enterprise applications as well as their interoperation!

I will admit that due to time constraints I wasn’t able to study all elements of SC2012 in the depth I would have liked (I have barely scratched the surface with App Controller and Config Manager), but I was fortunate not to have been hammered too badly because of this.

I have already listed my study materials in my previous post MCTS: 70-246 Monitoring and Operating a Private Cloud with System Center 2012 Exam Prep and Study Guide, but once again I believe it is really getting as much hands on experience as you can, which makes all the difference.

I created a simple lab environment running the entire thing under VMware Workstation 8 on my desktop machine. The spec of the machine is:

  • Intel Quad Core i7 920 processor
  • 24GB RAM
  • Multiple SSDs (the test lab runs across 2 of them totalling around 150GB of space in use).
  • I also used a FreeNAS 0.7 appliance running on another vSphere box to provide some shared iSCSI storage for my Hyper-V clusters (doesnt need to be fast as only for a couple of test VMs and cluster quorum).

The only time I suffered any real performance issues with this setup were when installing windows updates. This wasn’t an issue for me as I kicked them off overnight, but if you were being a bit more proactive, you could build one VM first, update to all the latest patches, install Sliverlight, .NET3.5 / .NET4  (required by lots of SC products), then sysprep and clone the VMs instead.

As I was being a little lazy, I didn’t do much with nesting VMs this time, so immediately under WS8 I installed 9 VMs. You could of course nest most or all of these roles under your Hyper-V hosts, barring the DC which is required to auth the startup of your VM hosts, an issue which is now fixed in Windows Server 2012 (in theory). The performance reduction is minimal, it’s just a bit of a pain if you want to shut down your machine in a hurry…

SV2008R2-MGTAD, DNS, SQL Server 2008 R2 SP124GB40GB
SCOMOperations Manager 2012, SQL Server 2008 R2 SP1 Reporting Services22GB40GB
SCCMConfiguration Manager 201212GB40GB
SCVMMVirtual Machine Manager 201212GB40GB
SCSMService Manager 201212GB40GB
SCACApplication Controller 201212GB40GB
SCORCHOrchestrator 201212GB40GB
HV1-FULLHyper-V under a full 2008 R2 OS installation24GB40GB
HV2-HVSHyper-V Server 2008 R224GB40GB

Hyper-V Server and 2008 R2 are not supported in a cluster configuration, but it will work (with a couple of red lines on your cluster validation report). As long as you implement the following steps, you can then nest 64 bit VMs inside your Hyper-V servers. See Velimir Kojic’s blog post for more info on this, but the headline points are:

  1. Enable virtualisation of VT-x/EPT. This is the same as you would do for virtualising ESX/ESXi under Workstation 8, allowing nested 64-bit VMs.
  2. Add the following line to your VMX files:
    hypervisor.cpuid.v0 = “FALSE”

I did initially try the unified installer but it proved to be a total pain, especially as some of the components were not recognised or were missing / different from the download links, and the installer itself refuses to install or even recognise a package if the install does not have the correct name (e.g. you have to download 2 editions of reportviewer, 2008 and 2010. You need to put them in separate directories with their original file names, and not just rename them to reportviewer2008.exe and reportviewer2010.exe – very annoying!). The same goes for the service packs, SQL installers etc. In the end I gave up with it and installed all the components manually, which I think probably teaches you more about the install process anyway.

Once I had my lab up and running I simply followed through all of the MS training on the Microsoft Virtual Academy. I genuinely cannot recommend these highly enough, and it really is very good of MS to provide them free of charge. When running through the videos, I tried to emulate every demo on screen, using my lab, then followed through reading as many articles as possible from the other links I included in my prep article.

Good luck to anyone attempting this exam in the future, next on my agenda was going to be the upgrade to Windows Server 2012, but I have decided to (at long last) slot in some time to aim for a CCNA first!

Related Posts
MCTS: 70-246 Monitoring and Operating a Private Cloud with System Center 2012 Exam Prep and Study Guide

MCTS: 70-246 Monitoring and Operating a Private Cloud with System Center 2012 Exam Prep and Study Guide

Exam 70-246

After a rather busy summer, I figured it was about time I got round to finishing up my MCSE:Private Cloud, by completing the final exam in the track with the 70-246 exam. Unfortunately due to a very busy week since I came back from holiday, I haven’t given myself much time to study for the exam!

At the time of writing there are still no online MOC (Microsoft Official Curriculum) courses on 70-246 (such as the courses you can use with your TechNet subscription), so if you have a manager with a great training budget you can always attend the 10750A: Monitoring and Operating a Private Cloud with System Center 2012 (5 Days) training course. I have other courses I want my dev budget spent on, so I have chosen to use online resources to study for it instead.

As always, I have summarised my prep materials / study guide below for anyone interested:

  • Official Microsoft 70-246 Exam Page
    Links to all official source material, exam reqs, etc. Make sure you know and understand all of the skills measured.
  • Microsoft Virtual Academy CoursesFree!
    For a free resource these courses are superb! I used these previously for my 70-659 exam prep, and have done so again this time. If you haven’t done 70-659 and are approaching 70-246 without any Hyper-V knowledge but perhaps some VMware knowledge, then I highly recommend you consider the “Microsoft Virtualization for VMware Professionals – The Platform” and “Microsoft Virtualization for VMware Professionals – Management” courses first. They are based on 2008 R2 but it will cover off the mapping of terminology etc.
    Note: there is quite a bit of repetition in the courses, so I will try to highlight as I go, which are the best use of your time (unless of course you’re a rank whore, in which case do them all!). The courses I completed are as follows:

    1. Configuring and deploying Microsoft’s Private Cloud
      A good intro to Hyper-V 2012 covering a broad base – expect so spend a good 16 hours watching the 8 videos (allowing for pauses for breaks and note-making). As usual, the inimitable Symon Perriman leads the course, assisted by a selection of other MS technical marketeers.
      Be warned, the content in this is very useful, but this was one of the driest MSA courses I have watched to date. At points I did struggle to keep my attention levels up. Try to watch them say one video a night, then spend some time playing with your lab on whichever component you were watching. Trying to watch these in one go will zap your brain!
      Note: For some reason this skips the intro video for the jump start course which can be found here, and I recommend you watch first for a general overview:
      Private Cloud Jump Start (01): Introduction to the Microsoft Private Cloud with System Center 2012
    2. What’s New in System Center 2012
      This follows the same slide deck as the intro to private cloud course I mentioned above, but with a different presenter.
    3. System Center 2012: Virtual Machine Manager (VMM)
      Still a lot of high level technical marketing, but there are some quite useful demos.
    4. System Center 2012 Operations Manager
      Very well presented and goes into a decent amount of detail with plenty of demos.
    5. System Center 2012: Orchestrator & Service Manager
      Another well presented and more in-depth course.
    6. System Center 2012: Configuration Manager
      Review TBC – I did not actually get through this in time before my exam, but plan to revisit it later anyway.
    7. System Center Advisor
      Review TBC – I did not actually get through this in time before my exam, but plan to revisit it later anyway.
    8. Introduction to Private, Hybrid and Public Cloud
      Do this if you are totally new to cloud concepts, otherwise save your time and look elsewhere.
  • System Center 2012 Self-Study Guide by Scott RachuiRecommended!
    Quite simply the most in depth, detailed set of study guides I have ever come across! Scott has put in a huge amount of effort to gather all of these resources in one place. Go through as many as you can, but to be honest, you probably wont have time to get through them all!!!
  • Study Guide by Keith Mayer
    Great resource from MS blogger Keith Mayer. To download his guide, you need to use the “Pay with a Tweet” link to get a copy of his free PDF. Totally worth the price! 🙂
  • Official MS Virtualisation Blog
    If you’re a VMware person, hold onto your hat for some serious politicking, but there is some interesting content if you have time for a browse.
  • Hyper-V White Papers by Aidan Finn
    This site is run by MS MVP Aidan Finn, who has co-authored a load of books on MS products.
  • Build a Home Lab
    I cannot recommend this enough. The best way to learn Hyper-V is to play with it, that way you have seen the ins and outs.
    My home lab runs under VMware Workstation 8 on Windows 7 64-bit, with an Intel Core i7 920 and 24GB of RAM.
    To get Hyper-V 2008 R2 to run like this you need to do a couple of fixes to your hypervisor VMs when you create them. See Velimir Kojic’s blog postfor more info on this, but the headline points are:

    1. Enable virtualisation of VT-x/EPT. This is the same as you would do for virtualising ESX/ESXi under Workstation 8, allowing nested 64-bit VMs.
    2. Add the following line to your VMX files:
      hypervisor.cpuid.v0 = “FALSE”
  • More to links and updates to follow over the next week…

Please feel free to submit any worthwhile links to study materials and I will include them above.

Related Posts:
MCTS: 70-246 Monitoring and Operating a Private Cloud with System Center 2012 Exam Review

Free Training from VMware

It’s been a while since I last made a post as I have had a rather busy summer working on the Olympic and Paralympic Games. Now that they are coming to a close I finally get the opportunity to take my first bit of actual time off this year! Before that I thought I would post a wee reminder to all those currently studying for their VCP, VCAP-DCD or VCAP-DCA.

Now that VMworld 2012 has come to a close, VMware (very kindly) release all of the 2011 sessions for free on the website! As you can see from my VMware VCAP-DCD 4 Exam Prep Guide, the VMworld sessions are an invaluable training resource when studying for your advanced exams in particular.

To access the content, simply go to the VMworld website, sign up for a free account and access the 2011 content below:

The top 10 most popular sessions from this year are also available gratis:

I will soon be posting a guide for the VCAP5-DCD with reviews of many of the sessions when I begin studying for it, but first I need to get my last MCSE:Private Cloud exam out of the way… more info coming soon.

Related Posts:
VMware VCAP-DCD 4 Exam Prep Guide

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