Tuesday, 29 September 2009

Narbik's Boot Camp

I recently had the pleasure of attending Narbik’s boot camp (well not so recently with how long it has taken me to actually post this). What follows is my opinion of his boot camp. This is not a comparison of various boot camps as this is the first CCIE boot camp I have ever attended.

Before I go into the details of the boot camp I will explain my reasons for attending the boot camp. Work has been really busy recently and so my CCIE studies have been stalled for quite a while, so I was looking for something to help boost my motivation as well as boost my knowledge in areas that I struggled to understand. Now I have a hell of a lot of Video on Demand material and I must say I find it extremely useful even though some of the videos can drag on for a bit. (On a side note if you are a vendor who produces a VoD product please can you start chopping your videos up into more manageable sections? As I do not know anyone who has the time or inclination to sit through a 3 or 4 hour BGP video in one sitting. I just want to be able to sit down and watch a video say just on BGP filtering for 15 to 30 minutes I do not want to have to sit through 1 hour of setting up BGP first or try and scroll through a 4 hour video looking for the section I want. I want a video that is focussed on individual topics that I can easily navigate to and watch whenever I have a little bit of time.) Okay rant over so I was looking to move my studying on a bit. Now booking a boot camp was not an easy choice for me as I would have to pay for myself, so that would include accommodation and travel as well as the cost of the course, so price and location would both be big issues. The next issue was what instructor to choose, now for some reason I had already built up a mental picture of who I would want to teach me. My own shortlist for R&S was the following: Scott, Jared or Narbik. So now I had to look out for a course that was nearby (cost reasons) and would be taught by one of the previously mentioned instructors. Narbik’s course fitted the bill for me it was the cheapest course I could find, the location was good for me (even though it says London it is not really in London which is a huge result for a man on a budget as London accommodation and sustenance is ridiculously expensive.) and it was being taught by one of my shortlisted instructors. So after I bored Janet (Narbik’s wife and the course administrator) to tears with constant emails I booked the course.

Before you attend the boot camp you are sent an E-Book called the “Foundation” which I would strongly recommend you try and complete before you attend the boot camp. When you arrive at the boot camp you are no longer presented with 7 books. Now you just get two workbooks with questions only and you receive the answer book (all 2000 odd pages of it) as a secure PDF. Not all the sections of the workbook were complete when I attended the boot camp but Janet updates you with new versions of the secure PDF file while Narbik finishes the workbook.

First questions first? What is Narbik like well first off he is short and old and fat nah only joking he is much better looking than Scott Morris though :-) I get paid in free rack rentals for saying things like that :-). I read a lot of articles about Narbik being a funny guy before I went on his boot camp and I always thought to myself how the hell can he be funny this is a CCIE boot camp not a comedy class. So I really did not know what to make of him being funny but when I got to the boot camp I found out Narbik was funny he is always cracking jokes and he would have the class rolling around the floor laughing several times every day. With people from all different corners of the globe in the class it was not always easy to make people laugh but Narbik did it and he knew how to crack a joke at exactly the right time to ensure that when things were getting stressful everyone saw the funnier side of life and any tension was successfully diffused. He was helped in the comedy stakes by a great class of characters a few cheeky South African’s, a really funny mad Spaniard and the nicest French Terrorist (he is not really a Terrorist :-) ) that you could ever want to meet. There were lots of other characters in the class and everyone joined in the banter that made this by far the most enjoyable and amusing training course I have ever been on. Now do not get me wrong we did serious work in this class and Narbik does not tell jokes at the expense of his teaching. Basically I believe that people who are good at their jobs and enjoy them always have a smile on their face and an upbeat personality and that is what Narbik is incredibly good at his job and enjoying himself at the same time and that cheerful character rubs off on the class.

Narbik does not believe in using slides and he utilizes the whiteboard for all his teaching. I found it easy to adjust to this and I did not hear any complaints from the class in fact everyone seemed to revel in his teaching style and whenever someone in the class did not quite get something Narbik was able to quickly produce another diagram on the white board (when he was actually able to get his hands on some working markers that were not permanent :-) ) to quickly clarify any issues.

Day 1 was quite an easy introduction to get us into the swing of things. Firstly were the introductions were we learnt we had one real live CCIE amongst the group (he was on a reconnaissance mission to meet Narbik and scope him out as an instructor for his plan to get his second CCIE, as Narbik will be teaching the Service Provider track in the UK next year). We also learnt that there were several people in the room with labs dates in the next month and a half. Apart from the fact that there were quite a few nationalities present and the fact that the vast majority of the people on the course from the UK where self funded there was no other surprises in the introductions. As I sit here typing this with my brain mashed to **** from the intensity of the course I cannot quite remember the format of the day. It involved a lecture on switching where Narbik managed to cover in about 3 hours topics that I had spent months reading several books about. We then moved on to switching labs which we were given a couple of hours to complete. Finally to complete the day Narbik drilled us in all the issues with Frame Relay.

Day two was much more lectures than labs, we were given quite a lot of lab time on Day 1. Personally I was happier with this approach as I tend to think you can lab at home by yourself but the reason for being on the course is to listen to Narbik. The topics I seem to remember we covered were OSPF and EIGRP. Narbik explained where you would expect to see the various LSA’s in an easy to understand manner he made sure everyone understood where you saw the LSA’s could vary depending on which router was the ABR or ASBR. I thought my mind would be blown away by the lectures but surprisingly I was fairly comfortable and my brain did not go into melt down with all the information. I had done a lot of reading before the course over several years and had a pretty good understanding of OSPF before I went, but Narbik still managed to teach me new things. Then the last lecture of the day was on EIGRP and something I thought would be easy was the part that did melt my brain. The section on EIGRP filtering left me feeling completly blown away who knew there was so much to EIGRP filtering.

Day 3 was all about RIP and QoS. Once again it is the simple topics that are the ones that make you realise how much knowledge you are lacking as Narbik showed us how complicated an expert could make RIP. I had quite a bad night’s sleep the previous night so I lost concentration a bit during the last lectures of the day. This was the only time I felt really tired and struggled keeping motivated during the entire boot camp.

Day 4 we covered BGP and MPLS. Both lectures were once again very informative and enjoyable. The MPLS lecture was new for the CCIE v4 and Narbik covered the basics of MPLS as well as the complexities of setting up the various routing protocols to be vrf aware and exchange routes over an MPLS backbone.

Day 5 was the final day where we covered MLS QoS (Switch QoS) including Shaped Round Robin on the 3560. Then we covered Multicast and a topic I thought was really difficult Narbik made really easy.

Before I attended Narbik’s boot camp one of my main concerns would be if I could maintain my concentration and interest throughout the course. Although I have never been on a Cisco course before I have been on several other training courses including some very interesting Microsoft and VMWare courses but during all those courses there were points where I lost interest and the will to live. I just wanted the course to be over. On this course that never happened apart from the end of the Wednesday where I was really tired and lost concentration a bit. I would gladly have sat in class till 2 in the morning listening to Narbik. He is such an excellent teacher that I felt constantly engaged during the course and the week absolutely flew by.

People seem to rave on about Narbik’s unconventional teaching style in that he does not use slides but I do not think it is unconventional to me it is proper teaching and it is a sad indictment of other training courses if not using slides is considered such a big thing. It is not called “Death by Powerpoint” for nothing and the lack of slides is probably one of the major reasons I managed to stay engaged throughout the course. Think about it as well if you think you know something really well just wait till someone asks you a question about it even a CCNA level question, although you understand the concept in your head unless you really know the material inside out you will struggle to explain it to someone else. Now if you were a trainer teaching a course where you were using a slide show the information is right there in front of you, if you were unsure on a section unless you had a real know it all in the class you could probably muddle through. However on the other hand if you are teaching with no props, no slideshow to keep you on track then you need to have a complete mental picture of the material you are presenting in your head. To have that mental picture in your head you need to have a complete mastery of the material you are presenting. That is what Narbik has he can write up IOS commands on the board with all the options from memory, he can make topics that others struggle to explain seem simple, he has that complete mastery of the material.

I guess the acid test of the whole thing is if you had to pay again to attend the course again would you? I can honestly say it was the best money I have spent on my CCIE training so far. It was by far the most enjoyable and interesting course I have ever been on in my life. When Narbik is back in the UK I will definitely be utilizing my option of a free re-take and attending his course again.

Wednesday, 5 August 2009

Narbik Bootcamp

So I have been pretty busy with work and family to do much blog posting these days, but I do have one bit of news. I have decided to take the plunge take out a loan and book Narbik's boot camp in September. Hopefully it will give my CCIE studies the shot in the arm they require.

As it is my hard earned cash (well soon to be earned cash) that I am putting up for this boot camp any tips from anyone who has attended has for getting the most out of the experience would be gratefully received. Also does anyone know the laptop and software requirements for the boot camp?

Thursday, 4 June 2009

CCIE Command Memorizer MPLS

This is just a quick post to say that David Bombal (http://www.configureterminal.com/) has been working hard on the CCIE Command Memorizer and a new MPLS version is in the process of being released. I have not had much time at the moment but hopefully I will get some hands on with it fairly soon and post an up date on it. There was a new version released at the end of March as well but I never had the time to do a review of it. Although it might seem a simple tool it helps me keeps me afloat with my studies at the moment as work is taking over my life. I think it's simplicity is the key you can run it on a lower powered laptop and so something like a netbook becomes a very handy tool to practice on when you are out and about. Also the simplicity means I can maximise my study time instead of wasting valuable time setting up a lab in Dynamips or with my routers I can jump straight on and get at least a little practice when I have 5 minutes. Also I would recommend this tool to people who are not pursuing their CCIE's in my opinion it would make a great CCNP and now with MPLS a great CCIP practice tool as well. In fact I credit it with being the main reason for my recent success in the CCIP BGP Exam. I did not have time to practice on Dynamips or any real routers but I did run through all the BGP labs and they solidified the commands in my head.

As for the CCIE study well it is going no where still. I am looking into whether it will be possible to hire someone to help look after my kids on a Saturday so I can get a couple of hours to study. Not sure if many people want to work Saturdays for the money I can afford but we will see. Also there is a chance that work will eat up all my weekends for the next 12 months so study time might still be out of the question.

Anyhow as I said I hopefully will get some time to play with the new Command Memorizer and post a quick review in the not to distant future. Good luck to the rest of you out there most of the other bloggers seem to be making good progress towards their CCIE or even their second and third CCIE's. I just want the time to do one please :-)

Saturday, 25 April 2009

To Bootcamp or Not to Boot Camp

Okay so the opportunity for me to go on a CCIE boot camp has come up. I was having a look on the Micronics website following some posts I saw on the CCIE Candidate blog and I saw that there was a boot camp running from the 18th of May in London. (The location is not really London, it is outside London but that is better for me because the Big Smoke is ridiculously expensive for those of us who do not get paid Big Smoke salaries.)

Anyhow I would not normally consider myself ready for a boot camp as you have probably seen my preparation so far has been a bit lacking to say the least. However I saw some interesting comments once again on the CCIE Candidate website where some people had gone on the boot camp without having done any full scale labs because of Narbik's free re-take policy (however there might not be any more classes in the UK that I can attend so it might become very expensive should I want to re-take). So that made me wonder whether I should contemplate the boot camp to kick start my studying again.

Obviously only I can make the final decision on whether to go for it but I thought I would get the opinions of the one of two people who still read this blog to help me solidify my decision. So I thought I would be honest about my situation and see what the rest of the CCIE community think.

My main issue at the moment is time, as I have previously mentioned in other posts I have two very young children and it would be unfair to leave their mother to care for them both all day every day. (Much as I would love it if she did agree to do this and returned them to me when they could go to the toilet themselves :-) ) This lack of time during the day would not be so bad because my wife has agreed that I can do some work in the evenings when one of them has gone to bed, but the problem is I also have a very demanding job at the moment. I work a lot of overtime in the evenings because I need to and I need the money at the moment. It looks like work will get even more hectic in the future months as I am in the middle of a very large project.

I was going to let things meander a long and try get some studying in when I could, with the hope I could now be ready for a November lab date. However the rumors about the lab changes that have appeared in recent days have got me scared. I could do without learning new stuff and since I do not work in an ISP environment (which I believe is the best possible place to learn about networking) I am not keen on having to do MPLS. So if I want to get anywhere near a lab attempt before any changes come into force I need to get cracking. I was thinking that maybe the boot camp would be an ideal way to propel me forward in my studies.

Money is a bit tight at the moment but I have some money from an inheritance that I could use to pay for the course as it would all have to be self funded. So it would be a quite an investment when I would still have to pay for the lab exam and the flights to get to the lab exam.

On the money front I have previously invested in quite a lot of training materials. I have the IPExpert Blended Learning Solution, as well as the Internetwork Expert CoD and Boot Camp CoD. In workbook terms I have electronic copies of the IPExpert stuff and the Internetwork Expert workbooks as well as hard copies of Narbik's Advanced Technologies workbook. So maybe I have enough material and should really focus on making best use of what I already have. I must admit I do find my concentration wanders quite a lot in the CoD's and getting through them seems to take a bit longer then you would think. So maybe a boot camp would be a better option for me.

So what I would like to hear is the opinions of people as to what they think. There are plenty of people who have passed with out going on a boot camp and I certainly seem to have enough material. However there are plenty of people who rave about the boot camps and especially Narbik's one. The other question is how do the CoD's compare to the real thing? So let me know what you think to help me make up my mind.

Friday, 17 April 2009

There has to be an easier way

Well I am still alive although as the title of this post suggests things are not going all that smoothly at the moment. So when I say there has to be an easier way I do not mean of bringing up two young children (I thought one was bad, one is a picnic compared to two :-) ) or studying for a CCIE (although I wish there was). What I really mean is there has to be an easier way of managing a PIX/ASA/FWSM whatever you want to call them.

I am not really much of a firewall person but my job at the moment involves a lot of firewall stuff and mainly on the FWSM modules. I have had a bit of Checkpoint experience before and I know Etherealmind had a post about ditching Checkpoint since their support was so rubbish. However although their support may be rubbish (I am lucky I have never had to experience it) their product in my opinion is superior to what you get from Cisco. How on earth have Cisco not got anything that compares to SmartView Tracker when trying to figure out what is happening on your firewall. Unless I am missing something you can try and look through Syslogs or the logging output on screen. I cannot find a way to filter as easily as in Checkpoint and I even have trouble finding stuff at the moment. I use Kiwi Syslog Viewer so if anyone has any better suggestions they would be most welcome. Also when you have multiple interfaces and multiple firewall contexts the rule base can get very confusing for me at least so if anyone has any suggestions for good tools to use to edit PIX/ASA/FWSM ACL's I would appreciate it.

Apart from struggling with Cisco firewalls not much has been happening in my life. As you can probably see from the neglected state of this blog CCIE study has been none exist in the last couple of months due to work and family commitments. I have no spare time in my life at the moment as if I am not working a horrendous amount of overtime I am looking after the kids to compensate for me not being arround due to the overtime. Cacth 22 although I am grateful I do have the work at the moment when so many people do not.

Hopefully once all my projects are out of the way and both kids at least sleep through the night then I will be able to get back on track with my CCIE. In the meantime hopefully I will get a chance to maybe post about the FWSM (if I ever figure it out) and the new version of the CCIE Comamnd Memorizer that I have not had much time to play with yet, or if that fails I may get a chance to produce some more whinging posts :-)

Monday, 19 January 2009

Network Analysis

At the moment I am researching which is the best tool to buy for an enterprise network in terms of discovering network performance and so I thought I would ask any readers of this blog for their recommendations.

First a bit of background I work in a support team in a large enterprise and we often get calls reporting the "network is slow". Now we have some tools that help us monitor the utilization of the links but they cannot show us the top talkers across the links. Our current tool set also does not allow us to see what protocols are being used across the link and we have no chance of being able to prove what application is causing the problem. It always turns out to be an application or patch deployment that causes the problem, however we usually have to let the users suffer from a "slow network" until the problem goes away. To me this is unacceptable service and I have started investigating products that can give us a bit more visibility into the network.

Ideally what I would like is an application that can pull NetFlow stats from the routers and via some sort of probe be able to investigate switched traffic. I would require the product to determine application responsiveness and ideally be able to build a baseline over time. We may also be consolidating data centres fairly soon and so discovering the relationships between servers would be a great bonus. As I want to make sure we migrate all the servers that talk heavily to each other as a package and we do not leave a server behind that then hammers the WAN link by talking to it's peers in the new data centre. Finally I would be interested in how the various products cope when WAN optimization is introduced into the network.

I have been looking at tools from MAZU, OpNet, NetScout and NetQoS but if anyone else has any recommendations I would be most grateful.

Wednesday, 7 January 2009

State of the Ferret 07/01/09

Well a belated Happy New Year to everyone. It has been a while since I have posted and that is because things have been pretty hectic with family commitments over the festive season as you can probably imagine. There were a few work commitments in there as well but studying did not go very well at all. I was trying to finish the OSPF sections in Narbik's workbook before Christmas, but I have only just got round to doing it now.

There comes a time in life where you have to face up to reality. My reality is that I am not even going to get close to being ready to do my lab in April. I have a second child on the way soon and I am only just beginning to remember how much work a new born child is. This time it will be especially challenging now that I have a toddler as well. With my wife going off on maternity leave imminently money is going to be tight and any free time I get will have to be spent focusing on doing overtime (providing it is not stopped) to make up for the shortfall in our finances. It will probably also pay to keep focused on the job a lot more in the current market, to try and ensure I do not join the massed ranks of the unemployed. So in short study time is going to be very scarce or non existent. This in turn has hit my motivation which is leading me to think I will never get round to doing the CCIE lab exam. I am trying to retain some of my knowledge by doing mini labs whenever I can but for now it looks like there will be no full scale practice labs for 6 to 8 months at least ouch :-(

On the good news front I did manage to get into the Everything IE beta but as it is confidential I cannot say anything about it at the moment.