In the second post of my CCIE Journey I will be summarising Cisco’s recent CCIE Certification webinars and discussing the impact that they have had on my lab exam strategy.


Cisco’s CCIE Certification Webinar Content

This month Cisco has held two webinars for all CCIE candidates and one webinar for CCIE Enterprise Infrastructure (CCIE EI) candidates, which were:

  • CCIE Certification – Exam Format Changes and Overview
  • CCIE Certification – Deep Dive on the CCIE Lab Environment
  • CCIE Enterprise Infrastructure Certification – Overview, Scope, and Preparation

The intention behind these webinars was to provide additional information on the new lab exam format, discuss the testing environments, and highlight the “feel” of the new CCIE lab exams. The webinars were recorded and are accessible via the following link:

I will not be going over every detail discussed in the webinar as the recordings are best suited for this, but I do have some interesting takeaways from them.


The New CCIE Philosophy

Cisco wants to redefine the experience of the CCIE lab exams so that candidates are not just executing a set of complex arbitrary technical tasks. They want candidates to prove that they are able to manage the life-cycle of an enterprise’s network by designing, deploying, operating and optimizing a solution for a fictitious business. If the new CCIE lab exam format seems familiar then it’s probably because it follows Cisco’s PPDIOO life-cycle, but with the “implement” stage swapped out with “deploy”!


Cisco’s PPDIOO Lifecycle (


This change in philosophy is further reinforced by the fact that there is only one network topology throughout the entirety of the lab exam. How you interpret and work with that topology will change between the design (“DES”) and deploy/operate/optimize (“DOO”) modules, however the presenters confirmed that all diagrams, devices and IP addressing will remain the same. This preserves the feeling of progressing through a storyline as tasks are completed throughout the lab exam.

The impact that this change in philosophy has on grading the lab is quite interesting. Cisco has discussed that they are going to respect blueprint domain weightings, but have stated that topics can appear in both the DES and DOO modules. For example, the “Network Infrastructure” domain is worth 30% on the CCIE EI lab exam, so if the lab exam is scored out of 100 across both sections then 30 points are allocated to it. These 30 points are then distributed across both the DES and DOO exam modules, but the distribution of points may differ between exams. It is important to note that the lab exam score report (issued only upon failing the lab) merges your scores across both the DES and DOO exam module, which may unintentionally increase the complexity associated with post exam reflection.


Cisco CCIE Lab Exam Grading


Demystifying the Design Module

The design module of the exam has been confirmed as a 3 hour web based assessment that resembles a traditional Cisco “written” exam. It will consist of 30-35 questions of various formats (multiple choice, drag and drop, matrix selection, etc…) where backwards navigation is disabled. Candidates will be expected to select an optimal design solution for a given task by interpreting documentation, such as emails; call transcripts; chat logs; and reports. I want to stress the term “optimal solution” because it has been confirmed that partial points will be awarded to functional yet sub-optimal design solutions within this section. Cisco strongly recommended to view each question as its own moment in time and to continuously reference documentation to verify whether prior solutions remained fit for purpose as the design storyline progresses.


Example CCIE Enterprise Infrastructure Design Question


Cisco went into great detail to explain that CCIE lab exam design sections will specifically focus on implementing low level designs. CCIE lab exam candidates will not need to architect a high level solution during this section nor worry about competing business requirements or financial constraints. The CCDE lab exam is here to stay to test these higher level network design principles.


CCDE vs. CCIE Design Question Comparison

Clarifying Deploy, Operate & Optimize Module Expectations

The 5 hour DOO module is the traditional CCIE lab exam environment that everyone is familiar with. In this section the storyline progresses to see a candidate implement portions of the design module by configuring devices, resolving issues, and optimizing the network’s performance. Cisco stated that they are not after perfect solutions within this module, so points will be allocated to configurations that are functional and do not breach any task conditions.

The CCIE Enterprise Infrastructure (CCIE EI) Certification webinar specifically honed in on four topics: CCIE Routing & Switching (CCIE R&S) Migrated Topics, Workstation & Tools, Software Defined Infrastructure, and Infrastructure Automation & Programmability.


The CCIE EI Lab’s Equipment


Cisco preempted a lot of questions surrounding what has changed since the former CCIE R&S lab exam. It was noted that a lot of CCIE R&S lab exam topics have been migrated to the CCIE EI. This is because they are considered fundamental skills within the workplace and act as the foundation for software defined infrastructure. Cisco stressed that they have taken great care to avoid “exam bloat” by ensuring that the DOO module remains realistic and achievable. It was noted that certain technologies can be simplified in this module because it can be included in the DES module. For example, DMVPN is now a troubleshoot only item in the DOO module, because the use cases and configuration could be tested within the DES module.


Comparing the CCIE R&S & EI Blueprints


The workstation that will be provided to CCIE exam candidates in the DOO module is a Linux virtual machine which contains everything that you might require to configure and automate an enterprise network. Cisco stressed that they are providing a lot of tools within the VM so that candidates can decide how they verify their configuration is working as intended. For example, gcc & Perl are not required for the CCIE EI exam, but they will still be made available for use. A welcome surprise was announced which was the potential public release of host VMs. I think that this would be brilliant as it removes one more thing for me to worry about when stepping into the exam.


DOO Lab Workspace & Tools


Clarifications were provided surrounding the Software Defined Infrastructure section of the exam. The message here was clear – the lab exam will test whether a candidate has a solid foundational understanding of these technologies. Cisco SD-WAN seems to mainly revolve around the content disclosed on the Implementing Cisco SD-WAN Solutions specialist certification, and it was mentioned that if you can configure route leaking & BGP across SD-WAN that you will be in a very good position to pass SD-WAN tasks. The behemoth that is Cisco DNA Center will only have tasks allocated to it which focus on the enabling Software Defined Access (SDA). The underlying technologies that power SDA (IS-IS, VXLAN, LISP) will not require manual configuration via the CLI, and it was noted that Cisco ISE will be completely preconfigured to support all SDA related tasks. This is huge because IS-IS, ISE, LISP and VXLAN are all incredibly dense topics, so we will likely only need to understand how these technologies support the design of an SDA fabric.

Infrastructure Automation & Programmability is where things became interesting for me. The idea is that tasks will exist that require the configuration or verification of network devices through EEM, Python, Python Guest Shell, or NETCONF/RESTCONF. API documentation will exist (though how it will be accessed is to be determined) so candidates do not need to memorise documentation. During the grading process all device configuration that maps back to these tasks will be removed and your scripts will be tested for functionality. Cisco specifically called out that this is not the DevNet Expert lab exam, so they are only looking for functional code. I personally asked during Q&A how difficult the automation & programmability tasks will be. I was advised that a candidate will be in an excellent position to pass all tasks if they are comfortable with the Automating Cisco Enterprise Solutions IOS-XE, DNA Center (SDA), and SD-WAN topics.


Optimizing my CCIE EI Lab Exam Strategy

I think I do not need to make too many changes to my original lab exam strategy. I developed it thinking that this iteration of the CCIE lab would focus on the journey associated with managing enterprise networks as a network engineer. It turns out that I was correct to have this mindset. Despite this, some changes as to how I am approaching the design and software defined infrastructure components of the lab exam are required.

In my first CCIE journey post I speculated that the design portion of the exam would be hands on with the possibility of some multiple choice questions, which is just a tad different from reality! I stated that I would use the Designing Cisco Enterprise Networks (ENSLD) specialist certification as a means to prepare for this section, along with material I had used to study for Cisco’s design certification track. I think that preparing for and sitting ENSLD is still going to be valuable because it will provide a means to get comfortable with low level design related questions, however the CCDA/CCDP/CCDP resources that I own will now be used as reference material instead of core study material.

I also felt that Cisco ISE would have been a very interesting curve-ball to throw at exam candidates from an SDA perspective, so I considered procuring the Cisco Learning Network’s Configuring Cisco ISE Essentials for SD-Access (ISESDA) online training course. I am incredibly relieved to hear Cisco ISE will be preconfigured in the lab exam, and as such, have decided to skip the online training course and instead pick up a copy of Katherine McNamara & Aaron Woland’s CCNP Security Identity Management SISE 300-715 Official Cert Guide when it releases. I think that flipping through this book and using articles on Katherine’s site, network-node, will be more than sufficient to develop a foundational understanding of ISE should I feel like I need to use it during the lab exam.


Final Thoughts

It is clear that Cisco want to create a fair and reasonable exam experience with the new CCIE lab exams by remaining realistic of candidate skillsets with new technologies and ways of working, as well as providing candidates with a lot of tools to choose from. I feel more confident in my exam strategy now that I have made some minor tweaks, so all that remains now is to keep grinding away at this study…!


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