In this post, I will discuss the CCNP Enterprise specialist exam, “Designing Cisco Enterprise Networks (300-429 ENSLD)”, and how I managed to pass it on my first attempt after approximately 80 hours of study.

There is not a lot of detailed information available about this exam. I will first provide the list of free and paid resources I used to prepare for this exam. After this, I will then share my thoughts on the exam (including some constructive criticism for the certification team), provide advice for people wishing to sit the exam, and then close out by reflecting on my study journey.

 


Table of Contents

Tap on a section to jump straight to it.

  1. Disclaimer
  2. Exam Pre-Requisites
  3. Free Study Resources
  4. Paid Study Resources
  5. Exam Impressions
  6. Exam Advice
  7. Journey Reflection

 


Disclaimer

I have written this post to adhere to Cisco’s certification exam NDA agreement.

Please do not contact me requesting:

  • Information about the exam which would violate the NDA;
  • Information about procuring or recommending certification exam dumps; or
  • The unauthorised sharing of paid training material(s).

I actively report individuals who attempt to dump certification exams. Cheating devalues the Information Technology industry and the hard work of individuals who try to pass these exams legitimately. You have been warned!

 

 

I do not review, endorse or recommend person(s), companies, or products that I have not personally paid for and used myself. The author wishes to disclose that they have worked with CBT Nuggets as a community mentor and UX feedback tester, so please be aware of this potential conflict of interest when reading feedback about CBT Nuggets and its competitors.

 


Exam Pre-Requisites

There are no formal or official exam pre-requisites for the Designing Cisco Enterprise Networks exam.

I recommend that persons wishing to sit this exam meet the following prerequisites:

  • CCNA or equivalent understanding of networking concepts; and
  • The ability to skim paragraphs of information.

This exam is well suited for individuals who have recently passed their CCNA and are seeking a way to gain exposure to CCNP Enterprise topics at a high level.

I strongly recommend non-native English speakers sitting this exam in English confirm they qualify for additional time allocation.

 


Free Study Resources

Cisco Live Design Presentations

  • Introduction to Campus Wired LAN Deployment Using Cisco Validated Designs by Dana Daum
    BRKCRS-1500 @ CiscoLive 2020 Barcelona
    [Session Link]
  • Cisco SD-Access Campus Wired and Wireless Network Deployment Using Cisco Validated Designs by Prashanth Davanager Honneshappa
    DGTL-BRKCRS-1501 @ CiscoLive 2020 Digital
    [Session Link]
  • Campus QoS Design Simplified by Roland Saville
    BRKCRS-2501 @ CiscoLive 2020 Barcelona
    [Session Link]
  • WAN Architectures and Principles by David Fusik
    BRKRST-2041 @ CiscoLive
    [Session Link]
    The first 20-30 mins is relevant; the rest is optional.

Cisco Live Technical Presentations

  • Definitive Intermediate System to Intermediate System (IS-IS) by Elvin Arias Soto
    BRKRST-2315 @ CiscoLive 2019 San Diego
    [Session Link]
  • Introduction to IP Multicast by Tim McConnaughy
    DGTL-BRKIPM-1261 @ CiscoLive 2020 Digital
    [Session Link]
  • Multicast Troubleshooting by Fish Fishburne
    DGTL-BRKIPM-2264 @ CiscoLive 2020 Digital
    [Session Link]
  • Demystifying IP Multicast in SD-Access by Lukasz Ciukaj
    BRKRST-2820 @ CiscoLive 2020 Barcelona
    [Session Link]

Cisco Resource Commentary

The Cisco Live resources provide a lot of depth on the topics they cover and offer insights on designing enterprise networks that aren’t necessarily covered in paid material. They can be fairly intense if you’re jumping into ENSLD from the CCNA, so I recommend spacing out your viewing of these talks and making plenty of notes.

Multicast and IS-IS are two technologies that were not touched upon too heavily outside of the former CCIE R&S written exam. If you are like me and came through the Routing & Switching track, then I consider Elvin Arias Soto’s talk on “Definitive IS-IS” and Tim McConnaughy’s “Introduction to IP Multicast” as essential viewing. These are two great talks I have frequently re-referenced throughout my CCIE studies.

Community Created Resources

I did not use any community created resources throughout my ENSLD studies.

 


You do not need to buy all of the resources to pass the exam, particularly if you supplement items with free resources.

All prices are listed in USD unless otherwise specified.

I paid for all resources “out of pocket” and was refunded ~75-85% of the expense cost via Australia’s tax system.

Official Cisco Study Resources

Books:

  • CCNP Enterprise Design ENSLD 300-420 Official Cert Guide: Designing Cisco Enterprise Networks
    • Authors: Anthony Bruno & Steve Jordan
    • Amazon: $53.66 (kindle) [Amazon link]
    • Cisco Press: $55.99 (book or ebook), $80.49 (book + eBook bundle) [Cisco Press link]
    • O’Reilly Learning: FREE (10 or 30 day trial), $49.95 p/m or $499.95 p/a (monthly or annual subscription), $75-149 p/a via ACM Membership [O’Reilly link] [ACM Sign Up]

eLearning:

  • Designing Cisco Enterprise Networks (ENSLD) v1.0 @ $800 (free course excerpt available) [link]

3rd Party Training

eLearning:

  • CBT Nuggets: Designing Cisco Enterprise Networks – 300-420 ENSLD – Cisco Certification Training @ $59 p/m or $599 p/a (free trial available) [link]
  • IT Pro TV: Cisco CCNP Enterprise ENSLD (300-420) @ $29-49 p/m or $299-499 p/a (free trial available) [link]

 

Paid Study Resource Commentary

I do not recommend the Cisco Press textbook “CCNP Enterprise Design ENSLD 300-420 Official Cert Guide: Designing Cisco Enterprise Networks”. This book provides a good introduction to design concepts but stops at an “introduction” and leaves a lot to be desired. Its end of chapter review sections consist of questions that I felt promotes rote learning instead of understanding design concepts. I feel like the book would have benefitted from design case studies that walked learners through comparing and contrasting technologies given a particular scenario. The sections on Cisco SD-WAN, Cisco SD-Access, and network programmability are far too short and do not provide enough detail for the reader. I would not recommend using this book outside of gaining familiarity with exam blueprint concepts and its “Do I Know This Already?” chapter quizzes. This resource will not prepare you adequately enough for the exam.

The Cisco eLearning course, “Designing Cisco Enterprise Networks (ENSLD) v1.0”, was phenomenal. This is an expensive course coming in at $800 (cisco learning credit payment option available), but it contains a wealth of highly relevant information for the exam. Completing the course will also net you 40 continuing education (“CE”) points which can be used for Cisco certification renewal purposes. What makes this course so fantastic is the detailed modules and their “end of module quizzes” (some of the gold medals are tough to get!) and the design case studies, which walk the reader through a business scenario full of design quizzes that test your knowledge of previous modules. My only issue with this course is that some of the video recordings are not engaging and could be better delivered, but apart from that, I highly recommend it. This resource will prepare you for the exam.

CBT Nuggets “Designing Cisco Enterprise Networks” eLearning was phenomenal. It contains 26 hours of content that has been specifically made for the ENSLD exam. I found that the training was excellent as it introduced the viewer to new technical concepts at a high level, provided some light configuration and lab examples of how a particular technology may be implemented (stressing it’s not required for the exam), and then discussed design considerations associated with the technology. The quiz questions associated with each video were great, and I especially enjoyed Jeff Kish’s “end of skill review and quiz” videos that helped validate my understanding of a topic. This resource will prepare you for the exam.

IT Pro TV’s “Cisco CCNP Enterprise ENSLD (300-420)” training was “OK” if you pay $29 p/m for a basic IT Pro Subscription. It’s a cheap and quick kick-start to one’s ENSLD studies that contains 5.5 hours of content and provides links to additional self-study resources for the viewer to consult. Anthony Sequeira provides a great overview of all of the technologies on the exam individually. However, he needed to provide additional detail surrounding design considerations when blending multiple technologies. This is a skill that the exam does require you to understand. This course, by itself, will not prepare you adequately enough for the exam. However, I think it is a suitable alternative to the official certification guide, especially if paired with IT Pro TV’s other Cisco training course offerings.

 


Exam Impressions

I sat the exam on February 26 at 2:45 pm in a Pearson Vue Testing Center. The exam was 90 minutes in duration and comprised of 62 questions. I finished the exam with approximately 3 minutes left on the clock and only had to “guess” 3 questions due to time constraints. The exam was fair and stuck to the blueprint completely, and there was only 1 question that felt out of place (likely a “beta” question).

I feel a bit weird about this exam. From a testing experience and “sticking to the blueprint” perspective – I would easily rate this exam a 9/10. It’s a very well written and enjoyable exam experience that only needs some slight tuning in question count and “exam pacing”. This rating, unfortunately, changes dramatically if I look at the value of the Cisco Certified Enterprise Design Specialist certification by itself. From a “value” perspective, I would rate this specialist certification a 3/10 because the exam is fundamentally flawed in assessing whether a candidate understands enterprise design concepts. This criticism is entirely exam-specific – the official learning materials were BRILLIANT, and I gained a lot out of them. So, what didn’t I like about the exam? Question quantity, question types, difficulty, and the nature of the exam in its current state.

The exam consists of scenario-based and trivial multiple-choice questions. The scenario-driven questions require you to read through a scenario that a network engineer or network architect faces. They can be quite wordy, or they can contain network diagrams that require interpretation. Some questions may have constraints that force you to think about how to solve a problem differently. When I say TRIVIAL multiple-choice questions in all-caps – I really do mean it. I recall the ICND1 CCENT exam containing more difficult questions on similar concepts. This scenario-based/multiple-choice exam structure creates a peculiar pacing issue with the exam because it’s impossible to know how many scenarios you are faced with. As a result, it isn’t easy to estimate how much time you should spend per question because you may get a stack of scenarios towards the end of the exam, which could cause you to run out of time! For a professional-level specialist certification, this exam felt FAR too easy and possibly easier than the CCNA. Please keep in mind that I could be oversimplifying the exam’s difficulty because network design is a component of my job, and I am over 600 hours into my CCIE studies.

I think that the Designing Cisco Enterprise Networks (300-420 ENSLD) exam needs to be rewritten to increase the value of its counterpart specialist certification. In my mind, this certification should match or exceed the difficulty of the 3-hour design section in the CCIE Enterprise Infrastructure lab exam. I would personally cap the question count at 30 and make the entire exam 100% scenario-driven. For example, it could contain three different companies that each follow a different narrative where an engineer needs to solve 10 different design problems per company. Alternatively, it could resemble the old CCNP TSHOOT exam and present design problems as “trouble tickets”. This would make the certification more valuable in my eyes because network engineers need to consider the impact that small-scale and low-level design changes have on an existing enterprise environment.

 


Exam Advice

You need to develop skim reading techniques and use the supplied whiteboard to jot down the key points of scenario-based questions. There can be many details to address within this exam, which may overwhelm people who are not used to reading through problem scenarios or design documentation. The best tactic for this exam is to use the supplied whiteboard to note the keywords and phrases that questions are asking. A tactic I developed within the exam for this included listing the following for each scenario-based question whose answer was not immediately obvious:

  • Problem Statement: what are we trying to solve – a couple of words max.
  • Constraints: any constraints in our solution?
  • [A] [B] [C] [D] [E]: List out the options and then cross out any answers that are irrelevant or obviously incorrect

This is a DESIGN exam, so keep your thinking “high level” and avoid getting too technical quickly. This is for the folks who have experience configuring, implementing, and maintaining the technologies on this exam. This is a DESIGN exam, so try not to worry about the specifics of a piece of technology. Keep your thinking “general” and at a high level. Think of the technologies on the exam blueprint as tools in your toolbox. This exam is all about comparing and contrasting these tools against each other so that you can assess which tool is best used for a particular scenario. This exam is NOT about how to actually use the tool. For example, let’s consider supporting fast L3 convergence with a routing protocol. You may get two options: embrace subsecond hello timers and lower the dead/hold timer, or use BFD for link failure detection. They are both “technically” correct tools that you could use. However, reducing a protocol’s timers can cause it to become “brittle” (more susceptible to spontaneous convergence during normal operations) and increase hardware CPU utilisation (more time spent maintaining control plane). The correct “tool” for this scenario is most likely BFD because it enables fast L3 convergence but in a more sustainable manner. You will not need to worry about implementing the technology on Cisco enterprise networking platforms in either case.

Labbing the technologies is not necessary to pass but is strongly recommended. This is more for people jumping from the CCNA and straight into ENSLD. Just because you do not need to implement or maintain the technologies for this exam does not mean you should skip labbing them. It’s easier to retain information and increase exam confidence if you are familiar with a piece of technology and its quirks. I am in no way recommending that you focus on memorising CLI commands, but perhaps spin up a lab to explore how various protocols interact with each other. For example, do you know for sure how Layer 2 can impact Layer 3 forwarding? How could inconsistent manual trunking impact other protocols such as VTP and STP? Is MST worth implementing over Rapid PVST+ for smaller sites? If so – what’s the administrative overhead you encounter when selecting this route? How does an SD-WAN vBond support NAT traversal? These are all examples of how putting your technical hat on and playing around with technologies can help answer design-related questions.

 


I could have scored 950+ if I managed my time better…

 


Journey Reflection

I pursued the Cisco Certified Specialist: Enterprise Design certification (“ENSLD”) to prepare for the CCIE Enterprise Infrastructure lab exam, specifically the 3-hour design portion. My attitude towards this specialist certification has been to identify the weaknesses I possess regarding network design and get a “taste” of how Cisco likes to assess networking design concepts.

Designing efficient and reliable networks is something that greatly interests me. However, I couldn’t help but feel a bit “off” when studying for ENSLD as it focuses purely on the low-level aspects of a design (this is intentional). This aspect of network design focuses less on using technology to solve complex business problems (that’s what the CCDE is for) and instead focuses on implementing a design that an architect has supplied. I have been working on capital projects, and network audits a lot recently, so I did find it hard to remain motivated because a lot of the learning content felt like “common sense” that I had dealt with through experience. This may sound critical, but it’s actually a compliment and testament to how good some of these learning resources are. Seriously, if I am coming home from work and studying content that feels so similar to what I am doing at work, it just proves how relevant that content is to one’s studies!

The biggest mistake that I made when initially preparing for this exam was getting too technical with my studies too quickly. I should have primarily focused on design concepts and problems, only opting to learn the intricate details of some protocols where necessary (cough, multicast flavours, cough). Exam preparation was made unnecessarily difficult and stressful by overcomplicating my studies. I spent 80 hours preparing for this exam and felt like I could have cut that time investment in half had I approached it with the correct mindset from day 1. I am happy to walk away from my ENSLD studies knowing how I will approach the CCIE Enterprise Infrastructure lab exam’s design component, knowing which aspects of network design I need to focus on the most moving forward.