Cisco CCNP Core Technologies Track: Meet The New CCIE Written and Lab Exams
Did you ever believe that a day would come where Cisco would do away entirely with ISIS, i-BGP, MPLS, VPLS, CDP, RIP, GETVPN, DMVPN and OTV for CCIE R&S Written exam (aka Enterprise Infra exam)?
Well, On June 10 2019 at #CiscoLive2019 San Diego, Cisco announced one of the most sweeping changes (if not THE MOST) to Cisco Career Certifications portfolio to date. Cisco flipped upside down, just about everything, that you know about CCNA, CCNP and CCIE written and Lab exams.
If you have not caught up on overall the details, I’d strongly suggest you to start with our Cisco Career Certifications 2020 Updates post first.
In this article, I want to focus on CCIE Written and Lab exams and cover the various aspects that we all care about starting with the scope of changes. If you want to get a scoop on the New CCNP Certification update, you can do so by hopping over to Cisco Career Certifications Professional Track 2020: Meet the NEW CCNP Program.
Top Reasons for CCIE Written and Lab Exam Changes
Better alignment with evolving job market, where focus long moved from being a CLI monkey to one more focused on enabling activities that directly matter to the overall business.
Acknowledging the fact that R&S, i.e. Routing and Switching are now a total commodity (thanks to SDN and the disaggregation of the networking stack 10 years strong with no sign of losing momentum). Cisco has re-aligned both written and lab exams around end-to-end Enterprise solution theme (more on that later).
Tightly align the CCNP and CCIE tracks, where your CCIE prep now starts with the CCNP core track exams (New 350 series, coming into effect on February 24, 2020) as opposed to separate CCIE written exams (old 400 series, retiring on February 24 2020).
When Do the New Exams Go Live
New CCIE Written and Lab exam go live on February 24, 2020. Given the magnitude of changes, Cisco has provided eight months lead time for everyone to get up to speed on the scope of changes as well as decide what it means for each of us.
What Did Not Change In The New Update
Like in the old days, the new CCIE written exams have no pre-requisite, i.e. you can take any of the new 300 series exams and get qualified to take your corresponding CCIE Lab exam.
With the exception of the R&S, which is now known as “Enterprise Infrastructure”, all other specialization tracks and their existing branding such as Service Provider, Data Center, Security, Wireless and Collaboration are carried forward as-is.
CCDE and CCAr program remains intact, at least as we speak but don’t hold your breath on this one as design and architecture topics seem to have become part of each new exam.
The Scope of the CCIE Written and Lab Exams Changes
Cisco has made a point to align CCNP and CCIE certification programs by joining them at the hip, i.e. starting February 2020, you will need to take a CCNP core technology exam in order to qualify for your CCIE lab. In order to fully understand the new structure, you now also need to understand how the new CCNP or Professional track work.
CCNP or Professional track will now be organized around two major exams, core (aka fundamentals or horizontal knowledge base) and concentration (aka specialization or vertical knowledge base). So, in order to become CCNP Enterprise, you need to pass CCNP Core exam or ENCOR 350-401 and one concentration exam of your choice.
Technology core exams are the new CCIE written exams, i.e. they cross over Professional and Expert level boundaries. Today, CCNP level exams are not a perquisite for CCIE lab exams since it has its own 400 series exams (e.g. 400-101 for R&S) however that changes in the future where you must take a CCNP level core exam to qualify for a CCIE lab exam. Now, keep in mind that in order to qualify for CCIE Security lab, you will need to take the corresponding CCNP Security Core exam (SCOR or 300-701), likewise for SP, DC, and Collaboration core exams.
In a nutshell, and as an example, ENCOR 350-401 now doubles up as both CCNP Enterprise core technology exam as well as CCIE Enterprise Infrastructure and CCIE Enterprise Wireless pre-qualification exam.
|Old CCIE Written Exam Name||Old CCIE Written Exam Number||New CCIE Written Exam Name||New CCIE Written Exam Number|
|R&S & Wireless||400-101 V5.1 & 400-351 V3.1||
|Service Provider||400-201 V4.1||Implementing and Operating Cisco Service Provider Network Core Technologies (SPCOR)||300-501 V1.0|
|Data Center||400-151 V2.1||
Old Versus New Written Exam Format and Topics
For this discussion and comparison, I am going to use outgoing R&S 400-101 V5.1 versus the incoming ENCOR 350-401 V1.0 exam.
Three Major Themes
The meta point here is that Cisco has re-aligned both written and lab exams around three major themes:
- Design or Architecture
- Infrastructure and L2-L7 Services
The old R&S 400-101 V5.1 exam has 7 sections where Layer 3 and technologies (your Routing & Switching) make up for the 50% of the exam weight, and everything else including Evolving Technologies V1.1 make up for the other 50%.
The new ENCOR 350-401 V1.1 exam has 6 exam sections where Infrastructure and L2/L3 Networking, and Architecture (or Design) make up for the 55% and rest is divided up into L2/L3 and L4-L7 Network Services (30%) and Automation (15%). Another way to look at it is that now overall exam is divided into architecture (15)%, infrastructure (70%), and automation (15%).
There are some very important takeaways here, let me summarize.
- L2/L3 is Cisco’s bread and butter much like other networking vendors, so Cisco seems to have acknowledged that Layer 2/3 networking infrastructure is now commodity and thus shifted focus to end-to-end Enterprise solutions as a whole. It would have been unthinkable to even imagine a day where Cisco would do away entirely with ISIS, i-BGP, MPLS, VPLS, CDP, RIP, GETVPN, DMVPN and OTV CCIE R&S (ok Enterprise Infra)! Now, at the same time EIGRP, OSPF, PIM, IGMP have been shrunk down to single line items within the Infrastructure section.
- End-to-end Enterprise network design and solutions now make up of 90% of the exam whereas automation carries the rest (10%).
- With focus on solution, design/architecture and automation, in some shape or form, are now part of each CCNP Core exam. Cisco now treats those two aspects as horizontal subject matters as opposed to vertical (CCDA/CCDP being phased out, perhaps CCDE/CCIEAr will be next!).
CCIE Written Exam Duration and Fee
Exam duration continues to be 120 minutes and an extra 30 minutes when taken in a non English native countries such as Pakistan and India or a region like the Middle East.
Good news! All CCNP Core technologies exams such as ENCOR 350-401 would cost $400 USD, i.e. now you can save $100 per attempt when you take CCIE written exam for the first time or recertify (as opposed to $450 USD today!).
Old Versus New Lab Exam Format and Topics
New CCIE lab exam format follows the same end-to-end Enterprise solution theme that includes architecture/design, infrastructure/services and automation.
The CCIE lab exam is being updated in order to assess candidates’ skills through the entire adoption lifecycle of designing, deploying, operating and optimizing complex network scenarios. The lab format will change to assess these skills end-to-end.
The CCIE lab format is changing to assess candidates’ skills through the entire adoption lifecycle of designing, deploying, operating and optimizing complex network scenarios.
The lab exam will consist of 2 modules that are fixed in time and will be delivered in a fixed sequence:
New CCIE Enterprise Infra Lab contains two variants, i.e. Wireless and Infrastructure. All other CCIE lab exams , much like their written exam counterparts, will be standardized to the technology track, including Security, Service Provider, Collaboration and Data Center remain as they are today but obviously the actual exam topics or content are changing big time.
While so many of the routing protocols and VPN solutions are removed from ENCOR 350-401 exam, they continue to be an essential part of CCIE Enterprise Infrastructure Lab Exam.
CCIE Emeritus and Cisco Veterans
As per Cisco, a CCIE or CCIE Emeritus that maintains their active or Emeritus status for 20 years will have the option to choose a lifetime Emeritus status with no fee. This one is a no-brainer, I bet almost none of those folks are working as network engineers today so it makes sense to not subject those veterans to recertification requirements, regardless of two or three years.
CCIE Lab Exam Duration and Fee
Lab exam continues to be 8-hour long and would cost $1600 USD as it does today, so there are no changes there.
CCIE Recertification Cycle
Today, every CCIE is required to recertify every two years plus another year of suspension (no downside if you are an individual expert). Well, starting February 24, 2020, Cisco has collapsed both of those time windows together so you only need to Recertify only every three years.
- The new focus on end-to-end Enterprise solutions within the themes of design/architecture, infrastructure and automation is a welcome change as far as I am concerned. This has been long needed to keep CCIE relevant in the era of SDN, NFV and overall commoditization and disaggregation of networking.
- The new CCIE written, i.e. ENCOR 350-401 exam is divided into architecture (15)%, infrastructure (70%), and automation (15%) sections which is inline with the end-to-end Enterprise solution focus.
- CCIE, for the most part, continues to be about Cisco end-to-end with little no regard to open or cloud-based networking technologies and plethora of open source initiatives. Since most medium to large enterprises (within the NA and EU anyways) are still heavily invested into Cisco gear, perhaps with the help of DevNet, Cisco can shift vendor lock-in from infrastructure to automation and integration – time will tell.
Last but not least, Cisco also published a detailed FAQ to cover the most common questions as well as a migration tool to help learners figure out a path who may have half way to their next level certification. If you prefer listening over reading, you can head over to Cisco Learning Network podcast.
Please note that Cisco seems to have revised the ENCOR exam number from 300-401 to 350-401 since the publishing date of this article. While images in this article still show 300-401, it is now rebadged as 350-401 (perhaps 350 is cooler than 300, who knows ;).
Finally, I’d like to hear from you, what do you think about the Cisco CCIE Certification 2020 update? Is that a step in the right direction, or is that a mix bag? Leave your comments below.
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