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Book Review : CCIE Security v4.0 Practice Labs by Natalie Timms

I have been studying for my CCIE Security since late last year, with a short hiatus after Cisco Live due to health issues -- more on that in a later post. When I saw that Natalie Timms -- former manager for the CCIE Security exam program, was writing a book focused on practical labs for the exam, I was thrilled! I had to get my hands on a copy.

I had met Natalie a few years ago in San Diego at Cisco Live, and she is simply an awesome lady. Sharp, funny and very talented; needless to say I had high expectations of her book.

I did not get a copy of the book in time for it to help much with my lab studies for an attempt in mid-June, but walking out of the lab and then reading this book was eye opening.

All CCIE Security candidates want to read this book. It provides a focus on the scope and types of tasks you will face on the real lab, without going anywhere near actually teaching the exam. You cannot memorize this book and pass the lab -- you WILL fail if you try. It is a very fine line to walk and the author nailed it!

The book itself is easily consumed as an e-book resource with great formatting. My pdf comes in at 448 pages, neatly segmented into four sections.

Part I: Lab Topology Components, Cabling, and Routing and Switching Configuration

One can easily surmise the focus of this section, but may not expect the full 17 pages of detail provided. This section is a veritable treasure trove for a CCIE Security candidate, and nearly worth the price of the book alone in my opinion.

•    General guidelines to be followed within the labs, and some tips
•    Multiple topology diagrams of various focus
•    IP addressing scheme
•    IP routing details
•    Hardware models and suggested software revisions
•    VPN diagrams
•    Additional study tips for written and lab, also lab approach advic

I mention all of this because it represents the type of collateral you may find beneficial to create during one’s studies and within the CCIE Lab as well. Quick and dirty diagrams can be a candidates’ best friend during their lab attempt.

Part II: Practice Lab 1 & Solutions

Practice Lab 1 focuses on more foundation concepts and tasks. A candidate needs to be able to execute on these types of tasks without thought or hesitation. If you cannot knock these out quickly and effortlessly, I would warn anyone against taking the lab until they can.

You can map the tasks against the blueprint fairly well. A short list of tasks you can expect are device initialization, basic routing and connectivity configuration, entry level features of the various technologies, and troubleshooting scenarios on specific technologies.

If the reader is familiar with speed labs from training vendors, this section works very similarly. The lab candidate will not dive into the weeds during this section, quite the opposite.

Part III: Practice Lab 2 & Solutions

Practice Lab 2 takes the foundation laid by Lab 1 and builds upon them. The complexity and degree of detail increases significantly, while staying true to the scope of the CCIE lab exam.

For example, in Lab 1 the reader may be asked to initialize an IPS, define interesting traffic, and secure management access. In Lab 2 it would start there and move into advanced threat signatures, tuning, or other advanced technologies. I have found throughout multiple vendor’s materials that custom signatures is a big IPS focus, for whatever that is worth.

The reader will also face advanced feature requirements of the WSA, ISE, Firewalls, and VPNs. This section is the bread and butter of passing the lab in my opinion, for without these points you simply cannot succeed. Of course the foundation is important, but that should be a generally accepted fact at this point!

Part IV: Appendices

This is broken up into a few separate appendices. First one covers basics of zeroing the devices and initializing them. Second one covers details around studying for a CCIE and how the written and lab exam work -- from a candidate experience perspective. Third appendix provides example test questions for the written exam.


The speed, confidence and competency developed via the process of studying for the lab is crucial to success. Despite only two labs being included, a candidate will quickly realize there are only so many ways to execute on these tasks.

I would recommend this resource to anyone looking for a detailed yet focused map to studying for the lab. Thanks for reading as always, please leave any questions within the comments.

*I received a promotional copy of this book from Cisco Press for review, with no expectation for publicity or endorsement in return. My opinion stated here is mine alone. I am far too obstinate and outspoken to have my opinion bought. :-D

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Analytics to Identify and Strengthen Organizational Collaboration and Drive Innovation

Companies with many employees face various challenges w.r.t. their size. One of these challenges is to identify key people, skills and information across (and outside) the organization and use them in the most effective way to drive innovation, new initiatives, but also sales.

Situation Today

The natural way for employees to cope with such a challenge is to build social networks (I mean networks of people not software) and collaborate across the organization. This organic social network building happens through various activities such as projects with colleagues, social activities, company events, etc… However, such social networks take time to create, and are typically not that extended. The effectiveness of these social networks is hard to measure (unless perhaps you equip your employees with location trackers). This social network building, I call the qualitative approach to organizational collaboration.

Connect and Collaborate

Connect with the right people inside and outside the enterprise

Many companies have deployed technology solutions (tools) to cope with the challenge described above. Companies have personnel directories that show employees’ groups and the official organization hierarchy. Some of these personnel directories allow users to add more personalized information (but this information is not always up to date). More sophisticated personnel directories (or other collaboration tools) also feature timelines of activities/tasks, blogging, integrated search, etc…. .Video conferencing enables people to connect people remotely. Despite these new social tools, email and mailing lists still play an important role in connecting people and disseminate information as well as external social networks and resources. All these tools provide a wealth of information. In essence: collaboration is Big Data.

Do all these social/collaborative enterprise tools help us doing our job better and promoting innovation? From a personal point of view I am tempted to say yes, but much more can be done. My main concern with most of these tools is the lack of analytics features to quickly identify user-relevant information or contacts. New tools -- and newer versions of already existing tools -- are starting to provide some of these capabilities, but IMO that is still not enough (or not accurate enough) to fully understand the evolving social networks or the relations between people and information (documents, emails, etc…).

What can be Improved

The goal of exposing more of the right analytics to end users would be, for a user, to faster gather insights, new ideas, and enable quicker decision making and eventually translate these insights and ideas to new opportunities, projects and/or costs savings.

Analyze and Correlate

Correlate different sources to identify information

To achieve this goal, users should be able to identify patterns in their organization’s data, specifically on threads or evolving thoughts and interactions that can be relevant for their particular projects or questions. In essence, analytics should foster more and improved collaboration with like-minded people, or people that share a common goal. As mentioned earlier, people naturally do this already, but in large organizations it is humanly impossible to scale this effectively and fast, without the help of analytics tools. This type of analytics I call the quantitative approach of organizational collaboration, which I see as complementary to the qualitative approach.

When I look for example at mailing lists or video conferencing, a few questions always pop up in my mind that modern enterprise collaboration tools should be able to answer in just a few clicks:

  1. What topics are trending during the last week/month? Perhaps type a topic in and get trend information or have the computer generate topics based on a context analysis of your posts or email conversations.
  2. How are the groups and hierarchies evolving over time (who is talking to who)? Can software recommend groups of people that are relevant for me and my projects?
  3. What people can be considered as experts on certain topics, based on their posts, replies, published articles, etc…?
  4. For particular topics, who are the top contributors and how do they relate to the experts? Are people clustering around certain topics?
  5. Who are the influencers/thought leaders, and how do they relate to experts?

From a strategic point of view companies can leverage analytics from social/collaborative tools to answer questions like:

  1. Are best practices shared across the organization between the appropriate groups?
  2. Is there an alignment between strategy and direction of the company?

This is not an exhaustive list and as a software engineer I think that an additional relevant feature for any tool should be the ability to provide an environment to mashup and integrate data by employees, to answer some of these questions.

How can it be Leveraged

Various groups and people (MIT, Virginia Tech, …) do research on this subject and translate this research into strategic insights at the enterprise level. The next step will be to provide the insights to individual employees as well. Enterprise tools with more sophisticated analytics capabilities (many focused on machine learning) are beginning to emerge. Perhaps the biggest challenge is integration of such capabilities across multiple internal and external tools and platforms.

Organizational collaboration is for me not limited to an enterprise environment. Groups with different affiliations who organize themselves as “virtual organizations” to work together towards common goals (for example, Open Source communities or standard bodies) can benefit from this type of analytics too.

To be more successful in capturing the value of collaboration, companies not only need to deploy the right tools, but also need to foster a mashup environment to leverage the organizational insight and tacit knowledge of its employees through analytics.

Special thanks to Marco Valente and Yannik Messerli for the discussions and insight on this subject.

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Summary: Don’t be a networking Lizard

Who’s more intelligent a rocket scientist or a lizard?

Well it’s a matter of perspective. I’ll grant you that a lizard is less likely to design a spaceship capable of inter stellar flight, but if you put that same rocket scientist in the desert, I know who my money would be on to survive the longest, the point being that the lizard has exactly the right level of skills and knowledge that it requires for its particular environment.

Read the rest of Colin’s article, Don’t Be a Networking Lizard, on the UK & Ireland blog.


#CiscoChampion Radio S1|Ep 26 MDS for Small to Cloud-Scale Data Centers

cisco_champions BADGE_200x200#CiscoChampion Radio is a podcast series by Cisco Champions as technologists. Today we’re talking with Cisco Product Marketing Manager Prashant Jain, about MDS for Small to Cloud-Scale Data Centers. Amy Lewis (@CommsNinja) moderates and Patrick Swackhammer is this week’s Cisco Champion guest host.

Listen to the Podcast.

Learn about the Cisco Champions Program HERE.
See a list of all #CiscoChampion Radio podcasts HERE.

Cisco SME Read More »

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#CiscoChampion Radio S1|Ep 25 Collaboration

cisco_champions BADGE_200x200#CiscoChampion Radio is a podcast series by Cisco Champions as technologists. Today we’re talking with Vice President, Collaboration Marketing at Cisco, Peder Ulander. Amy Lewis (@CommsNinja) moderates and Brad Haynes and Nicholas Marus are this week’s Cisco Champion guest hosts.

Listen to the Podcast.

Learn about the Cisco Champions Program HERE.
See a list of all #CiscoChampion Radio podcasts HERE.

Cisco SMEs
Peder Ulander, @ulander, Vice President, Collaboration Marketing at Cisco
Kim Austin, @ciscokima, Marketing Manager Read More »

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