Monday, October 19, 2009

Cost Estimate for the CCDE

Yesterday I received an interesting comment to one of my previous CCDE blog posts.  Jack asked:

My employer is asking for cost estimates for the whole process [CCDE]. I have seen that your estimate is 3000 dollars. Does this include the tests themselves or just the materials?

I contend that the real cost of this certification is in the time required to master the material.  That said, the actual out of pocket costs are very important too!  Here is a breakdown.



Fixed Costs

Cost Item
$350 (each attempt) Written Exam (352-001)
$1400 (each attempt) Practical Exam (352-011)

Variable Costs

Cost Item
Minimal Travel to Written Exam
Potentially Expensive Travel to Practical Exam
~$400 Books
Unknown Formal Training

You almost must factor in the opportunity costs of your time, as many of aspiring candidates need to delay or avoid other time commitments.  At the very least, you’ll likely miss some family and friend events to concentrate on studying.


Travel to Written Exam

Hopefully this is minimal for everyone.  The exam is offered at all Vue testing centers, so this should be a short car or bus ride away.


Travel to Practical Exam

Currently, the practical exam is offered in Hong Kong, London, and Chicago.  Historically it’s been offered every six months, but that pace is expected to pick up to meet increased demand for the exam.  As of this writing, the exam was most recently offered in August, and the next scheduled offering is in December.  I expect the practical to be offered quarterly beginning in 2010.

Travel to/from these selected testing locations is not trivial.  My three day / two night trip to Chicago (from Delaware) cost approximately $1100.  That probably comes in at the low end of most candidates travel costs, as my airfare was only $350.  International travel can be considerably more expensive.  Of course, if you’re fortunate enough to be local to one of these cities, you’ll save a bundle!  Also keep in mind that it is probably wise to budget for two trips, to prepare for the possibility of failure on the first attempt.  This is an area where I wouldn’t cut corners.  For a big exam (or business meeting, etc), be sure to arrive in plenty of time (early afternoon on the prior day for me) and don’t be rushed to leave.  The exam is enough to think about, without adding travel concerns to the mix.


I’ve given my book recommendations before, but I’ll repeat them here:

Optimal Routing Design – One of the authors (Russ White) is also author of most of the CCDE Practical content to date.  It helps to get into the mind of the test writer!  Besides that, this book is the best resource for Enterprise routing design, and specifically, IGP design.

Definitive MPLS Designs – This book covers MPLS Service Provider designs, as well as a bit of Internet Service Provider design.  More than any other resource, this book gives a great feel for the style of the CCDE practical exam.

BGP Design & Implementation – This book focuses almost exclusively on Internet Service Provider design.  It gives the “Why” behind route-reflectors and confederations.

End-to-End QoS Network Design – This book does for QoS what the above three books do for IP Routing & MPLS.  It uses great examples to describe class-based traffic-shaping and other QoS concepts.  For the purposes of this exam, you can disregard the configurations.

These four books cover the basics of network design.  In addition to these resources, candidates may also want to pick up Network Management Fundamentals.  This book gives an overview of Network Management design, and a few specifics on Network Management technologies.

Note that these books don’t necessarily cover the basic technology particularly well.  Each of these books has a primer section, but none of them go into the depth necessary to teach someone new to the respective technologies.  If you need more basic information on the technologies, I would suggest following the reading suggestions available from the appropriate CCIE track.  For example, if you need information on VPLS or AToM, read Layer 2 VPN Architectures.

Formal Training


I’ve noticed that there are now at least two formal training classes available for the CCDE.  One is being offered in Europe, and is taught by an actual CCDE certified instructor.  The second is offered in the US.  I suspect this is not being taught by a CCDE.  I’m not sure what to think of formal training for this exam.  It likely depends heavily on how the course is structured.  I do not believe that one or two weeks of classroom training can prepare a candidate for the broad range of technical topics covered in the blueprint.

On the other hand, a week of classroom training could be great for learning design methodology.  Assuming the student already has a fundamental grasp of most of the technology, an instructor-led class that teaches by example could be a positive addition to a candidates preparation plan.  It may not even take a full week to prepare a qualified candidate for the style of the exam.

I will be interested to hear feedback and test results from the first wave of candidates who partake in these classroom training offerings.  Before I hear firsthand whether the candidates felt prepared, I won’t be able to recommend this strategy.




To sum this up (literally!), I spent about $3000 in actual dollars to achieve the CCDE certification (note, I took the written during the beta period, so my numbers don’t quite add up).  I am fortunate to have a supportive employer who covered most of these costs.  A candidate can spend far more than this in their quest for the CCDE certification.  If I were coming at this today, I would budget for two attempts for the written exam ($700), two attempts for the practical ($2800) + travel for the practical ($2200 for me, but varies wildly depending on your location).  I would also budget $400 for books, and depending on student feedback, I might budget for a formal class.  Without the class, my total budget would be $6100.

Monday, October 12, 2009

Thoughts on Fiber Channel over Ethernet (FCoE)

With all the recent Twitter chatter on the topic, I feel compelled to throw in my two cents on Fiber Channel over Ethernet.  Here goes!

FCoE Selling Point
Traditionally, data center designers built separate Ethernet-based Data Networks (LANs) and FC-based Storage Networks (SANs).  This was necessary because storage has a requirement for lossless operation, and Ethernet did not have the ability to meet this requirement.  This requirement cost IT departments considerable extra money in fiber cabling and FC adapters in servers.
Data Center Bridging (DCB) - which IBM calls Converged Enhanced Ethernet (CEE) and Cisco has referred to as Data Center Ethernet (DCE) - adds lossless operation to the Ethernet standard.  This allows us to multiplex storage traffic onto our data networks.  Voila, we can save a relative fortune in cabling costs and dedicated FC equipment, and to a lesser degree, we can save on server network adapters by using Converged Network Adapters (CNA).

Where Are Things Going?
This is great… Now we’re saving a bunch of money, and we still have the same basic network.  But is this the best we can do?  Of course not!  Why do we want the same basic network?  Why don’t we put our storage traffic into IP packets and zip it along like everything else?  Then we won’t need a separate network at all, virtual or otherwise.
If this story sounds familiar, that’s because it is.  At one time, SNA traffic had a dedicated network.  Then we decided to encapsulate it in a layer 2 protocol via RSRB, SR/TLB, etc.  Eventually, we tossed the traffic into IP packets via DLSW+.  Ultimately, we put IP-capable adapters in our mainframes and dispensed with the legacy technologies.
Or maybe you're thinking about voice… Who remembers the MC3810?  That was my first introduction to Voice over X technology.  We plugged PBX T1s into a router and encapsulated voice into Frame-Relay or ATM.  There’s even a parallel here with the FCoE multi-hop controversy.  Later we encapsulated the T1 traffic into IP packets on a router.  Eventually, we put IP-capable adapters into our PBXs and dispensed with the legacy technologies.
As far as storage goes, we’re still stuck on step 2, encapsulating storage into a layer 2 protocol.  Meanwhile, there are plenty of Storage over IP options available that don’t quite meet our performance needs.  Does anyone actually want to bet that NAS or iSCSI is never going to meet our performance needs?  Sure, there will always be specific high performance computer (HPC) needs that push the envelope, but the vast majority of corporate needs will eventually be met by IP-based storage.

So What Should We Do?
Does this mean we should ignore FCoE?  Definitely not.  I am in no hurry to swap out any existing FC-based SANs for FCoE.  I don’t see the financial justification for it, since I’ve already sunk my money into the cabling.  If I were to build a new data center, and I could demonstrate that IP-based storage would not meet my performance need, I would absolutely go for an FCoE solution.  But I would also spend a lot of time determining if I truly needed the extra performance offered by a SAN.  Any new DC build is going to be based on 10gbit Ethernet, so that should factor into the decision.
Ultimately, Fiber Channel will go away, just like every other dedicated network technology before it.  During the transition phase, which we’re currently in, it often makes financial sense to go with the interim technology.  I can’t come up with a scenario where it would make sense to replace an existing, working Fiber Channel network, but new builds should seriously consider going with FCoE.