Cisco Systems has recently made a major overhaul of the legendary two-day lab exam associated with its prestigious Cisco Certified Internetwork Engineer (CCIE) program. Let’s examine these changes and see what implications they have for current and future CCIEs.

Changes to the infamous CCIE lab
The prestige of the CCIE comes from its rigorous, hands-on, two-day lab exam. This lab exam “boasts” an 80 percent first-time failure rate. Having taken it myself, I know that it is the “marathon of certification exams.”

However, the increasing popularity of this exam and the limited number of locations where it can be taken have caused the waiting list of exam candidates to grow. When I scheduled my first attempt, I had to travel outside of the United States to get a date within three to four months. The wait to take the exam at the only two U.S.-based locations (San Jose, CA, and Research Triangle Park, NC) is currently seven to eight months.

In response to this demand for lab appointments, Cisco recently announced several changes to the lab format. Effective Oct. 1, 2001, the CCIE R/S lab exam will change from a two-day exam to a one-day exam. Since the CCIE program was introduced in 1993, it has undergone a variety of content and track modifications designed to keep it current with the changing technologies. But it has been a two-day test for the past eight years, so the new format is quite a significant change for the program.

In its two-day format, the CCIE consisted of two 7�-hour days. The first day required a complete network setup, including cabling, some network design, and IP addressing. If you came in the next morning and found that you did well enough to make it to the second day, you were allowed to continue with other network configuration activities. And if you did well enough on that, you were allowed to continue after lunch and engage in troubleshooting exercises.

Under the new one-day format, the cabling, IP addressing, and troubleshooting have been removed and the 7�-hour test has been expanded to a nine-hour test, completely filled with advanced configuration. Essentially, Cisco has removed the more basic activities and troubleshooting to compact the exam into one day. While everyone knows troubleshooting is important, the consensus is that implementing multiple complex configurations between multiple routers and switches never works the first time, so you will be forced into troubleshooting anyway. This is typically the case on the current two-day test.

The CCIE-certified and uncertified have both expressed significant concern about this change. Current CCIEs are worried that the new format may be less difficult, thus increasing the number of CCIEs and devaluing their certification. The CCIE candidates are concerned that the test may be more difficult or less difficult or that it may somehow devalue the certification.

From what I have read, Cisco understands these views. To address these concerns, the director of the CCIE program, Lorne Braddock, had a prominent CCIE, Bruce Caslow, take the new one-day exam and review it. Bruce Caslow is the author of one of the “CCIE bibles,” Cisco Certification: Bridges, Routers, and Switches for CCIEs. His review basically said that the modified test is equally challenging and just as grueling as the previous one. He concluded that this change would in no way make the test any less difficult.

Final analysis
Only time will tell how this change will affect the CCIE program. Despite all the grumbling this change has elicited, I don’t believe the integrity or high value of the CCIE will be compromised. I hope the change may reduce the wait to take the test in the United States, but there has been little immediate effect. As of yesterday, the “standard wait” was still seven to eight months. When I say “standard,” I mean that this is the case if you accept the next available appointment that comes up on the Cisco online lab scheduling Web site. If you are willing to spend a few hours hitting refresh over several days, you may luck into a closer date because people are constantly rescheduling or changing their lab dates.

Concerning the future of the CCIE program, a Cisco employee told me that the company is looking at centralizing its CCIE lab racks in one or two places in the world and considering the possibility of running the lab remotely. I’m sure that there would be many benefits to doing this. The most obvious to me is that it would allow candidates around the world to share racks (because of the time zones). The other possibility that comes to mind is that candidates may be able to take the test from Cisco authorized testing centers (think Sylvan Prometric and VUE). I would be opposed to allowing CCIE testing at the third-party testing centers, and I believe that most other CCIEs and CCIE candidates would agree.

In summary, here are the changes to the CCIE lab exam:

  • One day, nine hours
  • Filled with multiple, intertwining, advanced router and switch configurations
  • The price still stays the same—$1,250 U.S.
  • Can be taken at San Jose, CA, or Research Triangle Park, NC, in the United States, and at a variety of worldwide locations

Cisco’s goals for changing the lab test include:

  • Reducing the wait and allowing more candidates to attempt the exam
  • Reducing Cisco resources required to give the exam
  • Reducing the candidate’s resources required to take the exam
  • Maintaining the high value of the CCIE certification

Don’t forget that you must still pass a qualification exam before you can attempt the lab exam. You’ll find more information on Cisco’s official CCIE Web site. Best of luck to anyone who is willing to embark on the CCIE journey. The quest to obtain those prestigious four letters is still worth it!

How do you feel about these changes to the CCIE program?

We look forward to getting your input and hearing about your experiences regarding this topic. Join the discussion below or send the editor an e-mail.