Last month, Cisco introduced the biggest overhaul to its CCNP certification since the program's last major rewrite in 2006. Cisco has reduced the number of exams for the certification from four to three: ROUTE #642-902, SWITCH #642-813, and TSHOOT #642-832. The changes are designed to better reflect a CCNA's real-life job activities, as well as focus on technologies that organizations are deploying today.
To help you prepare for the new exams, Cisco Press has published (or will soon publish, in some cases) a comprehensive portfolio of CCNP self-study resources. I spoke to Cisco Press authors Denise Donohue, Jay Swan, Kevin Wallace, and Sean Wilkins to get a deeper dive into the new exams, and ask why Cisco introduced the changes, and how the changes will affect CCNA students. Also, read my interview on the overall CCNA changes with Cisco Press author Wendell Odom.
Questions About SWITCH
Linda Leung: BCMSN 642-812 is replaced by SWITCH 642-813. What are the major differences between the two? What topics are new and what have been dropped?
Denise Donohue: Security isn't a bigger topic in the CCNP overall, but some of the security topics that were previously in ISCW have been moved to SWITCH, and a few things are now in ROUTE. Likewise, some topics from ONT, such as QoS for voice support, now appear in SWITCH.
The course designers concentrated on what engineers at a CCNP level are typically expected to do in their jobs, and tried to provide the information they would need to accomplish those tasks. So there is a greater emphasis on planning, implementation, documentation, and testing, with less emphasis on marketing (especially in the wireless section). A section on High Availability looks at network design and management, two completely new topics for this course, but important subjects for engineers to understand. IP SLA is also included in this section and its use is extended to HSRP (Hot Standby Router Protocol).
The VLAN, Spanning Tree, and Etherchannel topics are about the same, with a bit more emphasis on planning, verifying, and troubleshooting.
A change I particularly like is in the wireless and QoS sections. In the wireless section, the emphasis now is one you need to know to prepare your LAN to support wireless, and to actually set up a switch to connect to a wireless access point, as opposed to wireless theory. Similarly, the QoS section concentrates more on planning the switch-based quality of service settings to support voice and video, and to implement that.
Sean Wilkins: The majority of changes relate the planning, implementing and documenting a specific solution. This is something that has been overlooked in the past for technical knowledge but is required in most engineering/consulting positions. To replace the topics that have been removed, Cisco has added more depth on planning, troubleshooting, and Layer 3 path control features in IOS.
LL: How do you recommend students should study for this exam. Anything different that they should do for this exam than for previous Cisco exams? How does your new study guide reflect this?
DD: It will be hard to obtain the CCNP certification without a good amount of hands-on experience, either in a practice lab or on-the-job. The new study guide has a lot of configuration examples to help guide your studying, and refresh your memory during the pretest review. The addition of design, planning, and documentation mean that candidates must consider more than just the configuration commands. The study guide contains information on network design, and on implementation planning and documentation for each technology.
SW: There are really two paths to take for Cisco certifications in my opinion. One is based on little previous experience with Cisco equipment and the other is based on completing these certifications after obtaining significant on-the-job training.
If you have little experience the best solution really is to take the course and learn to understand all of the ins and outs of the solution. These courses, along with some of the official certification books, allow a smooth preparation path. This way, you are given a strong foundation which allows you to become an even better engineer/consultant.
The other path is for those who had previous Cisco equipment experience. For those, the best solution is to self-study using the various certification books and references. The big thing that this segment has to remember is to not underestimate the test or you will just be out the money. Take the time to read the materials and highlight those topics which are the least understood and then continue to study them in-depth. This way you will not only be prepared for the test but for real equipment.