How to nail the CCIE voice lab – notes from passed guy

Posted: July 28, 2008 in LAB EXPERIENCE
Tags: ,

Here are the strategies what I have used and eventually I got the success in following them up. I developed these strategies that I learnt in the ‘hard day’. I have also tried to explain my ‘the famous lab day’ experience.

! These are my personal notes and may not work for you. I don’t think there is any Cisco NDA violence . Use these information on your own risk. Happy studying.

When I step into the lab, I was ready for any scenarios they can through at me. So this time I went to the lab with 200% confidence thinking of I will bloody nail it. This attitude is a must even you think that you are not expert in answering all the sections.  It really helps to build the confidence level and gives some energy to  face any hard question in the lab exam.

Once I step into the lab, after proctor’s briefing when  hopped on my POD I followed the following;

! STEP 1

Write down the sections in the paper without reading the exam.
Expected time; 2-5 mintues.

I have

First of all, I grabbed 2 color pencils [green and red], didn’t read the lab and noted all sections of the labs in 2 column; e.g…with the green pencil,  written down all the sections from the lab papers into a blank sheet provided in the lab.
<<<<<then space of few lines between sections
<<<<<then space of few lines between sections
blahblah …….
When to use this sheet?

The TRICK is take the RED pencil and cross the sections you’ve fully tested from each and every angle. I have learn this from a TRIPPLE CCIE guy [thanks Mike]. Call me a nut, because I didn’t even read whats in the exam and started listing them in a empty paper! but yeah, this was what I have been lacking with in my previous attempts.

Why is it necessary ???
Well we all know how to do SRST, Call routing…. everone does the same task but in different ways.

Lets take an example of AAR,
Task- configure AAR between HQ and SITEB.

You’ve probably done everything e.g. putting EPNM on the phones at each location, assigning them AARCSS and AAR groups. makeing sure that GW at both site has AAR CSS and aar-group defined. Making sure that your route patterns at both sites are well defined. Even you’ve tested that AAR functionality by reducing the bw in ccm.

When u do the above practice, I bet u  will start to believe that you’ve nailed this topics and tested it many time and every time it worked with 100% success.  But hey , you are wrong here, you haven’t really nailed this section yet.

So.. what?, well in this  in the sheet above, do not CROSS this section yet. Hang in a sec, this is because this bullet point has not yet been fully tested. So now you’d be thinking that what the fuck actually I am missing here in AAR [tested and works but I still got ‘0’ in HA section]. Ask yourself honestly and think about this;

1. Have you also tested during AAR if Active CCM fails, SITE B phones still be able to register on secondary CCM? – may be in a havoc you think that u created the CCM group but u actually missed click on that and configured the next item in the ccm-menu-list. So when sub [primary] is failed, your AAR won’t work.

That is one of the classic example of what Cisco expect for this Expert level exam.

2. Lets say, in the above example, you’ve taken care of point#1. U also have  ensured that a correct CCM-group is defined and pub/sub are listed in the group. But if you test the HA function during AAR and shut the primary CCM to test if phones registers to the secondary CCM – you found out that still phones are not registering… what’s wrong here now!?

Think about that situation….
doesn’t it get complex? why the phones are not registering to the secondary call processing engine?

Above is another classic example of we need to think outside the box as well. This is an expert level exam. When we people complain that my AAR was working, I have tested it 3 times but I still got “ZER0” in AAR section and start winzing and  blaming Cisco/Proctor that they are not playing fair game. Well I had the same concept diffted in my head and even I opened a case on cert support, yes call me a nerd……………. 🙂

Here is another example,  you think u have configured and tested the SRST as per questions requirement but other sections in the exam had a requrement saying allow maximum 3 conferences during SRST. Here is what your config looks like;

secondarydialtone 9
max-conferences 2 gain -6
transfer-system full-consult
timeouts interdigit 6
timeouts busy 6
ip source-address port 2000 strict-match
maxephones 10
maxdn 10
system message primary Your current options
dialplan-pattern 1 5152… extension-length 4
transfer-pattern .T
transfer-pattern .T
voicemail 4444
call-forward busy 4444
call-forward noan 4444 timeout 6
multicast moh port 16384
time-format 12

Now do you see there is something missing in the above configuration ? The answer is u are not satisfying the question which was asked in the earlier conferencing section. Obviously you can not do the conferencing with a phone with single line. Now you know why after pulling your hair, you’ve probably noticed that the below line should be in the configuration.

maxdn 10 dual-line

Also another point, such as a command ‘time-format 12’.  Which u think is okay but you didn’t think wide enough that what are the other question’s requirements in other sections. May be during SRST the time format is requirement is 24hours and in normal operation its 12 hours format 🙂

Duh……… all these head aches!. they go on and on seems never stopping and may cost famous $1500 USD lunch!!

! Note: The above information are taken from Networker presentation (Now Cisco Live).The Networkers presentation is a must read document. There are some more example of why anyone looses points in the lab.  Also it gives more info and examples on each section and an overview of each technology. If someone just starting for their first attempt Networker presentation is the way to go to warm up

Now,  the above are  a few examples of how you should be thinking any topics  broadly. In other word if the question say “drive a car from San jose to Sydney”, u don’t have to just think about driving the CAR. Think all other obstacles which may stop your driving e.g. rain, hurricane etc. Most of us put our efforts for 20-30 minutes in configure AAR/SRST requirement but a tiny little mistake which we didn’t take care of may cause that we get ‘0’ in that section. Hence waste of our 30 minutes in the lab. In my case, once I made sure that from each angle AAR/SRST is working, then I crossed that perticular section in my table with a RED pencil.

The Second thing, marking and crossing the sections also helps to bring down the mental stress/tension and fear of missing lab quesitons. Take it this way, if u saw your 8 sections are crossed with RED pen before lunch, you’ll be thinking during the lunch that you’ve really nailed it. Therefore your mind will work stressless.

This is also very important to test each and every section twice when your brain is stress free.

! STEP 2

read the exam and make a mind map of the whole exam.
expected time; 10-15 minutes max

Once I listed all the questions in the paper, then I started reading the questions. I read all sections but skipped call routing requirement and QoS. I think those are the sections which takes heaps lot of time to read so I skipped them but just had a quick look not reading every words but the lines to know if they’ve any other requirement which may be needed in other tasks. The tip here is – in background at the same time, I started activating CCM services.

! STEP 3

Divide the whole lab CLI task into rounds.
Approx time; 1 hour – 1.5 hours

I divided the configuration tasks into rounds typically each round takes 5-10 minuts max. e.g. round1, round2, round3 etc…

configure vlans in hq, siteb, sitec and assign them to  the relivent ports.

trick# Use ‘show cdp neighbor’ command [no need to see the table in the question sheet that is wastage of time] u know voice lab topology is fixed

[source 1="Ben" 2="NG's" 3="comments" 4="on" 5="the" 6="ASK" 7="Expert's" 8="forum" language="quoting"][/source]

, u can see which port of switch has phone / ata connected.

note; vg248 doesn’t support cdp so u may not see it on the switch. so u shud consider that in stratedgy#2


enable multicast, ntp, layer3 inteface, ip helper addresss on all 3 routers. when configuring ntp on ccm-pub/sub/unity also configure dhcp on them. On sitec configure exclude range and run the


configure E1/T1 controller interface, Router’s dialplan, SRST-fallback, MGCP, h323 dialpeers, sitec, and all left over in each router.

….. and so on….

note1; Very important point here again, use your critical thinking skills to categorize the round. Which works for you, u can divide them into rounds. Once you practice those logical rounds, u can’t miss the tasks. Therefore u will reduce overall lab bind up time.

note2; for bacd script, use the sample config from DoCCD. there are examples with AA-dialpeer +
hunt-groups. So copy and paste in notepad, ammend the required parameters and paste on the router. The round means in one go what and where u shud configure the tasks. BACD is 5 minutes game [if it works straight].

! STEP 4

CCM gui config;(not the phones yet)
time – 10-15 minutes;
first define all partions, then CSS.  I used top to bottom, left to right approach to configure all ccm options. enable auto registration on ccm.

trick#1, when I defined DP for hq and siteb, i also assigned the EPNM and CSS. I knew by now what CSS and and AAR/DP group needs to be assigned to each phones. Automated pushing most of the parameter to the phones when they registers to the ccm. in that way i have to configure less parameter when i configure the phone.

trick#2, on siteb, before you run CME setup e..g

telephony-service setup, make sure your phone#2 port on switch is shut. In that way, phone1 will get the first number and u don’t hve to do much work. Once phone1 at cme is registered then enable switch port of phone2. then in that way phone2 will get next number. otherwise sometime it takes heaps time to move them back and fourth.

! STEP 5

Do the Media section now first in ccm;
time; 10-20 minutes max

This is because, once u done stratedgy#4, you will be lacking out of MRGL in any further task u want to do e.g. adding gk/gw, configuring phones adding ipcc ports. u can’t progress without MRGL. I read the moh section, made sure what i am going to do is correctly then created the moh groups, then followed by adding cfb, xcoder etc. then finally made the mrgls for both sites. once i created mrgls, I immidiately assigned them to the DP. see another trick, otherwise sometime u may forget it and hence we later wonder why moh is not working or why xcoder is not hooking up in the other xcoder/mtp devices.

! STEP 6

Add gk/gw;
approx time; 10 – 15 minutes

Then I added GK trunks, GW’s also made an appropriate RG, RL for example;

3 route groups:

3 route-lists, 15 route-list-template***
hq6608 only
sitebgw only
gk only
template1 -add hq6608 only + sitebgw only + gk only to it

Copy template1 to 14 more template…  :0 lol damn what i am doing with these template..


Yup I was a nut when I configured the template but that is a real time saver. U’d know why…soon..

note; you will never need more than 18 route-list so standardize your most task like above for example.
standardise your pt/css as well as mentioned in the previous stratedgy.

! STEP 7

Unity and CUE in parallel (30 minutes-40 minutes);
Start from CCM, run unity-port-wizard, vm pilot, etc..
In the same time telnet to the CME router and take CLI session to CUE. Put this screen behind the Unity screen so that u can flip through them. set unity SNTP if required.. using dos command.

note, when u create a  siteb phone , don’t forget to put alternate extension, later u don’t need to come back on unity. I finished these section preety quickly… If CUE is not completed yet, start CRS and do it in a background of CRS.

! STEP 8

CRS + ip phonees in hq/siteb

expected time; 30 minutes max.
I ran all ports, e.g. jtapi provider, rm, cisco media, added application with default icd.aef appliction in one shot. Read the CRS script section what is required and do that now. Then just point the added application to the script after u uploaded and created a new script.

Restarted CCM/CTImanager and crs engine itself once eveyrthign is done.

Tested  call from HQ and other site.

TIPS: you can save 3-4 minutes in the lab, if you can remember, the service url ip agent.
e.g.   http://ipaddress:6293/ipphones/jsp/sciphonexml/IPAgentInitial.jsp
just think about ‘ipphones’ , jsp, xml, sciphone , write it down 20 times and I believe you can’t forget it.
I never had a need to look for IP agent url in the docCD.

Now time to do the hq and siteb phones. modify template if required and assign pt/css whatever is required.

Up to this section I nailed it by lunch time and after lunch I only had QoS and Call routing… When I was out at lunch I was very confident and thinking about that I will nail this lab as most of the sections in my list were crossed.

Trick# Before you to go lunch, read the question which has been bugging you and give it a go during lunch time. May be something will click in your brain and you’d be able to do that. Just don’t go out for a shake of lunch [remember it could cost $1500 ]. In other words, just utilise your lunch time, thinking about question and trying to get the workable solution.

! STEP 9

Call routing on CCM,

approx time; 20-30 minutes

As u know we already created the templates for Route-lists. now we only need to put the pattern and customize them. Now time to read the question , remember I told ya that not to read the call routing requirement to save the time. Do call routing section by section. When you fully tested its requirement in each section then only make a move and dont’ forget to TICK/cross the configured /tested task in the task list.

trick for call routings
1. Use RL-6608 only , siteb only, for  calls like 911, 9911 or the patterns which doesn’t need gw reduncandy. Do digit manupulation at Route pattern level. Use single rl-hq6608 for instance for all this type of calls. In that way you can conserve the total required route lists. When i used to do call routing in my homelab  i used to do the full call routing so that practice is always good and helped me to speed up things quicker.

2. For redundant calls , use the route-list template we have created in the previous sections. Do digit manupulation at route group level. remove unwanted RG from the template and arrange the priority according to the question. Also stick to one method of sending /chopping digits from route patterns – e.g. XXXXXXX method or predot method. U know what I mean, in that way u will never get confused. It only took 20-25 minutes to do all call routing including testing.

Note; Many poeople prefere to make a table in the paper and put route pattern and gk/gw inthat. I personally don’t think that that practice is required. It will waste your 10-15/20 minutes easily.

You know what 911 or intl or ld/local pattern will look like? so why to write them down? I just made my habit of just read the section and do it straight away. The time you spent in writing them on paper u can use that time to test the configured task.

! STEP 10

QoS; everyone’s Enemy! ha….. I will try to make it simpler for everyone those just want an easy way!

Time; 5 minutes reading and max 10 minutes configuration – total 15 minutes

I diveded QoS in 2 rounds. Well its critical thing in the lab exam. I think to pass the lab we must have our QoS and Call routing upto 100%. You may have different view but that what I think. So I took extra precaustion in qos.

First round marking only – do it on all routers, if its asked in the switches do it on switches in one round.

Then in that way I was sure that i will not make mistake by doing one task at  at time in QoS

Second round, after marking then I did left over of QoS by reading each sections twice. I used auto-qos for this, it only takes 5 minutes to activate them and customization takes only 5 minutes. verify qos once i configured all 3 sections.

I finished all lab tasks by 2:30pm. The only thing now was remaining to verify troubleshoot and recheck again and again.

! STEP 11 – the last one but Very important one

I started testing first AAR, then SRST then CFB, FXS stuffs. Then tested all call routing one by one , section by sectoin. Took a second color pencil (yellow) this time and started crossing them.

first verification – crossed by red pencil
second verification- crossed by yellow pencil
third verification -rounded them with black

When I left the lab I was sure that I have nailed it.

! Once failed, when to re-book your lab exam

If you fail the lab make sure that you rebook your exam ASAP. The reason, you’d know what you’ve done where you’ve done something wrong. Try to figure out what you did wrong. Get back to horse again. My re-take strategy after fail attempt was quite aggressive.

1. First attempt      : Feb, 2008   – First timer, new to CCIE lab. It was a good experience though failed….
2. Second attempt  : April, 2008 – Run out of time, didn’t have a good time management. failed….
3. Third attempt     : June, 2008 – Timing was good but didn’t use the check-list method. failed….
4. Fourth attempt   : July, 2008  – Used the check-list method , super duper improved speed. Passed….

Now you see in the above table, I was ridding on a aggressive CCIE horse that kept me riding. I hope it may help someone who  is trying to speedup the speed. Please feel free to leave your comments/questions on this blog. I would be happy to answer them. Obviously, respect Cisco NDA when asking a question.

Cheers, Push

Happy Study and Good luck to you all
  1. […] A Voice Strategy  for the CCIE Voice lab by Pushkar « […]

  2. rhindle says:

    Thank you for taking the effort to make this blog to help the rest of us along. It is much appreciated. 😉

    I am wondering about point #2 in Strategy 1. I can’t think of why the phones would not register to the secondary CCM in AAR mode if the primary CCM is taken down and both pub and sub in are in the CCM group? Can you explain why they would not?

    Thanks and great work getting your CCIE! My third attempt is Aug 1st so I’m hoping to join the elite crowd you are now part of. 😉

  3. Suresh says:

    Hi Push congrats on your CCIE . Thank you for this post on your CCIE experience.Hope you keep more coming. I have been seeing your name pop up in almost all the Voice forums, you are a great help to all. 🙂

    Now for some requests – off topic but hope you can enlighten me.
    It is the usual solicitation for some advise. I have about 7 years in TDM telephony, including CTI, FAX-mail, Unified messaging, Call Centers ( small ones) etc. I am very comfortable in the TDM Voice networks.I just started a job to work on global VOIP monitoring and support on Avaya platform mainly. I have done the CCVP , and will be labbing in a week or so ( 8 hour sessions 2 or 3 times a week until the Lab in March about 8hr*50 sessions . I have bought the IE mentor workbook as a starter and plan to get the CCbootcamp Work book. I plan to sit for the CCIE lab in March 2009
    1. I see you have vast experience in the data networks, was it any help in the Voice IE?

    2.Any leads on which CCBootcamp workbooks I should get?

    3. How many hours did you spend on the labs in total?

    4. From the details I have provided what are my chances in a first time pass? I am 120% committed.

  4. Pushkar Bhatkoti says:

    Hi suresh,
    I am glad that you’ve found my blog useful.
    My comments are inline below;

    1. I see you have vast experience in the data networks, was it any help in the Voice IE?

    It’s very good question. Perhaps the main reason of me doing CCIE in voice was the fact that the gap between TDM/PSTN guys and IT guys.
    TDM guys don’t know IP in detail and IP guys don’t know what the fu$k DTMF and CAS/SS7 signaling is.

    Oh yeah, it helps a lot. If you know the layer 2 to 7 stuffs, that really helpful. For example, if you are routing a call from CME router to a CCM. call doesn’t go through but if you start digging it and just do netstate -n on CCM windows command prompt, that will add an additional tool to your existing list.
    Things like that are really helpful.

    2.Any leads on which CCBootcamp workbooks I should get?

    I have used version#2 for full lab of ccbootcamp and technology workbnook as a soup/starters.
    I didn’t like IPEXPERT as their scenario are not enough to the real*thing as ccbootcamp or voicebootcamp. If you can you may go for IPEXPERT MoC lab video. They are good as my friends told me. I didn’t have a chance as they recently released them (Version 3). older versions are useless. My advise would be chunk all workbooks. If you manage to pass on first you’d be really lucky if not then try to get the other workbook and practice them. Compare how close theose workbooks are to the real lab scenario. Few of those owrkbook vendor goes really in details. For example, I always had issue with understanding the MOH region stuffs. But once I watched the some MoC lab video [from voicebootcamp] then that cleared a lot and i was okay with it.

    3. How many hours did you spend on the labs in total?

    I logged about 1700 hours total in labbing and study. 1400 hours + labbing. I had my home lab and used to do all type of diffreent scenario.
    At the end, my situation was like I could finish any vendor’s lab within 4-5 hours and confident to get any lab scenario which Cisco may test.

    4. From the details I have provided what are my chances in a first time pass? I am 120% committed.

    oh yeah… you’ll get there. Just don’t give up if u have unsuccess in a few attempts.

  5. James says:

    Where can I get a copy of The networkers 2006 presentation?

  6. Akbar says:

    To: Pushkar Bhatkoti CCIE voice #21569 –

    As a CCIE myself, I would like to make a suggestion that you should be more select in your language and avoid using foul language in your posts. There is a unwritten code of moral and ethical standards that one should try to exemplify as a CCIE. It is not just about passing the lab, think about it.

    • pushkarbhatkoti says:

      Hi Akbar,
      Thanks for your concerned and telling me that. I had ethics as a subject in my masters degree. I know what you mean.
      It’s just a fun writing, nothing serious. I don’t care who hits my blog and read this.

      But I really appreciate your concerns.

      cheers and happy christmas.


  7. cisco nerd says:

    Hello you are very nice at explaining things.

    well done and congratulation for your hard work.

  8. Frieda says:

    Definitely, I have to go along with your argument there,
    seeing as how I’m a law student and all!

  9. I need explore because of what you are, still because of individuals who Quite possibly individuals i am in hand.

  10. Aman says:

    Dear Pushkar,

    The strategies you mentioned above are gonna be the guiding steps for me.
    I have never been to a CCIE training, so, i don’t know the approach to tackle the exam.
    Thanks for posting such valuable tricks.

    I am preparing for CCIE . But got worried seen the following post on Cisco website.

    Would like to know your comments on the same.



  11. amansinha says:

    Dear Pushkar,

    Since, i have never gone through any CCIE Training , your post is going to be my guiding steps for CCIE Lab exam.
    Hope you could add suggestions regarding preparations as well.

    I was worried seeing the below post on Cisco Website.

    Would like to know your comments on this.



  12. Theron says:

    Great site you have here.. It’s difficult to find excellent writing like
    yours these days. I seriously appreciate people
    like you! Take care!!

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