Cisco Announces Changes to CCNP

Troubleshooting Returns, but CCNP Gets Skinnier

It's almost like those too-familiar infomercials that get so popular around New Year's - time to get rid of the fat and add some muscle. Cisco's done the same to CCNP with today's announcement of CCNP changes. Cisco starts by removing roughly half the topic breadth from the old CCNP: most every topic from ONT and ISCW is gone. Cisco then adds back a Troubleshooting exam that focuses on routing and switching with a few other topics. Today I'll begin an examination of this revised cert, with lots of links, some impressions, and a promise to more time in the coming weeks drilling down on the new exams.

For a bit of historical perspective can be useful to frame this change. From its inception in 1998, CCNP has included a 4-exam path. Additionally, Cisco has normally also offered a composite exam that covered the same topics as either 2 or 3 exams, just to reduce the overall time and cost. However, from a breadth perspective, CCNP has always covered topics that matched 4 authorized Cisco courses of 5 days in length. So, the breadth was basically what you could learn in class in 20 days of classroom learning.

The first few iterations of CCNP included a Troubleshooting exam, which matched a T'shooting course. With the last big change to CCNP before now - 2006 I believe - Cisco really changed things up a bit. Gone was T'shooting. Cisco changed CCNP to reflect the fact that route/switch engineers were more often route/switch/security/QoS/Wireless engineers, with much broader job roles. With the 2006 changes, in came ISCW (mostly security, VPNs, Internet access, MPLS) and ONT (mostly QoS and Wireless). But CCNP was still four 5-day courses, still same relative effort based if compared to the number of days in the authorized courses, but a much wider range of topics.

So, back to the present. Roughly 4 years after the widening of CCNP, Cisco makes a philosophical shift. CCNP now has less breadth of topics, at least if you compare the current exam topics. However, those topics require more depth, particularly due to the significant focus on troubleshooting. At the same time, Cisco appears to be kicking up the overall required skill level on the core routing and switching topics, to what I cam calling the skilled engineer level, rather than a skilled implementer level. (I believe Cisco refers to this skill level as "professional network engineer", but that may just be to match the P in CCNP.)

To see why, here's the scoop on the exams in the new CCNP:

ROUTE and SWITCH essentially replace the old BSCI and BCMSN courses and exams. (The new names are not acronyms, but rather, abbreviations.)

Comparing these two, ROUTE may have more changes compared to its predecessor exam. First off, the ROUTE Exam covers the material in the new 5-day ROUTE authorized course, plus around 7.5 hours of e-learning content. It's basically the equivalent of 6 days of course material, figuring that you're actually in class 6 hours a day once you add up breaks, lunch, and the like. Compared to BSCI, ROUTE loses multicast, IS-IS, DHCP, and multicast. It adds some depth across the board, and unsurprisingly, notably more depth on IPv6. It also has some coverage of Internet access and VPN tunnels.

SWITCH doesn't have any extra e-learning beyond the 5-day course. SWITCH removes multicast compared to BSMSN, and adds some wireless and switch supervisor redundancy. I'll leave a detailed analysis of the exam and changes to Dave Hucaby, author of the SWITCH Cert Guide from Cisco Press, who'll guest blog in a week or two.

TSHOOT's topic breadth matches a new 5-day course, plus 9.5 hours of e-learning content, for about the equivalent of a 6.5 day course. The topic breadth includes all the topics in ROUTE and SWITCH, a few small topics from CCNA (eg, SSH, NAT, DHCP), and a few other topics not in any of these other exams. It's new, and of course since it's just announced today and the exam's not out until April, it's hard to tell exactly what this exam will include. Cisco claims around 90% of the authorized course is labs - sounds like an interesting course. I'll leave some of the speculation to Kevin Wallace, author of the new TSHOOT Cert Guide from Cisco Press, who'll give us some analysis of the new TSHOOT exam and topics. I should have his guest blog posted in the next week or so.

Finally, one big overarching change affects all 3 exams, particularly ROUTE and SWITCH. All three exams have a bit of a new philosophy about the skills required to pass the test. All three sets of exam topics list topics for creating implementation and verification plan documents. The idea is that you should be able to figure out everything that should be considered to implement a design, and be able to build a correct config, without the benefit of being there when the change is made. The general idea is that you build the implementation plan, and some other person comes in a 2AM Sunday to implement your config. At the same time, the exam topics expect you to be able to develop a verification plan at your desk, telling others what commands to use to verify whether the implementation worked or not when those other people implement the changes over the weekend. It's the difference between remembering that one of 2-3 commands probably tells you the info you're looking for, versus knowing for sure what show command to use, and exactly what info confirms whether a particular feature is working or not.  Testing for that planning skill is a challenge for Cisco, in my opinion. I haven't seen the exams yet, so it's hard to tell how much this translates into the actual exam, but that's the gist of these types of topics on Cisco's web site.

So, to net it out, what's changed - at least in my interpretation? Here we go:

  • CCNP is 15-20% narrower, based on the days-of-courseware measurements (17.5 vs 20)
  • It is centered squarely on route/switch topics (obvious)
  • It is deeper than the old CCNP, just through TSHOOT alone
  • It my require deeper skills due to the planning tasks (to be discovered)
  • New exams $200 each
  • 120 minutes for each of the 3 exams (versus 90 minutes for the 4 old exams), so total time for all CCNP exams you take is the same
  • Many transition paths - see Cisco's combination tool
  • Cisco recommends that you pass ROUTE and SWITCH before you take TSHOOT

For those of you already into CCNP, here's a brief synopsis of the transition options.

  • The old exams are available to all until July 31st
  • If you're in a CCNP Networking Academy class, you may get more time based on when the CCNP Academy curriculum changes, but I've not seen it yet. (Anyone? Anyone?)
  • ROUTE and SWITCH exams available March 10th
  • TSHOOT exam available April 30th
  • ISCW and ONT expire July 31st this year, so wrap your old CCNP by then! (IE, if you finish CCNP before July 31st, your ONT and ISCW count. If not, your ISCW and ONT exams don't count towards your CCNP.)

Here's some more links to Cisco's pages. Feel free to weigh in as to what you think of the changes, good and bad. More detail and analysis over the coming weeks...

Cisco pages:


Video about the CCNP Redesign (Video, 10 minutes)

CCNP Exam Combination Tool

Cisco Learning Network CCNP Announcement info


(I'll add links once they're live on - they weren't live yet when I posted):

ROUTE Cert Guide (Odom)

SWITCH Cert Guide (Hucaby)

TSHOOT Cert Guide (Wallace)

CCNP Library (all 3)

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