A quick note before I get started on this post: I mentioned in my first post that there are a number of different CCIE tracks (Routing and Switching, Security, Voice, etc.). I should mention here that my posts will be specific to the Routing and Switching track. A lot of this information can be applied to all tracks, but I will be focusing on the Routing and Switching track. This is the track that I am pursuing (as well as the most popular) so it's the track that I am most familiar with. This week we'll look at the costs involved with tackling the CCIE certification. I'll split these cost into a few major categories: Exam Costs This category can be considered your fixed costs. All of the rest of the costs are technically optional and certainly subjective. But you will be required to shell out at least $1,715 in testing costs. The written exam will set you back $315 and the lab exam will cost you $1,400(all values in US dollars). Unless you work for Cisco or have some type of certification discount with Vue or Cisco, then this is the bare minimum that you'll be able to get away with paying if you want a CCIE. Of course, these costs are per attempt, so each time you fail a lab or written exam, the cost rises. As I mentioned in my first post, there are only ten locations worldwide which host the CCIE lab (less for some tracks) so there's a very good chance that you'll need to add travel costs to your total. I recently took the lab exam in San Jose and my travel costs were about $550 (flight from Minneapolis, one night hotel stay, and a rental car). Basically, each lab attempt costs me $2,000. Training/Study Materials Most candidates spend a large portion of their CCIE budget on training costs. Whereas the exam costs are fixed (plus travel if needed) the training costs will vary greatly from candidate to candidate. In my case, I've spent well over $6,500 on training. A large portion of this has been (thankfully) reimbursed by my employer. If I did not get reimbursed for some of my expenses, I still would have shelled out about $2,500 for training. Believe it or not, there are a lot of candidates who drop five-figures on CCIE training (some of them do it completely out of their own pockets). Let's take a look at some of the training materials that can run up your training budget: Books Anyone who has bought IT certification/technical tomes knows that these weighty suckers can cost anywhere from $30 to upwards (and occasionally over) $100. Here is a link to Internetwork Expert's (a CCIE training vendor) recommended reading list for each CCIE track. As you can see, there are a dozen or so books that Internetwork Expert recommends for the Routing and Switching track. True, most candidates do not read all or these books or even read the ones that they do from cover to cover, but I would guess that most candidates do read a good chunk of at least five books. I've bought and read nearly all of six different books. I've supplemented those books with sections from a number of other books.
Cost Savings Tip There are two major ways to save costs on books: 1) Buy used books. Hit up eBay, Half.com, and Powell's (or your favorite discount web site) and look for used books, especially for older books. 2) Use a service like Safari Books Online For a monthly fee ($22.99 to $42.99) you get access to thousands of IT books - many before they are physically published. Some employers may already have a pricing deal with Safari or be willing to reimburse this cost.
After you've read enough to get the basics of the technologies down, it's time to take the CCIE written exam. Although most candidates take this test by reading one or more books, you can purchase training specific for the written exam: CCBootcamp offers a CCIE written study guide ($99) NetMasterClass offers an online testing product for the written exam ($99) You can even drop thousands of dollars on Instructor Led Training classes for the written if you chose. Lab Workbooks Once you've passed the written, it's time to start preparing for the big dance: the CCIE lab exam. Most CCIE candidates will, at a minimum, purchase a CCIE workbook to aid in their preparation. A workbook is a generally a collection of full-scale labs that are meant to emulate the style and content of the actual lab exam. Some vendors offer different types of workbooks such as mini-labs that are technology-specific, but they all offer some type of the "classic CCIE workbook" with full-scale labs. These workbooks generally cost a few hundred dollars. Here is a sampling of offerings: Internetwork Expert IPexpert CCBootcamp Micronics
Cost Savings Tip Call the vendor and speak with a salesperson - Sure they might try to give you the hard-sell pitch, but often times pricing is negotiable. I know of at least one vendor who offers huge price discounts for candidates outside of the US and Europe. Buy end-to-end or bundled packages - many times you can bundle multiple products for a significant savings. Most vendors offer some type of "end-to-end" training which includes their most popular products at a savings.
Instructor Led Training If you decide to go with Instructor Led Training (ILT) then this is where you'll most likely spend the most money. Nearly all vendors offer some ILT offering (many offer multiple types) with the "CCIE Bootcamp" being the most popular. These classes can run from $2,500 to over $10,000. Here is a sampling of Routing and Switching bootcamps [Note: These are generally US-based companies, there are a number of training companies in other theaters that offer CCIE bootcamps as well]: Internetwork Expert IPexpert Micronic Global Knowledge Unitek One thing that a few of the CCIE vendors do - and do well - is offer online or recorded versions of their ILT. These courses are generally referred to as CoDs (Classroom On Demand). Generally these CoD offerings are priced much lower than the same traditional classroom training. You lose the face-to-face exposure as well as the ability to pick a trainer's brain, but you do get the ability to watch the training at your own pace and as many times as you like.
The Cisco 360 CCIE Training Program I would be remiss if I failed to mention the recently launched Cisco CCIE 360 Training Program. This is the first official Cisco training program for the CCIE. While most vendors will allow you to purchase materials à la carte, the 360 program is an end-to-end offering. It's also very expensive ($4,500 to over $20,000) compared to "traditional" CCIE programs. You can get a good overview of the 360 program here.
There are a lot of additional training materials/classes that you can purchase including mock labs, audio training, mock lab workshops, etc. I'll describe these in more detail in a future post. Equipment The CCIE lab exam is a hands-on exam. That means that once you've filled your head with theory, you're ready to start pounding out configurations on the command line. You're going to need to have access to some equipment in order to do this. There are three paths that you can follow to get experience with Cisco equipment: Build a Home Lab This is the most expensive option, although it is a lot cheaper than it was a few years ago thanks to eBay. The equipment that is required for your home lab will generally depend on which vendor's workbook you choose. Each vendor uses a slightly different topology so your equipment purchases will depend on the number of devices in that topology. Even buying used equipment, you'll still need to shell out a lot of money to build a CCIE lab.
Cost Savings Tip Most candidates that build a own home lab will generally do so with the expectation of selling the equipment after getting their digits. If you have to shell out $10,000 for a home lab, but are able to sell it back for $9,500 a few months later, then your net cost is only $500. For those who are interested in going this route, search eBay for "CCIE lab" or hit up some of the CCIE study lists/forums and look for bargains.
Some candidates (myself included) may be able to build a lab at work (or take home equipment from work if they are lucky). Most companies have spare equipment that they are willing to let you practice on. The good thing about building a CCIE lab is that you don't need to use the latest and greatest hardware. My lab at work is cobbled together from Cisco 2600 routers and 3550/3560 switches - none of which we use in production any longer. Rack Rentals This is the route that many CCIE candidates go to get access to equipment. All of the major vendors as well as a number of independent CCIE rack rental companies allow you to rent equipment and access it remotely. This option allows you to avoid making a large investment in a home lab and to access equipment from any place with an Internet connection. This is the method that I use when I cannot use my rack at work (which I can't access remotely due to my employer's security policies). Emulation This is the newest "craze" in the CCIE world. There is a wonderful program called Dynamips which allows you to simulate Cisco hardware on your computer. There are a couple of programs that run on top of Dynamips that allow you to build topologies with Dyanmips: Dynagen and the graphically-based GNS3. This is by far the cheapest option (free!) for getting CLI experience. There are of course a few downsides with this option though. While Dynamips emulates most router hardware, it does not emulate switch hardware. You can get around this by uses switching modules in your virtual router, but you won't get a lot of the high-end switching features that are on the lab blue print. Secondly, Dynamips takes a lot of computing horsepower (CPU and memory) to run large topologies. If you have a dual-core box with at least 2 gigs of RAM, then you should be okay. If not, then you might be better off spending your money on real equipment or on rack rentals. Dynamips takes some time and skill to configure. You're going to need to do some research to get it running smoothly. Your choice of operating system will also affect its performance (I run it on a dual-core Ubuntu laptop with 2 Gigs or RAM). Finally, there are legality issues. Dynamips requires an IOS image. You'll need to get an image from Cisco, but you can only legally run Cisco IOS software on Cisco hardware. That said, Dynamips is priced right: it's free! Many candidates are using Dynamips for their lab preparation. Time This category may be the one that takes the biggest toll on your life. You're going to need to commit a large portion of your free time in order to prepare for this certification. Those of us with a job, spouse, and kids know that it's hard enough to find time let alone the amount of time that you will need to prepare for this exam. There are many stories of "CCIE Widow(er)s". You're going to need to evaluate how much time and money this certification will take and make a decision as to whether or not it's worth the investment. If you're married, then you'll want to sit down with your better half and explain the pros and cons of pursuing the CCIE. You don't want to get your digits but lose your family in the process. Conclusion As you can see the CCIE can cost you as little as $1,700 or run you tens of thousands of dollars. Depending on your experience and ability to learn, it could also cost you many months of intensive studying. Next week I'll be back with a posting that covers preparation strategies as well as assessing whether or not the CCIE is a good choice for you.