Cisco Considers IOS for Cert Self Study

Real Answers to Some of Our Collective Questions

Most of you regular readers probably remember a post from a few weeks ago, when we collectively listed questions for me to ask of the folks at Learning@Cisco, while at the Networkers conference. The very next day, I heard from someone in that group, offering an interview with Fred Weiller, director of marketing with Learning@Cisco. Wow! Really Wow! I was surprised and pleased. Today I'll hit the answers to a few of the questions Fred and others answered at the show.

But first, a quick public service commercial. Cisco and partners are sponsoring a virtual event this Friday, July 9th, related to certifications. It's meant for former US military and families, but it's open to everyone. I don't know much about the details, but it's free, and may be of use, particularly for those just getting into the Cisco cert world.

Before getting into the specifics, thanks to Fred Weiller for taking the time to sit at the Cisco Certification Lounge at the Cisco Live! Show last week to answer my questions. My plan was the usual - ask around with anyone I met, get their opinion, and collect the thoughts. Fred answered in more depth than I would have gotten through informal questions. I started with the standard disclaimer of "if you tell me a secret, tell me it's a secret or I may mention it". I'll try to be clear on what Fred (and other unnamed but real sources) said, versus my extrapolations and observations.

I'm not going to list answers to all the questions today - I'd rather leave space to cover some in more detail.

Back to the headline. The question I asked Fred was something like this: "Would Cisco ever make some IOS images available, approved/licensed, for use on either/or real gear/Dynamips, for the purpose of exam prep?" The answer was a big wow: yes they MIGHT. Let me expound on the substance of Fred's answer:

  • They have talked about it
  • They continue to talk about it
  • They understand the need for hands-on practice, and how making IOS available would help
  • There are many considerations outside the realm of certifications that impact any such choice
  • It's not ruled out
  • It's not ruled in
  • No such program is imminent

Now to the opinion part: I expected Fred to day something like, "Wendell, it just isn't going to happen." I was impressed that Cisco had actually considered it longer than to simply conclude that they would not make it available, particularly to run as a virtual router/switch. So, while today's answer is essentially a "definite maybe", it's way better than the informal answer I got last year, which was essentially "no way, Jose". (That answer from last year was an informal collection of answers from many folks, by the way.) The idea of legal IOS for study is being discussed, and it's not dead. So, the proverbial glass is half-full, and I hope we can drink from it one day. Hoorah!

I didn't ask Fred/others to list the issues that prevent them going forward with making IOS available, but I did hear of one such case while at the show. I'll mention the idea briefly here for perspective.  A customer buys mostly unauthorized used gear, running un-paid for IOS images, plus a few legit routers/IOS's with a maintenance contract. When the unauthorized gear breaks, the maintenance contract on the small number of legit devices is used used to get TAC help, IOS upgrades, and even in some cases, replacement hardware. A more controlled IOS image (think licenses that tie to the hardware, like Cisco has already begun to implement) may help prevent that, but also may prevent cert candidates from running IOS on their used gear or Dynamips down the road.

Conclusion: I'm encouraged, but if you're looking for a solution now, well, you're on your own. (If you're new to the whole Simulator, Emulator, used gear consideration, check here.)

Packet Tracer: I asked Fred whether Cisco might ever make this product available to the public, and the short answer is that it is unlikely. For the uninitiated, Packet Tracer is a Simulator and learning tool all rolled into one package. It's free to those in a Cisco Networking Academy course. I've used it some a few years back, and it is indeed useful in many ways.

Fred went on to say that making Packet Tracer available to all was unfortunately more complicated than simply making it available for free, or selling it. It's under a "social responsibility" umbrella at Cisco, meaning it falls under different legal and business rules as compared with commercial products.

Those were the two questions I asked related to hands-on skills on Cisco certs, but it also seemed a good time to get a read on how important the IOS availability issue is. I could ask all ya'll to encourage Cisco to make IOS available by posting messages here, but they clearly understand the need, so I don't know if that would help. But how about we weigh in with specific why/wherefores, plus a survey? How does this desire for authorized/licensed IOS for self study rank versus other inhibitors? What's the biggest thing that inhibits your success for preparing for your next Cisco cert?  And Why?

I'll try to quantify it with the survey below, and feel free to chime in with specific examples, eg, "I need IOS for use with Dynmips to prep for CCSP, because none of the Sims support all the CCSP features, and using Dynamips for the routers at least keeps the cost affordable", or something like that. 

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