I have to really give props to IPExpert, their training materials are great. I will come out and say I have never tried any other labs besides theirs. My opinion is bias, but why shop around when you know what works.
I studied the hands-on lab part for about 6-7 months. I started around February of this year. I bought their Lab workbook and proctor guide. I did every lab at least once and read over all labs as part of my preparation.
Volume 1 labs – 20 or so smaller technology based
Volume 2 labs – 15 8 hour labs
Volume 3 labs – 10 8 hour labs with walkthrough
I didn’t have time to go over the Video bootcamp before my lab, nor did I finish the Audio bootcamp. I think the audio bootcamp is great to listen to on the way to work. Use it to fill in your gaps of time, the more exposure, the better.
-Do the labs
-Understand the labs
-Get your butt kicked by the labs
IPExpert labs are going to mess with your head and force you to do things you never thought you could. Do the labs, it’s the most important thing you can do. The theory is great, but please put the Cisco Press books away. If you don’t understand BGP theory, you shouldn’t be doing the labs. I personally didn’t use proctor guides to help me with the practice labs. I didn’t want to get used to being able to look up the answers. You’re going to get owned, deal with it, get used to the feeling. Get used to getting stressed, make sure you can handle it. I barely finished one IPExpert lab in it’s entirety, get used to it! When you finish a lab, read over the proctor guide. Don’t freak when your answer is different, you should know by now there are 30 ways to do the same thing (It’s freaking annoying but you learn some good skills). If you didn’t understand something, learn it but don’t dwell on it. You won’t be good at everything, you are going to have your weaknesses. I know I have mine. Some will focus on them, but I prefer to focus on what I’m good at. Make sure you know the DOC CD, especially for topics you are not so good with. Time yourself with every lab you do. Get an Idea how long it takes you to diagram and work certain areas. When you diagram, do in such a way where you never have to use their diagrams. Don’t forget to join the study group email list…
Do you really have to give up your social life to be a CCIE? I guess it depends on your goals and timeline. Since February, I averaged 12 eight hour labs a month. Friday, Saturday and Sunday were my days. During the day I have to work, so my labs started from the moment I got home, until 11-12pm. Due to the time I got off work, I only had about 6 hours a night. Three days a week is very reasonable. The last two weeks before your lab should be rough. Do a lab every day for one week, then spend a week reading over the proctor guides for EVERY lab. I know a lot of people have kids, so my sympathy goes out to you. I still think it’s possible if you set a schedule for yourself. I know guys that stayed late at work to do their labs so they could concentrate. It sucks being locked up in your room for eight hours after you get home from work (hearing your wife laughing while watching The Office in the background). How bad do you want it?
Proctor labs. Proctor labs.. Proctor labs… I know every network engineer thinks it’s awesome to have their own gear. I work at Cisco and still prefer to use Proctor labs. Yeah, I have a few routers at home, but if you are going to buy IPExpert labs, you need everything on their topology. If you can afford to buy all those routers and switches you are doing better than me. As much as I would love to have my own datacenter in my house, it’s just not practical. The rack time is not that expensive, I find it very reasonable. I know how to use Dynamips but prefer not to.
I’m buying the IPExpert materials for the Voice track in the next few weeks.
Work now, play later. Good luck!