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Questions About TSHOOT

Linda Leung: TSHOOT is a brand new course with a brand new exam. Wendell Odom wrote in his blog that Cisco had included a troubleshooting exam in the early days of CCNP, but was later dropped. Why do you think it has come back? Does it look the same? How have skills required for troubleshooting changed over the years?

Kevin Wallace: The CCNP courses used to include the Cisco Internetwork Troubleshooting (CIT) course. As Cisco courses go, the course material was very short, with most of classroom time being dedicated to labs rather than lecture. Primarily, the course focused on troubleshooting various routing protocols and Cisco Catalyst 5000 Series switch issues. Cisco then eliminated the CIT course, stating that each of their newer CCNP courses (i.e. the now-retiring BSCI, BCMSN, ISCW, and ONT courses) would integrate troubleshooting methodologies directly into each of the courses.

Now, Cisco appears to have fundamentally re-engineered what the CCNP certification is all about. The focus has been narrowed to ensure basic route/switch competencies for real-world IT professionals. With that in mind, having been in the IT industry for over two decades, I can certainly attest to the fact that troubleshooting is a major component of the day-to-day tasks of a network engineer. So, I'm in complete agreement with Cisco that troubleshooting deserves its own course.

The new TSHOOT course differs significantly from the older CIT course. The TSHOOT course is by no means short on page count. Rather, it's a big course, with students being required to watch hours of additional e-learning content outside of the classroom lecture. Interestingly, topics covered in the TSHOOT course aren't solely based on topics covered in the ROUTE or SWITCH courses. For example, THSOOT addresses the troubleshooting of Cisco IOS firewalls and QoS technologies, even though these are not technologies covered in either the ROUTE or SWITCH courses.

To give you a sense of the breadth of troubleshooting topics covered in the TSHOOT course, here's a sampling:

  • Network maintenance defined
  • The steps involved in troubleshooting a network
  • A collection of troubleshooting features, applications, and Cisco IOS commands
  • Strategies for troubleshooting Cisco Catalyst switches
  • A generic discussion of troubleshooting routing protocols
  • Specific discussions on troubleshooting individual routing protocols, including OSPF, EIGRP, and BGP
  • Approaches to troubleshooting route redistribution
  • Identifying and resolving router and switch performance issues
  • Troubleshooting security features supported in Cisco IOS
  • Troubleshooting a collection of Cisco IOS services (e.g. NAT and DHCP)
  • IPv6 troubleshooting
  • IP communications troubleshooting
  • Advanced services troubleshooting
  • Strategies for troubleshooting large enterprise networks

You were also asking about how skills required for troubleshooting have changed over the years. One of the biggest shifts we've seen is "data" networks being used to carry more voice and video. With the advent of these converged networks, the number of potential troubleshooting targets has grown. For example, perhaps a Cisco IP Phone is not obtaining an IP address from a Cisco IOS router acting as a DHCP server, or a voice network is not appropriately using quality of service (QoS) mechanisms to prioritize voice traffic over data traffic.

So, overall, I think the new TSHOOT course does an excellent job of exposing CCNP candidates to multiple troubleshooting issues likely to be experienced in the real world, and then equipping those candidates with best-practice strategies for resolving those issues.

LL: Cisco is claiming that 90% of the authorized course is labs. How will this be achieved and how do you advise students to make the most out of lab courses?

KW: Cisco is clearly intent on validating a candidate's troubleshooting skills, rather than validating a candidate's ability to memorize a collection of facts. To accomplish this, Cisco has chosen to challenge exam candidates with multiple troubleshooting scenarios in the exam. These scenarios might be simulation-based questions or multiple choice questions where the exam candidate selects an appropriate answer based on a provided topology and a collection of diagnostic output.

To prevent candidates from merely memorizing a collection of brain dump questions to prepare for the TSHOOT exam, the exam has been designed such that the same question (i.e. trouble ticket) would have different valid answers at different times. For example, a trouble ticket might state that a client is failing to obtain an IP address. The issue could be a connectivity issue. Alternately, the issue could be the configuration of a Cisco IOS DHCP server, or even a misconfiguration of the client's switch port. To determine the correct response, a candidate might need to navigate through a network simulator to determine the appropriate response.

So, TSHOOT exam candidates truly need to understand how things in a network are supposed to behave and how they're supposed to be configured, rather than just memorizing that one issue has a certain cause, and another issue has a different cause.

LL: Cisco in the training description, says students will learn a "systematic ITIL-compliant approach to perform network troubleshooting." First, isn't it unusual for a company to validate a single methodology, and second, what's the difference between an ITIL (Information Technology Infrastructure Library) approach vs. any other?

KW: Since troubleshooting is part art and part science, I can certainly see the need for Cisco to identify some common frame of reference to use when troubleshooting. Having such a common frame of reference, in this case the ITIL, can aid in collaboration efforts. Identifying such methodologies is nothing new. Consider Cisco's Service-Oriented Network Architecture (SONA) design model or the Planning, Designing, Implementing, Operating, and Optimizing (PDIOO) lifecycle.

Also, I think using an ITIL-compliant approach is appropriate because this library of information is incredibly comprehensive, covering just about any aspect of IT management you can imagine: infrastructure, security, business factors, change management, and management of software assets to name a just a few.

LL: How do you recommend students should study for TSHOOT? How does your new study book reflect this?

KW: Without question, before someone can be a successful troubleshooter, they need to understand the underlying technologies. So, I recommend that exam candidates first go through the ROUTE and SWITCH curriculum, and pass the corresponding exams, before moving on to the TSHOOT curriculum. Once they're ready, they need to understand what applications, features, and Cisco IOS commands are available to help them troubleshoot a reported network issue. They also need to be exposed to common troubleshooting targets for various technologies (e.g. neighbors not forming adjacencies as an example of a common OSPF issue) along with best practice recommendations for addressing those issues. Finally, exam candidates need practice in resolving a variety of trouble tickets.

My book, TSHOOT Exam Certification Guide, takes this approach by equipping the reader with a collection of troubleshooting tools, reviewing how various technologies are supposed to operate, identifying common issues with these technologies, and challenging the reader with a collection of trouble tickets. The trouble tickets include a topology, one or more reported symptoms, and a collection of diagnostic output. Armed with this information, the reader is asked to suggest a resolution to the reported issue. Although some issues can be resolved in more than one way, each trouble ticket is accompanied with a suggested solution.

For more visual learners, I have another product coming out from Cisco Press (Network Troubleshooting Video Mentor), which is going to be a component in the upcoming CCNP TSHOOT Cert Kit. This Video Mentor product features over seven hours of troubleshooting videos, where viewers watch while I present and then resolve a variety of trouble tickets on live gear.

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