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Exam Profile: Cisco CCIE Voice Lab

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Kevin Wallace, discusses what to do, get, and learn in order to be ready for the Cisco CCIE Voice Lab exam.
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The Cisco Certified Internetwork Expert (CCIE) certification is commonly recognized as the industry's most prestigious technical certification. CCIE candidates can pursue various tracks, including Route/Switch, Security, Service Provider, Wireless, Storage Networking, and Voice. To attain a CCIE certification, a candidate must pass a written exam and then complete a hands-on lab successfully.

The CCIE Voice Lab is widely considered to be one of the most difficult—if not the most difficult—of all the CCIE labs.

Exam Details

  • Number of questions: The CCIE Voice Lab presents you with a series of tasks in different topic areas. The number of tasks varies.
  • Type(s) of questions: Unlike some of the CCIE tracks, the Voice and Route/Switch CCIE tracks no longer contain open-ended questions (OEQs). The removal of the OEQs from the Voice and Route/Switch CCIE exams is due to those two tracks having troubleshooting tasks integrated into the lab exam. As a result, the CCIE Voice Lab consists of multiple hands-on tasks.
  • Passing score: You must score 80% on the CCIE Voice Lab to pass. When you're taking the lab, each major task is labeled with how many points each task is worth. The number of points totals 100.
  • Time limit: The exam has a time limit of eight hours. A lunch break is included, which doesn't take away from the eight hours allotted for the lab.
  • How to register: You can register for the exam at the Cisco website.

Trouble Spots

The two main challenges in the CCIE Voice Lab are as follows:

(1) The lab contains a wide variety of topics on which you will be challenged.

As an example, a typical lab might address the following topic areas:

  • Basic Campus Design: This area requires you to configure routers and switches for such technologies as voice and data VLANs, DHCP, and NTP.
  • CUCM and CUCME: This area might require you to register all of your phones to a Cisco Unified Communications Manager (CUCM) server or a Cisco Unified Communications Manager Express (CUCME) router. You also might have to configure one or more phone features.
  • Voice Gateway and Signaling: This area has you configure voice gateways as MGCP, H.323, and/or SIP gateways, using T1 and/or E1 digital circuits. These digital circuits might be configured for Channel Associated Signaling (CAS) or as ISDN Primary Rate Interface (PRI) circuits.
  • Dial-Plan and Call-Routing Features: This area typically represents a large percentage of the lab points. Be prepared to configure dial plans to accommodate features such as redundancy, number globalization, number localization, and call history dialing. This topic area requires mastery of a variety of approaches for digit manipulation (for example, voice translation profiles, calling-party transformation patterns, called-party transformation patterns, translation patterns, and transformation masks).
  • Codec Selection and CAC: This area might require you to influence the codec selected for use between regions and prevent a call across an IP WAN link, if that call would exceed the bandwidth currently available on the link. Therefore, you should be familiar with the configuration of regions, locations, RSVP-enabled locations, gatekeepers, and the Resource Availability Indicator (RAI).
  • Media Resources Management: Media resources include such things as media termination points (MTPs), annunciators, music-on-hold, conference bridges, and transcoding resources. Some of these resources can be provided by digital signal processors (DSPs) installed in voice gateways. Therefore, be comfortable with the configuration of these media resources, in addition to the appropriate selection of these media resources through the use of media resource groups (MRGs) and media resource group lists (MRGLs).
  • QoS Features: Quality of service (QoS) tasks might require you to configure various QoS features on a Cisco Catalyst 3750 Series switch for LAN-based QoS and/or a Cisco ISR router for WAN-based QoS.
  • Voice Mail Integration: This area might challenge you to configure voice mail (and associated features, such as an auto attendant), using both the Cisco Unity Connection and Cisco Unity Express (CUE) products.
  • Cisco Unified Contact Center Express: This topic area (often abbreviated as UCCX) focuses on Cisco's UCCX server, which can be used to support mid-sized call centers. You might be challenged to configure a UCCX server, via GUI interface. Also, you might need to create and/or modify UCCX scripts by using the UCCX script editor.
  • Presence: The presence feature can monitor a user's willingness to participate in a call. For example, if a phone is off-hook, that information might need to be reflected on another phone (that of a watcher). You might be challenged to configure the presence features available in Cisco Unified Communications Manager or Cisco Unified Communications Manager Express, in addition to the configuration of a Cisco Unified Presence server.
  • High-Availability Features: High-availability features can help to maintain call processing services in the event of a WAN failure, or if bandwidth is unavailable on a WAN. Typical high-availability features that might challenge you on the lab include Automated Alternate Routing (AAR), Call Forward Unregistered (CFUR), and Survivable Remote Site Telephony (SRST). In addition to maintaining basic call-processing during a WAN outage, you might also be challenged to maintain voice mail functionality during such an outage.

Please keep in mind that the preceding list is just a example of the collection of topics that might appear on your CCIE Voice Lab. You should closely examine Cisco's CCIE Voice Lab Blueprint for a complete listing of topics that might appear in the lab.

(2) The number of tasks you need to complete in eight hours can seem daunting after reading through the lab.

If you configure service parameters, partitions, and calling search spaces early on in your lab, and then later discover that you need to set up AAR, you would have to go back and enable AAR in the service parameters, as well as creating the appropriate AAR partitions and calling search spaces. By spending 15–20 minutes at the beginning of the lab to read through all of the tasks, you could identify such topics and thereby minimize having to retrace your steps.

Since time can be your enemy on this lab, avoid going back and revisiting prior tasks. The time constraints leave little time to troubleshoot any configurations that you don't get right the first time. Be very careful in your configurations to minimize the issues you'll have to troubleshoot.

Preparation Hints

The most important element of your preparation is hands-on practice. You could either rent rack time or construct your own home lab. Expect to put in a minimum of 500–700 hours of practice rack time. Cisco's website provides a list of equipment and software versions to expect on the CCIE Voice Lab. Practice labs are available from a variety of training companies focused on CCIE preparation. Following is a sampling of some of the CCIE training companies offering practice lab workbooks:

In addition to your hands-on practice, you'll also want to do quite a bit of reading to deepen your understanding of key topics appearing on the CCIE Voice Lab blueprint. (Note that you must be logged in to Cisco's website to access the blueprint. The "Recommended Study Resources" section of this article provides a list of recommended books.

Many CCIE Voice Lab candidates also benefit from collaborating with other candidates during their study. Become familiar with some of the blogs and message boards focused on CCIE Voice Lab studies. Following are a few examples:

Recommended Study Resources

Cisco Voice over IP (CVOICE) Authorized Self-Study Guide, Third Edition can help you learn how to perform advanced digit manipulation on an H.323 router, in addition to reviewing the configuration of H.323, MGCP, and SIP gateways. This book also covers H.323 gatekeepers and the Cisco Unified Border Element (CUBE).

Implementing Cisco Unified Communications Manager, Part 1 (CIPT1) Authorized Self-Study Guide introduces you to the initial setup procedures for Cisco Unified Communications Manager (CUCM), in addition to addressing how to configure route plans, media resources, and a collection of CUCM features.

Continuing with your CUCM study, the Implementing Cisco Unified Communications Manager, Part 2 (CIPT2) Authorized Self-Study Guide addresses such topics as providing MOH from a remote site router's flash, SRST (using SIP, SCCP, and using a CUCME router as an SRST reference). Additionally, you learn how to configure a variety of mobility features.

Cisco IP Communications Express: CallManager Express with Cisco Unity Express can act as a great reference for your CUCME and CUE study.

Since troubleshooting is integrated into the CCIE Voice Lab, Troubleshooting Cisco IP Telephony can assist you in troubleshooting your home (or rack rental) lab configurations.

Cisco QOS Exam Certification Guide (IP Telephony Self-Study), 2nd Edition can help you to prepare for the QoS section of the CCIE Voice Lab.

Where to Go from Here

Begin by building your library of documentation for your reference and ongoing learning during your studies. Then become acquainted with some of the CCIE Voice Lab discussion boards and blogs (such as those mentioned in the "Preparation Hints" section of this article).

Next, determine how you're going to do your hands-on practice. Will you use a rack rental, or will you build a home lab? You might want to purchase a collection of practice labs. If your budget allows for it, consider attending a CCIE Voice Lab boot camp from a CCIE training provider.

Finally, since you're going to spend hundreds of hours working through your practice labs, find a way to make this task fun. Crank up the music, celebrate your successes, and become incredibly curious about the topics you're studying.

Have you taken the CCIE Voice Lab? Share your experiences by posting to the CCIE thread in our forums.

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