The Cisco Certified Internetwork Professional (CCIP) certification has always been the goal of those network professionals that wanted to march to the beat of a different drummer. People like me that concentrate on the enterprise/campus side of things revel in our use of OSPF and EIGRP. We live and die by IOS and get cold sweats at night when someone mentions IS-IS. The ideal CCIP candidate, on the other hand, loves all of this service provider oriented talk. They want to spend all their time talking about ingress QoS policies. They cackle with glee when the subject of MPLS-TE comes up. They think users are just a myth that exist on the other side of the mythical CPE Wall.
The problem, though, is that the CCIP hasn’t really been focused on the service provider arena for a while now. While the other professional level exams have received overhauls in the recent past, no one touched the CCIP. When the CCVP and CCSP became the CCNP: Voice and CCNP: Security, no one wanted to make the CCNP: Internetwork. The coursework for the CCIP has always relied heavily on other tracks to exist. QoS is a big part of the SP world, so the QoS exam was borrowed from the voice track. Routing is another huge part, so the old Building Cisco Scalable Internetworks (BSCI) test was repurposed as well. The only pure CCIP exams were over BGP and MPLS. You could even take a composite exam if you were feeling up to the challenge of getting your teeth kicked in for twice as long. However, the routing exam has caused some consternation. When I originally studied for my CCNP three years ago, the BSCI book was a handbook of enterprise and service provider routing. It contained a lot of information about every routing protocol. While it focused on OSPF and EIGRP, there was a touch of BGP and IS-IS as well. It served as the foundation for the CCNP, CCDP, and the CCIP. This made sense with Cisco’s foundation being the router. However, when Cisco changed the tests and courseware for the CCNP with their latest refresh, the new ROUTE test was a shell of its former self. Based on the blueprint (login required), it still tests on OSPF, EIGRP, and BGP somewhat. It even throws in IPv6 routing as well, which is a sorely needed topic. However, there’s no IS-IS. None. Nada. Zilch. How’s that supposed to help the SP engineer that might use IS-IS all the time and never see EIGRP? Something needed to be done. And every passing day that the CCIP relied upon tests that didn’t fulfill the criteria of the people being certified was a day that it passed closer to irrelevance.
Thankfully, Cisco decided in May 2012 to overhaul the entire CCIP track. Now known as the CCNP: Service Provider, it finally focuses on the things that service provider network professionals will be doing. The four new tests are specific to the SP track. There are no overlapping tests. The prerequisite for the CCNP: SP is the CCNA: SP, which is two SP-specific tests of it’s own. Cisco has finally figured out that most SP engineers exist in a world all their own with very little in common with enterprise/campus folks. A quick glance at Mirek Burnejko’s excellent IT Certfication Master page for the CCNP:SP shows that the SPROUTE test will focus on IS-IS, OSPFv2 and v3, and BGP. No EIGRP to be found. It also tests these topics on IOS-XR and IOS-XE, the new flavors of IOS that run on the equipment that would be found in an SP environment. If you’d like to see more about the ins and outs of IOS-XR, check out Jeff Fry’s (@fryguy_pa) IOS-XR posts. The SPADVROUTE test focuses on BGP and multicast, the two odd ducks of routing. This means that you can spend your time reading Jeff Doyle’s Routing TCP/IP Volume 2 and take a test basically over that whole book. The SPCORE covers QoS and MPLS functionality such as MPLS-TE. That’s where I’d expect to see the TE stuff, since it’s usually configured in the network core and not on the edges. The SPEDGE test covers MPLS VPNs, as well as VPN technologies in general. I like that Cisco chose to split the core and edge pieces of the CCNP: SP, as there are people that may spend their entire careers working on P routers and never see a piece of CPE equipment. Conversely, there are those that want to stay as far away from the core as possible and would prefer to make the PE router their device of choice.
The CCNP: SP is available today at any Prometric/VUE testing center. You can find out more about the certification from Cisco’s website or by visiting Mirek’s site above.
Cisco has done a great job of breaking the CCIP up into bite-sized chunks that have clearly defined topic boundaries. I can choose to focus on interior routing without worrying about multicast. I can focus on MPLS VPN without thinking too much about MPLS-TE. I can focus on the important parts one at a time. The new CCNP: SP also addresses the shortcomings I’ve seen with the old CCIP test. By giving the SP track a dedicated testing platform all by itself, Cisco no longer has to worry that test changes in one area will carry over to a separate track and cause confusion and delay. As well, with the new branding and focus on the service provider arena, Cisco has shown that it has not forsaken those that want to spend their time working behind the scenes at ISPs.