CCIE Loses Its Voice

ccievThe world we live in is constantly adapting and changing to new communications methods.  I can still remember having a party line telephone when I was a kid.  I’ve graduated to using landlines, cellular phones, email, instant messaging, text messaging, and even the occasional video call.  There are more methods to contact people than I can count on both hands.  This change is also being reflected in the workforce as well.  People who just a few years ago felt comfortable having a desk phone and simple voice mail are now embracing instant messaging with presence integration and unified voice mail as well as single number reach to their mobile devices.  It’s a brave new world that a voice engineer is going to need to understand in depth.

To that end, Cisco has decided to retire the CCIE Voice in favor of an updated track that will be christened the CCIE Collaboration.  Note that they aren’t merely changing the blueprint like they have in the past with the CCIE SP or the CCIE R&S.  This is like the CCIE Storage being moved aside for the CCIE Data Center.  The radical shift in content of the exam should be a tip-off to the candidates that this isn’t going to be the same old voice stuff with a few new bells and whistles.

Name That Tune

The lab equipment and software list (CCO account required) includes a bump to CUCM 9.1 for the call processor, as well as various 9.x versions of Unity Connection, Presence, and CUCME.  There’s also a UCS C460, which isn’t too surprising with CUCM being a virtualized product now.  The hardware is rounded out with 2921 and 3925 routers as well as a 3750-X switch.  The most curious inclusion is the Cisco Jabber Video for Telepresence.  That right there is the key to the whole “collaboration” focus on this exam.  There is a 9971 phone listed as an item.  I can almost guarantee you’re going to have to make a video call from the 9971 to the video soft client in Cisco Jabber.  That’s all made possible thanks to Cisco’s integration of video in CUCM in 9.1.  This has been their strategy all along.

The CCIE Voice is considered one of the hardest certifications to get, even among the CCIE family.  It’s not that there is any one specific task to configure that just wrecks candidates.  The real issue is the amount of tasks that must be configured.  Especially when you consider that a simple 3-point task to get the remote site dial plan up and running could take a couple of hours of configuration.  Add in the integrated troubleshooting section that requires you to find a problem after you’ve already configured it incorrectly and you can see why this monster is such a hard test.  One has to wonder what adding video and other advanced topics like presence integration into the lab is going to do to the amount of time the candidate has to configure things.  It was already hard to get done in 8 hours.  I’m going to guess it’s downright impossible to do it in the CCIE Collaboration.  My best guess is that you are going to see versions of the test that are video-centric as well as ones that are voice-centric.  There’s going to be a lot of overlap between the two, but you can’t go into the lab thinking you’re guaranteed to get a video lab.

Hitting the Wrong Notes

There also seems to have been a lot of discussion about the retirement of the CCIE Voice track as opposed to creating a CCIE Voice version 4 track with added video.  In fact, there are some documents out there related to the CCIE Collaboration that reference a CCIE Voice v4.  The majority of discussion seems to be around the CCIE Voice folks getting “grandfathered” into a CCIE Collaboration title.  While I realize that the change in the name was mostly driven about the marketing of the greater collaboration story, I still don’t think that there should be any automatic granting of the Collaboration title.

The CCIE Collaboration is a different test.  While the blueprint may be 75% the same, there’s still the added video component to take into account (as well as cluster configuration for multiple CUCM servers).  People want an upgrade test to let the CCIE Voice become a CCIE Collaboration.  They have one already: the CCIE Collaboration lab exam.  If the title is that important, you should take that lab exam and pass it to earn your new credential.  The fact that there is precedent for this with the migration of the Storage track to Data Center shows that Cisco wants to keep the certifications current and fresh.  While Routing & Switching and Security see content refreshes, they are still largely the same at the core.  I would argue that the CCIE Collaboration will be a different exam in feel, even if not in blueprint or technology.  The focus on IM, presence and video means that there’s going to be an entirely different tone.  Cisco wants to be sure that the folks displaying the credential are really certified to work on it according to the test objectives.  I can tell you that there was serious consideration around allowing Storage candidates to take some sort of upgrade exam to get to the CCIE Data Center, but it looks like that was ultimately dropped in favor of making everyone go through the curriculum.  The retirement of the CCIE Voice doesn’t make you any less of a CCIE.  Like it or not, it looks like the only way to earn the CCIE Collaboration is going to be in the trenches.

It Ain’t Over Until…

The sunsetting officially starts on November 20th, 2013.  That’s the last day to take the CCIE Voice written.  Starting the next day (the 21st) you can only take the Collaboration written exam.  Thankfully, you can use either the Voice written or the Collaboration written exam to qualify for either lab.  That’s good until February 13, 2014.  That’s the last day to take the CCIE Voice lab.  Starting the next day (Valentine’s Day 2014), you will only be able to take the Collaboration lab exam.  If you want to get an idea of what is going to be tested on the lab exam, check out the document on the Cisco Learning Network (CCO account required).

If you’d like to read more about the changes from professional CCIE trainers, check out Vik  Malhi (@vikmalhi) on IPExpert’s blog.  You can also read Mark Snow’s (@highspeedsnow) take on things at INE’s blog.

Tom’s Take

Nothing lasts forever, especially in the technology world.  New gadgets and methods come out all the time to supplant the old guard.  In the world of communications and collaboration, Cisco is trying to blaze a trail towards business video as well as showing the industry that collaboration is more than just a desk phone and a voice mailbox.  That vision has seen some bumps along the way but Cisco seems to have finally decided on a course.  That means that the CCIE Voice has reached the apex of potential.  It is high time for something new and different to come along and push the collaboration agenda to the logical end.  Cisco has already created a new CCIE to support their data center ambitions.  I’m surprised it took them this long to bring business video and non-voice communications to the forefront.  While I am sad to see the CCIE Voice fade away, I’m sure the CCIE Collaboration is going to be a whole new barrel of fun.

8 thoughts on “CCIE Loses Its Voice

    • Okay, I’ll bite:

      If they do decide to change the CCIE R&S to the CCIE SDN or something else…does that make me any less of a CCIE? Sure, I’ve been keeping up with the tests to recertify. Just like Brian Dennis still claims his CCIE ISP Dial from back in the day because he’s kept up with it. Just like I’m still a Novell MCNE6. The key is not getting wrapped up in the title. It’s the knowledge that you’re just as smart the day before you become a CCIE as the day after. What you call it isn’t important.

  1. Tom,
    I appreciate your point of view and understand why non-Voice IEs aren’t as bent out of shape as Voice IEs. The grandfathering question is actually a tough one. I am sure there are people with the Voice IE that don’t currently work on Cisco UC/Collaboration solutions. The cert is 10 years old, so there are bound to be some folks out there that are FXS/FXO/POTS gurus but don’t know anything about voice and video. What do you do about those guys? What do you do about the guys who got the IE voice but have changed fields?

    It is tough because the topics have changed and emphasis will (I hope) be on more advanced topics. I agree that the focus of the IE Collab will be more experience centric and less device-centric. That is a marked shift. But I’d guess that you can see similar shifts in other IE tracks. Maybe not at every blue print change, but most certainly there are dramatic shifts in there somewhere. So, I agree there will be a change in the “feel” of the lab but I don’t agree that warrants putting existing IEs out in the cold.

    There are many of us “voice” IEs that are much more than voice guys. Particularly those of us that have passed the IE in the past 2-3 years. I suspect that many “voice” engineers have been doing video/telepresence, UC on UCS, WebEx, and IM/Presence for a few years. I know I have and talking to some of my colleagues I know I am not unique. So, the needs of the industry have evolved and many of us “voice” guys have evolved with them. Actually, we are one of the reasons WHY Cisco is gaining ground in these collaborative spaces.

    My point is that aside from the name change/branding motive this new blue print change is no different than a blue print change in any other IE track. It is an evolution in technology. Cisco currently handles the challenge of keeping IE’s current by having them take an IE written exam every 2 years. Everyone seems to be OK with that process. Why is this different? Put the “Voice” tag aside and look at the blue prints. How is one so drastically different than the other?

    I highly doubt IEs in other tracks would be so cavalier about being asked to retake their IEs when a blue print changed. Particularly when the new blue print is easily recognized as an upgrade to the previous one.

    Everything you are saying about evolution of the technology, changing the name, re-branding, being more than voice, etc. is spot on. Where I disagree with you is that I don’t think it is appropriate to measure the “voice” IEs differently than Cisco measures other IEs. Just because of a brand change. It would be different if the Collaboration blue print represented more than the natural evolution within a tech vertical with a brand new set of clothes.

    -Bill (@ucguerrilla)

  2. Tom,

    Thanks for the update! I’m still looking forward to the numerous hints for the changes to the R&S exam I’ve been hearing. I.E. finally getting rid of frame relay and adding more MPLS.

  3. Pingback: CCIE Loses Its Voice - Gestalt IT

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