Think. Config. Config Labs

certskills
By certskills December 17, 2015 14:03

You’ve seen lots of Config Labs posts in my blogs over the last few months – and that will continue for a while. It seemed like it was time to give you a little background on the idea. The logo encapsulates the big idea: you need to do the thinking and configuring, rather than reading someone else’s configuration. Read on for some perspectives on these labs.

Learning Config is like Learning a Language

When you learn a foreign language, do you simply read a book? No. You follow a progression: you learn words, then related sets of words, then basic sentence structure, and verb conjugation, and finally learn to build complete sentences. Eventually, you can build complete paragraphs, and learn to speak and write entire thoughts. But getting to the point of being able to truly communicate in another language takes a lot of work.

Learning to configure a networking feature follows a similar progression. At first, you have some reading to understand the individual commands and parameters. Then you have to remember which commands work together. Only then can you create your own configurations to solve problems. That’s a little like learning vocabulary, learning lots of related vocabulary, to the point where you can write a sentence that uses those words.

When learning a language, the more you learn, the more you need to use the language to build your skills. Likewise, once you understand the individual configuration commands, you need to spend much more time building your own configurations rather than reading samples in a book.

Let me emphasize this point: reading tons of examples does not help nearly as much in these later stages. The best way to learn at this point is to:

  • Be forced to configure something
  • Use what you know
  • By failing to create a complete configuration, discover what you did not fully understand, and then go figure it out

Basically, at some point, you have to be able to do it rather than just read about it.

 

Config Lab Design Goals

So, over the years, I’ve created different kinds of labs for the blog as more practice making configs rather than just reading about some more examples. Most recently, I’ve gotten more serious about creating labs for CCENT and CCNA R&S to fill some specific practice needs. I’ve dubbed these labs Config Labs.

When creating these labs, we kept these primary goals in mind:

 

  • Phrase the lab requirements clearly; there is no attempt to fool you
  • Limit each lab to one major topic area
  • Create labs that require multiple related commands (that is, avoid labs that use just one command for the solution)
  • Audience: Written for someone who has already done their reading and study about the topic, and is now ready to practice
  • Create labs that should take the correct audience (see previous) 5-10 minutes to do the lab on paper
  • Make the labs easily accessible for use in idle moments and spare time

Basically, when you have 10 minutes, you can find a lab from any handy device – phone, tablet, PC, whatever – and get in another rep to prepare for the exam. That’s the first big goal.

We also had a few secondary goals in mind that we’ve caught up to the labs:

  • Write lab content with VIRL in mind. That is, when possible, choose topologies and interface types/numbers that can be used in VIRL, and supply the initial configuration in a .VIRL file, for anyone that wants to try the lab in VIRL.
  • Be thoughtful about the topics across all labs, with an attempt to write labs across the breadth of exam topics, rather than randomly choosing topics.

 

So, for any labs that make sense to have a VIRL option, we’ve added a VIRL file download to the lab exercise, along with some basic instructions to make it easier to use VIRL for the lab. Some of the current Config Labs, and many in the plan for the first half of 2016, have the exact same interface numbers in the lab instructions and in the supplied VIRL file, which makes it much more convenient to do with VIRL.

 

The Lab Posts

Each lab has two posts: the lab post and the answer post. Both are pretty obvious in concept, but briefly, the lab post contains:

  1. A clear set of requirements
  2. A network topology diagram
  3. The initial configuration (that is, the part that you do not have to configure)
  4. Lab testing suggestions, in case you do build the configuration at home
  5. As appropriate, a VIRL file with the same topology and the same or mapped interface type/number

 

The Answer Post

Each lab has a matching answer post as well, and it contains exactly what you would expect. Resist the urge to just read these posts without creating your own configuration first! Even if you don’t think you are ready to create a complete configuration, do what you can. Exercise that brain! The answers posts include:

  1. The literal answers: the configuration to add to each device
  2. Some commentary about the solution to the lab

 

Even More Labs: Config Museum

Given the nature of these blogs, many people use them, pass the tests, and then move on – and that’s fine. But some of you may have seen an older-style lab post on the site, one’s called “Config Museum”.

The Config Museum labs have some of the same design principles as Config Labs, but are just a little older. When writing these labs, I followed general guidelines, but I didn’t enforce strict rules about using the same headings and features in every lab. (For the Config Labs, I’ve paid more attention to those kinds of details.)

Even though the Config Museum labs are older, much of the content still matters to the current ICND1, ICND2, and CCNA R&S exams. So check those out as well.

 

Plans and Links

For those of you that have enjoyed these labs already, the good news is that more are on the way. I’ve had some help from the usual suspects, and I expect to be rolling out more labs regularly through at least the first half of 2016.

As for organization, you can find the Config Labs and Config Museum posts by type from the menus at the top of the blog, or from these direct links:

 

Note that for those of you using the ICND1 Cert Guide, you can find all of the blog’s content by book part, for easier use when reviewing content.

For the CCNA Skills blog, which sticks with the ICND2 half of the CCNA R&S content, use these links.

Note that for those of you using the ICND2 Cert Guide, you can find all the blog’s content by book part, for easier use when reviewing content. That blog also lists the Config Lab and Config Museum lab posts by ICND2 Cert Guide book chapter – at least right now – as a small experiment to see how much hassle it is to keep track of organizing the labs by chapter.

 

Feedback

So, that’s the plan. Love to hear any feedback on the design goals, lab format, topics, organization in the blog, and so on. Thanks for reading!

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certskills
By certskills December 17, 2015 14:03
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