Last month, the prior generation of CCNP certification exams was officially obsoleted. Candidates now must pass the three new exams to earn their certification: ROUTE, SWITCH, and TSHOOT. Cisco Press publishes two series of study guides pertaining to these exams: the Official Certification Guides (abbreviated in this article as OCG) and the Foundation Learning Guides (FLG). On their faces, both appear to cover the same material. Which one should you choose?
This isn't a certification blog, and I assure you that I have absolutely no intention for it to become one. However, as this seems to be a confusing issue in the community, I decided to put my Safari subscription to use and review the ROUTE book from each series side by side.
As you read, please keep in mind that I have not taken the ROUTE exam; I am reviewing these books from the perspective of a certification candidate. Further, I am reviewing only the ROUTE book from each series; I ask readers to refrain from forming assumptions about the entirety of either set from the conclusions reached in the article.
|CCNP ROUTE 642-902 Official Certification Guide||Implementing Cisco IP Routing (ROUTE) Foundation Learning Guide|
|Author||Wendell Odom||Diane Teare|
|Published||February 9, 2010||June 28, 2010|
CCNP Exam Changes
Comparing the ROUTE exam topics to those of its predecessor, the BSCI, it is obvious that the newer exam has been designed as a narrower, more in-depth assessment. IS-IS and multicast have been removed, however a good amount of remote access topics from the old ISCW exam have been relocated here. There is also a marked emphasis on the planning processes involved with implementing the technologies covered, not merely the technologies as an end to themselves.
Those who have read the last BSCI official study guide will immediately recognize the layout of the new ROUTE version. The OCG is heavily segmented - 20 chapters in all - with topics clearly delineated for easy digestion. The foundation learning guide, on the other hand, is composed more like a college textbook; its layout reminds me of the Routing TCP/IP volumes. As an example, the OCG dedicates three distinct chapters to the discussion of EIGRP and four to OSPF, whereas the FLG has a single very lengthy chapter per protocol.
The corollary of the two differing layouts is that the OCG has a more compartmentalized review at the end of each chapter whereas the FLG has a single, comprehensive review per major topic. I'm inclined to favor the later, though this is merely an issue of personal preference. The OCG also includes a brief pre-assessment quiz, planning practice, and memory tables (with example answers included in an appendix) for each chapter. The FLG features open-ended review questions at the end of each chapter.
As for extras, the OCG includes an exam simulator (which I have not reviewed) whereas the FLG does not. This is likely to be a significant factor for many when deciding between the two books. Unfortunately, neither of the print books appears to include a PDF version of itself.
The OCG opens with a chapter dedicated to implementation planning, which seems to exist primarily for the benefit of those with no real-world planning experience. It also serves to explain the structure and intent of the planning exercises in the chapters that follow.
The first third of the first chapter in the FLG, ambiguously titled Routing Services, discusses Cisco's IIN and SONA concepts and common network models. This is arguably useful information, but does it belong in a book dedicated to the CCNP ROUTE exam? It is also unfortunately laden with marketing terminology, which is likely to drain a good amount of momentum the reader has right out of the gate. For example:
The IIN offers much more than basic connectivity, bandwidth for users, and access to applications. It offers an end-to-end functionality and centralized, unified control that promotes true business transparency and agility.
The second third of the FLG's first chapter moves into implementation planning, along the same vein as the first chapter in the OCG. The final third of the chapter serves as a review of CCNA-level IP routing fundamentals.
It cannot be ignored that both books dedicate a significant number of pages to the discussion of implementation planning and verification.
EIGRP and OSPF
The OCG begins the first chapter concerning each protocol with a review of CCNA-level concepts with which the reader should already be familiar, whereas the FLG scatters review material throughout the book. In reading through the first few pages of technical material, it is immediately evident that the FLG offers much more in-depth discussion than the OCG. For example, the OCG provides only a summary of EIGRP's DUAL mechanism, whereas the FLG includes an illustrated step-by-step explanation of its operation. This degree of thoroughness may or may not be desirable, depending on your existing experience and ability with the topics (I'll elaborate on this point a bit in my conclusion).
Route Redistribution and Path Control
The OCG splits discussion of route redistribution into two chapters, basic and advanced. Both books dedicate a chapter to "path control" mechanisms including IP SLA and policy based routing. As with implementation planning, the amount of time spent on these topics in both books indicates that they are likely major exam topics.
Here we again see the segmented nature of the OCG: four distinct chapters concerning BGP, versus one very large chapter in the FLG. The FLG not only covers BGP in greater detail, but also includes a supplemental appendix dedicated to a few BGP topics (summarization, redistribution, communities, and route reflectors) which would appear to be beyond the scope of the ROUTE exam. BGP is covered by both books in considerably greater detail than it appeared on the BSCI exam. As one would expect from a CCNP exam, the primary focus in both books seems to be on BGP as implemented between an enterprise and one or more service providers.
One minor annoyance is present in both books: all IPv4 BGP configuration examples shown are in the legacy syntax.
A large number of remote access topics previously covered by the ISCW exam seem to have been bundled into the ROUTE exam. Both books include substantial discussion on broadband media, PPPoE/A, basic NAT, VPN types, and so forth. Again, the FLG goes into more detail than the OCG, but in this case I wonder whether the extent of the discussion might be extraneous to the ROUTE exam topics.
I hope that by the next iteration of the CCNP exam, we're no longer including IPv6 as an afterthought toward the back of the book, a practice of which both books are guilty. Both books provide sufficient coverage of IPv6, which is broken into three general segments: addressing, routing, and transition mechanisms. The FLG briefly touches on IPv6 with MBGP. Both books cover NAT-PT, for some reason. For most, getting comfortable with IPv6 is simply going to be a matter of practice and exposure, regardless of which book you read.
My impression throughout this review has been that the foundation learning guide is intended as a comprehensive reference to the exam material, akin to a textbook. For those without much experience or confidence beyond CCNA-level operations, I would recommend this book.
In contrast, the official certification guide offers a more succinct discussion of the exam topics, in essence almost a review. Its relatively light coverage sacrifices completeness for a quickened pace. I would recommend this book to those who already have sufficient experience with the bulk of the exam topics and are seeking only a review to help them prepare for the exam. This book also seems like it would go well with complementary study aides such as video or live instruction.