CCNP ROUTE: Official Study Guide or Foundation Learning Guide?

By stretch | Thursday, August 12, 2010 at 2:08 a.m. UTC

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.

OCG_cover.jpgCCNP ROUTE 642-902 Official Certification Guide FLG_cover.jpgImplementing Cisco IP Routing (ROUTE) Foundation Learning Guide
Author Wendell Odom Diane Teare
Published February 9, 2010 June 28, 2010
Printed Pages 768 976

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.

First Impressions

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.

Topic Coverage

Implementation Planning

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.

BGP

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.

Branch Connectivity

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.

IPv6

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.

Final Thoughts

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.

About the Author

Jeremy Stretch is a network engineer living in the Raleigh-Durham, North Carolina area. He is known for his blog and cheat sheets here at Packet Life. You can reach him by email or follow him on Twitter.

Posted in Reviews

Comments


theparadiso
August 12, 2010 at 2:52 a.m. UTC

Excellent write-up Jeremy! Thanks for taking the time to compare the two books. I am currently studying for the CCNP SWITCH Exam using the FLG. I share your sentiment that it is more akin to a textbook. Seems a lot better than the OCG. Thanks Again!

Paul @theparadiso


lucagervasi
August 12, 2010 at 9:39 a.m. UTC

I'd like to share my own experience (and my collegues') for the Switch/BCMSN exam.

I've bought the ccnp library one year ago (bsci/bcmsn/iscw/ont). I studied (and passed) bsci and studied (but never got the test) for bcmsn.

The exam is pretty different, as long as i can read from the topic list in the OCG / FLG, they removed wireless and added a lot more about AAA / SLA.

Please note that while the FLG was published Jun 21, 2010, the OCG was published Feb 9, 2010... no one could have known the exam topics at that time!!!

I own both copies of SWITCH (OCG + FLG) plus the BCMSN OCG, and i can tell you that many chapters of the OCG are specular copies of BCMSN.

Plus, i heard that the OCG lacks many topics of the actual exam.

I plan to attend my own SWITCH in October, i'll be back and share the whole experience :)


Lou (guest)
August 12, 2010 at 2:33 p.m. UTC

Jeremy, how do you have time and memory for this stuffs, that photographic memory of your must be in overdrive. Thanks for sharing your knowledge!!! YOU ARE DA MAN!!!


stretch
August 12, 2010 at 8:20 p.m. UTC

@Lou: Photographic memory? Me? I wish. I just took plenty of notes while reading and compiled them into a semi-coherent blog article when I was finished.


Robert (guest)
August 13, 2010 at 2:49 a.m. UTC

Looks like I'll be purchasing the FLG to go along with my current OCG. Thanks for taking the time to review these two different books.

@robertjuric


Praetor (guest)
August 14, 2010 at 9:11 a.m. UTC

Just a quick note, that FLGs are ment to be the official books for Cisco Networking Academy students of CCNP courses, since there are no online materials for these courses any more. This is probably one of the reasons for their textbook-like reading experience.


ejf (guest)
August 14, 2010 at 8:05 p.m. UTC

Thanks so much for this! I recently passed my CCNA exam and i already have one year of experience in the Cisco world, working as a network engineer... I've been planning on taking the ROUTE exam for a while now and I was waiting until the old exams expire so that more books would come out, but it seems that I'm stuck with just those two... I was trying to figure out the difference between them and decide which one to read first, it seems that I will start with FLG for now, then the OCG. I have also studied using the old material from the BCMSN/BSCI/ISCW/ONT exams to get the whole idea of CCNP. Again, thank you.


Karl Taylor (guest)
August 14, 2010 at 9:44 p.m. UTC

I have recently clear BCSI exam and then studied Cisco Guide for new Route exam just to compare with old one but nothing found any much difference at all Although I didn't study the whole book at all but randomly go through with topics. These days I am thoroughly reading Cisco Guide on Switch then I can clearly make a difference between old version and new version. As a whole its good step of cisco to reduce the number of papers in CCNP they should also think about CCSP as well and I am guessing their next turn would be CCSP :-)


a7ndrew
August 15, 2010 at 1:05 a.m. UTC

Thanks for this useful review. I suspect I might still wind up getting both books, FLG for initial study, and OCG for final revision before the exam.


Guest (guest)
August 16, 2010 at 3:13 p.m. UTC

Jeremy, how did the two compare as far as technical errors? I am currently reading the OCG and have come across a few errors in just the first chapters (covering EIGRP), but not as many as BSCI had. I don't mind grammatical errors, but technical errors are disastrous. One example is where the OCG is talking about EIGRP authentication. It states, “The key numbers do not have to match on the neighboring routers”. That of course, is absolutely incorrect! If that were an exam question, an unsuspecting alumni would miss the question and not understand why. On the bright side, noticing that type of fundamental error has made me question and lab-up/prove the theory in the book, which has allowed me to gain a deeper understanding :)


phaze01
August 19, 2010 at 10:44 p.m. UTC

My preferred method is to go through the FLG and review with the OCG. I find it works to fill in the gaps. Going through the same book twice may reinforce overconfidence. I found that there were errors aplenty in the OCG but you should never rely on only one source of information (and check the ciscopress site for errata). There also may be slight variations on terminology which will be presented in the exam which can catch you offguard if you come to rely on a single book. I went through the ROUTE OCG and the BSCI FLG. But then I also picked up the cert kit (video, flashcards and quick reference book) and the command reference.


mserkan (guest)
August 21, 2010 at 7:04 p.m. UTC

Hi, I’m in Turkey now and if I buy the CCNP Switch Foundation book on amazon.com, I have to wait 2 weeks for shipping and the book isn’t sold in Turkey. So, I decided to use CCNP Network Academy Program v.5.0 for preperation.

Is it enough for the switch exam? Are there any additional chapters in the switch exam because the blueprint isn’t clear.

Thanks.


NeewB (guest)
September 15, 2010 at 2:14 a.m. UTC

Thanks for the excellent review. So, is it good to read both the books before exam or one is enough to grasp the knowledge ?


Sudo Raptor (guest)
December 13, 2010 at 4:32 p.m. UTC

Thank you so much for this review. I was brought here from networking-forum.com because of my question regarding the two versions. You've helped me make up my mind and I am going to go with the FLG for future studies. Thanks!


adamlee
July 21, 2011 at 12:14 p.m. UTC

I read both the OCG and FLG, i found the OCG to be full of mistakes, most were typos, but on a few occasions the facts within the books were wrong... for example the BGP AS numbers. The typos made it difficult in places to understand diagrams as IP addresses did not match the description.


ninjuh
September 9, 2011 at 8:08 p.m. UTC

Good write up! I'm a big fan of the 3 FLGs.. so much that it makes me sad that an FLG set is not available for MPLS and BGP for one learning the CCIP related technologies (excluding the ROUTE book).


jason (guest)
May 14, 2013 at 6:51 a.m. UTC

hey thanks...
whenever im stuck i dig around ...and your blogs keep coming up and explaing stuff i need...thanks for the info ...its soooooo useful..im really thankful.

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