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CCIE Voice Lab Strategy

So, its time to take your lab and the clock is about to start.  What are you going to do first?  What next?  Do you have a plan?  Passing the CCIE Voice lab is as much about strategy and time management as it is about learning the technologies involved.  Keep in mind that the lab will morph over time and its advisable to watch for changes to the program.  As of the Cisco Live conference this year, see the most up to date information we have to go on. 

Before we go any further - you must watch Vik Malhi's vLecture about the CCIE Voice Lab strategy.  It is fantastic and I'm pretty much buying whatever Vik's selling. 

Seriously, go back and watch Vik's vLecture.  It's 2 hours long - but WELL worth the time.

Troubleshooting in the CCIE Lab

As many of you know already the open ended questions have been removed from the CCIE Voice lab.  In it's place, there will be a stronger emphasis on troubleshooting - expect it and don't be surprised.

Per Amy Ryan CCIE# 24677, IP Expert Blog (following the 2010 Cisco Live! Event).  More Information. 
  • Troubleshooting is embedded into the configuration tasks of the exam at this point.
  • Troubleshooting tasks account for approximately 15% of the points on the CCIE Voice Lab exam.
  • Candidates will have to troubleshoot existing configuration which has built-in errors.
  • Infrastructure tasks will for the most part be complete and will not be the responsibility of the candidate. However configuration might not be 100% correct!
  • Going forward phones will be pre-configured into the UCM database.
  • It is the intention to have phones pre-registered with the correct firmware in advance.
  • Troubleshooting tasks could potentially include in depth knowledge of the protocols used for establishing call setup. It was mentioned that the candidate may not even have to fix the problem and instead create a text file with the relevant traces/debugs and a suitable explanation. A process not too dissimilar when you create a TAC case.

CCIE Voice Lab Strategy

Enough of that, there are a lot of strategies out there.  Many work, and some are able to pass the lab by simply doing the lab tasks in series.  That approach does not work for most people, but its possible.  You'll need to find what works for you and develop and practice your own style before the real thing.

I've read quite a few opinions and suggestions and have linked many of them at the end of this post.  The rest of this post is dedicated to how I am approaching the lab.  It's based primarily on the suggestions by Vik and will be addressed in series as they are listed.  Depending on the lab, there will be some flexibility - but generally, the flow will be similar to that listed below.  

I also like the idea of using different colored pencils to keep track of progress during the lab.  Essentially, use a green pencil to make a list of all the sections quickly - then as they are completely finished, cross them off with a red pencil.  It may seen simple, but seeing things crossed off can bring closure to those sections in your mind so that you can focus more clearly on other sections AND help you keep a running tally of points that you have earned thus far.

I'd love to get your comments and feedback on this - as I'm sure it will bring to surface many differing viewpoints.  I'd love to hear them!

Review the Lab Book First ( 30 Minutes )

Use no more 30 minutes to skim through the lab book.  Using notepad, draw the topology and mark out primary features at each site. 

For example,

HQ:  UCM / H323 GW / GK / SCCP Phones
BR1:  UCME / SIP Phones
BR2:  UCME / SCCP Phones

Document important information that will be used over and over:
  • VLAN IDs
  • Server IP Addresses
  • Loopback IPs at each site
  • E164 Numbering
  • Extension Numbers

Infrastructure ( 15 Minutes )

Its important to verify that connectivity is good between all of your devices between you proceed any further.

  • VLAN
  • TFTP
  • DHCP
  • NTP
Don't spend too much time waiting for NTP to update, this can sometimes take several minutes to fully update and propagate.  Come back and check on it in 20-30 minutes.

QOS ( 20 Minutes )

Pay close attention to whether trusting should be used.  Use "auto qos voip" to save time getting the configuration on the router.  It's much faster to edit than generate the entire configuration that "auto qos" will do for you.
  • WAN QoS (auto qos voip trust, if marking on edge)
  • LAN QoS
If you have trouble with portions of this section, take note of it and don't waste an hour on this section.  Don't spend more than 20 minutes here.

Registering UCM Endpoints ( 15 Minutes )

Within this section the focus is on getting the UCM services started and the phones registered.  Keep in mind that some items can also be configured in the device pool, so its not ultimately critical to get everything set in stone here.
  • UCM Services - Start everything relevant
  • Check phone registrations, use auto-registration (this avoids MAC address typos).  At this point, don't worry about the DN assignment, just make sure that all phones that should register to the CCM are registered.  Use auto registration for both SIP and SCCP to get the phones in the database quickly.
Configure UCM System Pages:
  •     Server  (use IP addresses)
  •     UCM Group
  •     UCM
  •     Date/Time Group
  •     Location
  •     Region
  •     Device Pool
  •     Enterprise Params

Database Replication ( 15 Minutes )

As a matter of precaution, run the following command to repair any possible replication issues in the background.  This will ensure that the pub/sub is in sync and avoid anything unexpected later in the lab.

utils replication repair all

Device Configuration ( 15 Minutes )

In this section, its time to customize each device.  Try to configure as much as possible in one pass:
  • Phone partition (PT-Internal)
  • CSS per phone (Use a
  • Description
  • Device Pool
  • CSS
  • DN/Partition
  • Display Name
  • External Number Mask
  • Call Fwd Busy/Noan

CME Phone Registration ( 15 Minutes )

The focus here is to get all CME phones registered (both SCCP and SIP).  If its possible to easily determine feature configurations required, its a good time to get them configured.  However, make sure that they are registered before moving forward. 

Otherwise, much of the additional configuration will be done in the Call Routing or Everything Else sections later in the plan.
  • Telephony-service
  • Voice Register
  • Ephone-DN
  • Ephone
  • Voice Register DN / Pool
  • Get CUE Module in steady state, restore factory defaults, appropriate license (show software license)

Gateways ( 20 Minutes )

This section is intended to simply get the gateway functionality up and working.  The call routing details will be handled in the next section.  Ensure that the MGCP and H323 configurations are solid.

MGCP Gateways:
  •     ccm-manager config/server
  •     mgcp bind control loopback0 (add after its registered to CCM)
  •     FQDN may affect CCM registration
  •     CSS-Internal
  •     Significant Digits for Inbound calls
  •     Three checkboxes, Display IE, etc.
H323 Gateways:
  •     SRST - be careful here.  Plan for with CCM and without CCM in the picture.
  •     Voice-class codec (allows for multiple codecs on same dial-peer)
  •     Voice-class H323
  •     Voice translation profiles on voice-port for Inbound calls
  •     Inbound Dial-peer (POTS)
  •     Outbound VoIP dial-peers   
  •     Bind Source address !!

Call Routing ( 60-90 Minutes )

This is the most important section of the lab.  As such, verification is of utmost importance.

Create a Verification Table that includes:
  •     RP/RT
  •     RL
  •     Called Num Requirements
  •     Calling Num Requirements
Note: Scalability is not of a concern on the lab

Digit Manipulation  - Push out to the h323 gateway typically

UCM Call Routing

Transformations Required


High Availability ( 20 Minutes )

    Create a new pt/css
    Single AAR Group if using + dialing
    Multiple AAR Group if not using + dialing and more than 1 domain
    Use BAT to assign AAR Group

    Create a new pt/css
    Must use + dial if >1 dialing domain

    SRST auto provision all

Media ( 20 Minutes )

This may be interwoven in other sections, so plan on adapting.  Below are some high points of Media.

MTP may be implied elsewhere, e.g., gk trunk with CUBE or RSVP Call Agent

Transcoder might be required for branch phones calling CCX

CFB might be required for JOIN / cBARGE

SCCP dspfarms

    PIM dense mode in virtual template

RSVP Call Agent
    IP RSVP bandwidth in virtual template

Everything Else ( 4 Hours )

Do what you know best - FIRST.  Get the points!  If you skip certain sections, keep track of those issue and come back to them when time allows.
  • Supplemental Services
  • Applications
  • Messaging
  • CCX
  • Presence Features
Final Thoughts

The CCIE Voice Lab is a tough lab.  Many people fail on their first attempt.  In fact most people fail on their first attempt. 

Keep in mind that you must get the section fully correct to earn points for that section.  If you are 80% correct in every section of the lab, you'll get a final score of 0!  Don't confuse the scoring methodology with a measurement of your knowledge.  Instead, if you unfortunately do fail, make the best of the experience and identify areas in which you were not completely fluent.  Come back when you've addressed your weaknesses and nail it!

More Information
INE Forum Discussion
IP Expert Blog
Pushkar Bhatkoti's Blog
Ben Ng's Exam Tips I
Ben Ng's Exam Tips II
Ben Ng's Exam Tips III

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