Like the title says, I have slain the BSCI dragon.

That was no easy beast to slay. I made my first attempt back in the beginning of February, after a month of hardcore studying. I was close. Very close. My theory was solid. But when it came to applying those in the simulations especially, that was when the BSCI bared its teeth. I wasn’t prepared for the number of simulations and simlets on the exam, nor was I ready for the sheer depth I was expected to know the information.

I won’t make that mistake again. Maybe someone can become a CCNP without more than a little lab time, but I’m not that person. You need lab time, either with a simulator like gns3, your own network rack, or by renting a rack for a few hours and working remotely. I used gns3 myself, and it was invaluable in my in-depth reviewing this past month.

Two months, thousands of pages of reading, hundreds of study questions and practice exam questions, and a dozen or so labs later, I passed the BSCI this morning with flying colors. It was a battle hard-fought, and the rewards will be sweet. The BSCI is largely considered the hardest of the Cisco exams, although the new TSHOOT exam may give me a run for my money (if I don’t take the ONT and ISCW before 31 July, of course).

A short overview of the study materials I used, in no particular order:

Next stop, BCMSN. See you there!

So you want to get Cisco certified, but you don’t have a networking lab of your own. Maybe you aren’t sure whether it’s worth the investment yet, especially if you’re going for an associate-level certification. Maybe you don’t have the space for a bunch of Cisco equipment, or the cash. Whatever the reason, you have a much, much higher chance of passing the certification exams if you get some hands-on practice, and for the professional- and expert-level exams, practice is essential.

Now, there are a lot of practice simulators out there. Boson publishes one, and a quick Google search yields quite a few more results, including NetworkSims, which I’d actually like to try at some point. Of course, the majority of these you have to pay for, and most of them include predefined labs geared toward specific exams or certifications and don’t let you experiment on your own. Most are also Windows-only. Then there are network emulators, which use the actual IOS images. One of the best free ones in this category is gns3, which gives you a lab that is completely open-ended and runs on virtually any platform since you can compile from source yourself.

Gns3 uses Dynamips, Dynagen, and Pemu to emulate the Cisco IOS® and PIX firewalls, and either WinPcap (Windows) or libpcap (*nix) to capture network traffic (on your simulated network only!) for analysis. It can integrate with Wireshark (Ethereal) for packet analysis similar to how you would use it on a physical network, and when combined with VMware you can even simulate end users and their network traffic! Theoretically you could use something like VirtualBox or other virtualization software to do the same thing. [Guide (pdf)]

Of course, all this awesome capability does come with a price: you have to find your own Cisco IOS® images. That requires you have (or someone you know has) access to a Cisco corporate account, such as through a company or university. Once you have these images, you can extract them for faster loading when you launch gns3 or leave them as-is.

The gns3 website has a lot of good user tutorials on how to get started and how to tweak your setup. The gns3 wiki has practice labs and other information contributed by the community. I used gns3 to help me practice for the CCNA® exams, and continue to use it while pursuing the CCNP®. I would consider it a very valuable (and best of all, free!) tool to use whether you’re studying for a Cisco® certification or testing a network setup before putting it into production.

The past month has been full of work, and severely lacking in spare time. That’s what I get for starting a blog with a month or so to go until finals! Well, the grades are in, and I live to learn another day.

But, more importantly, I am officially CCNA® as of this morning. I could have done it faster, and certainly better, but I’m happy with how that part of the semester went. Next semester will be studying for the four CCNP exams as an officially-sanctioned independent study. While this is not a Cisco Certification blog, I will be posting the study materials I come up with for myself and reviewing the commercially- and freely-available tools I use. There are lots of excellent tutorials, sample labs, and other study materials out there on the net, but that just means there’s more junk to sift through!

Other academic doings for spring include my capstone course and finishing my requirements up for both computer science and mathematics. I will also be tutoring CS170, Fundamentals of Computer Organization, for Old Dominion University’s Computer Science department. To see this semester’s work leading up to the capstone course, please visit the CS410 Green Team page.

Computer science. Just what is it? Webster says:

computer science: (noun) a branch of science that deals with the theory of computation or the design of computers.

Seems simple, doesn’t it? We use computers every day. And that’s the whole point—we use them literally every day. Your cell phone has a computer in it. Your car has a computer in it. You might swipe an ID to get in the door at work, before logging in to your computer and beginning your day. The office coffee pot might even have a computer in it, delivering freshly-brewed coffee at just the right temperature, directly into your cup. Computers are ubiquitous.

And yet, when is the last time you stopped to think about how something like that was made? How the computer got in your cell phone, or your car, or even your coffee pot? Or what goes on inside it? To most of the world, it’s magic.

And computer science teaches us how to make the magic happen.

Old Dominion University’s Department of Computer Science created the Computer Productivity Initiative (CPI) with the National Science Foundation in an attempt to bridge the gap between theory and reality for computer science students. Too many were graduating with a mind full of theory, but little to no experience actually doing computer science—making something. Or so the story goes, anyway. Other schools have similar initiatives for their computer science and computer engineering students, as a capstone to their education.

Since this is my last year in undergraduate study, I of course have to run the gauntlet too. I must prove I can use three years of education in computer science to actually make something. I must prove I can work with others in a collaborative effort (What? Computer science isn’t just nerds hacking away in their mom’s basement? I’ll cover these stereotypes someday, I swear). And above all, I must prove to myself that computer science is a tool—the means to an end, not the end itself.

What’s CS got to do with it? Everything.