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CCNP Data Center – DCCOR 350-601 Exam Experience

 I recently passed the DCCOR exam, and since it’s a difficult test I thought I’d share my experience with it.

My Background

Before getting into my preparation and exam experience I’m going to provide some background about the knowledge I had coming into this.  Everyone has different skills and experiences, and that’s going to have an impact on how they prepare.  The exam is broken down to five topic domains, so I’ll use that format.


I’ve worked in the IT for about 20 years, and I already have my CCNP:EN (converted from the old CCNP:RS).  The L2 and L3 topics were mostly review, but the overlay technologies were new for me.  I also came in with very little practical ACI knowledge.  I’ve worked in environments where ACI was deployed, but I wasn’t responsible for maintaining it.


This is an area I felt fairly comfortable with initially.  I’ve worked with UCS off and on for over seven years.  I’ve deployed and managed blades and rack servers, as well as multiple HyperFlex environments.  I’ve also worked a bit with Intersight.


For a relatively brief period in my career I did a lot of SAN deployments, so I was somewhat familiar with the overall storage concepts.  I stopped working with fibre channel maybe five years ago and had worked mainly with iSCSI connectivity or virtual SAN environments since then.


I have the DevNet Associate certification, so I’m at least passably familiar with automation.  However, it’s not something I do day-to-day.


In IT Security is part of everything we do.  I’m well versed in the overall security concepts, but I rarely go in and deal with RBAC or similar settings.  Usually that was something where the roles were configured when a platform was deployed, and I could go months without needing to make any changes aside from adding users to the correct groups.

About the Exam

The exam topics list can be found here:
First off, I want to say that this exam is massive.  If you compare it to what the CCNP:RS exams were I think that can illustrate my point.  In the old 300-101 ROUTE exam 40% of the exam was on routing.  The remaining 60% was split between five categories.  The 300-115 SWITCH exam had 65% of the exam focused on L2 technologies, with the remaining 35% split between two other categories.
In contrast, the 350-601 DCCOR has 25% of the overall exam on Networking.  In that 25% it includes OSPF and BGP (covered in the previous ROUTE exam), and L2 topics like LACP, and STP.  However, the DCCOR also includes PIM, vPC, overlay protocols (OTV and VXLAN), and ACI.  Just the breadth of topics in the Network topic makes this exam feel bigger, and harder than the previous CCNP:RS.
The remaining 75% of the exam is comparatively simple.  The Network portion is 25% of the exam, but contains 10 subtopics.  The remain 3/4 of the exam is a total of 16 topics.  By topic area, I would have expected the Network portion to be closer to 40% of the exam.
The Compute portion of the exam covers the UCS servers, HyperFlex, Intersight, and general management of a compute environment.  From a topic standpoint nothing unexpected.
Moving to the Storage section of the exam it is, like the Compute section, pretty straight forward.  I will admit that I was surprised the topics didn’t mention iSCSI at all.  Aside from that the Storage is what you’d expect.  It covers how fibre channel works, zoning, NPV/NPIV, VSAN, etc.
Automation is another topic that seems easy, but can get really broad quickly.  Though the topic list doesn’t go into the details I think it’s fair to assume that when it lists things like REST API that means you will need an understanding of how an API would be used to manage any of the hardware covered in the exam.
Lastly, the Security is focused heavily on the AAA and RBAC configurations for the different technologies covered in the exam.  Additionally, there are some more specific subtopics for each technology type.
One final note on the exam topics – Cisco has a line on that exam topics page that I think is important and often overlooked by test takers “The following topics are general guidelines for the content likely to be included on the exam.” Which means that things like iSCSI could actually appear on the exam.  Even though the topic isn’t specifically called out, it is a storage networking protocol that has seen wide adoption, and that means it could appear on the exam. 

Exam Prep

I started a blog post about the resources I used for the exam here:
I started with the Cisco Press Official Certification Guide, and I think it’s an awesome resource.  Unfortunately, I struggled with reading it and I literally found this book was putting me to sleep.  (That’s more a me problem than a book problem).  I found it worked better for me to use it as a reference for specific topics instead of trying to read it cover-to-cover.  One other thing I realized early on is the DCCOR exam replaced the CCIE written exam.  I found myself questioning if the depth covered in the book was for the benefit of the DCCOR exam, or as a resource for the CCIE lab (spoiler alert – it is for the DCCOR).
When I was having difficulty getting through the book I switched to the INE material.  Their video training is great, but incomplete.  At least at the time I went through it the HyperFlex and Automation sections are listed as “Coming Soon”.  It also seems like the Storage section was just duplicated from the previous CCIE:DC training.  I thought it was very hands-on like what I’d expect when preparing for a CCIE lab, but it seemed to focus more on the configuration requirements than I would have expected would be needed for the DCCOR.
I switched over to the CBT Nuggets training to compliment what INE covered, and to fill the gaps in what INE hadn’t published.  There were a number of things covered in the CBT Nuggets material that wasn’t covered in the INE material, so I was happy I went through it as well.


Books and video training are great, and they have their place, but the fun part of learning new stuff is to actually do it!  To prepare for the exam I used a few different tools provided by Cisco.
For the Networking topics CML is nearly perfect.  With CML you can create labs to cover most of the network topics.  I created maybe ten different lab environments and built out a bunch of different configurations:
  • Switching: STP, vPC, LACP, HSRP, VRRP
  • Routing: OSPF, BGP (iBGP and eBGP), PIM
  • Overlay: OTV (CML can’t do OTV on the data plane so you can’t actually pass traffic), VXLAN
I also did combination labs.  For example, create a BGP and OSPF “provider” network, and run VXLAN over it.  Then in the “provider” environment I would enable or disable multicast and adjust the VXLAN deployment accordingly.  I would also configure anycast gateways in each network.  It’s also worth pointing out that you can enable the NX-API in CML, and run automation tools against it.  That’s a great way to practice both the automation skills as well as the networking skills.
To get hands-on with ACI I primarily used the ACI simulator.  With the simulator I was able to do a large deployment with three APICs, as well as two spine and two leaf switches.  I was able to go through and build out EPGs, contracts, domains, etc.  One thing that I found particularly cool with the ACI simulator was that I could SSH to spine and leaf switches.  This allowed me to get hands-on with the CLI of the underlying hardware.
On the Compute side, I used the UCS emulator.  This allows you to run UCS manager and create virtual UCS hardware and policies.  Like the previous tools, the UCS emulator also allows CLI access to the virtual FIs.
The storage portion of the exam was the most difficult to actually get hands-on labs for.  There are some labs available through the DevNet Sandbox and dCloud that have MDS switches, but the labs are limited in what they can do.  The good news is that comparatively the commands for storage are far less than what you need to know for other topics.
With both Automation and Security all of the above resources can be used.  DevNet also has a lot of good resources for automation.  The security side is mainly just being familiar with how accounts and roles are created and the configuration of RADIUS/TACACS connections.

Exam Experience

I took the exam remotely, which generally has been a positive experience.  There are a few of tips that I can provide for the online exam.  First would be to go through the pre-check to make sure everything works as expected.  I used a laptop with an external monitor, and I found that it defaulted to the laptop webcam (with the laptop lid closed this didn’t work), but there’s a dropdown to select the webcam so it was an easy fix.  Make sure you have good audio.  The proctors often do PC-based calls, and I found them difficult to hear using my monitor speakers.  Switching to the laptop speakers solved that problem.  Also I recommend installing the Pearson app when checking in.  I had numerous issues using the web-based tool.  It seemed like when trying to upload images they were blurry in the web app, and when I switched to the mobile app the issues were resolved.
Cisco has an NDA all test takers have to accept, so I’m going to be very vague in what I say about the actual exam.  The first thing is I will reiterate that this exam is broad.  For each topic area (ACI, Nexus, UCS, MDS, etc.) be familiar with all of the different tools used to manage them.  That means GUI, CLI, and API.  Make sure you are paying close attention to the exam topics, and you have a firm grasp on each and every topic item.
I did get some questions that seemed to be poorly worded, and a couple left me confused on what specifically was being asked.  In some cases it was just be the way that I read the question, and taking a moment then rereading it and it made more sense.  In others, it didn’t matter how many times I read it, it just didn’t make sense.
One other trend that I’ve found with exams is the tendency to find the most obscure question possible.  As engineers we have access to context sensitive help.  Preparing for the exam I watched CCIEs extensively use the “?” to find the syntax that was needed, or look for a config option in the wrong area.  I find it frustrating when on an exam there are syntax questions that are needlessly specific.  An example would be something like if something is measured in bits, kilobits, bytes, kilobytes, etc.  Another example would be if a timer is configured in seconds or milliseconds.  If these situations ever came up, I’d have access to tools without needing to memorize the plethora of commands and options.  To make matters worse, often when these questions come up they are on commands that are rarely used.  This exam is no different.  Make sure you are committing the exact syntax of commands to memory.
On my first attempt I failed, and looking at the score report I’m guessing it was close.  The passing score and received score aren’t provided anymore, but the percentage per topic is displayed. Not surprisingly, the areas I performed the worst in were Storage, Automation, and Security.  Those areas were where I had much more general knowledge initially, and it showed.  However, after having actually taken the exam I knew where I was weak, and the level of depth on the exam.  I went back and reviewed the Network and Compute topics, and spent more time digging in to the areas I needed to improve.  When I retook the exam I was able to pass the exam.

Final Thoughts

This exam is tough.  I can confidently say it’s one of the most difficult exams I’ve ever taken.  It’s a mile wide, and it can also get quite deep.  There are plenty of challenging questions that really test your knowledge.  With enough preparation and practice it is something that can be accomplished.

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