A few hours ago, Internetwork Expert launched an ingenious solution: the Poly-Lab Assessments. The basic idea is brilliantly simple: if you’re using a common hardware and L2/L3 topology for all labs (and hundreds of tasks within these labs), it’s possible to mix individual tasks into a customized lab tailored to the needs of a CCIE candidate. The mix-and-match approach allows you to customize the difficulty of selected tasks (and technologies from the CCIE blueprint) to the candidate’s capabilities.
Initially, the candidates have to guess their competence level; after the first grading, the system gives them a more realistic estimate, along with the recommended actions they need to take to improve their skills. Using the Poly-Labs continuously gives you a nice progress indication, as you can watch whether you’ve improved in the most problematic areas. Once you’re satisfied with your knowledge level, you just switch to another well-known web site and schedule the actual CCIE lab.
I’ve particularly liked the grading system: finally there’s a vendor (apart from the assessment engine I wrote for NIL more than five years ago) that understands you should examine the show printouts (not just the configurations) and check whether they confirm the task has been accomplished. Obviously, this could lead to some nasty surprises: even though your configuration is correct, you might still lose points because another feature you configured has demolished your previous work (for example, inbound ACL dropping OSPF hello packets). Anyhow, that’s life; this grading system is more realistic than simplistic configuration matching.
All in all, the Poly-Labs look extremely promising. Brian McGahan has offered me a test drive; I’ll definitely keep you posted.