Exam Profile: Cisco 640-916 DCICT

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Date: Feb 18, 2015

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Wendell Odom, author of many highly respected Cisco networking books, previews the Cisco DCICT 640-916 exam for CCNA Data Center certification. He briefly reviews the history of the Cisco Data Center certifications, comparing Cisco Data Center certifications with other tracks, and then focuses on the specifics of the DCICT exam and how to prepare yourself to pass it.

The DCICT 640-916 exam completes the two-exam journey to the Cisco CCNA Data Center certification. This article reviews the history of the Cisco Data Center certifications, putting the CCNA Data Center in context. It then discusses one of the biggest differences between the Cisco Data Center certs and other tracks: the fact that the cert includes both networking and computing content. The rest of the article focuses on the CCNA Data Center certification, the DCICT exam in particular, and how to prepare for that exam.

History of Cisco Data Center Certifications

Networking has been an important part of Data Centers for almost the entire history of Information Technology (IT). The earliest computer networks connected user terminals and printers to the applications running in the Data Center. Over time, the details of what makes up a Data Center have progressed tremendously, and networking's role has progressed as well—in both importance and complexity.

Data Centers have been transformed by virtualization and cloud computing. Today's virtualized Data Centers allow applications to move between server OS instances; server instances (virtual machines) can move to new server hardware, whether in the same Data Center or another; and server resources (CPUs, RAM, etc.) may be reallocated to the needs of the virtual machines (VMs). Storage, formerly sitting on a disk drive inside a physical server, now sits on a storage area network (SAN), providing great flexibility. To make all these Data Center features work, network technology has progressed to add networking features unique to the needs of Data Centers.

Cisco has long been the leading company in traditional networking, but also has established a leadership position in storage networking and a highly competitive position in server computing technologies. Cisco began offering SAN products in the early 2000s, helping to lead the transition from separate SANs to converged products that support both storage and more traditional networking with Ethernet LANs. Cisco also launched its Unified Computing System (UCS) family of products in 2009: server hardware built with virtualization in mind, with an eye toward easier integration with the storage and networking features required in every Data Center. (In June 2014, Cisco UCS also achieved the #1 market position in the x86 Blade server market.)

The tremendous growth in Data Center technology over the previous decade has led to a much greater need for skilled engineers with a skillset geared toward Data Centers. Cisco actually offered a CCIE Storage certification for those early years of its SAN products. Then, in 2012, Cisco morphed CCIE SAN into CCIE Data Center, and added the CCNA Data Center and CCNP Data Center certifications. The result: A traditional complete certification track for Cisco Data Center technology.

Cisco Data Center Certifications: Networking and Computing

Cisco Data Center Certifications: Networking and Computing

The Cisco Data Center certification track as a whole, from CCNA through CCIE, requires about as much attention to the compute features in Cisco UCS as it does for networking features. As evidence for this relative equality between coverage of networking vs. computing, consider the following:

The CCNA Data Center certification focuses much more on networking. In fact, the first exam, DCICN 640-911, has no real coverage of compute or storage, whereas the DCICT exam introduces compute and storage while still covering networking (at least per the weighting information in Cisco's exam topics).

CCNA Data Center and the DCICT 640-916 Exam

CCNA Data Center and the DCICT 640-916 Exam

The CCNA Data Center certification requires you to pass two exams, with no other prerequisites. Passing a single exam does not give you any certification at all. Although you can pass the exams in either order, most people start with the DCICN 640-911 exam, with DCICT relying on knowledge obtained in DCICN (see Figure 1).

Figure 1

DCICT actually begins the Cisco Data Center certification theme of including compute, storage, and networking in the same certification exam. As the first exam, DCICN 640-911 focuses solely on networking, ignoring storage and compute. DCICT 640-916 includes more networking (specific to Data Centers), as well as compute and storage.

Storage networking takes the permanent storage devices, such as disk drives, and places them onto a network. Placing storage into a SAN has many advantages for modern Data Centers, versus connecting the disks internally to a single server. DCICT acts as your first exam addressing SANs. Following are some of the more important DCICT storage topics:

Cisco brands its many server products as part of the Cisco Unified Computing System (UCS). The DCICT introduces some of the key concepts of using Cisco UCS products:

Additionally, modern Data Centers often use server virtualization technology. Gone are the days in which one server runs one instance of an OS natively on the server hardware. Instead, virtualization software, such as VMware vSphere and Microsoft Hyper-V, control and share the hardware among many OS instances—many virtual machines. The DCICT exam introduces these fundamentals as well:

Finally, networking has an important role in the DCICT exam. Data Center technology requires several networking features that are not used or found as much within a campus LAN or WAN. DCICT introduces some of the networking features found most often in data centers, including these:

Always check Cisco's website to learn what is and is not on the exam. Go to http://www.cisco.com/go/ccna and navigate to the correct exam to check the latest exam topics.

Prerequisites

Prerequisites

Unlike many of Cisco's other CCNA certifications, the CCNA DC certification does not require the CCENT or CCNA Routing and Switching certification as a prerequisite. However, because the DCICN 640-911 exam overlaps so much with the ICND1 100-101 exam (part of the CCNA Routing and Switching certification), if you have already studied for the CCNA R&S, you will have completed some of your CCNA Data Center study.

As for the literal prerequisites, Figure 2 shows the current CCNA certifications, with the minimum prerequisites. Currently, only the CCNA Data Center, CCNA Video, and CCNA Service Provider certifications do not require at least a CCENT certification as a prerequisite. (These requirements can change over time; always check again at http://www.cisco.com/go/certifications.)

Figure 2

Exam Details

Exam Details

Preparation Hints and Trouble Spots

Preparation Hints and Trouble Spots

Coming into the Cisco Data Center certification track, each candidate may be stronger in one of the primary disciplines: server, storage, or network. The Cisco Data Center track helps you learn all three areas. As a result, you may have an easier time with some topics, but a more difficult time with those for which you have less background. Know your strengths and weaknesses, and be ready to do extra reading, take your time, and fill in the gaps in your knowledge.

Many of the DCICT networking topics revolve around options other than the Spanning Tree Protocol (STP) for dealing with how the network uses redundant links. Make sure that you have a good foundation on STP from your DCICN study (STP is a big topic in the DCICN exam). To understand the competing options, remember the fundamentals of why loops would occur with Layer 2 switching without STP, how STP prevents the loops, and the drawbacks of STP. vPC, Fabric Path, FEX, and other options all provide different solutions for using redundant links—sometimes removing the need for STP, and sometimes improving the function of STP.

The combination of the Cisco UCS and server virtualization concepts requires you to think about servers as pools of resources: CPUs, RAM, Ethernet NICs, and so on. Take the time to download trial versions of at least one popular hypervisor, such as VMware vSphere, and experiment. Also download Cisco's UCS Platform Emulator, a free tool for learning about Cisco UCS.

Given the breadth of topics in this single exam, make it a point to stop after studying each major area (compute, networking, and storage), and review what you have learned already before moving on to the next topic. Because the sheer number of new terms and competing ideas can be a challenge to learn, taking time to review each major area can help you with your exam preparation.

Finally, connect with the best Cisco exam preparation community: the Cisco Learning Network (CLN). The Cisco Learning Network provides forums for each certification, where you can look for good discussion and answers to your questions.

Recommended Study Resources

Recommended Study Resources

At the time this exam profile was posted, Cisco Press was rolling out a Certification Guide (book) and a LiveLesson (video) product for the DCICN exam, to be followed later by a book and video products for the DCICT 640-916 exam.

The printed DCICT 640-916 Official Cert Guide focuses on the technology included in the DCICT exam, while providing a variety of exam preparation tools. Each chapter and major part of the book ends with review activities. The book notes the most important topics to study for the exam (key topics). It also includes a DVD question bank with exam software.

You may also want to use the Premium edition of the book, either in addition to the print book, or instead of the print book. The CCNA Data Center DCICT 640-916 Official Cert Guide Premium Edition eBook and Practice Test is the typical Cisco Press Premium eBook product. With this product, you get the book in many eBook formats, appropriate for Amazon Kindle, Barnes & Noble Nook, PDF, and other formats. Additionally, the Premium Edition comes with all the DVD content from the printed book, but in downloadable format. Finally, the Premium Edition includes additional practice questions not found in the print book. With the substantial discount offered in the back of the print book, many people use the eBook in addition to the print book, to get access to the extra questions, and for the convenience of the eBooks.

CCNA Data Center DCICT 640-916 LiveLessons is a unique video product that provides a solid understanding of the key areas of knowledge required to pass the 640-916 DCICT CCNA Data Center exam. This product walks the customer through each topic of the exam blueprint. Customers will gain knowledge of fundamental Data Center technologies such as network and server virtualization, storage, convergent I/O, and network services like load balancing.

CCNA Data Center LiveLessons contains 12 individual video lessons, subdivided into 83 sub-lessons, for a total of five hours of instruction. The videos consist of audio instruction, animations, and video screencasts. Each video lab presents detailed objectives, lab diagrams, and video captures. Audio instruction throughout offers detailed explanations, tips, and configuration examples.

Major topics:

Where to Go from Here

Where to Go from Here

Passing the DCICT 640-916 exam completes your two-exam path to CCNA Data Center certification. Then you should consider whether to tackle the next big hurdle (CCNP Data Center) or move on to other CCNA certifications—or possibly other computing certifications, like those from VMware.

Exam Objectives

Exam Objectives

1.0 Cisco Data Center Fundamentals Concepts

2.0 Data Center Unified Fabric

3.0 Storage Networking

4.0 DC Virtualization

5.0 Unified Computing

6.0 Data Center Network Services

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