How to Pass the CCIE Lab (my 3 steps)

I went through the journey and intensive preparation to pass the CCIE lab for the Enterprise Infrastructure track, formerly known as Routing & Switching, and I know that many of you are looking to get certified.

Whether you may be in the middle of your CCIE preparation or you’re thinking about starting your CCIE certification, you want to cover all your bases to pass the CCIE lab.

The truth is that if I had to prepare to take the CCIE lab all over again, I would do it differently. In this post, I outline and explain my 3 steps to pass the CCIE lab.

My 3 Steps to pass the CCIE lab (Enterprise Infrastructure)?

As a CCIE myself, I can tell you that to pass the CCIE Enterprise Infrastructure lab, you have to know and understand all relevant network protocols and how to put them to work per the exam requirements. It’s not just about knowing commands or router tricks but understanding how those network protocols work and how to put them in operation.

As I said, I passed on my fourth attempt; however, now I know what I should’ve done differently to pass on my first attempt. Here’s the scoop.

To pass the hands-on CCIE lab, the first thing you need to have is an immense desire to get certified. You need to be obsessed with passing the CCIE lab test. This obsession will dwarf all the difficulties, tiredness, and frustration you might experience during your preparation. You have to want to be a CCIE. If you don’t want it with a passion, you’ll find excuses to drop out of the challenge.

During my CCIE lab preparation between 2010 and 2011, I focused on 3 steps. After you choose your CCIE training provider, here are my 3 recommendations to help you pass the CCIE Enterprise Infrastructure lab exam:

  1. Study all CCIE instructional video training
  2. Consult the best CCIE textbooks
  3. Do CCIE mock labs

Let’s take a look at how I went about each recommendation above.

1. Study all CCIE instructional video training

To prepare, and ultimately pass the CCIE lab, I used Internetwork Expert (INE). At the time, INE had a set of workbooks (Volume I through IV) and their 2-week (about 80 hours) Advanced Technology Class video training. I watched their Advanced Technology Classes taught by Brian Dennis and Brian McGahan over, and over, and over, and over again until I knew the content of each individual video.

Every time you watch the same video, you catch something new that you missed the last time. It’s important that you watch all INE’s videos until you feel comfortable and that you’re able to explain the technology clearly to someone.

I don’t think INE’s technical video training is called Advanced Technology Classes anymore. They now have a learning path for the CCIE Enterprise Infrastructure track.

INE's CCIE Enterprise Infrastructure Courses
INE’s CCIE Enterprise Infrastructure Learning Path Courses

Each course within the CCIE Enterprise Infrastructure learning path could be around 10 hours long. Take your time and go through all of them. Every lesson is important.

2. Consult the best CCIE textbooks

In addition to video training, to prepare and pass the CCIE lab, you need the best textbooks. There are many times in which you need to read different books to clarify concepts and figure out how network protocols work. Learning new topics can be confusing and you need to make sure you understand them. You will need the best CCIE textbooks to answer questions you may have.

I used INE’s workbooks because the INE instructors who created them broke down each technology involved in the labs. The breakdowns were elaborate and very well explained. Currently, the INE subscription that includes the networking workbooks is the Premium Subscription.

INE Subscriptions
INE Subscriptions

I also used Cisco Press books relevant at the time. The newest book that covers the CCIE Enterprise Infrastructure material is the CCIE Enterprise Infrastructure Foundation, 2nd Edition by Narbik Kocharians. Start with this book.

READ IT NOW on the O’Reilly learning platform with a 10-day free trial.

CCIE Enterprise Infrastructure Foundation, 2nd Edition

By Narbik Kocharians | Released June 2022

  • Master core Layer 2 switching concepts, including STP, RSTP, MSTP, VTP, VTP Pruning, 802.1Q, ISL Trunking, LACP, and PagP
  • Master route filtering with IP Prefix-lists
  • Gain a rock-solid understanding of RIPv2, the Cisco Enhanced Interior Gateway Routing Protocol (EIGRP), and classic Open Shortest Path First (OSPF) routing
  • Understand Border Gateway Protocol (BGP), the protocol that routes the Internet
  • Review the Cisco Dynamic Multipoint VPN (DMVPN) from the ground up, overlays/underlays, configurations, switching enhancements, network design, tunneling, and more
  • Master MPLS and the suite of services it can provide: L3VPNs and beyond
  • Make the most of IPv6: master address types, assignment, configuration, NDP, SLAAC, and IPv6-enabled DMVPN, OSPFv3, EIGRP, and BGP
  • Explore Cisco’s latest SD-WAN platform, from basic components to WAN edge devices and app-aware Policies
  • Understand the Cisco SD-Access (SDA) solution for creating scalable, automated, and resilient enterprise fabrics

Although each technology has many books you can buy, for an Enterprise Infrastructure CCIE, routing books are essential. Keep in mind that 30% of the hands-on lab is routing and switching.

CCIE Enterprise Infrastructure Exam Topics
CCIE Enterprise Infrastructure Lab Exam Topics

Therefore, to prepare and pass the CCIE Enterprise Infrastructure lab exam, I totally recommend Routing TCP/IP Volume I (for interior routing protocols) and Volume II (for BGP and multicast). These books are essential as they have a lot of great explanations.

READ IT NOW on the O’Reilly learning platform with a 10-day free trial.

Routing TCP/IP, Volume I, 2nd Edition (CCIE Professional Development)

By Jeff Doyle | Released October 2005

  • Chapter 1 TCP/IP Review
  • Chapter 2 IPv6 Overview
  • Chapter 3 Static Routing
  • Chapter 4 Dynamic Routing Protocols
  • Chapter 5 Routing Information Protocol (RIP)
  • Chapter 6 RIPv2, RIPng, and Classless Routing
  • Chapter 7 Enhanced Interior Gateway Routing Protocol (EIGRP)
  • Chapter 8 OSPFv2
  • Chapter 9 OSPFv3
  • Chapter 10 Integrated IS-IS
  • Chapter 11 Route Redistribution
  • Chapter 12 Default Routes and On-Demand Routing
  • Chapter 13 Route Filtering
  • Chapter 14 Route Maps
  • Appendix A Tutorial: Working with Binary and Hex
  • Appendix B Tutorial: Access Lists
  • Appendix C CCIE Preparation Tips
  • Appendix D Answers to Review Questions
  • Appendix E Solutions to Configuration Exercises
  • Appendix F Solutions to Troubleshooting Exercises

READ IT NOW on the O’Reilly learning platform with a 10-day free trial.

Routing TCP/IP, Volume II, 2nd Edition (CCIE Professional Development)

By Jeff Doyle, Jennifer Carroll | Released April 2001

  • Chapter 1 Inter-Domain Routing Concepts
  • Chapter 2 Introduction to BGP
  • Chapter 3 BGP and NLRI
  • Chapter 4 BGP and Routing Policies
  • Chapter 5 Scaling BGP
  • Chapter 6 Multiprotocol BGP
  • Chapter 7 Introduction to IP Multicast Routing
  • Chapter 8 Protocol Independent Multicast
  • Chapter 9 Scaling IP Multicast Routing
  • Chapter 10 IPv4 to IPv4 Network Address Translation (NAT44)
  • Chapter 11 IPv6 to IPv4 Network Address Translation (NAT64)

3. Do CCIE mock labs

In addition to understanding network technologies, the number one requirement to pass the CCIE lab exam is a lot of lab time in your preparation. That’s it. There’s no way around it. Practice. Practice. Practice.

To pass the CCIE lab, you need to score higher than the aggregated pass score of Modules 1 and 2 (see below) and score higher than the minimum score set on each of the modules individually.

CCIE Lab Module 1 & 2
CCIE Lab Modules 1 & 2

During the first half of my preparation, while I was studying each technology individually by watching INE’s video training, I used GNS3. I was able to replicate INE’s lab topology; however, when I started the mock labs, I switched to INE’s Rack Rentals. At the time, INE had 20 practice labs with different difficulty levels.

It’s not about memorizing commands and spitting them out on the command line. It’s about understanding network protocols and putting them to work on the CLI based on the network design and requirements.

Here’s what makes a difference to pass the CCIE lab. Only after you’ve done and know the content of all the training videos, you need to complete all 20 mock labs at least four times. Before my fourth attempt, I had done most of the labs four times and the rest three times.

After my last attempt, I knew I had passed because I felt like aced the test. I just knew.

So, doing the mock labs about 4 times is what made the difference in the end to pass the CCIE lab, but you need to build up to this point so you can complete each mock lab with ease.

What’s the CCIE pass rate?

Currently, CCIE holders account for less than 3% of the total number of Cisco Certified individuals, and less than 1% of global network practitioners. These numbers are based on Cisco’s official data.

What does it mean to pass the CCIE lab exam (i.e.: Enterprise Infrastructure)?

CCIE Practical Exam Modules
CCIE Practical Exam Modules

The CCIE Enterprise Infrastructure Lab is the practical examination for the CCIE Enterprise Infrastructure track. Once you pass that hands-on test, you’re certified as a CCIE.

As you may know, the CCIE (Cisco Certified Internetwork Expert) is Cisco’s highest technical level certification for network professionals.

The CCIE certification requires passing two tests:

  • A written test (simulation and multiple-choice problems) that qualifies you to the practical test.
  • The CCIE practical test is an 8-hour hands-on lab that involves planning, designing, deploying, operating, and optimizing dual stack solutions (IPv4 and IPv6) for complex enterprise networks.

This lab exam is overseen by other CCIE-certified experts.

CCIE Enterprise Infrastructure Written & Hands-on Lab
CCIE Enterprise Infrastructure Written & Hands-on Lab

The CCIE Enterprise Infrastructure lab exam covers the following topics:

  1. Network Infrastructure
    1. Layer 2 technologies (Ethernet Switching)
    2. Layer 3 technologies
      1. Routing Concepts (static routing, PBR, AD, VRF, etc.)
      2. EIGRP
      3. OSPF (v2 and v3)
      4. BGP
      5. Multicast
  2. Software Defined Infrastructure
    1. SD-Access
    2. SD-WAN
  3. Transport Technologies
    1. MPLS
    2. DMVPN
  4. Infrastructure Security and Services
    1. Device Security on IOS XE (control plane policing, AAA)
    2. Network Security (VACL, PACL, private VLANs, DHCP Snooping, etc.)
    3. Systems Management (SSH, SNMP, logging, etc.)
    4. Quality of Service
    5. Network Services (HSRP, NTP, DHCP, NAT, etc.)
    6. Network Optimization (IP SLA, tracking objects, flexible netflow)
    7. Network Operations
      1. Traffic Capture
      2. Troubleshooting Tools
  5. Infrastructure Automation and Programmability
    1. JSON and XML Data Encoding Formats
    2. Automation Scripting (EEM, guest shell)
    3. Programmability
      1. vManage
      2. DNA Center
      3. IOS XE
      4. Telemetry

After passing the CCIE lab, what could be your average salary?

Passing your CCIE lab could put you in a better salary position. Internetwork Expert’s website says that “according to ZipRecruiter, the average salary of a CCIE in the United States is $149,800 per year. This average will vary depending on area and level of experience.”

I went directly to ZipRecruiter’s website and it said that as of Aug 8, 2022, the average annual pay for a CCIE in the United States is $151,842 a year. That is approximately $73.00 an hour; $2,920/week; or $12,653/month.

CCIE Salary by ZipRecruiter
CCIE Salaries by ZipRecruiter

While ZipRecruiter registers annual salaries as low as $46,000 and as high as $205,500, most of the CCIE salaries currently range between $128,000 (25th percentile) to $174,500 (75th percentile) with top earners (90th percentile) making $190,500 annually across the United States.

How long does it take to pass the CCIE lab?

Because we’re all different, everyone learns at different rates. In my case, it took me about six months to get my CCNP and then about a year and a half to pass my CCIE lab on my fourth attempt. I took two weeks off per failed attempt.

Since it took me four attempts to pass the CCIE hands-on exam, I can say that I obtained a letter per attempt (just kidding).

So, let’s say, it took me about two years of full dedication. And when I say full dedication I mean studying Monday through Friday from 6 to 9 AM and then after work from 6 to 10 PM. Saturdays and Sundays were from 6 AM through 6 PM.

It wasn’t easy; however, it was worthwhile.

Is it difficult to pass the CCIE lab?

It is difficult to pass if you’re not prepared. If you prepare well, you will pass with no problem. Now, the question is how do you know whether you’ve prepared well? Follow my instructions above.

Hopefully, my advice on this post will put you on the right path to pass the CCIE lab exam instead of figuring it out along the way.

Is passing the CCIE lab worth it?

Yes, it is. If you want to be very good at what you do for a living, then yes, passing the CCIE lab and obtaining the certification is worthwhile.

If you’re a CCNP, during your CCIE preparation, you’ll notice that core network protocols and technologies are covered in more detail and that your level of understanding is much deeper.

A CCIE is worth it if you want to:

  • excel in your professional field of expertise
  • develop deeper or expert technical knowledge in your profession
  • differentiate yourself from the rest

Final Thoughts

So here’s a summary of my recommendations for you to pass the CCIE lab. Based on my experience, and in all honesty, if I have to do it again, this is what I would do:

  • Study all INE’s training videos as many times as necessary until you feel you know what’s explained in the videos well
    • As you go, practice the content of each video with virtualization software like GNS3, Cisco Modeling Labs, or Eve-NG (your preference)
  • Consult with INE’s workbooks and Cisco Press textbooks – You can gain online access to Cisco Press books and more than 60,000 titles with an O’Reilly subscription. You can have access to O’Reilly’s entire library for free for 10 days.
  • Do all INE’s mock labs at least four times (this is key!)

And then schedule your lab test.

At some point, you will realize that you’re over-prepared for your full-time job. There are technologies that you may not use every day on your daily projects, but you will be sharp on all routing and switching technologies. That’s a great feeling.

Hey…let me know your thoughts. Are you working on your CCIE? If so, what track? How is it going? Let me know in the comments below.


Alirio Zavarce, CCIE #28672, is a seasoned enterprise route-switch consultant with 30 years of experience with data networks. Alirio started this networking blog to help his peers become better network engineers and share all his everyday experiences and troubleshooting tips. More about me...

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9 thoughts on “How to Pass the CCIE Lab (my 3 steps)”

  1. Hi Alirio,

    First congrats on passing the CCIE lab exam! Does INE really have 20 mock labs for CCIE EI track? Or you meant the mock labs for R&S v5.0 track? I am a member of INE but I can only see they have only three R&S v5.0 mock lab 1,2 and 3. Where did you find the others?


    • Hi Hkanh. Between 2010 and 2011, INE had 20 mock labs for the Routing & Switching track. I know because I did all of them about 3 times…:-) I just checked INE and v4 Volume II has all 20 full scale practice labs I was talking about.

  2. These are very deep and well-written documents on how to pass the new CCIE routing and switching lab. Thank you for your insights and keep knowledge and your contribution to the networking community I am very blessed to have come across your blog and have some advice from you as well.

    Thank you

    • Hey Ben. Thanks for your feedback! After understanding each individual technology, the best thing to do is to put it all together with the mock-up CCIE labs.

        • Hi Kelvin. I don’t know much about DNA Center myself. INE has three videos on DNA Center as part of their Introducing Network Programmability & Automation course.

          • Intro to DNA Center
          • Architectural Elements Of Intent-Based Networking
          • Comparing Traditional Campus Networks Against DNA Center-Enabled Networks

          O’Reilly, which you can also find a link to on my homepage and is much less expensive than INE, has some DNA Center in their CCNP Enterprise Advanced Routing ENARSI 300-410 video course and much more in their CCNP and CCIE Enterprise Core ENCOR 350-401 Exam Prep LiveLessons video course:

          Lesson 1: Cisco DNA Center Fundamentals
          1.1 An Insight to Cisco DNA Center
          1.2 Software Image Management
          1.3 Plug Play (PnP) Zero Touch Provisioning
          1.4 Cisco DNA Center Design
          1.5 Cisco DNA Center Provisioning
          1.6 Cisco DNA Center Policy
          1.7 Cisco DNA Center Assurance
          1.8 Cisco DNA Center Platform

          I’d recommend checking O’Reilly first and then maybe go to Cisco’s dCloud for some demos.

          • Hi Alirio,

            Thanks for your sharing.
            Because I think the most difficult parts are DNA Center, SD-WAN and Cloud services for modern CCIE Exam . It seems not easy to build a lab/demo to study it.

          • I would focus on knowing well your routing protocols (BGP, EIGRP, OSPF, ISIS, etc.) and DMVPN, Spanning Tree, etc. Those protocols, you need to know well for sure. And then, I’d deal with DNA Center. For SD-WAN, I understand that you can bring up the three Controllers (vManage, vBond, and vSmart) on GNS3 so you can practice on all three.

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