Dec
08

This is a short publication to help you get started with Graded Labs Racks Rentals for CCIE Routing and Switching. We often see people having repeating issues when renting the rack time, so this is guide on how to avoid them. This document is a companion to the following class-on-demand videos: Using the GradedLabs.com Rack Scheduling System and Access the Racks. It is recommended that you both read this publication and watch these short videos to fully benefit from Graded Labs rack rentals.

Step 0: Do I have good connectivity to GL racks?

First of all, before you spend any money on rack rentals, make sure your upcoming session quality will be good. Most of GL customers are from the United States and normally don't experience any connectivity issues. However, if you are coming from Europe or Asia, it might be a good idea to validate your connection to avoid frustrating experience. Do the following test: using the "ping" command, send at least 100 echo packets to "racks.ine.com" and see the average RTT and packet loss. If your RTT is below 100ms and packet loss is below 5% most likely will will have smooth experience.

$ ping -c 100 racks.ine.com
PING racks.ine.com (75.140.41.59): 56 data bytes
64 bytes from 75.140.41.59: icmp_seq=0 ttl=249 time=13.630 ms
64 bytes from 75.140.41.59: icmp_seq=1 ttl=249 time=14.272 ms
64 bytes from 75.140.41.59: icmp_seq=2 ttl=249 time=13.129 ms
64 bytes from 75.140.41.59: icmp_seq=3 ttl=249 time=11.725 ms
64 bytes from 75.140.41.59: icmp_seq=4 ttl=249 time=9.521 ms
64 bytes from 75.140.41.59: icmp_seq=5 ttl=249 time=11.348 ms
….
--- racks.ine.com ping statistics ---
100 packets transmitted, 100 packets received, 0.0% packet loss
round-trip min/avg/max/stddev = 9.150/12.561/33.581/3.315 ms

avg RTT = 12.56ms
Packet Loss = 0%

Notice that in some circumstances your provider or company may block ICMP traffic. In such situation, you may not be able to ping our rack access server and estimate the RTT/packet loss.

It might be possible that your RTT/Loss may change during the day, depending on the network conditions. So run this test a few times during the day and see if you can get a better RTT.

Step 1: Booking your session

Graded Labs offer rack rentals in 5.5 hour time-slots. People often ask us why not 8 hours or 4 hours? The reason being is optimum hardware utilization. Terminating and re-establishing a rack environment takes time (fixed to 30 minutes in GL environment), so you can't go ahead and pack 3x8 hours sessions in a day. And going down to 4 hours sessions means you have to do a lot of rack resets during the day, wasting people's time. Therefore, it has been estimated that 5.5 hour sessions, four times a day represents ideally balanced sessions duration from both the customer viewpoint and maintenance reasons.

You first goal prior to booking the rack rental session is understanding the rack rental interface. First, be sure to set your time zone correctly. Rack rental sessions start at four fixed time interval during the day, named as "S1, S2, S3, S4". Of course, these interval depend on your time-zone settings. You may change those settings under your INE's member's profile. When you open the rack rental scheduler from within your INE's member's profile you see the following:

rs-rack-retnals-scheduler

Notice the available time-slots, the price of rack rental session and the time-slot starting intervals translated to your local time zone. Use this information to pick up your sessions. Keep in mind that sessions pricing is dynamic and may vary with rack utilization, so "underloaded" days are normally cheaper.

The other question people often ask is whether it's possible to keep the same rack for multiple sessions. The scheduler system automatically attempts to do this every time you book continuos time intervals. And if you have rack sessions booked already, and want to extend it on the same rack, simply try booking consecutive intervals - if possible, the rack scheduler will keep you on the same rack.

To summarize:

  1. Make sure you set the time-zone correctly in your profile and understand the starting times for rack rentals.
  2. Understand that the system will try keeping the same rack for you if you book continuous time slots.
  3. Use dynamic pricing at your advantage: it's a mutual interest for both GradedLabs and the rack rental customer!

Step 2: Preparing for your Session

Since you have booked a rack rental session, you probably know what you will be using it for. If not, it's good time to plan your session. Normally you spend rack time working on either INE's CCIE Routing & Switching Workbook Volume I or INE's CCIE Routing & Switching Workbook Volume II scenarios. These often require various initial configurations. Be aware that you may load all these configurations using the Graded Labs "Control Panel" utility once your session becomes active. Therefore, there is no need to prepare your own set of initial configurations, unless you have a custom scenario. However, it makes sense to spend time reading your scenarios and planning configuration steps in advance. You may also want to spend time analyzing the scenario and drawing the diagrams to save yourself from this during the actual rack session.

Chances are, that you just have started working with INE CCIE R&S products. If that's the case, make sure you allocated enough time to understand the physical cabling topology for INE products. You may find the rack topology diagram here INE's CCIE RS Topology Diagram. Do not just skim over this document, but make sure you know the topology thoroughly. You may want to print it and use as a reference the first few times when using GL rack rentals.

Next, make sure your terminal client (e.g. SecureCRT or PuTTY) is configured to access the GL racks. When you have a session booked, you should have received an email containing, among other things, username and a password for the upcoming session. The username is normally "rsrackXX" where XX is you rack number. For example it could be rsrack1 or rsrack2, or rsrack30. When you rack rental session starts, you may simply use "telnet" to connect to "racks.ine.com" and login using the name "rsrackXX" and the password provided. Notice that if your session has not started yet, you will be given a warning banner and disconnected.

What happens when you login using the "rackXX" name? You actually connect to an access-server having cables to all devices in your rack. You may use the command "show hosts" to see the device names and their corresponding line, then type in the device name such as "r1" to get access to the device console line. Of course, you will need to use the escape sequence "Ctrl-Shift-6 + x" to get back to the access-server prompt and switch between the devices, using either the connection number or command "r [device name]". Make sure you are familiar with using the IOS router as access-server if you plan on using "single login" style.

As opposed to single login as "rackXX" to the GL racks, you may want to use separate, per-device login. Many people find this more comfortable, as this allows them having a separate terminal window for every device. To login directly to a console line of device "aa" you need to use the login name "rackXXaa" when connecting to "racks.ine.com". For example, if you want to access R1 on rack22, use the name "rack22r1" and the same password you have been given previously. Thus, you will need to create 10 separate session in your terminal client so you can login to every device separately.

Prior to your session start, make sure you know how to access Graded Labs support system. You may submit an emergency ticket and an on-site technician will be able to help you with hardware issues, if any. You may find information on submitting tickets in your reservation email.

Finally, the rack rental email that you have received should have a link to the "Rack Rental" usage guide, which provides more detailed information on rack access procedure. You may find it available online here RS Rental Rack Acccess Guide. It is highly recommend that you read it prior to your rack rental session as it contains a lot of useful information for people new to the CCIE rack rentals.

To summarize the preparation steps:

  1. Make sure you understand the INE RS topology thoroughly.
  2. Plan your work in ahead, e.g. select a VOL2 lab you need to work on. Read and analyze your scenarios in advanced, make any diagrams you need to make.
  3. Make sure you terminal client is configured to access racks.ine.com.
  4. Know you rack access method: via access-server or via direct logins to the devices.

Step 3: Working on You CCIE Rack

As soon as your session has started, you would be able to control it using the "Rack Control Panel". This utility allows you loading and saving your configuration plus physically reloading any router or switch in your rack. Make sure you familiarize yourself with its interface, as this is your primary rack control tool. The Control Panel has two modes: Rack Control and Config Options. Using the first one you can power-cycle your devices. Using the second one, you can load and save your rack configuration.

Normally you start the session by loading the initial configuration for your scenario. This may take about 10-15 minutes, which you can spend preparing your documents and reading the scenario, if you haven't done so previously. During the time your rack is loading the configs you will not be able to access it. When the configs are done loading, connect the the rack and verify that you can access all devices. Every rack undergoes a hardware check during the time between the rack session (the "intersession interval"), so the chances of having a hardware issue are minimal. However, things do break at times, so we recommend you checking connectivity with every configuration step you are working on.

If during your session you suspect a hardware issue, make sure you have a way to validate it. For instance, if you are blaming a faulty link, configure the interfaces to form a P2P connection, e.g. using HDLC for Serial interfaces or configuring the switch-ports as "routed-ports" so you can ping the directly connected port. If you still observing failure, submit your evidence to the GL support. If there is indeed a hardware fault, the support person will either fix it promptly or assign you to a different rack. Remember, the support personel is not able to help you with configuration issues, they can only fix hardware faults.

When your rack session timer expires, there will be no explicit warning. However, your configuration will be automatically saved and you can access it later under the Control Panel. This will allow you to resume work during the next session simply by loading the saved configuration.

To summarize, the following are your key point when working on the rack:

  1. Know how to use the Control Panel to power-cycle your devices.
  2. Know how to use the Control Panel to Load and Save configurations.
  3. Be able to spot a hardware issue and differentiate it from configuration problem.
  4. Understand how to properly submit an information fault report so that a technician can help you promptly.

Summary

CCIE hardware rental might look a little bit complicated at first, but in fact this is an established process that is easy to get used to. You goal as a customer it to get the maximum of a rack rental session. This publication concentrates on the key aspects of "client-side" optimization of the process. The following are the main factors to a smooth experience:

  • Validate your access-path to GradedLabs RS access-server and ensure you have good RTT and low packet loss
  • Make sure you set the time-zone correctly in your profile and know the starting times for rack rentals.
  • Understand that the system will try keeping the same rack for you if you book continuous time slots.
  • Use dynamic pricing at your advantage: it's a mutual interest for both GradedLabs and the rack rental customer!
  • Make sure you understand the INE RS topology thoroughly before renting a rack.
  • Plan your work in ahead. Read and analyze your scenarios in advanced, make any diagrams you need to make.
  • Make sure you terminal client is configured to access "racks.ine.com".
  • Know you rack access method: via access-server or via direct logins to the devices.
  • Know how to use the Control Panel to power-cycle your devices.
  • Know how to use the Control Panel to Load and Save configurations.
  • Be able to spot a hardware issue and differentiate it from configuration problem.
  • Understand how to properly submit an information fault report so that a technician can help you promptly.
Petr Lapukhov, 4xCCIE/CCDE
About Petr Lapukhov, 4xCCIE/CCDE

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