i came back yesterday from Brussels and today at 5:30am the verdict came in - definitely “PASS” :)
so… let me share some advice and tips for those of you preparing to take CCIE SP practical exam (without breaking NDA of course).
first of all - if you have that luxury of training on any software version - please try to check with the current Cisco page and align. software is quite “specific”, and you may be hit with interesting behavior that may be a little bit different from mainline versions. in the era of simulators and emulators building your own lab replica should be easy. but you may be kicked in the ass by making wrong assumptions about specific software versions.
next - the docs. on my R&S exam i had to reference it once, as i hit one interesting feature i didn’t touch at all during my studies. essentially, when you were master of IOS helper, you could live with that. with SP it’s a little different - a lot of features are configured quite differently that in current software releases. if you don’t know it - you can safely assume you’ll fail unfortunately. there’s less focus on switching, but blueprint content is definitely there - OSPF, IS-IS, MP-BGP, MPLS and MPLS VPNs (both L2 and L3). you’ll see that second part of the workbook depends heavily on the first part. so if you fail with for example task 1.3, some tasks later on (lets say 4.x, 5.x and 6.x) won’t work as well. and you won’t get any points even if config is there - service doesn’t work up to spec. the docs are available already over HTML interface, not via older DocCD/UniverCD interface. there’s a lot of examples and release notes are available as well - which can help a lot if you know how to use it.
thirdly - materials. IEWB is quite good, however doesn’t cover all of the blueprint. their five-day training available online and offline as DVD is very good - but of course you need to exercise your fingers and brain to lab all of it many times. i also saw older IP Expert and IE Mentor workbooks - they’re unfortunately outdated to the point of being a little bit obsolete for current revision of the exam. my approach is to work even harder than you’d expect to be tested on the exam - which did wonders to me for R&S exam. so, try to read a lot about routing and MPLS first. make sure you understand and lab IS-IS as well, next to OSPF - on R&S you may not have too much exposure on that, but for SPs, IS-IS is quite common. try to look for various forums and mini labs if you can.
then, there’s proctor. try to ask questions - even if initial responses are not what you were looking for. while proctor can’t tell you how to solve a task step by step, he can help you understand how to approach it to be “counted in”. i had mixed experiences with proctors unfortunately, and it seems it’s like with CCIEs - there are better and worse ones. in the end, if you believe your proctor is not providing you with clear answers - he can at least look them up in the docs. you on the other hand - can’t :)
and last, but not least - time. CCIE SP is an exam that can be passed in three hours. i finished my CCIE R&S attempt just after mandatory lunch, and on my passing attempt i finished my SP even before it. this is of course not “who’s going to be faster”, but indeed if you know your stuff, it’s just a matter of understanding the complete workbook and then simply implementing it. try to read it at least twice BEFORE starting to configure ANYTHING. and one more thing - for my CCIE R&S attempt i didn’t even do drawings, as topologies were kind of easy to comprehend. for CCIE SP i did draw - as material you’re given is designed to be fragmented and force you to piece together different pieces of information. with typical SP it’s complex to say at least.
now, it’s time to finally move to other things. but let me share that later on :)