SCP Exam Overview – My Perspective

(NOTE: This is an OLD post from THWACK, which I’m re-posting here for posterity. Much about the SCP program has changed since writing this, and you can expect an updated post soon.)

I like to take tests. I’m just weird that way. At one of my jobs, they actually put “exam hamster” on my business cards. For me, It’s like doing a crossword puzzle and most of the time I don’t have a lot riding on the exam. Plus, with IT certification tests, I know I can usually retake them if I bomb horribly. So, at the very worst, taking a test and doing badly is just a way of finding out EXACTLY what kinds of questions that test is going to ask.

I recently took the SCP exam “cold”. Meaning I looked over the sample questions, watched a couple of the online videos, and then said “what the hell” and dove in.

Now “cold” for me means: I have used Solarwinds (on and off) since 2004, I passed my CCNA (also in 2004, it has since lapsed) and I’ve been working with monitoring tools (BMC Patrol, Tivoli, OpenView, Nagios, Zenoss, etc) for the last 11 years. But the point is, I didn’t intensively study SCP prep material so I had the “right” answer.

The rest of the guys on my team want to take the test so I wrote up an overview of the exam for them, which appears below. I thought I would share it here in case:

  1. you don’t share my love of tests
  2. you aren’t sure if you are ready
  3. you don’t want to waste your money/time/hair/stomach lining by feeling unprepared.

(NOTE: I checked with the SolarWinds Exam Overlords, to make sure I’m not giving too much away here. Just in case you are worried about that kind of thing. I was.)

Test Mechanics OverView

  • The test is online. You don’t go into a testing center. You can take it from work, home, the coffee shop, your secret lair in your parent’s basement, etc.
  • The test is made up of 77 randomly selected multiple choice questions.
  • The test is not adaptive. You will answer all 77 questions.
  • The exam is “one way” – no “back”, no “skip”, no “pause” and no “review my answers”
  • Most questions have 1 answer.
  • A few have multi-answer (but it will tell you how many – ie: “Pick the best 2 from the choices below”).
  • Partial answers are marked as wrong.
  • Blank answers are marked as wrong
  • If you accidentally leave a blank or partial answer, you’ll get a warning prompt. But if you confirm, it’s done.
  • You have 90 minutes to complete the test
    • DON’T PANIC! That’s a little over 1 minute per question. PLENTY of time. Seriously.
    • No seriously. Make a fist and squeeze it as hard as you can for 60 seconds. That’s how long you have to think about and answer EACH question.
  • 70% is passing.
  • Every question is worth the same (ie: questions are not weighted)
    • That means you need 54 correct answers to pass.
    • Or to put it another way, you can get 23 questions wrong and still pass.
  • You have 3 attempts to pass the exam
  • You must wait 14 days between attempts

Am I Ready?

There are a couple of ways I think you can confirm you are ready:

  1. You go through the sample tests and you not only get the answers right, you understand:
    1. The broader topic they are discussing (netflow, router configuration, firewalls, troubleshooting)
    2. WHY the right answer is the right one (versus the others)
    3. HOW the other answers are wrong for this situation
    4. WHERE those other answers would be the correct answer
  2. When you read one of the sample test questions, you know what screen/utility they are talking about and you can get to that same screen and use it (maybe not for what THEY are asking, but you know how to get around in it).

General testing ideas (they work for any test)

  • Don’t give up.
    • I watched a guy bail on his CCNA exam with 10 questions left. When the proctor ran the score, he missed passing by 5 points.
  • If you are really stumped, start over by looking at the answers first, and then seeing which one(s) seem to fit the question.
  • Remember, this is a SolarWinds exam. The right answer is always from the SW perspective (ie: if you have a choice between “do it with a DOS batch file” and “Do it with a SolarWinds SAM script” and you aren’t sure, SolarWinds is your better bet.
  • If you don’t know the answer and one of the answers is significantly longer than the rest, that’s a good bet as well.
  • If you really don’t know, eliminate the stupid answers (there’s usually at least one) and then guess.

Good Ideas for the SCP

  • This is “open book” – have a separate browser window with tabs open to google, thwack, and the NPM admin guide as well as browser AND RDP open to the polling engine (assuming you have one handy) so you can check things out before hitting “submit”
  • Also have a calculator open
  • Also have a subnet calculator open

Specific thoughts on each of the sections

** Indicates thoughts I  added after I took the test

Network Management Fundamentals

  • Know the OSI model (come on dude: All People Seem To Need Data Processing) and how SolarWinds stuff (SNMP, Netflow, SSH, etc) maps to it.
  • Ping is ICMP (no port)
  • SNMP poll is UDP port 161, trap is 162
  • Syslog is port 514
  • NetFlow is UDP 2055
  • Netflow is push-based. When the router sees a conversation is done, it pushes the information to the configured Netflow receiver(s)
  • WMI requires 1) the service to be enabled on the target server, 2) all ports over 1024, 3) a windows user account (domain or local)
  • Know the terms MIB, OID, Perfmon Counter
  • ** Know the very basic basics of subnetting (ie: that and are both contained in the subnet mask
  • ** Know the IOS string to configure a router for SNMP (traps and poll)
  • ** Know the basic concept of how to configure an ACL on a router
  • ** Know what NetFlow is, how it works, etc.

Network Management Planning

  • Protocol “load” on the network from least to most: ICMP, SNMP, WMI, NetFlow
  • Document goals, take a baseline
  • Know how to build a report
  • When do you need a distributed solution?
    • Shakey connections back to Poller
    • Redundancy
    • ACL issues
  • Understand SolarWinds licensing model

Network Management Operations

  • Know the SNMP versions (1, 2vc, 3) and what each added to the standard
  • Know Netflow versions (5, 9 and 9 with ipfix) and the basic features of each
  • Know the levels of Syslog logging in order
  • Know what SNMP provides versus Netflow

Network Fault & Performance Troubleshooting

  • Know the OSI model, and where (what layer) you would find: telnet, ping, ssh, ACL’s, snmp, syslog and netflow
  • ** Know the format of an OSPF routing syslog alert, when routing is failing
  • ** Think through the Saas CRM example and all the different ways it could fail, and how you would determine it. (ping stops on their network…etc)
  • ** Understand the various levels of counters (node details pages) in the virtualization “stack” (VCenter, Cluster, Datacenter, Host, guests)
  • ** What can SolarWinds tell you about Virtual environments that tell you to change that virtual environment (ie: How do you know when it’s time to add more hosts)
  • Understand general VMWare concepts: virtualcenter, cluster, datacenter, host, guest; what happens when you go p2v, etc.

SolarWinds NMP Administration

  • Obviously, this is the biggest section
  • Understand escalation triggers
  • Know the basics of the SolarWinds engineers toolset and how to integrate it with NPM
  • ** Understand HOW reportwriter works (how to create, clone, import, export – including to/from thwack)
  • ** Understand report design – timeframes, groupings, summarization
  • ** Understand WHAT report scheduler does (but not necessarily HOW to configure it)
  • ** Understand account settings – especially limitations and how they work
  • ** Understand network discovery, including the one we never use (seed file)
  • ** Know how to create a trap alert versus a regular alert (ditto for syslog)
  • ** Know the indicators that tell you the SolarWinds installation (database, etc) is over capacity
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