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Updated: 14 hours 3 min ago

Updates to Cisco Labs/SBAs and a new VM

Wed, 03/28/2018 - 14:06

We have recently released updates to our NETLAB+ lab designs for the lab sets and skills-based assessments (SBAs) supporting the Cisco Networking Academy curriculum.  Please review the latest release notes for a list of all updated lab designs.

A new Windows 10 virtual machine is made available as a direct replacement for the Windows 7. This new VM is compatible with all current Cisco lab curriculums utilizing real-gear pods (MAP, MAP w/ASA, CRP, and CSP).

See the links below for information on compatible topologies and class settings:

Building a World-Class Distance Learning Program at Open University

Wed, 01/31/2018 - 08:26

We recently had the opportunity to sit down with Andrew Smith, Senior Lecturer in the STEM School of Computing and Communications at Open University. In this interview, he discusses how Open University solved its distance learning challenges and now delivers IT training to students all over the world.

Interviewer:  Thank you, Andrew, for joining us today. We’re excited to learn about the program you’ve built at Open University, and how you’re helping students all over the world get the IT training they need to advance their careers. Can you start by describing what you do there?

Andrew: I’m a senior academic. My main role is to run the Cisco Networking Academy for Open University, where our traditional cohort is teaching CCNA and CCNP students. But with that I do a lot of work around Linux, around forensics, around security, and around vendor engagement. So I do a lot of work with LPI, CompTIA, VMware, Cisco, Microsoft, and many others.

Interviewer: Can you tell us a little about the students you serve?

Andrew: Open University was created in the 1960s to be the university that could offer everybody a chance to get a degree. Today, we have over 150,000 students. It’s completely distance learning and adult based. Anybody under the age of 25 is unusual for us. Typically our main population — if you think about a histogram — is in the 25 to 45 population, and then it drops off, because that’s the prime time when people are looking for a degree or a master’s degree. They’re looking for that degree opportunity they didn’t have or didn’t want when they were younger. Currently, we do not typically have many 18 to 25 year olds, but we do have some. And after about the age of 45 it goes on a long tail out into retirement.

Interviewer: Got it. Where do your students go after Open University?

Andrew: We find that a lot of our students, especially at the postgraduate level, are already in the industry or in an area of the industry. They’re using it for personal development or personal progression. Some of our students are serving in the Armed Forces, because Cisco technology is a NATO-approved technology, so that is an advantage. And we’ve got some going off all over the world to do both mundane and fantastic things. One of my students who is doing the security module is traveling around Thailand fixing systems. I had another student on a mobile oil drilling platform in the South China Sea. It’s quite entertaining to keep track of where they work.

Interviewer: Does Open University primarily focus on degrees?

Andrew: Yes, we’re a full degree-awarding university. That’s where we get our money and reputation. We offer certification courses as a bonus. The Cisco and Linux certifications that we offer are part of our degree program. It’s a great benefit for students to be able to get their degree and these certifications as well. It’s powerful when they’re able to leave saying, “I’ve got a master’s degree in advanced networking, and I have the full CCNP, CCNA, and security certifications.” It’s about creating a win-win situation. We’re seeing that same thing with NDG’s Linux Essentials content. We’ve got a number of alumni who want to go and get that extra certification, either for their personal development and interest, or to help them move forward in their careers. So they’re seeing a double win in it.

Interviewer: Absolutely. Certifications can be a powerful differentiator on the job market. You mentioned that you’re using NDG’s Linux Essential course. Can you tell us a little more about that?

Andrew: We run what we call a non-accredited course, which is our terminology for any professional development course, and we use NDG’s Linux Essentials content for that. And that runs like a dream. Because we’re a Cisco ASC (Academy Support Center) as well, I’ve got a couple of academies that are very big on Linux. I’ve got a university in Hertfordshire and a school in Bedfordshire, which are counties near us, who are just big fans of Linux, and they are using the content to underpin their qualifications, whether it’s tech qualifications for schoolchildren or part of an undergraduate program. NDG’s Linux courses have made it really easy for us to support these other academic institutions and reach a wider community of students.

Interviewer: I understand that you’re also using NDG’s NETLAB+ platform to deliver online IT training. Can you tell us about that?

Andrew: We’ve had the NETLAB+ Academy Edition since 2005, and we’ve been using the Professional Edition since about 2010. We heavily use the NETLAB+ for our Cisco networking students, predominantly our CCNP students. But we also use it for our CCNA, because when we distance teach, we’ve got about 400 to 600 students learning networking, and a number of them cannot attend our day school classes because they’re serving in Her Majesty’s Armed Forces, or are disabled, or caring for family members. So to ensure that they have the right hands-on skills, we use NETLAB+. But otherwise we make them go to centers around the UK and get hands-on with live equipment in front of them.

Interviewer: Why did you choose NETLAB+? What were you using before that?

Andrew: NETLAB+ was one of the keys that solved our distance learning problem. Before NETLAB+ was available, we were still going to do the day schools, but we weren’t going to have any time for the students to develop practical skills. The challenge is they have to learn all the technical skills, they have to learn how to configure, and they have to learn how to cable. The content is good, but it can be very dry and theory-based without the practical. So, we were going to do the day schools, but we had to compress a lot of stuff into the day schools, and we were going to have to turn them into long weekend sessions, which were going to be very expensive to run and a huge logistical problem to solve.

But, of course, as soon as NETLAB+  came along, we were able to reduce it down to one day. The students are able to do all the practice remotely on NETLAB+, so then we can just bring them in for a day to work on condensed activities, and then do the assessment.

And the bookable interface on NETLAB+ is an absolute bonus, because I can create community rules and I can control how much time students get on the equipment, and then they can manage their own time accordingly. So they get to choose, but within the constraints we give them.

Interviewer: Wonderful. It sounds like you identified some clear benefits to NETLAB+ at the very beginning. Are there any other advantages that you discovered after using it more regularly?

Andrew: Yes. For the alternative learning students, they have to complete some practical activities, and we have to be able to see that they’re doing it. NETLAB+ has a feature that lets you go into all the accounts and look at the logs of what they’re doing. At the moment we’re in the window of the final day school. We have a technician that goes in and just checks. So students say, “Oh, I’ve done that.” And you go and look and you just go, “Oh, dear, no you haven’t,” or, “That looks like a lot of commands for one line.” Most of our students are very honest individuals, but every once in a while you’ll get one or two that will try to see what they can get away with.

Also the students might make mistakes, and we’re able to go in and just look and say, “Aha, you did that.” So even though it’s a totally asynchronous experience, we can email them and say, “Next time just don’t do that. Do this.” And they have their personal “aha” moments. For TSHOOT it’s fantastic. (The TSHOOT is the CCNP troubleshooting certification.) The fact that NETLAB+ loads the trouble ticket, prepares it, and then students can save it and move that save through to another booking—it’s very powerful. We limit the amount of time our students can spend on the system to stop individuals from “camping” and let others use it too. But because of that feature, we’re able to let students save their work and push it through to the next session, where it will boot up and let them pick up where they left off. It’s simple, but it’s very good.

Interviewer: What does the future hold for NETLAB+ at Open University?

Andrew: We’re actually quite keen to explore how to use NETLAB+ to connect other technology. We have an open STEM lab where we have robotics equipment and National Instruments equipment. We have a telescope in Tenerife. We have a Mars Rover, because we do a lot of work with NASA. And we’re looking at how we can use the NETLAB+ bookable interface with all of that technology. As well as looking at routine networking scenarios, because it’s quite a straightforward platform to use. Basically it’s sending control signals. It’s got good bookable interface. And now that the Virtual Edition also has a HTML5 applet, it will actually become more friendly to things like this. It’s shiny, shiny friendly, which I do like.

Interviewer: Do you have any advice for other institutions who might be considering using NETLAB+?

Andrew: Yeah, buy it! Know what you want it for and why you’re going to use it. Once you understand that, it is an incredibly powerful and agile tool. I have a server room filled with lots of routing and switching equipment and NETLAB+ systems, and I do a lot of show-and-tell activities, taking senior management and other notables alone. Because everything is in the cloud, until I take them in the server room and they see it. And suddenly it starts making sense, even if they’re not technical. They get to see inside our server, and see the NETLAB+ system, and see all the flashing lights, and see that there are students on there at all sorts of weird and wonderful times.

Cisco Networking Academy Helps Close the IT Skills Gap at Chapel Hill High School

Wed, 01/24/2018 - 08:01

A new school year is underway, and at Chapel Hill High School (CHHS) in North Carolina that means a new class of students who will begin something very different from the traditional set of humanities, math and science classes.

CHHS is part of a growing movement among high schools to offer computer science and engineering classes alongside standard college prep curriculum. These schools recognize that a solid technical education is a prerequisite for many careers in today’s technology-driven world. And it’s essential to addressing the looming IT skills gap—currently estimated at 1 million unfilled positions.


The World’s Largest Classroom: Inside the Cisco Networking Academy

Like many of its counterparts, CHHS is a member of the Cisco Networking Academy (NetAcad). NetAcad is a corporate social responsibility program run by Cisco, the world leader in networking equipment. The program gives educational institutions access to the curriculum and support resources they need to deliver IT training and provide students with hands-on experience with technology.

The Cisco Networking Academy is a great resource for high schools like CHHS. It provides operational support through regional Academy Support Centers (ASCs), training to teachers through its network of Instructor Training Centers (ITCs), and a complete library of proven curriculum.

“At Chapel Hill, we’re lucky to have Stanly Community College as our ASC,” explains Jennifer Walker, a NetAcad instructor at CHHS. “Just this past year, I needed to upgrade our lab equipment, and they suggested vendors and provided information on the equipment to match the courses in our Academy. Every year they host ASC meetings, during which they provide curriculum updates, industry trends, and connections to businesses. The ASC team at Stanley Community College is always available to help and share their expertise. They’re just great.”


A New Approach to Instructor Training

Stanly Community College also serves as the NetAcad ITC for CHHS. Walker had prior experience with the Cisco Networking Academy, but desired training updates in the course curriculum. So three years ago when Walker needed to complete instructor training to teach the CCNA Routing and Switching curriculum, she took the first ITC course over the summer at Stanly Community College. She followed up with the second course during the fall semester.

It can be challenging for busy teachers to take career development training, especially in complex subjects like IT networking. “Instructors today just don’t have the time or money to travel to training and spend a week in a classroom,” notes Kelly Caudle, Program Head at Stanly Community College. “That’s why we use NDG’s NETLAB+ system to train instructors at other Cisco academies. With NETLAB+ we’re able to give them remote access to equipment and teach those courses online.”

NDG’s NETLAB+ is a remote access solution that allows academic institutions to host real IT equipment, virtual machines, and a wide variety of curriculum content options. NETLAB+ includes all the software needed to provide an environment through which instructors can manage IT courses, and learners can schedule and complete lab exercises.

“I had to take the Routing and Switching Essentials course in the fall, in addition to teaching,” explains Walker. “Being able to complete the course online really helped. I loved the ability [NETLAB+ provides] to access equipment remotely. It’s such a great platform to use, especially useful for those taking the courses online.”

Now Walker and the other instructors who have been through the ITC at Stanly Community College are equipped with the training they need to teach the students in their communities. In total, the ASC and ITC program at Stanly supports 62 academies (high schools, community colleges, and universities) in North Carolina, and 140 academies total across the Southeast.

Read the case study to learn how Stanly Community College is using NETLAB+ to build a world-class IT training program in rural North Carolina.


More than Technical Training

The value of career technical education (CTE) programs like NetAcad extends beyond the material students are taught. Research shows that high school students who participate in CTE programs are less likely to drop out, have higher academic performance, and are more prepared for both college and careers.

“I love CTE,” Walker says, “I see that students are able to understand and apply what they learn in their other classes. We’re able to pull in science, math, social studies, language, arts, and vocabulary related to each. We give students a way to apply information from other classes and see the importance of those classes now, rather than wait until they get a job or go to college.”


Closing the Skills Gap in North Carolina, and Beyond

More than 9,000 institutions in 170+ countries have joined the Cisco Networking Academy since its inception in 1997. Together, they have helped prepare nearly 7 million people for IT careers. The numbers are certainly remarkable—but what’s even more impressive is the impact that the program has had on individuals and their communities.

Walker explains, “So many of my students continue to IT careers, and they often report that the skills they learned in the Cisco Networking Academy courses were a great foundation and made future courses easier to understand.” Many of her students receive professional IT certifications and then continue their education at universities and community colleges.

Readers interested in seeing the extraordinary impact of Walker’s program can follow her on Twitter (@LearnITWalker).

Northern New Mexico College Expands IT Program with Virtualization Platform

Tue, 01/16/2018 - 11:17

Northern New Mexico College (NNMC) is a small college that primarily serves minority students in the rural communities surrounding Española, NM. NNMC’s IT program has only been operating for nine years, yet it’s been awarded several prestigious National Science Foundation grants and has quickly expanded both its curriculum and its reach. In this interview, Department Chair Dr. Jorge Crichigno discusses the unique challenges of serving rural communities and how NDG’s NETLAB+ platform has contributed to NNMC’s success.


Interviewer: Thank you, Dr. Crichigno, for joining us today. We’re excited to learn about the IT program you’ve built at Northern New Mexico College. Can you start by telling us a little about your program and your students?

Dr. Crichigno: Sure, we’re located in a rural area in New Mexico, in the northern part of the state. It’s a small college, with about 1200 students. We’re in a region that suffers from chronic poverty. Our students are mostly minorities (74% Hispanic and 11% Native Americans), and they are often underprepared for college.

NNMC was a community college until 2005, when it was decided to begin offering bachelor degrees. And one of them was in Information Engineering Technology (IET). The IET program started in 2009 with around 15 students, and we’ve grown to about 70 students today. We partnered with Cisco for the Cisco Networking Academy in 2011, then VMware in 2015, and soon we’ll be adding Palo Alto Networks. As you know, we use NETLAB+ to deliver much of the laboratory experience that is essential for the employers here.

Interviewer: That’s great. Why did you decide to use NETLAB+ to deliver your labs?

Dr. Crichigno: Northern New Mexico is in the Rocky Mountains. We get a lot of snow during the winter, and many of our students live in remote villages. They have to drive maybe an hour in normal conditions—and the snow makes it much more difficult and dangerous. So, we wanted to have a laboratory setting that allowed students to do their labs remotely, regardless of weather conditions.

The other reason is that NETLAB+ makes our lives easier. I teach classes. I’m the Chair of the College of Engineering, and I have plenty of other responsibilities like working on grants and accreditation. I don’t have a technician to help me with the labs. NETLAB+ makes it easy, because students just login to the website, reserve a time and complete the lab. There’s no need for me to set anything up, manage scheduling or do any of the troubleshooting that may be required in a physical setting. Everything is just ready to go.

Interviewer: How has NETLAB+ impacted your program?

Dr. Crichigno: Now students all over northern New Mexico can access the labs remotely. They can complete labs whenever they want. During the day, late at night, on the weekends—lab use is much better distributed over time. So we’re able to use less equipment to serve the same number of students.

NETLAB+ has also enabled our program to expand. NNMC is about 30 miles from Santa Fe, the state capital. There’s only one community college in Santa Fe, and no public four-year institutions. We recently opened a branch of NNMC in the Higher Education Center (HEC). HEC is a center built by the state of New Mexico where four-year institutions can offer bachelor degrees. NNMC decided to offer the IET program in Santa Fe as well. We don’t have an IT laboratory in Santa Fe. But with NETLAB+ students are able to connect to the equipment here on our Española campus. NNMC is expecting to grow, because Santa Fe is a larger city than Española and there is a need for four-year programs in the IT area.

Interviewer: It’s exciting to see how NETLAB+ is enabling your program to grow. I saw that you were recently awarded an National Science Foundation grant to develop a cybersecurity concentration. How is NETLAB+ helping you there?

Dr. Crichigno:  CCNA Security labs are very long, and they use many pieces of equipment. If a student wants to do a CCNA Security lab, it takes a whole pod with three routers and switches and a security appliance. For a 10-student class, it is hard to do the lab, because it takes a lot of time, two to three hours to finish the lab, sometimes more. Now with a NETLAB+ setting, preparing the network topology takes just five minutes, and that’s nothing compared with the 30 to 60 minutes that it may take to set up the network topology in the physical environment. And of course they can do it at any time.

Plus, NETLAB+ gives us access to all the curriculum. If I had to develop the curriculum, it would take quite a bit of time. It might not even be possible with all the responsibilities I have. NETLAB+ makes it very easy to adopt the curriculum. That’s one of the great features. It’s ready, robust, and it works.

Interview:  Last question, as we wrap up. What do you enjoy most about teaching at Northern New Mexico College?

Dr. Crichigno: The most rewarding part of my job is seeing students graduate and get job offers that are life-changing. Students who are coming from a very poor region, at the end of the road they’re getting offers from $80,000 to $90,000 per year, which changes the life of an entire family, not only the students. There are challenges, and it is not easy. Many of our students have families, work full-time, and  have to study at the same time. These imply multiple responsibilities and economic needs. Yet, despite all that they are able to finish the program and get a better life after graduating.

Read the case study to learn how NNMC is using NETLAB+ to overcome geographical challenges in rural New Mexico.

NETLAB+ Content Additions: Palo Alto, VMware and Cisco

Wed, 01/10/2018 - 16:23

NDG is pleased to announce the following additions to our supported curriculum content options for NETLAB+.

Palo Alto Networks Firewall 8.0 Essentials (EDU-210) 

These labs will enhance the student’s understanding of how to configure and anage Palo Alto Networks next-generation firewalls. The student will gain hands-on experience configuring, managing and monitoring a firewall in a lab environment.

VMware vSphere Install, Configure, Manage v6.5

These labs provide hands-on training in the skills needed to install, configure and manage VMware vSphere using a variety of vSphere functions and features.

CCNA Security 2.0 – Updated Lab Design

The CCNA Security curriculum prepares you to design, implement, and support security for networked devices. Add a security specialty to your CCNA networking skills and expand your career opportunities. This course will help you will aid you in developing a working knowledge of network security principles, tools and configurations.

  • The lab design has been updated to support the use of an ASA-5506 device. Labs have been added to support the use of the ASA-5506 for CCNA Security 2.0 labs that require an ASA. Do note that labs with the tagging of [ASA 5506] are to be completed using only the ASA-5506 device in the MAP w/ASA pod topology, otherwise the labs without the tagging can be completed using previously recommended models of the ASA.
  • Please see the NDG website for details on the CCNA Security 2.0 labs, including compatible topologies and class settings.
  • Please refer also to the details on implementing a Multi-purpose Academy Pod with ASA.

From Packages to Packets: Northern New Mexico College Graduate Launches New IT Career

Tue, 01/09/2018 - 09:22

Just a few years ago, Chase Harrison was working as a shipping clerk in a Colorado paper warehouse when a routine upgrade to the warehouse logistics network brought the shipping department to a standstill—and set him on an inspiring new path towards a career in IT networking and high-performance computing.

“We were waiting for a switch to be installed, and the contractor didn’t show up,” recalls Harrison. “Shipping and receiving was completely shutdown. We couldn’t ship anything or order anything, and my boss asked if I could figure it out. I said, ‘Sure.’ I started Googling stuff and figuring it out, and then the installer finally showed up. I talked to him while he was installing it, and that really piqued my curiosity about networking.”

Little could he imagine how far his curiosity would take him. Harrison bought a Force10 switch off eBay, installed it on his home network, and started playing with it. That experience led him to earn his associates degree, and then get a job as a desktop support specialist at IBM. He went from there to Anthem BlueCross/BlueShield, where he had the opportunity to install new Cisco switches to upgrade the network. He fell in love with networking.

He also fell in love with a girl, his now-wife Tina. He moved to New Mexico to start a life with her and pursue a career in networking. He recalls, “She said there’s Los Alamos National Laboratory out here. They’re really into IT and high-performance computing. They need students. Would you want to come over and finish your Bachelor’s degree? And I was like, ‘Yeah, that’d be great.’ So I quit my job and moved everything over here. That’s when I discovered Northern New Mexico College [NNMC].”


A New Approach to IT Training

NNMC offers an ABET-accredited bachelor degree in Information Engineering Technology and is a member of the Cisco Networking Academy. The college serves mostly rural communities within a 40-mile radius of its campus in Española, New Mexico.

Because of the challenging terrain and weather conditions in the Rocky Mountains, NNMC uses Network Development Group’s NETLAB+ platform to provide remote access to its IT laboratory equipment. This enables learners to complete IT labs from anywhere they have an Internet connection.

Harrison credits the NETLAB+ system with helping him complete his degree and obtain the hands-on networking skills sought after by today’s employers. “NETLAB+ made a huge difference for me,” Harrison explains. “I was working full-time and going to school full-time, so my only free time was late at night and on the weekends. Mostly Saturdays and Sundays were my catch-up time—reading chapters, doing the labs, trying to catch up on everything throughout the week and be prepared for the next week. So it was a great benefit being able to do it from home, whenever I wanted to.”

Read the case study to learn how NNMC uses NETLAB+ to overcome geographical challenges in rural New Mexico.


Ready for Opportunity—and a New Career

The great film producer Samuel Goldwyn once said, “The harder I work, the luckier I get.”

Harrison’s journey has been a testament to the truth of this statement. His diligence as a student at NNMC led the IET Department Chair Dr. Jorge Crichigno to invite Harrison to work on a NSF-funded project to deploy a 10-Gbps network on campus. Harrison later learned that Los Alamos National Lab (LANL), where he worked as a system administrator, used the same technology in its lab. This enabled him to join the HPC team at LANL.

“Then after I graduated from Northern,” he continues, “I got hired full-time as a computing system professional, and they opened up a new job where I’ll be doing not just networking, but I’ll be doing file systems, I’ll be doing architecture, I’ll be working with future technology. So I was excited to get my hands on more high-performance computing stuff. That’s what I’m doing now.”

Harrison believes that a successful IT career begins with a passion for learning: “With IT, it’s like being a doctor. All this new technology comes out, so you can’t just be comfortable. You’ve got to keep researching, you’ve got to keep looking at the future. It’s a good thing, always learning, That’s what I always strive to do is just learn, learn, learn, as much as I can.”

Harrison has enjoyed an incredible journey from the paper warehouse to his dream job at LANL, and he’s grateful to the IET program at NNMC for preparing him for the future. “NNMC is a great place. It’s very affordable, and the teachers there are just amazing. They’re passionate about what they do and what they teach. I’d highly recommend the program to anyone interested in an IT career. I learned so much and just had the best time there.”

“I’m also grateful for my mentors at LANL,” Harrison notes. “I wouldn’t be where I am today without all the help and support I’ve received from Jeremy Martinez, Adrian Romero, Susan Coulter, Jesse Martinez, Chuck Wilder, Alex Montano and James Cash.”