Online Cisco CCNA Study Course Review (I've tried several)

I've been studying for the CCENT/CCNA exam as I have time over the last few months.  It has not been the MOST important thing on my plate, but the courses have very much been a reference for me that I use to study for the exam as I have an opportunity to do so.  

What I'm going to do with this review is more or less give my opinion of the trainer as they all seemed to cover very similar info.  The difference being the person that is talking to you...and the interface that the vendor provides for you to receive the course on (web/mobile/etc).  At the end of the review I'll also list who I'd recommend based on different mindsets I think you might have when looking for a course (let me know if I missed one or ten)...

Also, for content delivery I'll list what I have used...their might be other mediums available that I'm not aware of so if you need a different option I'd recommend researching it.

*All info was valid based on the info I had at the time of writing this, but will most likely change

I'm going to list them in my overall order of preference (my desire to keep listening to the person)...

  1. CBT Nuggets - http://www.cbtnuggets.com/
    • Trainer: Jeremy Cioara (Bio)
    • Cost:
      • Individual
        • $99/mo
        • $999/yr
      • Corporate
        • Starts at $1499/yr and includes...
          • 5 user accounts
          • 1 license
          • 1 user at a time
        • Nice thing about this is that a manager can pass around the seat as an employee needs to learn something.  This allows each employee to have his on account to track progress/take tests/etc.
    • Content Delivery:
      • Web
      • App
    • Thoughts:
      This is the course that I like to listen to above any other.  Jeremy is fun to listen to mainly due to his energy that he projects in the course.  They say a person can bring down a room by being all gloom and doom...  I feel the opposite is true as well, so the fact that he stays excited about the information that could otherwise be extremely boring helps A LOT.  The other thing that I LOVED about the CBT course is that he offers a CCNA in the real world, where you can take what you have learned and then apply it to scenarios that you would be likely to face once you had a job and goes into how to solve them.  Last major benefit that I think they have...a course that covers GNS3.  GNS3 is a way to emulate IOS on your machine so you can have however many routers you need running virtually on your computer and not need to buy real equipment.  (It's still recommended that you buy hardware at some point, but this allows you to get your feet wet without shelling out several hundred bucks)

      With all of that being said...it's the most expensive of all the ones I've used...guess you do really get what you pay for.
  2. The Bryant Advantage - http://www.udemy.com
    • Trainer: Chris Bryant (Bio)
    • Cost: $125
    • Content Delivery:
      • Web
      • App (Udemy)
    • Thoughts:
      This is BY FAR the best one and done option (pay once and you own it).  Chris also has very good energy as he's teaching.  The thing that I didn't like about his course was that besides the occasional lab equipment usage what you see on the screen is the same as the document that you can download (not very interesting visually).  I tend to find a slide show about what is being talked about to be a lot more interesting when there isn't just a block of text to look at.  My other issue is that the network diagrams don't list enough detail for me to follow along at anything besides a mile-high view.  So if you are someone like me that would like to use a lab along with the course to help info sink in...this might be an issue for you as well.
  3. Trainsignal - http://www.trainsignal.com
    • Trainer: Joe Rinehart
    • Cost: $50/mo
    • Content Deliver:
      • Web
      • (App in development, but not released at time of writing this)
    • Thoughts:
      Joe seems to know his stuff and is easy to follow, but did seem to lack the energy of Jeremy and Chris.  This isn't a bad thing and I'm sure a lot of people would actually PREFER that.  This is a very good course and content wise would go head to head with 1 & 2...I just prefer the deliver of those better.
  4. In 60 Days - http://www.in60days.net
    • Trainer: Paul Browning
    • Cost: Varies depending on how you buy...from what I remember
    • Content Deliver: 
      • Web
      • eBook
    • Thoughts:
      Paul seems to have a lot of successful students, but I'm guessing that all the options here will have successful students if the students apply themselves.  I did not give this (online) course much of a chance...mainly because from what I've seen online.  I just don't like how he responds to prospective students.  He seems to have quite an ego and you get that in his responses which at times come across as much less than friendly.  Read through the responses he gives and much rather than just answering a question he almost seems to scold the person for not finding it.  The one thing I do use of his is the subnetting secrets chart.  I find it easy to follow/use.  If you have a Kindle (or just the app) his books are inexpensive and do have good info.  The other nice thing about this course...if you have two hours a day the course claims to get you passed in 60 days.  It offers you a very rigid schedule if you like that type of structure.
  5. IT University Online - http://www.ituonline.com
    • Trainer:
    • Cost: $100
    • Content Delivery: Web
    • Thoughts: Horrible! The trainer is "bad." However, the production of the whole thing is simply HORRIBLE...  You have the trainer reading to you from a (obvious) green screen and the player is horrendous.  I'd have a really really hard time recommending this to anyone when there are better options (above) for the same or less money.

While CBT Nuggets and Trainsignal are a monthly fee...you get A LOT for your money.  Both offer an EXTREMELY broad range of courses.  So if you need to know something about Active Directory one day and then Cisco the next they both offer an extremely good value.  If Cisco is your only goal...this is going to be your call.  If you are someone that can study quickly and absorb the info then all three of the top options listed above are something that I'd recommend.  CBT Nuggets and Trainsignal have the added benefit of allowing you to move straight into a Voice/Wireless/Security concentration OR start on CCNP (and beyond).

Recommendations if you are looking for...

  • Presentation: CBT Nuggets
  • Quality: CBT Nuggets (However, all the top three are good.)
  • Cost: The Bryant Advantage (This wins since it's a one and done purchase)

If you asked me for a recommendation without any limiting factors it would HANDS DOWN be CBT Nuggets.  They have a huge selection of classes and all seem to be really good!

Also, I wanted to mention Boson.  Boson is a company that makes simulators for Cisco equipment.  They also make study material and other certification related products, but I've purchased their Simulator and test prep software and found it to be a decent option to real equipment.  The simulator can still be a little buggy and frustrating at times, but if you want equipment that you can take with you anywhere on a laptop it's a really really good tool for that.  It's nice to be able to open a laptop and have a lab handy at any point.  It does (on occasion) have issues with using tab to complete a command or writing in ios shorthand.  Beyond that it generally functions good enough for an *anywhere* practice solution.

Using .less{} (dotless) with MVC4 Web Optimization

I have been searching long and hard for how to find a way to preserve most of the Web.Optimization capabilities in MVC4 when using less to build my CSS.  I found a post by Ben Cull that got me MOST of the way.  Essentially there are a few easy steps that you need to take in order to enable this.  The primary change that I made was to turn on minification if I was running in DEBUG mode vs RELEASE.\

Steps to get less transforms working with Web Optimization...

  1. Install the BundleTransformer.less package from nuget.
    1. Using this... "Install-Package BundleTransformer.Less" in the Package Manager Console
    2. Once this installs it will pop-up a new open file with some modifications that you need to make to the web.config of your project.
  2. The rest is in code and I'll post below.  Some of this is from Ben Cull and some is the modifications that I have made...  I'm only including my less bundle which is what I have modified.  All the other bundling techniques work just fine in my situation.

 

public static void RegisterBundles(BundleCollection bundles)
     {

            BundleTable.EnableOptimizations = true; //Comment or un-comment this line to force bundling/minification in a project so you can see how it will behave at release.

            var cssTrans = new CssTransformer();

            var cssMin = new CssMinify();

            var nullOrdered = new NullOrderer();


            var siteLess = new StyleBundle("~/Content/less/siteLess").Include(

                "~/Content/less/bootstrap.less",

                "~/Content/less/responsive.less",

                "~/Content/less/site.less");

            siteLess.Transforms.Add(cssTrans);

#if !DEBUG

            siteLess.Transforms.Add(cssMin);

#endif

            siteLess.Orderer = nullOrdered;

            bundles.Add(siteLess);
     }

I have removed all the non relevant bundles that I have enabled on the site I'm working on.  Simply retain what you have add the transform variables at the start of your method and you should be good to go!

SimpleMembership Provider Oauth Issues (and fix)

I've been experimenting with the MVC4 template to possibly rebuild a site I had recently started.  The sites that I build are all on a shared hosting provider (Arvixe).  One of the issues that I had is that when you create a database on Arvixe it sets the table schema to whoever the owner is.

SimpleMembership expects a dbo schema name.  This turned out to be a simple fix luckily and something that I just happened to find myself and couldn't seem to find anywhere else.  The other issue that I had is that the only time this issue ever showed itself is when I enabled Oath and tried to log in with one of the providers.  The only thing that it shows on a deployed site (for me at least) was a HTTP 500 error.

The fix.... In ~/Models/AccountModels.cs

[Table("UserProfile", Schema = "YourSchemaNameHere")] 
public class UserProfile { 
    [Key] 
    [DatabaseGenerated(DatabaseGeneratedOption.Identity)] 
    public int UserId { get; set; } 
    public string UserName { get; set; } 
}

The above is the Object definition for a UserProfile and come into play anytime tries to connect through Oauth.  The default Table annotation for the class ONLY contains the [Table("UserProfile")] to correct it you have to access the overload on the annotation and pass in the Schema parameter.

Hosting Review - Arvixe

I recently switched to Arvixe from GoDaddy (and haven't looked back).  

I made the switch for a couple of reasons.

  1. GoDaddy was a supporter of SOPA
    1. They now have switched their stance to no longer supporting SOPA, but this was simply a business move...  I don't want to support a company that if given the opportunity would support something like SOPA
  2. GoDaddy isn't a full-trust provider
    1. This made it so that I couldn't even use the MySQL EntityFramework Library
  3. GoDaddy has a HORRIBLY limiting policy on database count and size
Arvixe on the other hand has several selling points that I have really enjoyed.
  1. Unlimited Space/Bandwidth/Databases/Email/etc
    1. (Databases do have an individual 10GB limit)
  2. 6 Domains are hosted on their Personal Class ASP hosting.  Step up to the PRO and you get unlimited ($3 extra month).
    1. On either plan you can have an unlimited number of subdomains
  3. They now support .NET 4.5!
  4. If you need SSL it's only $24/yr ($2/mo) for a dedicated IP for a given domain.
    1. Admittedly an actual SSL Cert is something that I will still buy from GoDaddy simply because they can be had for $17 (I believe) a year.
  5. On ALL their plans they offer a free .COM for life... So as long as you maintain hosting they will pay your yearly renewal.  They also sell a domain at a flat $10 which is cheaper then GoDaddy's renewal rates.
The (possible) "bad"
  • Arvixe's control panel isn't what GoDaddy's was, but I have yet to find anything that I can't do through it.  Just doesn't seem quite as streamlined.
  • It does "seem" that the traffic speed is slightly slower on Arvixe, but I have never done any benchmarking to compare the two so this may just be a perception thing.
    • It is still plenty fast and is still acceptable given the other benefits.
  • They are a full-trust provider.  For me this is a HUGE benefit.  However, it does open the server up to some possible issues, but at the moment I've NEVER had any issues because of this and the benefits FAR outweigh the POSSIBLE issues.
If you are looking for a host give them a shot.  They offer a 60-day money back offer when signing up.  If possible please use the links on the site vs typing into the address bar.  They have an Affiliate program that I'm part of and it's part of how I pay to keep the site up.

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