Zero to F5-CTS LTM Certified!
It’s been nearly a year since the DevCentral team wrestled the 101 exam to the mat at Agility 2016. This last week, I finished the road to the F5 Certified Technology Specialist Local Traffic Manager (F5-CTS LTM) certification, with a passing score on the 301B exam! I don’t usually get test anxiety, but I had that in spades in the days leading up to the 301B. I’m not sure if I felt I hadn’t prepared well enough or if it was the thought of the merciless mocking from my peers that was sure to come should I walk out with the cone of shame. BUT...once in the examination room, there was no time to worry, I had to get on with it!
Rather than recap all the exams necessary to get here, I’d like to focus on a few areas that might help you in your own journey to LTM certification.
Test Taking Strategies
All the exams are 80 questions and 90 minutes in length, with time exceptions for ESL examinees. This means you have roughly 1 minute and 8 seconds per question. If you look at the blueprints for each test, you’ll see the Cognitive Complexity Key in play for each objective, each bullet requiring more brain power and thus time to accomplish:
- R - Remember
- A/E - Analyze/Evaluate
- U/A - Understand/Apply
For knowledge questions, this is plenty of time, you know it or you don’t. But for the analysis/application type questions, you will need more time than that, and sometimes, a lot more time than that. So I would suggest on knowledge questions, answer quickly and flag for review where necessary. This serves the dual purpose of a) preserving time and b) allowing future questions to perhaps inform your answer on previous questions that you might change.
One thing that wastes precious seconds is not viewing the entirety of a diagram or config shown in the pop up dialogs. Make sure you slide the vertical and horizontal sliders to their full highth and width before closing them to answer the question, otherwise, you’ll have to open the diagrams again and do so before you can move on.
Also, use the booklet the test center gives you! I use it primarily for the following three purposes:
- Drawings. I find it cumbersome to go back/forth from diagrams to the questions and answers, so where it makes sense, I recreate the drawings and configs with enough detail to evaluate the answers.
- The question numbers I flagged for review and the issue covered. Sometimes when it is fresh, I like to go back before review if I am clued into the right answer for that question, so knowing exactly where to go is useful.
- To write down concepts I’d like to review after the test that I’m less clear on. You can’t take this with you afterward, but by writing it down, I’m able to recall most of it when I leave the test center, and I sit in my car and write as much of the list down as possible, expanding on any ideas I might explore (or write about!) for future study.
General Test Information
Obviously, the blue prints and study guides are your friends, and should be the starting point for preparation. But past the 101, if you don’t get your hands on at least a virtual edition of the BIG-IP, you are seriously hindering your chances at passing the exams.
Make sure you are doing your CLI/GUI prep work on the TMOS version covered by the test!
There are some nuances in TMOS behaviors between versions that might impact your working knowledge of the product as it relates to the test. Profiles are a big part of the 301A/B tests, and there are many changes to where some features might be, or changes in default behaviors for these profiles. This is true for monitors, virtual server precedence/flow, and many other features as well, so be on guard for version-dependent information.
All of the blueprint information is important and shows up on the tests, but If I were to encourage you to focus in a handful of primary areas of study it would be:
- Virtual servers - From types, protocols and profile management, to SNATs and pools, the virtual server is THE system object that moves data through the box. It is critical to have deep understanding in this area.
- Profiles - Virtual servers allow things to move, but the power to make things move securely, effectively, and efficiently resides in your profiles. Knowing not only what individual profiles perform what functions, but how to customize, and how to combine with other profiles is necessary.
- Pool Members & Monitors - How pool ratios and available members work, what “disabled” really means, how monitors work, how they impact pool member status, pool status, and virtual server status. How to debug monitors. All important stuff.
- Load Balancing Algorithms - Application delivery is a slightly important feature in the F5 product line, so this knowledge is a must.
- System Stuff - Backups, High Availability options, Self-IPs and port lockdown, differences between TMM & Host.
- For the 301B Specifically - In addition to knowing all the BIG-IP stuff as it relates to the LTM module, you really need to know the HTTP protocol fairly well, and be very comfortable with the operation and analysis of the tcpdump utility. I can’t emphasize enough how important it is to know these things well.
Make no mistake, these are not easy tests! Kudos to the certification team for creating a certification path that requires a lot more than memorization skills. I’m nowhere near as familiar with the nuances of the BIG-IP as I was when I was operationally responsible for them, but that said, if you study diligently and put the time in on the command line and the web interface, you should have the tools to achieve certification as well!