Cisco ACI in the CNPES Cert (Engineering Specialist)

Wendell Odom
By Wendell Odom June 4, 2015 09:05

Cisco’s current network programmability certs uses two exams per cert, with the second exam focusing on ACI. That represents the first ACI-focused specialist exams from Cisco, and a great reason to learn about ACI and validate that knowledge. Today’s post looks at the ACI-focused exam for the Cisco CNPES Cert exam: the 600-512 NPENGACI exam. We’ll look at both the exam and a related video course.

Other posts in this series:


First, to set the stage, Cisco rolled out their network programmability (read: SDN) certifications over a period of months, mostly in 2014. Figure 1 shows these four certs, with the engineering specialist cert focusing on engineering and implementation.

Figure 1: Overview of Cisco SDN Certifications


Today’s post focuses on the second exam: the 600-512 NPENGACI exam. The name itself is a bit of a mouthful:

Network Programmability ENGineering with ACI

Basically, the NPENG 600-504 exam covers SDN implementation excluding ACI, NPENGACI 600-512 exam includes ACI.

This list provides the links for more details – for the certification, each of the two exams, and each of Cisco’s two related video courses.

The certification: “Cisco Network Programmability Engineer Specialist”

The first exam: 600-504 NPENG

The second exam: 600-512 NPENGACI

The first video course: Implementing Cisco Network Programmability

The second video course: Implementing Cisco Network Programmability w/ ACI

Exam details: 55-65 questions, stated as 90 minutes, held at a proctored Vue exam center.

Certification prerequisite: Any CCNP

The Exam Topics

Two facts stood out when looking at the exam topics. For the first one, try a little game with me. Go ahead and take a look at the 600-512 exam topics linked below. And then ask yourself: How many different people wrote this list?

Exam Topics for 600-512 Exam

The first two sections of exam topics list only sparse info, mostly with generic nouns, and without almost no nouns specific to ACI. Then, in a dramatic shift – well, dramatic for blueprints at least – the last three sections list mostly ACI-specific terms.

From a practical perspective, ask yourself: what specific technical topics would you go study when reading the first two sections? Then ask yourself the same question about the last three sections. It’s night and day, almost like there were different authors for the list.

The detail of course is great news. I prefer to think of it as a 2/3rds full glass, rather than 1/3 empty.

Another dramatic fact jumped out from a simple comparison of the exam topics of the two exams for this CNPES certification. Specifically:

  • The five major topic areas are identical
  • The weightings of those five major topics are identical.


Figure 2: Weightings and Major Topics for BOTH 600-504 and 600-512


If you’d like to see for yourself, just open the 600-512 blueprint again along with the blueprint for the 600-504 exam.

Finally, it’s no surprise, but this exam is ACI, pure and simple. The blueprint lists the topics, but frankly anyone with Cisco ACI documentation or an ACI book could predict have of what’s in the list. ACI ACI ACI!


The Associated Course: Implementing Cisco Network Programmability with ACI

The ACI course shows roughly 6 hours of video lecture. Here’s a mind map image that has the outline of the videos.

Figure 3: Mind Map of Notes from Cisco ICNP-ACI Course


As for style, the video course explains ACI from a very basic beginning points. That style alone made me a fan of the product, because it doesn’t learn new learners behind – a common mistake with new technologies. This course could be some people’s first dive into ACI in any depth, so beginning with the basics makes perfect sense.

Also, a note on the course outline and the lengths of each section. The course organizes the parts with a little different numbering than what I’ve listed here, but basically there are 8 main parts. Numbering them sequentially, part 1 is longer than parts 2, 3, and 4 combined, while part 5 is longer than parts 6, 7, and 8 combined.



Commenting about an exam is always tricky due to NDA. As usual, I’m giving opinions here about public information, which may be of some use.

Details in the Exam Topics. Want to know what’s on the exam? Read the posted exam topics. Duh. But for some exams, the exam topics help only a little (esee 600-504), while in some cases, they help a lot. For this exam, the blueprint helps a lot.

Practice is a Problem, but Maybe It’s Not. Have you found a way to practice with ACI yet? Well, a lab would be nice, or borrowing someone else’s lab. But there are ways without owning the gear – for instance, buy the ACI Simulator (list around $16,000), or rent a lab from a CCIE prep company. Really? To pass one exam? But you can learn a lot about ACI without touching the gear. Personally, I think it would be reasonable to read, watch the videos, study, and take a crack at the exam even without access to ACI lab gear.

It’s not as difficult as the First Exam. The content of this exam is better defined, more concrete due to the more detailed exam topics, with good video and book resources for study. And this second CPNES cert exam follows more of a tried-and-true Cisco approach: ideas, protocols, configuration, verification, troubleshooting, and go pass the test. Comparing the two exams in this certification, the 600-512 is simply a better exam.


Final Thoughts

In comparison to say CCNA and CCNP, I’d say the 600-512 exam is more like the 2nd exam for CCNA (that is, ICND2). ICND1 can be very difficult because it’s many people’s first exam in networking, so they may have a lot to learn just to reach the prerequisites. ICND2 goes a little narrower but a little deeper, with a good foundation (ICND1 skills). In the same way, the 600-512 exam appears to have a reasonably narrow set of exam topics, and with 600-504 passed, you already have a good foundation.

The other big thought: you can make some good study progress for this exam with a book that’s not a cert guide. I found the Cisco Press book “The Policy Driven Data Center with ACI”, by Avramov and Portolani, to be quite useful relative to the exam. I still recommend that you watch the videos, but let’s face it, if you’re serious about ACI skills, you’d probably end up with this book anyway – go ahead and read it before taking this exam.

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Wendell Odom
By Wendell Odom June 4, 2015 09:05
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