The Juniper JNCIS-MistAI Certification

Last year I partnered with a new IT-consulting company to support them with their Cisco projects. And when they asked if I also want to go for Juniper Mist, I directly agreed. Every opportunity to do more wireless work is highly welcomed. Part of this was the qualification to the JNCIS-MistAI certification which is described on the MistAI certification page:

https://www.juniper.net/us/en/training/certification/tracks/mist-ai/jncis-mistai.html

These were the steps on my way to the JNCIS-MistAI:

  1. Going through the free JNCIA-MistAI training
  2. Passing the JNCIA-MistAI exam
  3. Getting hands-on experience with Mist Access-Points
  4. Attending the JNCIS-MistAI training
  5. Further Exam preparation
  6. Passing the JNCIS-MistAI exam

Step 1: The free JNCIA-MistAI training

Passing the JNCIA-MistAI is a requirement for the Specialist certification. Going through this free training not only prepares for this exam, finishing the training also gives you a discount for the exam. I can recommend this for everyone looking for basic wireless knowledge and also for every CWNA candidate. The basic topics are presented in a very clear way and it’s fun to follow along.

Step 2: Passing the JNCIA-MistAI Exam

Next step is the Associate exam. After going through the training, the exam fee is reduced to $50. Based on the Juniper certification page, passing the Associate exam is the prerequisite for the Specialist certification. This exam is delivered by PearsonVue, same as most of the Cisco exams, but it’s needed to create a new Login for Juniper in addition to Cisco.

The test itself was clear and fair, what I can not say about every Cisco exam I did before.

Step 3: Getting hands-on experience with Mist Access-Points

As with any system, this is what I consider the most important part. I got two Mist AP33 and moved two productive SSIDs (Business and IoT) from my Meraki APs to Mist. With this I was able to test a lot of the Mist features in “real life”. More tests followed to better understand the system, the Guest-Portals work like a charm and also the integration into the Cisco ISE with group-based access-control worked as expected.

Step 4: Attending the JNCIS-MistAI training

Last week I attended the official Juniper training for the Specialist certification. The training was a mix of one day WLAN basics (I think that was a little bit too much, as this is also covered in the Associate training) and three days of going through the features of Mist. This was definitely one of the better trainings compared to the ones I have attended before. One reason was probably the trainer, Raymond Hendrix, CWNE #274, who did a great job.

Step 5: Further Exam preparation

As a last preparation for the exam I went again through the complete courseware and did the labs on my equipment. For each topic of the courseware I also went through the Mist documentation. At least for previous Cisco exams, the “documentation and labs” strategy worked quite good most of the time.

Step 6: Passing the JNCIS-MistAI exam

The exam itself consisted of 65 questions in max 90 minutes.

As always, I had doubt if I was prepared enough when I went to the testing center (this time I visited again a “real” testing center). But as it turned out, this was not the case, and this is my main criticism for this exam. For a specialist certification it was far too easy. The WLAN fundamentals questions were equal or even below the level of the Associate exam. For some questions it was easy to rule out three out of the four answers because they were obviously wrong. It still was not so easy to score 100%, my weak areas were Marvis (the AI engine) and automation. I knew that I had these weak areas, but I was hoping that these didn’t weight too high. Other than with Cisco, the Juniper exam objectives do not specify the percentage for each area.

But all in all, I would suspect that it is possible to pass this exam with only going through the free Associate training. And this is not what I would expect from a Specialist certification.

Comparing the JNCIS-MistAI certification to Cisco Meraki CMSS

Cisco Meraki is my primary platform that I implement for customer network. Both Meraki and Mist started with wireless, both were bought by one of the major players in the networking space and then expanded into other areas in addition to wireless. Both have their strengths and shortcomings, but they both also have a Specialist certification. How do they compare to each other? 

I did the Meraki CMSS (Cisco Meraki Solutions Specialist) two years ago and also wrote a blogpost about it.

To summarise it, the CMSS was much more complex and more difficult than the JNCIS-MistAI. One reason is that the Meraki exam tests nearly the complete Meraki Full-Stack while the Mist exam focuses on wireless, but also slightly touches the wired part. Perhaps the exam will be harder in a future revision when eventually more switching and SD-WAN gets included. This is just a guess, but the Mist cloud management moves in this direction and I would expect that at least the specialist certification will test on this later.

But more important, the depth of the Meraki questions and the needed knowledge to pass the exam was much harder than with the Mist exam.

For the preparation, I found out that the Meraki documentation is far better than the Mist documentation. Most of the Mist documentation is like “If you want A, then click this checkbox”. But often no deeper insight about why or what the consequences of specific options are. This is more detailed in the Meraki documentation.

Summary

Was this certification worth the effort? For sure! The whole process made me more confident to implement Mist WLANs and I look forward to do so. The specialist training filled some gaps that I had (and of which I were aware). The overall system is really great and much more flexible than the Meraki WLAN. But for the Full-Stack, I will probably still prefer Meraki in most cases.

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