Breaking Down the Cisco ENCOR Exam: Architecture

by Bill Heller
encor exam
This is the first in a series of articles on the six sections of Cisco’s ENCOR certification exam 350-401, which leads to the CCNP Enterprise, CCIE Enterprise Infrastructure, CCIE Enterprise Wireless, and Cisco Certified Specialist – Enterprise Core certifications.

The Cisco’s new ENCOR exam 350-401 – or Enterprise Core Networking – for the CCNP/CCIE Enterprise is a beast of an exam! There are six major topic areas in this nearly 100-question exam. You’ll have roughly 120 minutes to navigate all of those questions.

The first section area is Architecture and is weighted at 15% of the overall exam. Topics in the Architecture area include:

1.1 Explain the different design principles used in an enterprise network

  • 1.1.a Enterprise network design such as Tier 2, Tier 3, and Fabric Capacity planning
  • 1.1.b High availability techniques such as redundancy, FHRP, and SSO

1.2 Analyze design principles of a WLAN deployment

  • 1.2.a Wireless deployment models (centralized, distributed, controller-less, controller based, cloud, remote branch)
  • 1.2.b Location services in a WLAN design

1.3 Differentiate between on-premises and cloud infrastructure deployments

1.4 Explain the working principles of the Cisco SD-WAN solution

  • 1.4.a SD-WAN control and data planes elements
  • 1.4.b Traditional WAN and SD-WAN solutions

1.5 Explain the working principles of the Cisco SD-Access solution

  • 1.5.a SD-Access control and data planes elements
  • 1.5.b Traditional campus interoperating with SD-Access

1.6 Describe concepts of wired and wireless QoS

  • 1.6.a QoS components
  • 1.6.b QoS policy

1.7 Differentiate hardware and software switching mechanisms

  • 1.7.a Process and CEF
  • 1.7.b MAC address table and TCAM
  • 1.7.c FIB vs. RIB

Well, what does all this mean exactly? I’m here to help break down the blueprint so you can focus in your studies.

The ENCOR exam includes some design aspects. This includes the 3-teir traditional network design, include core, distribution, and access layers, as well as the 2-teir design also known as collapsed core. In collapsed core, the core and distribution layers are condensed down into a single layer. What you don’t have to worry about on the ENCOR is spine and leaf. This is traditional a data center design and therefore is reserved for the Data Center Core exam.

If you’re coming to the CCNP Enterprise from the old 200-125 exam days then you’ll recognize the next section which includes FHRP, or First Hop Redundancy Protocol. These protocols are in place to protect, generally, the default gateway for a LAN. All the major ones are on the table here, including Cisco’s own GLBP and HSRP, as well as the more open VRRP.

The next exam section focuses on Wireless. Here you should become familiar with many different aspects of wireless technology, including frequency assignments, channels, different styles of antennas and their associated radiation patterns. You’ll also need to understand the common sources of interference to both 2.4GHz and 5GHz wireless signals.

With the cloud being a major focus in today’s enterprise it is important for CCNP/CCIE certification candidates to understand the major role it plays, as well as the benefits and drawbacks of cloud infrastructure. While cloud scales easily, generally speaking it is a one-size-fits-most solution. For more specific workloads, on-premises may be more desirable. On-premises can also offer lower latency connectivity to the environment.


The next section has to be one of my personal favorites – SD-WAN or software-defined networking in a wide area network. For the ENCOR exam, you need to have a healthy understanding of Cisco’s SD-WAN offering by Viptela. Cisco Meraki, while an SD-WAN Cisco solution, is not covered on the ENCOR exam. You should understand the different components of the Cisco SD-WAN solution and the important roles that they play.


QoS, or Quality of Service, is an important part to many enterprise networks, probably more so today than they’ve ever been with all the collaborative technologies in use. Ensuring that latency sensitive traffic, like Cisco Webex and IP Telephone, gets priority on the network allows for a great meeting experience. Having a thorough understanding of QoS topics and technologies available at both L2 and L3 will make you successful here.

The last part of the ENCOR exam’s Architecture section requires you to understand CEF, or Cisco Express Forwarding, the MAC Address Table as well as TCAM and its uses, and the relationship and differences between the RIB and the FIB. Familiarize yourself with all these topics covered in the ENCOR Implementing and Operating Cisco Enterprise Network Core Technologies class.

Hopefully this explanation and breakdown of Architecture for the CCNP/CCIE Enterprise Networking Core exam will help you be better prepared!

Training Resources:
ENCOR Implementing and Operating Cisco Enterprise Network Core Technologies

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