#CCNA and #CCENT Lab Gear
Ask anyone who has achieved #CCNA or #CCENT about lab practice, and they’ll tell you that practicing all those Cisco commands is a must. It’s virtually impossible to pass these exams without some kind of practice.
Ask those same people about what tools you should use to build those hands-on skills, and then you get a wide variety of answers. Some suggest buying used gear; others suggest renting gear; others suggest simulators, and emulators, and even other options.
Today’s post kicks off a series about buying real Cisco routers and switches on the used market. Why not a series that compares the options? Well, I will give that topic one post along the way. However, over the years, I have noticed that info about building a home lab is lacking. This series will be my latest attempt to discuss some options, updated for the new CCENT and CCNA that came out in 2013.
Today’s post kicks off the series with some general thoughts. I will get through the whole thing, including updated price estimates, some recommendations for specific router and switch models, as well as a discussion of the whole IOS version bump for the new CCNA. For today, it’s the big picture!
A Brief Blab about Lab Posts and Pages
To set the stage, I’ll start with a personal story that actually matters to the discussion of lab gear.
I started blogging in sort of the opposite order from most folks who blog a lot. My first blog was at Network World (www.networkworld.com), because the publisher of Cisco Press books was working with Network World on some marketing efforts. I agreed to do a month as a guest blogger and stayed about four years. (Later I started the www.ccentskills.com and www.ccnaskills.com blogs, and stopped blogging at Network World, to stay more focused on the folks using my books.)
While blogging at Network World, I always wondered what to write about. The blog was called the “Cisco Cert Zone”, so I wrote a lot about Cisco certifications. But what specifically? So, when picking topics, I eventually wrote about some of the options about how to get experience with the CLI.
After blogging a few years at Network World, I reached a couple of obvious conclusions:
- Of all the options for hands-on experience with routers and switches, there were tons of information and web sites about all the other options besides the option to buy used gear.
- There were few good resources to help someone build their own lab using real gear.
So, my blog posts about building a home lab with used gear were very popular. I ended up doing several CCNA blog series on the home lab topic, and one on CCNP home labs, all at Network World.
Eventually, it became clear that some of the information in those blogs is better suited for static web pages. Items like lists of CCNA-level features, IOS versions and feature sets that support those features, eBay pricing histories, and the like. So, I built a tab on the Certskills.com web page (www.certskills.com/lab) that lists this information for reference, so you didn’t have to search a ton of blog posts to find the info.
Fast forward to today: I’m long gone from the Network World blog. CCNA has revved in 2013. It’s time to write a bit, and update those web pages.
Now on to the overview of the series!
You Can’t Get There (Passing) from Here without Lab Practice
Let’s start with the big idea: Can you pass the exams for CCENT or CCNA without practicing using the Command Line Interface (CLI)? I think you must do that practice; here are some reasons:
- Even the ICND1 100-101 exam, which leads to a CCENT cert, requires a fairly large number of configuration command combinations. Practicing those configurations help build confidence, skill, and speed.
- The ICND2 200-101 and CCNA 200-120 exams require even more configuration than the ICND1 100-101 exam, so the need for hands-on practice is even greater.
- Practice helps you get faster with simply moving around in the different modes in the CLI – a must given the time pressure on the exams.
- All these exams, but especially the ICND2 half of CCNA, requires you to use troubleshooting skills. These skills are best learned and developed by doing something from the CLI.
A Plethora of Possibilities for Hands-on Lab Experience
If you buy that hands-on practice is needed, then how do you get it? Some options:
- Buy used real routers and switches
- Borrow the same at work
- Rent the same for a fee
- Use simulators: software that acts like the CLI, but does not actually run IOS
- Use emulators: software that acts like router or switch hardware, where you can then run IOS
- Variations on the above
Those are all fascinating options. In fact, I make money on one particular simulator. I’ve even gone so far as to devote a whole tab of my web page to the comparing the big options – real, simulators, and emulators.
What do people actually use from this list? Often times, one person uses all the options. I ask people as a matter of habit, and lurk on forums when people are asked, “what did you use for practice?” The most popular answer? All of the above. Many use Simulators because they are great at teaching what you need for the exams. Many use real gear because there are some things you can’t learn in a virtual environment. Some use a simulator or emulator that happens to be free, even though it may take more time and effort, to save some cash. But many people use multiple options.
I will focus on the real gear, because for the other options, there are plenty of other places to learn more about those.
Series: REAL Lab Gear for REAL CCENT and CCNA Candidates
So, what will we do in this series? I’ve mapped out parts of it. I’ll leave parts flexible for now as well. But the big picture is that we’ll talk about routers and switches separately in some cases, and together in some cases. Along the way, we’ll talk about:
- Software requirements, versions, and commands supported
- Hardware requirements and models
- Sample build lists
Some post will be more geared for complete newbies, some for those with more experience. Next post, I’ll discuss topologies for newbies, which is a good place to start getting your head around the problem, without getting bogged down in particular models of routers and switches.