The question Free CCNA Workbook gets asked the most by individuals new to the Cisco Networking field is rather or not they should build a their own hardware based Cisco lab.
A lot has changed since the 640-507 exam days; which was the old CCNA exam, even before the 640-801. Back in those days you used 2500’s and 1900 Catalyst Series switches which have long since been depreciated.
In today’s technological world, virtualization is a key driving factor among many networks but who knew you could virtualize a Cisco router? The Stub Area CCNA Workbook was originally made around the application called GNS3 (Graphic Network Simulator version 3) which is a graphical user interface to the Cisco hardware emulator called Dynamips. Dynamips is an application build to run on either Linux or Windows to emulate the hardware of a Cisco Router. Think of it as VMWare for a Cisco Router. You create the virtual device and you load the Cisco IOS binary file when you boot the device and you can connect to the virtualized device via telnet as if you’re connected to a real Cisco router console port.
GNS3 has saved countless Cisco Certification exam candidates the cost purchasing and building their own Cisco lab; that of which the money saved could go towards more pressing needs such as the cost of the Cisco Exams.. GNS3 may sound like a fantastic idea, however it does have its draw backs. Dynamips, the Cisco hardware emulator engine runs under GNS3 can only emulate Cisco Routers. Dynamips cannot emulate Cisco Catalyst switches, it can however emulate the NM-16ESW but this network module is vaguely different from a Cisco Catalyst Series switch.
Among one of the most drawbacks is resource utilization. In order to run GNS3/Dynamips you’ll need a fairly modern PC. At minimum a dual core processor with 2 gigabytes of RAM other wise you’ll notice that the frustration is not worth the time invested in getting the application to function.
So this brings us back to the original question; GNS3 or a real Cisco lab? Of course the easiest answer for this question is a real Cisco lab; however there is one catch. Building a Cisco lab calls for a somewhat moderate investment. As with any technology, you get what you pay for and Cisco Routers and Switches are no different.
Before you build your lab be sure to check out Lab 1-1 – Identifying Router Components and Accessories as this lab will educate you on the many different platforms and capabilities of each platform. A Good rule of thumb is before you build a lab, be sure you understand what you’re building. You would not build a house yourself if you knew nothing about plumbing or electrical wiring would you?
If you are visiting this page than chances are you’re at least somewhat interested in building a Cisco CCNA Lab with the possibility of using the same lab to prepare for the CCNP certification later down the road. As with any good purchase, you want to make sure you’re investment is sound and provides valuable return. In any case; when building a CCNA Lab you’d want the hardware you’ve purchased to be sufficient enough if and when you make the decision to take the next step in your Cisco career and start studying for the CCNP Certification, you’re hardware will support the required features of the CCNP Exam blueprints.
With all that info being said lets get to the fun part shall we?
If you are interested in building a CCNA Lab with the potential to be utilized as a CCNP lab then the Stub Area Networking Topology is a fantastic fit. The Stub Area Networking Topology has more routers in the topology than any competitor that would otherwise “Sell” their products. This is because the instructors at Stub Area Networking want to create a realistic training experience by giving you real life scenarios. Having only three routers in a CCNA Lab is sufficient but having only three routers in a CCNA Lab lacks the ability to fully demonstrate realistic scenarios in a way that is easy to understand and relate to.
The biggest advantage of building a Cisco Lab that matches the Stub Area Networking topology is that all Stub Area Networking workbooks use the same topology. There is however a slight difference between the CCNA and CCNP workbook requirements in which the Cisco 2950G’s found in the Stub Area CCNA Workbook would be replaced by a single 3560-24TS-S for SW1 and two 3550-24-SMI switches as SW2 and SW3. These hardware changes reflect the required devices used in the SWITCH exam of the current CCNP blueprint to provide a hands-on multi-layer switched environment educational experience.If you’ve made the decision to peruse the CCNP then this investment is a small price to pay for furthering your education as having the CCNP certification opens up a new window of opportunity in the job market, in which case your investment would pay off very quickly.
If you wish to build a topology to match the Stub Area Networking Topology you can use the following hardware;
R1 – Cisco 2611XM (128MB DRAM and 48MB Flash)
– 2x WIC-1T Modules
R2 – Cisco 2611XM (128MB DRAM and 32MB Flash)
– 1x WIC-1T Module and 1x WIC-2T Module (Totaling 3 Serial Interfaces)
R3 – Cisco 2610XM (128MB DRAM and 32MB Flash)
– 2x WIC-1T Modules
R4 – Cisco 2610XM (128MB DRAM and 32MB Flash)
– 2x WIC-1T Modules
R5 – Cisco 2610XM (128MB DRAM and 32MB Flash)
– 2x WIC-1T Modules
FR – Cisco 2620 (64MB DRAM and 16MB Flash)
– 1x Cisco NM-8a/s used for Frame Relay.
Note: This may or may not be cheaper then the 2522 Solution, check your local area for prices.
3x Cisco 2950-24 Series switches.
Note that the 2950 Series switches does not support ISL therefore you will not be able to complete the ISL Labs found in Section 4 of the Free CCNA Workbook; however they will still be demonstrated in the workbook using 3550 and/or 3560 Series switches.
You can obtain a 24 port 2950 Series switch for under $60 dollars a piece on eBay in the United States.
You will also need 6x DB60 DCE to DTE serial cables for the WIC-1T’s and 2x DB60 DTE to Smart Serial DCE Cables for R2’s WIC-2T which connects R2 to R1 and R3.
Seven total straight through cables will be required for the routers and 9x Crossover cables will be used between the 3 catalyst switches. You can get away with making these cables for pennies on the dollar by using existing cables.
Most of the equipment can be obtained relatively cheap from eBay or Cisco resellers. All in all this lab can be built for under $1200 as shown below;
The prices listed below are current as of May, 2011 and are subject to change.
$170 (including shipping) each for a 2611XM (Note 2621XM and 2651XM are alternatives, they may be cheaper in some cases but keep in mind you’ll need 128MB DRAM and 32MB Flash minimum for R2, R3, R4 and R5 and 128MB DRAM and 48MB Flash for R1.)
$80 (including shipping) each for a Cisco 2610XM 128MB DRAM and 32MB Flash. Used for R2, R3, R4 and R5.
$30 (includes shipping) for a Cisco 2610 Router with 64MB DRAM And 16MB Flash (Used for a Frame Relay Switch)
$30 (including shipping) per each WIC-1T. Note that you may be able to get this cheaper when you purchase in bulk lots found on ebay. Around $250ish for 8 Cards or Cheaper.
$45 (including shipping) for the Cisco WIC-2T used in R2. You may find these cheaper but $45 seems to be the current going BIN with free shipping on eBay.
$55 (including shipping) for a NM-8A/S used in the Frame Relay switch.
$10 dollars each (including shipping) per DB60 DCE to DTE Crossover cable used between routers and the FR switch. You may find these cheaper.
$16 dollars each (including shipping) for DB60 DCE to Smart Serial. These cables are used with the WIC-2T that is in R2. You’ll need two of these.
$55 dollars (including shipping) for a Cisco 2950 Catalyst switch. You’ll need three of these switches.
If you want to use a Cisco Access Server to allow give yourself the ability to configure all devices using your PC and telnet you’ll need to purchase a Cisco 2509 or 2511 as well as an AUI Transceiver for Ethernet connectivity and octopus breakout cable if you’re using a non-RJ Version of the platform. This will add an additional $150 dollars give or take to your lab price. You can however get away with manually moving your console cable from lab device to lab device when studying but this takes a considerable amount of time. The $150 investment will be worth the hours of lost time moving the console cable between routers and switches when you need to make config changes.
The total lab price for this build should be less than $1200 without a Terminal Server and approximately $1,300 with a Cisco terminal server.
You can substitute the 2600XM series for non XM series however the non 2600 Series platforms do not support the 12.4 IOS release.
Keep in mind that buying a Cisco Lab is a huge investment on your future. As stated earlier, this lab topology will be used in the Free CCNP Workbook when it is published so you’d be knocking out two birds with one stone.
If you have any questions regarding this lab build feel free to post a comment below.