This is one of the biggest questions a CCNA candidate will ask when building a Cisco Lab.
This blog will contain two separate budgets for building your own personal CCNA/CCNP Lab. The first budget being $600 dollars and the second budget being $1,500 dollars.
Many CCNA candidates get too antsy and jump on eBay and start buying all the cool cheap stuff they see before realizing what they’re buying is not a good investment. When building a Cisco Lab you must look at it as an investment into your education. As with any investment you want to get the best return on investment. So you must ask yourself, what is the best investment for the educational return for building a Cisco Lab?
With Cisco technology changing quite rapidly, we’ve had to update our topology 3 times in the past years to meet the requirements of newer technologies. For example, the original topology ran Cisco 3640’s, we than went to 2600XM’s. Afterwards moving towards 3725’s. Now we’re using Cisco 1841’s in our topology to support the new CCP, more memory and run 15.x as 12.4 has been announced EOL/EOS.
So lets get back to building that lab, First we’ll start off with the conservative budget with a max of $600 dollars. Keep in mind this budget is going to be spent using eBay in the United States. This budget plan may not work for you in other countries if prices for hardware are higher which is quite common among Australia, United Kingdom, etc…
So to start off with we’re going to build a lab using the older 2600XM’s so we have enough money to build a fully functional lab. There are however some unsupported features of the 2600XM’s but those features can be easily substituted with renting hardware or using the Stub Lab provided by us.
The first router you’ll want is the Cisco 2611XM. These currently cost about $80.00 “Buy it Now” and includes shipping to the lower 48 US States. One of these with 128MB DRAM and 32MB Flash can support 12.4(25e) IOS and gives you two FastEthernet ports.
You’ll also want to add two more routers, Cisco 2610XM’s are more than enough at $50 dollars each shipped. Just remember 128MB DRAM and 32MB Flash is required to run a full feature set to practice all technologies found on the CCNA Lab exam. This puts us up to $180.
You’re going to need 4 WIC-1T cards. These cards are often times found cheaper when you buy them in lots of 5. These cards can typically be found for 15-25 dollars each. If you use the WIC-1T cards you’ll also need two cables which are about $7 dollars each. These cards can be substituted for the WIC-1DSU-T1 which is a cat5 version of the WIC which has a build in CSU/DSU. You will be required to crimp your own cables though. This puts us up to about $275. So we have $225 left for the switches.
Currently you can buy 3550-24 Switches for about $120 which includes shipping. To meet the budget requirements you can purchase one of these and two Cisco 2950-24G’s or 4x Cisco 2950-24G’s. This is your decision.
The 3550’s however are layer 3 switches and can be used when preparing for the CCNP as well.
The Cisco 2950-24G switches are $50 dollars each shipped. This puts us under our $500 dollar mark.
The last important thing you’ll want to save you a ton of time is a terminal server. The best terminal server for the money is hands down the Cyclades TS3000. It is a 48 port linux embedded terminal server. You’ll use rollover cables from the ports to the console port(s) of the lab devices and access the console of each lab device by telneting to the TS3000 on ports 2001 – 2048. This saves you time from having to keep moving your console cable around. These currently run about $85 dollars on eBay which include shipping.
All in all this budget gets you 3 routers with WIC’s and cables and 3 or 4 switches depending on your choice plus a console server. The only thing missing is normal patch cables which you can typically find laying around in any IT department. While this lab is nothing fancy; you are still capable of learning tons of content using the lab. Your general routing protocols which include RIP, EIGRP, OSPF, route redistribution, access-list, etc.. can all be practiced on 2600XM’s. CCNA Level switching content can all be practice on 2950G’s excluding ISL trunking which of course is not very popular and is unsupported on most newer Cisco switches.
This lab will not replicate the Stub Lab used by our workbooks, it will however give you hands on with real equipment for a decent price. If you want to replicate the Stub Lab hardware we’ll look at the next budget range which is $1,500.
With $1,200 dollars as a budget you can get significantly more which includes ISR’s and newer switches. So with a budget in mind we can start with the console server, that is $85 bucks off the top. Than we can buy the 1841’s which are $150 each. we’re down to $665. The cheapest route is to buy the LOT of 10 WIC-1DSU-T1-V2 cards and make your own cables, These lots go for $85 each. This puts us down to $580. As for the Switches, the Stub Lab has two Cisco 3560’s and two Cisco 2960’s which are not needed to complete the workbooks but are added for those who want to use the lab and learn additional content on hardware that is free to use. To build your lab you can easily get by with 4x Cisco 2960-24TT’s which go for about $120 each. This brings us down to $100 left.
With the last $100 you can use this to invest into Memory for the 1841’s if needed, or cabling such as 100ft rolls of red and blue cable and rj45 ends so you can custom make your own cables if your a perfectionist. None the less this puts us under $1,500 with a very nice lab capable of doing everything on the CCNA and the CCNP Route exam. The CCNA Switch exam requires Cisco 3560’s which cost $300 each currently. If money is not an issue then instead of 4x 2960’s you can buy two 2960’s and two 3560-24TS-S’s which would put the total cost of the lab upwards of $1,800.
As for a Cisco lab, I’ve spend thousands and thousands on Cisco equipment to lab scenarios on. My original CCIE Lab was $15,000 dollars 4 years ago. Of course 4 years later and countless hours of studying and one failed attempt, I’m now CCIE #38216, and the question I’ve been asked a lot buy my students is “was it worth it?” and the answer is a resounding yes! The CCIE has opened countless doors for me as an Engineer. I have gained several friends throughout the years and tons of respect even from people I don’t even know who know me.
So I will end on this note, think of building a lab as an investment into your future. Knowledge is power.