Best CCNA Lab?

I’ve noticed that I’m seeing a lot of CCNA lab questions showing up on forums. For the most part, everyone wants to know what hardware they should get, or will this particular router work for CCNA etc, etc. I figured since I’ve been teaching CCNA for over 5 years that I could shed some light on the subject. If you noticed, everyone has their own opinions on which routers/switches are the best to get. I will explain some options along with my personal advice for what you need to pass the current CCNA.

Option 1 – buy the hardware

The budget CCNA lab-

Most people cringe when people suggest using the 2500 series in their CCNA labs. The 2500 series routers have been around for a long time and they were the primary series used for CCNA training (at least back in the day when I started). If money is a concern, you can probably get used 2500 series routers for less then $100. They work fine for probably 90% of CCNA content today—yes, I picked that percentage semi-randomly. On the switch side of things, I strongly recommend going with the 2950 series switches. Do not—I repeat—Do not go with the 1900 series switches. They are mostly CAT-OS-based and not much help for the switching labs.

Here is an equipment breakdown (minimum quantities):

4 x 2514 series routers (2 AUI interfaces)

2 x 2950 switches (12 or 24 port)

4 x transceivers (AUI to 10baseT) needed if you get models with AUI interfaces

serial cable
4x DCE-DTE crossover cables

extras: power cords, Ethernet cables (some cross-over), console cable

The “better then budget” CCNA lab-

The main difference between this lab and the one above is the routers used. If you can afford it, try to go with the 2600 series routers (at least three). You can certainly buy both, but connecting a 2500 to a 2600 serial port can’t be done with a typical serial crossover cable (you’ll have to get the v.35 serial cables). You can better take advantage of the router-on-a-stick labs with the 2600s since the Ethernet interfaces support 100Mb vs.only10Mb (2500s). If you don’t mind spending a couple hundred dollars extra, then I would try to stay with the 2600 series. If you plan on going further after the CCNA, you may find yourself phasing out the 2500s from your rack (I have removed most of my 2500s from use). For certain CCNP uses, the 2500s really aren’t worth messing with (in some cases, the 2600s won’t cut it either with certain aspects of the new CCNP).

Here is an equipment breakdown (minimum quantities):

4 x 2620 series routers (16MB-Flash/64MB Ram) 2621 will get you 2 Fast Ethernet interfaces

2 x 2950 switches (12 or 24 port)

4x WIC-2T smart-serial cards

smart serial x-over
4x DCE-DTE smart-serial crossover cables

extras: power cords, Ethernet cables (some cross-over), console cable

Other “stuff”-

In some cases, you may find yourself needing to play with frame-relay and ISDN. You don’t need to buy a frame-relay emulator to get frame-relay working. I’ve found it easiest to use either a 2600 or a 2500 router as my frame-relay switch. Which one you choose, depends on which routers you currently have. If you have 2500 series, get the 2521 router because it has plenty of serial interfaces. If you have enough 2600 series routers, you can just use the routers you have already (put 2 WIC-2T cards in the slots to maximize serial ports). For ISDN, you really need a simulator for this. I personally have chosen to use the Adtran Atlas 550 with the BRI card (it can also be used for dial-up, T1, and Frame-relay depending on cards included). You will also need to buy a BRI WIC for your 2600 router. Honestly, the CCNA doesn’t have much of ISDN anymore—this is something that’s being phased out slowly.

Option 2- Router emulation

The cheapest alternative is using emulation for the routers in your lab. For this, take a look at Dynamips. I’m not going to go into too much detail, but it can do every thing that the above routers can do and much more! It can be used for certification well beyond the CCNA level. On the downside, it takes a lot of playing with it to finally get it working correctly (the learning curve is well worth it). Check out their blog, site and forum for all the good info—you won’t be sorry, trust me. This isn’t your typical emulator like Boson (I generally don’t recommend router simulators similar to these), Dynamips uses real IOS images for emulation. So, this means you will most likely need a service contract in order to have access to the IOS images.

Look for a “Good CCNP lab?” posting in the future…

2 Responses to “Best CCNA Lab?”

  1. The article is very impressive. I liked the notes on “better then budget” CCNA Lab. great one.

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