Cisco Certification: How To Build Your Own Home Lab
by: Chris Bryant, CCIE #12933
CCNA and CCNP candidates hear it all the time: “Get some hands-on
experience”. From my personal experience climbing the Cisco certification
ladder, I can tell you firsthand that there is no learning like hands-on
learning. No simulator in the world is going to give you the experience you
will get cabling and configuring your own routers.
Whenever I mention this to one of my students, they always say it costs too
much. The truth is, it is cheaper now to build your own CCNA and CCNP lab than
it has ever been. The secret? Used routers.
The word “used” turns off a lot of people not many of us buy used
computers or used servers. Cisco routers, though, are robust. I personally own
a Cisco 4000 router that I use as a Frame Relay switch in my lab that I’ve
had for about four years, and I’ve never had a problem with it.
The good news for current CCNA and CCNP candidates interested in building
their own labs is that used Cisco equipment has never been more plentiful or
cheaper. eBay is a good way to get an idea of what’s out there and what the
prices are, but you don’t have to assemble your lab one piece at a time. Many
eBay vendors who sell used Cisco equipment sell ready-made CCNA and CCNP labs
for one price, including cables.
I asked one major vendor of CCNA and CCNP labs, www.ciscokits.com,
what the most common questions are regarding building your own home lab.
Here’s what they had to say:
Why do I need real routers instead of a simulator?
You need a physical router,as the simulators just don’t have the ability
to give you the “hands on” you need to see what happens when you disconnect
a cable or put a cable in the wrong location. You will come to find quickly
that mistakes you make on Router 1 are affecting Router 5 all because you did
not screw in a cable properly. No simulator can simulate that.
How many routers do I need?
Two routers really are required to see if anything works. If you have a very
limited budget, you can receive value from only purchasing a single router over
working with a simulator. However, you will not be able to see the main thing
we are trying to accomplish. The propagation of route tables!
The only way you can see if your configurations work, is to have at least
two routers. Therefore, I strongly recommend that you purchase a dual router
kit that comes with all the accessories you need. Otherwise you can spend days
trying to find all the little extra pieces you need to get your lab up and
Do I need a switch?
Well, it is nice to have. However, with only about 2 questions on the test
dedicated to “hands on” switch knowledge, if you have to skimp on
something, skimp on the switch.
What routers and switches should I buy?
Choices, choices, choices! Which 2500/2600 router do I pick? I will list
some pros and cons of each router below, along with current prices (note that
prices are generally lower if you buy a dual router kit instead of a single
router). Please note that prices are approximations.
1) Cisco 2501 Router with 16 MB Flash/16MB DRAM $94.99. The cheapest
introduction router, and it can support a vast majority of the commands that
you will need to learn for your CCNA test. All 2500 routers that we will
discuss come with a minimum of two serial ports and an Ethernet port.
You will need to add a transceiver to this unit to convert the Ethernet AUI
port to an RJ-45 style Ethernet port.
2) Cisco 2503 Router with 16 MB Flash/16MB DRAM $119.99. This is the same as
a Cisco 2501, except it adds an ISDN port so you can complete all your ISDN
commands for the CCNA test. You will need to add a transceiver to convert the
Ethernet AUI port to an RJ-45 style Ethernet port.
3) Cisco 2505/2507 with 16 MB Flash/16MB DRAM $109.99. The same as a Cisco
2501 except it has a built-in 8 or 16 port hub so you do not have to purchase a
4) Cisco 2514 Router with 16 MB Flash/16MB DRAM $149.99. This router is the
same as a Cisco 2501 except instead of one Ethernet port you have two. You may
ask, what is the big deal? Well, you can use this as your Cable Modem/DSL Modem
router. Now you can test your ability to setup a firewall and router in a live
environment on the Internet. Lots of fun! You will need to add two transceivers
to convert the Ethernet AUI ports to an RJ-45 style Ethernet ports.
5) Cisco 2520 Router with 16 MB Flash/16MB DRAM $119.99. This is the same as
a 2503 but it also adds two more serial ports so you can use this as a frame
relay switch later in your CCNA studies. It costs the same as a 2503, so this
is a great money saving tip.
6) Cisco 2612 Router with 32 DRAM and 8 MB Flash $199.99. This is a modular
router unlike any of the 2500 series routers. So the big benefit of this is you
can buy extra modules to add functionality such as more serial ports, ISDN
ports, Ethernet ports, WICs and such. However, due to the flexibility you will
pay a bit more. One day it is a frame relay switch, the next it is your ISDN
router. In the long run it will be cheaper than purchasing a bunch of dedicated
routers for each
discipline you want to learn.
7) Cisco 1912 or 1924 Switch with Enterprise Software $109.99. This is a
good low cost switch. The only drawback is it is a 10 MB switch except for the
two 100 MB uplink ports. Not a big deal since you have 10 MB routers.
8) Cisco 2912 or 2924 Switch with Enterprise Software $249.99. This switch
will run all the current commands needed for the test and is a full 100 MB
And should you desire to sell your lab after you complete your
certification, you can either negotiate a price with the vendor who sold it to
you, or you can sell it yourself on ebay. It’s my experience that 95% of
candidates who earn their CCNA go on to pursue their CCNP within one year,
though, so don’t sell it too quickly.
In the end, you spend only a few hundred dollars, and you gain invaluable
experience and knowledge that will help you both in your certification quest
and your job performance. Having worked my way from the CCNA to the CCIE, I can
tell you that you will learn much more from actually configuring and cabling
your own equipment than you ever will from any simulation of the real thing.
To your success,
About The Author
Chris Bryant, CCIE #12933, is the owner of The Bryant Advantage. The
Bryant Advantage's website offers FREE ebooks and tutorials for the CCNA
and CCNP exams, FREE subscriptions to "Cisco Certification
Central", and sells the best CCNA and CCNP prep courses and books
on the market today. Visit his site at www.thebryantadvantage.com