Building home labs for Cisco certs: what you need to know

Author Wendell Odom offers expert advice on the routers, switches and other gear needed for a great Cisco home lab.

Wendell Odom, Cisco press author, instructor and blogger was recently a repeat guest for Network World chat. Attendees asked him the best ways to build a home lab, which certifications still have power in the market, and strategies for most easily passing the hardest exams.

How will someone new to the CCNA purchase equipment for his/her lab?

Well, the how is mainly in the used market, with eBay and craigslist being popular sites. But the "what to buy" issue is the bigger issue. I spent some time on it in my blog at Network World back in the fall. Generally, two routers, one 2960 switch, and cables, is probably a minimum for a good start.

I'm actually trying (very hard) to pass my CCNA. I'm also planning to pass some other professional certs in 2009. I'd like to know what is a good compromise between the CCNA and CCNP (or CCSP CCVP etc.). In terms of a lab, I know some 2950 with Standard and Enhanced IOS will still be useful, but what next?

You need a pair of routers with at least two serial interfaces. You can get by with super cheap 2501s for a lot of the CCNA topics. If you're moving on to CCNP one day, 3640s, oddly enough, seem to be a good price/function combo.

Do you need a static IP address or a dynamic IP one to build your lab? Which would you recommend?

For the lab, you don't even need to hook it to the Internet, unless you want to access it while you're not at home. Privates are fine. If you're asking if you need a static address from your ISP to access your home lab while not there, I do it with dynamic, and use

I have both of your books and a home lab made up of a 2950 switch and 2924 XL switch, two 3640 and two 2610 routers and a 851W borrowed from work. Is there some place where I can go to get practice labs or step-by-step instructions to practice play with my equipment?

If I had a spare year, I'd write one for every last cert that's popular. But I don't know of any great lab books for CCNA/CCNP or other professional level certs. There are tons for CCIE. Do you think such books would sell with labs for CCNA? The CCNP exams?

When thinking about home labs what are your opinions on software-based virtual labs and could you name some that might be viable? I have seen some of them, but they seem rather costly and was wondering if you had an opinion on them?

When you state "virtual labs," I'd put them in two categories: simulators and emulators. Dynamips/GNS3 is free, and runs real IOS. There are issues with that: router IOS only (kind of), little or time-consuming access to lab exercises. Simulators come with lab exercises, act like routers/switches, and have lots of labs. I'm working on a new Sim, so I'm biased - it has over 250 great CCNA-level labs. It will be out in the fall - the Cisco CCNA Network Simulator. I can't offer an unbiased opinion now that I have a stake, though!

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