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.

Has Cisco showed you any info about the new Voice and Security disciplines of the CCNA?

Actually, I was writing the CCNA Voice book until I had to give it up due to other priorities. Short version for Voice/Security is that the coverage in each is similar, but not 100 per cent overlap, with the most basic stuff in CCVP and CCSP. Cisco's posted some stuff.

Do you recommend any vital sources for reading in detail how-to's -- like IP routing, IP NAT - Advanced, OSPF, EIGRP, security, not only on the routers but on the switches and other vital equipment, etc.?

Boy, that's a fastball - my books! See Seriously, I did strive to put a lot more cookbook stuff in there this time around about how to configure various features. The CP books with "Self Study" in the title (there are several) are book versions of the courses. They can be good for how-to processes for various config topics.

What are your thoughts on GNS3 (Dynamips) emulator that runs on the Cisco IOS?

Well, I think it's absolutely wonderful. Lots of Cisco internals even use it. It's a great tool. I think for those through the CCNA process can really benefit, since you have all the skills to really understand how to make it fly by that time.

Do you think certs carry as much weight as they used to and what certs are showing the most demand now?

I do think the Cisco certs value have diminished some over time. Seven, eight years ago, CCNA got you the interview. Today, you need at least some progress towards the next cert (maybe another CCNA or two today, or a few exams towards CCNP) to get that interview slot.

Do you think the new CCNA certs will be valuable?

I think the new CCNA certs will be valuable. I think Cisco missed an opportunity with CCENT. Had they made CCENT the pre-req for the new CCNA's, rather than the old-CCNA, then that would've added value to CCENT. I think CCENT has minor value as an end to itself, but not for folks who want to work on Cisco stuff every day.

Cisco has announced new CCNA certifications. Do you think these certs are a good idea? Are they necessary? How would they fit into the general cert scheme?

I think these new CCNA certs make a nice fit. I think the sweet spot is for the generalist - I foresee a whole class of folks who instead of going for CCNP, CCSP, CCVP, etc, go for a quad-CCNA, and get all four of them. For those who want to be more specialized, it's a way to get another cert by passing an exam on material similar to what was formerly in the CCxP tracks.

I have worked in the networking field for a number of years but I have no certifications. Do you suggest that I go to a bootcamp or just try my luck at the CCNA/CCNP exams?

I think going for CCNA, given your experience, is the way to go. If you know at least a third of the stuff, that's a good dividing line. Sounds like you're more in the state of knowing more than half, and maybe missing stuff you haven't needed to think about. CCNP is more of a silo - e.g., if you're a campus guy, try BCMSN self-study, but take a class for BSCI. But, if the boss will pay for all of the classes, then go for it.

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