How to Build a Cisco CCNA lab

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How to Build a Cisco CCNA lab 7328pwpadmin 2015-02-20T13:49:49+00:00

Cisco CCNA Lab Suggestions

Many people ask us what would make a good CCENT or CCNA R&S 200-120 lab? In this article will cover how to build an effective CCNA lab. Please do not skip any of this information as it is all very important for you to understand so you get the most value for your money in purchasing your kit. It is well worth spending 15 minutes reading these articles not to make a $500 mistake! So let's start off with a basic concept I hope we can all agree on. Real Routers & Switches are required for your CCNA Routing & Switching Lab!

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, put a cable in the wrong location or just plain configure the interface incorrectly. Dependent on what you do by mistake, you may see either the interface or protocol go down and based upon that it should give you a clue of where to start troubleshooting(hint, what layer is the interface at and what layer is the protocol at?). Anyway, you will come to find quite quickly that mistakes you make on Router 1 are affecting Router 4 all because you did not screw in a cable properly. No simulator can simulate that, so real routers and switches are invaluable. We really suggest you read through this entire article from top to bottom to understand how to build a proper lab for your CCENT & CCNA studies.

What Are Some Things I Need To Consider For My Cisco CCNA Lab?

First is Cisco made the CCNA 200-120 exam quite a bit harder than the CCNA 640-802 exam. Cisco wants to make sure you really know your stuff on this exam. Basically they moved about 80% of the old CCNA 640-802 exam topics into the new ICND1 100-101 exam. Then they dropped a few concepts such as wireless and voice as they now have the CCNA Wireless and CCNA Voice specific exams and added a lot more troubleshooting to the CCNA Routing & Switching 200-120 exam. So what does that mean to you? The days of having a high level understanding of what is happening and passing the exam are gone. You need to practice on more complex setups and really understand what is happening. That is why when we revised our lab workbook we made it much more complex and explained the concepts in detail as you do each lab.

How Many Routers Do I Need for my Cisco CCNA Lab?

Two routers are the bare minimum 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 and the routing of data! The only way you can see if your configurations really work is to have at least two routers. Therefore, I strongly recommend that you purchase at least a dual router kit. But if you want the best experience, you will want to go with a three router kit. So let's review this in a little more detail of what each scenario will provide to you.

One router will give you the ability to run the commands on it and will allow you to memorize the correct syntax and context in which to run the commands.

Two routers will allow you to be able to see route table information propagate, data propagation and path election. In addition, you will see basic device elections.

Three or more routers and you will get all of the above, more complex topologies and full device elections.

Ok, so we say we suggest three routers and you see what we wrote above, but it just is not clicking why you need three routers as maybe you heard somewhere else two routers is all you need. Well let's go into a little more depth and take a look at the slide below.

In this slide from our study guide, you see a topology with three routers. Let's say we need to ensure R2 is your DR (designated router). If we just have two routers, we can simply set the priority of R1 to zero which will make that router ineligible to be a DR. So then R2 would be the DR by default. But if we add a third router, then we don't know if the DR will be R2 or R3. More than likely most companies you will work at will have more than two routers, right? So now you can see that we are going to have to do multiple configurations to influence which router is the DR in the more complex topology. So in this scenario, we need to increase the priority of R2 and leave R3 at its default priority to accomplish our goal. So hopefully now you can start to see why three routers are critical to really hammering home some of the CCNA concepts. So let's review another scenario below of why you need three routers in your CCENT/CCNA lab.

You will see that the lab topology(this is from our lab workbook) on the top has two load balanced WAN links (the two lighting bolts), a subnet off of R1 and R3 where the computers are and from R2 we have multiple paths to get to any of the subnets at the top portion of the topology. Now compare that to the simple two router lab below it. No load balancing, no multiple paths, no ability to set different costs on the links and obviously not as complex route tables.

So a quick scenario. Let's say one of the WAN links was configured super fast and the other one was a super slow WAN link. You are at the computer off of R3 and you are communicating with a server off of R1. The super fast WAN link goes down. What will your path be to the server off R1? Will the data travel across two routers traversing a super slow WAN link or traverse 3 routers utilizing fast links? Good question, huh? Now which lab topology do you think will give you a better learning experience?

Do I Need A Switch & If So, How Many?

If you would have asked me this question 5 years ago I would have replied the exam is 80% routing and you can memorize the little bit of switching that is on the exam. But with the recent 200-120 changes, inter-vlan routing is hit very heavy on the exam in various scenario questions. So if you can afford it, yes, switches are required. With only a small margin of error between passing and failing, not fully understanding switching concepts such as VLANs, STP, and root elections could be the one question that stands between you passing and failing your exam. There will be some switch questions which are memorization based such as "What is a Layer 2 protocol used to maintain a loop-free network"? Thank goodness we memorized STP. That said, it would be nice for us to be able to actually see the switching concepts work.

So similar to our router review, this is what you will get with the corresponding number of switches.

One switch will give you the ability to run the commands on the switch and allow you to memorize the correct syntax and context in which to run the commands. It will also allow you to do some of the VLAN labs.

Two switches will allow you to see VTP Domain & VLAN information propagate. In addition, you will see basic device elections.

Three or more switches you will get all of the above and full device elections.

Again, you may have heard that you only need two switches in your CCNA lab. Yes, you can get by. But you want to know this information inside and out. So three switches will give you the best learning experience. Let me prove it again.

Wow, there is a lot of information on this slide. Spanning Tree Protocol is used to eliminate loops in our network as loops are bad. So how can we determine which switch will be the Root Bridge? In general, it is based on the MAC address of the devices but it can be influenced by changing the priority on one or all of the devices. When a Root Bridge is elected, it is as if everything in the world will revolve around the Root Bridge. That dictates then which ports on the other switches are root ports, designated ports and non-designated ports. If also then impacts the states of the ports. So if the Root Bridge changes from Switch C to Switch B, then each port will change to a different type of port and state. Now we will have to figure everything out again from scratch. You might not fully understand this now, but by practicing with three switches in a complex topology such as this CCNA lab, you definitely will have a much deeper understanding of the technology at hand. Hopefully this example has fully convinced you of the value of a CCNA lab with three switches.

Sill not convinced you should have three switches in your CCNA lab? Well then maybe my final point will sway you. The topology in the diagram below is similar to what appeared on a previous version of the CCNA exam. So if Cisco can use multiple switches in the lab questions on the exam, don't

you want to practice on scenarios similar to what you might see on your CCNA exam?

Sample CCNA Exam Scenario

How Many Cisco Routers & Cisco Switches Do I Need To Complete Your CCNA R&S 200-120 Lab Workbook?

Our CCNA Lab Workbook has been recently updated for the new CCNA exam and was designed with the knowledge that most of our customers can't afford a large lab. We wrote our Lab Workbook v2.0 to the specification of three routers and three switches. In a perfect world you will have three 1841, 2801 or 2811 routers, three WIC-2A/S modules, a 3560, 3550 and 2960 plus the associated cables. Does that mean that you can't complete the labs if you only have two routers or two switches in your lab? No, it just means for the most part those labs will not be as complex as they could be and you won't see any many routes propagate. But you still should fully understand the concept which is being presented.

Now you can review the above link for our Lab Workbook v2.0 R&S 200-120 to see all the topics covered. A physical copy of the Lab Workbook is included with our dual router or better kits. Note in the topology diagram below how complex we make our labs. These are not straight forward two link setups. We include redundancy, multiple subnets and explain it all in great detail. There is no other CCNA book out there anything close to what we have created! Accordingly we are the premier CCNA lab supplier with support second to none! Click on the topology picture to see a PDF of the sample lab. This is why we really suggest three of the 1841, 2801 or 2811 routers in your lab as we use every single interface and hit heavy on advanced OSPF, advanced EIGRP, EtherChannels, Load Balancing, etc.

How Do I Know What Routers & Switches I Need In My CCNA Lab?

What Three Routers Do I Need In My CCNA Lab?

The key here is to have the right mix of routers in your CCENT or CCNA lab. Simply bundling three routers together and calling it a kit is not the right approach. We want to make sure that we have routers that will cover some of the major features/concepts you are sure to see on the CCENT and CCNA exams. So at the bare minimum we want the following features in our CCNA lab:

  • One router with dual Ethernet interfaces to do your NAT/PAT labs. We suggest the 1841, 2801 or 2811 as these routers can do this and also get you exposure to IOS 15.1(4) as the same time saving you money.
  • One router with a FastEthernet interface for inter-VLAN routing.
  • One router with two serial ports for frame-relay labs.

Notice how I mentioned these are the bare minimums. In a perfect world with no budget restrictions we would advise you to get three 1841, 2801 or 2811 256/64 routers and a 3560, 2960 and a 2950 EI switch. But that is not always realistic from a budget perspective. Also it is ok if one router does double duty. An example is you may have a 2801 that is your NAT/PAT router and also the FastEthernet device for your inter-VLAN routing labs. We know with all the options out there, this can be a bit confusing which is why we have pre-configured many of our CCNA Lab kits to already have these features balanced giving you the best bang for the buck. There is no reason for you to guess and make a couple hundred dollar mistake. But even if you do, you can user our Trade-Up Program to get 100% credit for your device. If you have questions, please use the Contact Us link in the upper right to send us an email as we welcome questions.

How Do I Know What Interfaces & Options Are Available On A Router?

Now choices, choices, choices. Which router do I pick? Well, we have many choices which I will list below with some pros and cons to each. I will also include a table at the end of this document to visually aid you in seeing the features of each router. I suggest no matter which router you get, you max out the DRAM and Flash so you can run the most full featured IOS available for that model. The 1760s at 96/32 are fine to run 12.4, the 1841 routers, although not maxed out are more than sufficient at 256MB DRAM and 64MB Flash as are the 2800 series routers so they can run IOS 15.

CCNA Lab Routers

Cisco 800 Series Routers These are not good lab routers as they do not have traditional serial ports to connect them to other routers in a lab environment.

Cisco 1720/50 Series Routers These are now throw away routers due to changes in the CCNA and price drops on other models that give a lot more functionality for the buck.

Cisco 1760 Series Routers This is a good low cost router that is a traditional rack mount router unlike the other 1700 series routers. This 100mb FastEthernet router will also run IOS 12.4 and has four WIC slots which is a bonus. This router packs lots of value for the price and is a staple of many of the kits

Cisco 1841 256/64 Router ALERT! We suggest you have at least one of these, a 2801 or 2811 in your new CCNA 200-120 exam lab. This is the cheapest and best choice for an 15.1(4) IOS ISR router for your CCNA Routing & Switching, CCNP & CCIE exams that supports MPLS(multi-protocol label switching). This is the router that best compliments our CCNA Routing & Switching lab workbook and covers the exam topics for the CCNA. Since the prices have come down on these tremendously, these are a great choice for CCNA labs and will serve you well all the way up to your CCIE certication. So really your only choice here is will you get the 128/32 version which only supports 12.4 or will you get the 256/64 version which supports 15.1(4)? I think the answer to that is simple.

Cisco 2500 Series Router

At this point these are no longer great CCNA routers. They had their run for almost 17 years as a staple of CCNA labs. But their time has passed. The only 2500s that have significant value these days are the 2509 and 2511 access server routers.

Cisco 2509 Router This is your 8 port terminal server/access server. You can remote access 8 devices from this unit. You will need one octal cable.

Cisco 2511 Router This is your 16 port terminal server/access server. You can remote access 16 devices from this unit. You will need two octal cables.

2600 Series Routers (non-XM)

These routers only support up to IOS 12.3. They are modular routers which means you have to add WIC or NM modules to them to provide additional functionality. The 10mb versions of these routers are not really worth spending the money on when for the same price you can get a 100mb version. The 100mb versions are not as good a value as the XM version as the XM version supports 12.4.

Cisco 2610 Router This is a 10mb Ethernet router I would stay away from now days.

Cisco 2611 Router This router is dual 10mb Ethernet I would stay away from now days.

Cisco 2620 Router This is a 100mb router. But for a few extra dollars I would get an 2600XM series router to support 12.4.

Cisco 2621 Router This is a dual 100mb Ethernet router so you can use it as your cable/DSL router. I would pay the few extra dollars for a 2611XM, 1841, 2801 or 2811 over this router so you get at least 12.4 IOS support.

2600XM Series Routers

The advantage to these routers over the plain 2600 series is they are all 100mb routers so they can support inter-vlan routing and they support 12.4 and thus Advanced IP IOS. We have noted the features of each model below.

Cisco 2610XM & 2620XM Router This is a single FastEthernet router.

Cisco 2611XM & 2621XM Router This is a dual FastEthernet router and being a dual FastEthernet rotuer, you can also use it for your NAT/PAT labs.

Cisco 2801 256/64 Router ALERT! We suggest you have at least one of these or a 1841 in your new CCNA 200-120 exam lab. This is the cheapest and best choice for an 15.1(4) IOS ISR router for your CCNA Routing & Switching, CCNP & CCIE exams that supports MPLS(multi-protocol label switching). This router has a bonus over the 1841 router in that is has four interface slots versus the two of the 1841 and can support voice vwics and PVDMs incase you ever decide you want to go down the Voice path as the 1841 will not support Voice.

Cisco 2811 512/128 Router This is the best choice for an 15.1(4) IOS ISR router for your CCNA Voice exam. You really should have two of these. One for the Headquarters location and one for your branch location. It is also great for CCNA Routing & Switching, CCNP & and the CCIE exams that supports MPLS(multi-protocol label switching). This router has a bonus over the 1841 router in that is has four interface slots versus the two of the 1841 and can support voice VWICs and PVDMs in case you ever decide you want to go down the Voice path as the 1841 will not support Voice.

Cisco 3620 Router This is now basically a throw away router.

Summary of Router Interfaces

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