Cisco CCNA Lab Suggestions


Cisco CCNP Lab Suggestions

Original Article

The Cisco CCNP lab is one of the most difficult labs to build because it touches on so many different pieces of equipment. When you are building your Cisco CCNA lab, it is pretty easy as three Cisco router and three Cisco switches will put you in a pretty good position at a pretty reasonable price. Definitely a lot less then the price of attending a Cisco CCNA training class and you get to keep the equipment to practice on for as long as you like. When building a Cisco CCIE lab, you concentrate on one particular discipline such as CCIE Security, Voice, Service Provider, Storage or Routing and Switching so you only have to purchase Cisco equipment for that area of expertise.

Now with building your Cisco CCNP lab, you have to cover four different modules which encompass many different networking technologies. The modules are ROUTE(642-902) which is basically advanced routing concepts extending everything you learned in your Cisco CCNA training to the next level. So this module requires a plethora of Cisco routers to complete most of these CCNP labs. SWITCH(642-813) which also extends on what you learned in your CCNA training from a Cisco Switching perspective adding in new concepts such as Layer 3 switching and QoS to a greater degree. This module really gets into the nitty gritty of Cisco Switching and thus requires some of the higher end, more expensive switches that are capable of Layer 3 switching. Additionally in a perfect scenario, you will need multiple of these Cisco switches to complete your labs and really get the full experience of the topics. Finally we have TSHOOT(642-832) which covers troubleshooting ROUTE(642-902) and SWITCH(642-813) and it seems they have snuck in some of the old ISCW concepts too such as configuring VPN client access, securing the remote access methods, wireless and a splash of VoIP. Many of these concepts can be accomplished on the Cisco routers you purchased for your ROUTE(642-902) module. Thus to a large degree, you will be able to use the equipment in the first two modules to support the concepts in the TSHOOT(642-832) module. But given that Cisco has added in some Wireless and Voice questions to this module, you may want to select a kit that has some Wireless and Voice components as a part of it so you can experience those technologies. But if you are tight on money, the Voice and Wireless components are the items I would drop from your kit.

What we try to do is provide you a few different levels of CCNP kits from the Super Economy CCNP kit all the way up to the Platinum CCNP kit. As you go from one level of the kit to the next, we try to strike a balance between the cost of the kit and the features you will be able to experience in each kit. Obviously as the price goes up, you can experience more of the features of the Cisco Academy labs that are included. The upper end CCNP kits are the ones with the Voice and Wireless components. We understand that people have budgets and thus we give you choices. The fact that the CCNP exam touches on so many different technologies is what makes it so difficult to build a Cisco CCNP lab at a reasonable price. But we think we have provided you some really great kit choices!

CCNP Lab Approach

Now that you have an idea of what you are looking to accomplish in your Cisco CCNP lab from an equipment perspective, let’s see how we might approach this. If you are not real strong on the features, pros and cons of the various routers, you may want to review our Cisco CCNA lab suggestions. Not only are there suggestions on building a Cisco CCNA lab, but we also cover many of the features and pros and cons of the various Cisco routers and Cisco switches. Now if you are only just beginning your Cisco certification studies looking to obtain your CCNA, but are looking ahead to your CCNP, I applaud you! Network engineers must be able to sharpen their skill set of planning ahead for things like capacity and infrastructure upgrades. In this case, you are planning ahead for your Cisco certification career. So if you are at the Cisco CCNA level and are ready to purchase a CCNA lab but you want to make sure it scales well to your future Cisco CCNP studies, well then look at our Cisco Advanced CCNA/Starter CCNP kits. These were developed to give you the best experience possible from a Cisco CCNA perspective with the understanding that this kit will be used as a base for you CCNP kit. Almost of the items in this kit will be able to be utilized in your Cisco CCNP lab so you will not be wasting any money. As with most things in the world, the more you pay for the kit, the more features you will get to play with in your Cisco lab. These Advanced CCNA/Starter CCNP kits are great if you do not have all the money for a full blown CCNP kit now or if you are 100% sure you will want to continue on to the Cisco CCNP certification. But then again, who doesn’t want to progress in their career?

Common Cisco CCNP Lab Questions

What are the CCNP Exam Objectives?
Below you will find the three new CCNP exams listed along with a link detailing the objectives for each. You may note that the core exam objectives are very similar to the previous CCNP exam objectives. But one nice thing is instead of four exams timed at 90 minutes each, now you only have to pass three exams(saving you exam fees) and you are provided 120 minutes for each exam. Additionally, you will see an article that covers some of the changes between the old and new objectives.

12.4 IOS
12.4 IOS is a requirement for the routers. Says who? Why can’t I use 12.3? Well, I guess you can, but when it states on the CCNP exam page that you should be using 12.4, I tend to listen to Cisco since it is their test and they get to modify it at their discretion! So what does that mean to you? 2500 routers and the normal 2600 routers cannot support 12.4. So if you have the budget, jump right to the 1760 or 2600XM series routers for your CCNP lab. They are the two most economical routers that will support 12.4. The 1760 is a rack mountable 1700 series router that is not a cheap plastic one like the 1720 series. The 1760 has four expansion slots. All four can accept VIC cards and two of the four can accept WIC cards. The 2600XM series has one open network module slot and two WIC slots. The nice thing about both of these is that they have a built-in 100mb Ethernet port and are great values for the dollar!

As of about mid 2012 it has become economical enough to consider the 1841/2800 series routers for your CCNP lab since they have come down in price significantly. Why might you want to consider the 1841 router for your CCNP lab? Well it is the actual router that is used in the Cisco Academy CCNP ROUTE, SWITCH and TSHOOT Lab Companion Series workbooks. So for the couple of commands here and there that are not covered by the 1760 or 2600XM routers, well now you can be covered with inexpensive 1841/2800 series routers! Another bonus is that the 1841/2800 series routers can run 15.x IOS. As I am sure you know from the CCNA certification track, Cisco can make changes to the exam blueprint adding and removing concepts without changing the exam number. SDM is a perfect example in the CCNA track. So if you want to future-proof your lab; upgrade to the 1841 or 2800 series now! The new CCIE topology was just released in April of 2014. You can use a topology of 1841 or 2800 series routers and do 98% of the CCIE labs.

What Can I Do With My Old 2500 or non-XM 2600 routers?

Pretty much as this point they have very little value in the CCNP or CCIE tracks. For someone who is attempting to pass their CCNP exam, you should be willing to invest a little bit of money into your education and obtain the correct routers and switches. After all you can build a base CCNP kit for as cheap as $699 so it is not overly expensive like when I built my first CCNP lab for $23,000.

Why Do Your Kits Mostly Have 1760, 2600XM or 1841 Routers?

We have included the 1760 and 2600XM routers as they are the most economical way to build out your 12.4 lab supporting IPv6 and run Advanced IP Services. To support IPv6 and Advanced IP Services you must have 96/32 on the 1760 routers or 128/32 on the 2600XM routers. Since it is on the exam, you should be able to perform IPv6 labs running Advanced IP Services. Again, worth mentioning for the CCIE labs, you will see more 1841 or 2800 series routers as they support MLPS whereas the 1760s and 2600XM routers do not. So if you can build your CCNP lab with 1841 or 2800 series routers now that support the ISR functions, you will be a step ahead of the game and have a better lab experience. Another item of note is you should have at least one dual FastEthernet router with enough memory to run the T version of the IOS so you can do all the IDS/IPS labs.

How Many Routers Do I Need?

CCNP ROUTE Lab Topology
Sample CCNP ROUTE Lab from the Workbook

Another great question! The more the better! Actually, we need to make it complex enough that we can see routes propagate, DHCP relay agents working, load balancing, route summarization, different OSPF stub types, Frame-Relay, IS-IS Intra-Area vs Inter-Area addressing, multi-casting, BGP groups and IPv6 on a dual-stack router. Wow, that was a mouthful! So more than two or three routers is a safe assumption to build your CCNP lab. We like to see 4 routers in your lab so you can match the Cisco Networking Academy Lab Companion CCNP ROUTE, SWITCH and TSHOOT lab manuals. You can see the available CCNP lab kits we offer to review the specific Cisco models. Our Premium kit will match the lab courseware very well. The Standard and Economy kits will match closely and you will be able to comprehend most of the concepts by running the commands on the equipment you have even though it may not exactly match up to the labs you will be performing. So if you can only afford one of those kits, don’t worry, you will still get tons of great experience from those kits! *Note, some people ask to be able to perform every concept that is covered in a general study guide and those generally cover concepts outside what you will see in a lab manual. That is not realistic for most customers who are self studying as this will cost well in excess of $10,000 per person.

How Many Switches Do I Need?

CCNP SWITCH Lab Topology
Sample CCNP SWITCH Lab from the Workbook

We think four switches is a pretty good number for your CCNP lab. That gives you the ability to configure various scenarios which require multiple switches such as trunking in multi-layer switched networks, multi-casting, QoS, VTP concepts such as pruning, creating loops and suppressing them with STP, controlling root bridge elections, multiple spanning tree environments, UplinkFast and BackboneFast, EtherChannel and Layer 3 through 7 switching. Two Layer 3 switches plus two layer two switches seem to work pretty well while being cost conscientious.

One of the advantages of the recent price drops is it is now feasible to build a CCNP ROUTE, SWITCH and TSHOOT lab the way Cisco meant it to be built. That is with two 3560 switches and two 2960 switches. There are a few extra commands that we touch on that make it worth the little extra investment. Keep in mind, our top end kit that used to retail for over $15,000 just a few years ago can be had for about $3,000 now. But if you have to keep costs down, you will only miss a command or two by going with two 3550s and two 2950C EI switches.

What Is A Layer 3 Switch?

Wait until you get to SWITCH(642-813) exam as this is a cool concept. This is a switch that can also do routing! So no need to bounce the traffic out of the switch, to a router only to have it sent right back to the same switch because the destination is on a different subnet. These switches will route that traffic within the switch and save precious bandwidth and time! We find that in a perfect world, you will have two of these switches, but you can get by with one. This way you can see how they communicate, trunk together and such.

So what are your options? You can go with a 3550 and/or 3560 models. If you have the budget, the way to go is with all 3560s. But if your budget is tight, you may need some sort of mix in your Cisco lab to keep the price down. So what are the bid differences that would impact your studies? Predominantly it is going to have to do with QoS and PVLANs. So if you go with all 3550s to keep your costs down, there will be a few QoS and PVLAN concepts you won’t be able to exercise in your lab. However, I think you will be able to adequately grasp the concept through reading the theory in your study guides coupled with all the other hands on experience you will be receiving in your lab environment.

Can You Give Me A General Idea Of The Lab Environment?

The topology per lab changes to match the objectives of the lab as you can see from the lab topology pictures illustrated earlier in this article. However for the most part you will have four routers and four switches. Some items may not be used in all labs. Such as when you are doing your ROUTE labs, you many not need all 4 switches. Also, if you purchase one of the better kits, you will receive equipment to cover the Wireless and Voice concepts that are not included in the more inexpensive kits. Here is a sample of the lab topologies with the Voice and Wireless components.

CCNP Lab Topology with Voice
Sample CCNP Lab Topology with Voice from the Workbook

CCNP Lab Topology with Wireless
Sample CCNP Lab Topology with Wireless from the Workbook

So if you have the budget, it is wise to pick a CCNP lab kit that also has the Wireless and Voice components. This will give you the ability to configure a basic VoIP setup (upgrade one of the routers to a 2811 512/128 to get the most out of it with the latest version of CME) and also to play with a Wireless controller and two wireless access points. Why is this important? Well it will get you exposure to two really in demand technologies and quite possibly you will get really excited with one of those two technologies and decide that you want to specialize in Voice or Wireless for you next certification.

What Is A Terminal Server Router And Why Do I Want One?

A very nice to have is a 2509 or 2511 access/terminal server router. This way you do not have to keep moving the console cable from router to router as you are configuring them. You can access all your routers and switches via the terminal server and connected octal cable. This is not going to function in your lab, but it is nice to have to make your lab much easier to use.

If you already have your Cisco CCNA certification, the above should have made a lot of sense to you. Also congratulations on your CCNA! You should have a very good grasp on the different features of the various Cisco routers and Cisco switches. Now you will just need to know what Cisco routers and Cisco switches you need to purchase to build your Cisco CCNP lab.

CCNP Lab Kit Options

Well, we have four main Cisco CCNP labs available for you all at different price points. As mentioned before, the more you spend, the more bells and whistles you will be able to experience in your Cisco CCNP lab studies. Not only that, the more you spend, the more labs you will be able to accomplish. We map our lab kits to the Cisco Academy lab workbooks as who would be better to get the labs to prepare you for your exam than from than straight from Cisco? The Cisco Academy Lab workbooks come with full blown labs for the ROUTE(642-902), SWITCH(642-813) and TSHOOT(642-832) exam modules. Now you must understand that to follow their labs using the exact equipment they have, you would have to spend easily twice as much as we are charging for any of these kits. So from our experience we have modified the kits with some less expensive Cisco routers and Cisco switches that will cover a majority of the concepts in the labs. Again, the more you pay for the kit, you will be able to experience more of the concepts. So again, we have to look for the most bang for the buck in building these kits. As mentioned before, the Cisco CCNP lab is probably the most difficult to build because of all the different technologies it touches.

But there is a light at the end of the tunnel! You will be able to use all these pieces of equipment in your Cisco CCIE lab as long as you have a minimum of 1841 or better routers and 3560/3550 switches so they will not go to waste! Especially with the CertificationKits Trade-Up program which enables you to upgrade your Cisco routers and Cisco switches you purchased from CertificationKits. Please see the Trade-Up Program for details. But since you have most of the CCIE equipment already, you are well on your way to acing your Cisco CCNP exam and then conquering your Cisco CCIE certification.

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