Building a Cisco home lab can help you gain valuable real-world insights. Network emulation software solutions like GNS3 or Cisco VIRL (Virtual Internet Routing Lab) can be good learning tools. But as an IT professional, you will have to deal with real devices. So building a home lab with physical routers and switches will help you appreciate the intricacies of building a network.
Understand Your Goals Before You Start
Before you start purchasing equipment, you need to understand your requirements. Depending on the certification you are seeking, a certain group of equipment might better serve your needs. Also, try to set up your lab in a manner that has some practical use, eg. centralized media storage for your home. It will challenge you to think in terms of real-world problems. Below we look at a CCNA/CCNP home lab setup.
Home Lab Requirements
Three routers, three switches, and two laptops should enable you to test Cisco CCNA topologies. For CCNP, you can use four routers and four switches for most of the common setups. You will need more equipment if you want to test more complex topologies for private VLANs or IPv6.
Here are some IOS 15.x capable router recommendations:
- Cisco 1841 256/64
- Cisco 1841 384/128
- Cisco 2801
- Cisco 2811
- Cisco 2821
- Cisco 1941 Base
- Cisco 1941 Security
The routers are organized from the cheapest to the most expensive.
Here are some switch recommendations:
- Cisco 2960
- Cisco 3560
- Cisco 3750v2
You will need layer 3 switches for some of the topologies. 3560 and 3750v2 are both layer 3 switches.
- Serial cables
- Ethernet cables
- Serial ports (WIC-1T)
- Serial modules (NM 4A/S)
Budgeting Your Home Lab
You can mix and match from the recommended routers and switches. Your budget will dictate your choices. For example, 1941 will match the CCNP exam calls. But it is also the most expensive router on this list. You can get most of the lab work done using 2811/2821. In order to save money, you can mix two units of 1941 with two units of 2811 or one unit of 1941 with three units of 2811 routers. You can save money similarly with switches. You can get four units of 3560 switches or two units of 3560 and two units of 2960 switches.
It’s important to understand the limitations of the routers and the switches you choose. Depending on your choice, you will not be able to perform particular concepts. Some people think if they invest more money they will be able to perform all the concepts in a general study guide. To create a network topology that covers all concepts might cost you $10,000 or more. That’s probably not a viable solution.
Creating a Cisco CCNA/CCNP home lab can speed up your learning. You can use GSN3 or Cisco VIRL to improve your understanding of the concepts. Also, building your home lab will give you an appreciation for completing a project on a budget. It is an important skill to master. You will always have to make decisions between performance and costs throughout your career. So building your home lab on a budget can be a great practice for the future.