2010 CCNP Lab Series – Overview

Choices Every CCNP Candidate Needs to Make

It's finally begun: This year's series that walks through things to consider when building a lab for CCNP study. Most Cisco certs require hands-on skills, so most people pursuing a Cisco cert will be faced with a choice of how to get those skills: borrow real gear, buy it, rent it, use a Simulator, or use an Emulator (eg Dynamips). This series focuses on CCNP, real lab gear, and the choices related to what gear to beg/borrow/steal/buy.

First, let me give a little history related to this blog and the topic of building a lab. Back in early 2008, I was searching for topics for this blog. I blogged about how to build a CCNA lab, and it was pretty popular. And then I dd it for CCNP, and it was popular. And then as time went on, those blog posts remained somewhat popular, even months later. So, I did another such series in 2009, which you guessed it, remained popular, even months later. (That's not to say it's all fascinating reading - rather, that many of us are interested.)

Those series taught me a lot more than just some trivia about router and switch models, IOS versions, and the like. In particular:

  • Some of the info you need to consider didn't work well as a discussion in a blog.
  • Searching through the old blog posts for particular facts was tough
  • I personally was curious to see changes in the used prices of gear over time
  • That folks reading the blog cared a lot more about lab topology discussions than I have in the past

So, last year sometime, after I had just finished the most recent of these lab series, I promised myself that I wouldn't do another one until I fixed some things. In particular, I promised to take some info and organize it better for later search and reference, and leave the discussions to the blog. In other word, use the blog for what it's good for, rather than spread reference info all over the place. I decided to think about topologies, and list that as reference info as well. The end goal then is to discuss labs here, but as we uncover new facts, new useful reference info, consider new router or switch models as their prices get lower in the used market, I can collect the data so that we can all find it more easily.

Which brings us to today. The web site (www.certskills.com) is as done as it needs to be to do a 2010 CCNP lab series. So, the rest of today's post gives the big picture of where we're headed here for the next several posts. In short, I plan to discuss the four major influences for choosing lab gear as noted in this graphic:

I'll start with a discussion of topologies (next post). What topologies do you need to study everything effectively? What lesser topologies (translated: cheaper) might you use, and what functions do you sacrifice when using them (compared to better topologies). Next post(s), we'll look at router and switch software. What IOS versions and feature sets would be needed, what you might lose if you get an older IOS or a lesser feature set? Then I'll look at hardware, including used price estimates, and see what's going on in the used market these days. Then I'll see where we ended up, and pick a direction in part based on the kinds of interest you folks are showing and the kinds of discussions we're having.

However, you don't have to wait on me to get to your favorite topic. You can go to the www.certskills.com web site, look at the Lab Gear tab, and look at the reference info. The site lists sample topologies, software features, hardware models, and build lists. But there's not a lot of discussion there - I'll leave that for here in the blog - but you can make some progress.


I made a pretty good start on the info on the site. However, I'll need your help to verify it all, and to possibly add to it.  If you see something that you know is wrong or incomplete, tell me by emailing labdata at certskills.com. I'd ask that you email there for anything about the data on the web site (rather than posting here), unless it's related to the current post or discussion. But don't feel obligated to go review the site now - I will point out the info related to each blog topic. I just appreciate any help in improving the reference info.

Before closing today, here are a few conventions I'll use throughout the series:

I'll mostly ignore the decision of Simulator, Emulator, or Real Gear. I've posted some stuff on the www.certskills.com web site regarding the tradeoffs, and we've discussed it here before if you're interested in more background.

I will focus on real gear, not Dynamips, although some discussions apply to both. There are a lot of places to get help and discussions about using Dynamips already. You folks can of course bring up anything with Dynamips, and I may as well, but that's a secondary topic for this series.

When I write "Dynamips", I mean "all things emulator". In other words, I'm lumping together Dynamips, Dynagen, GNS3, and similar Cisco internal tools. If you're unaware of the whole emulator thing, look here for some background and links.

That's it! I should have the topologies discussion started by early next week. In the mean time, feel free to look at these two recent series. One examines some tradeoffs between small and medium sized router topology, and the other does the same thing with small and medium sized switch topologies.

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