The Right Router IOS for your CCNP Lab

Things to think about besides just the router model

Building your Cisco cert lab - if you're figuring it out for yourself -  requires a lot of lateral thinking. You can start by looking at the more inexpensive used router models, but then questions start to pop up. What IOS versions are supported? And what feature sets? What functions does each feature set support? Are those features supported on all models of hardware? What features are needed for a given cert? What network modules do I want, and are they supported here? And there's a tendency to go around in circles at times each time you dig a little more.

Today I'm going to try and pick my way through one path through this maze to help you decide what router IOS version and feature sets to consider for the new CCNP - a process which can narrow your search a little more.

Before getting into the detail, let me give a little perspective on the approach. If you have a job that allows you a Cisco login, and in turn that login lets you download IOS for any model of router, then you may be better off starting with a selection of router models, while considering the supported major versions. However, Cisco has started towards a world where even those with rights on cisco.com cannot download any IOS they please. I've seen many more padlock icons on IOS images here of late when downloading software, and version 15.0 has many new licensing features - features that in concept could even prevent you from running downloaded IOS code on used gear and on Dynamips.

This whole concept begs an interesting question or two. I'm curious about how much IOS download access you folks have. Comment as well - have you see than access change in 2010?

Back to the question of the right IOS for CCNP prep. I think the following process works well; as usual, this is just my opinion:

Step 1: Find the CCNP features on routers. If building a lab for CCNP only, look at the CCNP features in your favorite study source, whatever that is. You'll use this list at the next step. Here's a link to a web page with just such a list along with a few other interesting items.

Step 2: Compare the feature lists to various IOS Versions + Feature Sets. This one step alone could take considerable time while looking at the Cisco Feature Navigator (www.cisco.com/go/fn). I picked some of the more common feature sets, and some that we've discussed here in this blog over the years, built the tables referenced at step 1.

Step 3: Choose the IOS + FS combinations for your short list. I'd suggest picking a couple of Feature Sets (FS) for both 12.4T and 12.4/12.3T. You can then look for these on the routers that you look for in the used market. 

So let's take a few examples based on the Router IOS and Feature Set table at www.certskills.com. You should be able to create your own lists if you like. Just so you know, I took the books in the CCNP Cert Guide series, looked at the features, and built my list of CCNP features based on those three books.

  1. 12.4 with "IP Base" - does not support BGP or IPv6 routing. That's enough to rule it out as a reasonable option, in my opinion.
  2. 12.4T with "IP Base" does support BGP and IPv6 routing, and it looks like most every other CCNP feature. However, it doesn't support IPSec (best I can tell from Cisco feature navigator), so can you live with missing that feature?
  3. All the 12.4 feature sets in my table omit EIGRPv6, although some Feature Sets, notably "Advanced IP Services", supports everything else in the CCNP feature list. Could you live without EIGRPv6? Particularly if the router was cheap?
  4. The table shows two IOS's for 800 series: "IP/FW 3DES and "IP/FW Plus 3DES". The Plus version supports most of the listed features at both 12.4 and 12.4T, whereas the non-Plus feature set does not.

My conclusion on the question of "what IOS + Feature Set for CCNP" is that there is no one answer. However, it seems clear that getting routers with 12.4T, with one of these three FS's, works very well:

  •  
    • Advanced IP Services
    • Advanced Security
    • IP/FW/IDS/Plus IPSec 3DES

But that's not the end of the search - you should still look at the router models you choose, check with the Cisco feature navigator, and make sure it's supported on that model as well.

Final word: unfortunately, some of the cheaper routers, like 2600 non-XMs and 3640's, don't support 12.4T. So, what IOS version + feature set would you choose, and why?

Earlier posts in this series:

2010 CCNP Lab Series Overview

Layer 3 Topologies for CCNP Prep

LAN Switch Topologies for the New CCNP

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