CCNP Shopping Spree – What to Buy?

Build Lists for Your CCNP Lab

It's time to wrap up the CCNP lab series from the last several weeks. Today we'll look at some samples of what you might want to buy, depending on your budget. I've picked three budget levels and come up with some samples, each with pros and cons. And I'm tossing it out to all of you to suggest your better ideas for what you'd do at the same budget level. For incentive, I'll do a small book giveaway as a prize for my favorite alternate build lists submitted by you folks.

As usual, let me start by setting the stage a bit. We've been looking at the CCNP lab gear topic for about 4 months. This 2-month series of course is focused on building a CCNP study lab, but even before that, a couple of series set up some related questions, like how many switches you need to practice Spanning Tree, and some discussions about the merits of a 2-router vs. 3-router lab topology. All those posts have some impact on what you choose for your lab. But I'm not going there today - read backwards for a few months if you want more background.

For those who've been following, we've discussed options, and now it's time to make a shopping list, or build list, for your lab. To do so:

  1. Pick a working budget
  2. Make a list of the number of routers and switches you need to build the desired topologies
  3. Estimate prices for each, considering things like memory plus IOS versions and feature sets
  4. See if you're within budget, and if not, take things out of the list, or increase budget
  5. Make a list of pros/cons with the resulting build lists: what topologies will it support, what IOS feature support is missing, what features will be difficult to test with the topologies your gear could support, and so on.

* You may want to include prices for cables; I've not done so in my estimates.

The single biggest question to answer about budget relates to whether or not you plan to use Dynamips for your primary means to practice with routers. I'm not going to re-hash the pros and cons about that choice today, given that this whole series is written under the assumption that you're interested in buying used gear. So, I'll assume the answer to this question, at least for this blog, is that you're buying used routers. However, if you've not gone down either path yet, you need to consider the options. I think its fair game to comment as part of today's blog post as to why you're buying routers, or why you're using Dynamips for CCNP router practice. I don't think the decision has changed much of late, so I'll otherwise just leave you to read these other posts if you're interested in the topic:

Sim Vs. Em Vs. Real

Free Hands-on Router Practice with Dynamips

Dynamips - Would you Recommend it to a New CCNA Candidate?

Analysis of the Dynamips for CCNA (or not) Decision

Back to the budget. For the sake of discussion and for reference over the coming months, I've collected a sample build at 3 different budget levels: $400, $800, and $1200. I chose those somewhat arbitrarily, and partly because I used those levels for a similar discussion in this blog a few years back. So, I've created build lists for a small under $400 build list, a medium under $800 build list, and a large under $1000 build list.

For the contest, all you have to do is propose an alternative based on any of these budgets. The following list includes the details. Honestly, my goal is to generate interesting discussion about what people would choose to buy, but I also have a few books sitting here in the office, so seems like a good trade. So, to participate:

  • You can suggest any model of router or switch
  • If you suggest one for which I've gathered sample prices, you must use those sample prices, so the comparisons are apples to apples
  • If I don't list any prices, estimate based on "Buy it Now", on EBay, with enough memory to run the best IOS and feature set for that device.
  • Consider WIC-2T's to be $40
  • Use US $ if you can, but I'm not opposed to seeing your local currency, and hearing about local prices
  • I want to see the number of devices of each model, optional cards in each, and prices, similar to what's later in this blog post
  • Most importantly, tell me why you like your build better than the one I list at that budget level
  • The budgets are guidelines, but if you go over or under, give good reasons why
  • You must login at when posting so we know your email address, in case you win.

The winner in each gets a choice of my CCNP ROUTE Cert Guide 1E or CCIE R/S Written Cert Guide 4E.

Briefly, one more tangent before the build lists. I picked 3 budget levels, but what would you spend?  Here's a poll:

Finally, to my three sample build lists. You can follow this link to read more background about each. Here in the blog, I'll focus on the larger issues and reasons why I chose that particular build list. Also, note that I purposefully chose the medium build list as an extension of the small build list, and the large build list as an extension of the medium build list, as if you were adding to the list by buying gear over time.

$400 or less (Small Build):

3 1721's each with 1 WIC-2T ($270)

1 2950 standard ($75)

Total: $345

Philosophically, I tried to think about what combination gets me the most features from what I see in ROUTE, SWITCH, and TSHOOT. TSHOOT appears to be a little slanted towards routing topics, but that may just be perception, but I needed to save $ somewhere. So, I figured I'd skimp on switches to have 3 routers with 12.4T IOS support. This build list maybe gets you to the more basic half of what CCNP requires today. Not enough, but better than nothing.

With only 3 routers and 1 switch, this build list only supports a router triangle topology, and it ignores features that require a 2nd switch. But you get a good start on routing protocols, IPv6, some redistribution, some BGP, and a start on switch features that require a single switch.

I went with 2950 standard image because I've seen so many cases where these switches supported the same features as the enhanced image switches. (See this link to last week's post for a little more detail on the 2950's.) That's personal preference, but I wanted to make sure you folks noticed it, so you can consider enhanced models if you like. (Standard lawyer disclaimer; no guarantees made or implied about any of the lab data listed here.)

$800 or less (Medium Build):

2 2950 standard image  ($150)

1 3550 EMI or IP Base  ($290)

3 1721 12.4T Adv IP Services, 1 WIC-2T ($270)

Total: $710

I purposefully chose this build list as an extension of the small build list, just so you could compare the two lists as if you started small and grew your lab. In this case, we would add 1 2950 and 1 3550 to the small build list.

This build list clearly gets you to 3 switch platforms, which seems to be the sweet spot for STP support. I think 4 router platforms is a minimum to practice the more advanced routing topics: mutual redistribution on two different routers, BGP Path Attribute manipulation, and OSPF multi-area designs. This build actually gets you to the 4-router capability with the 3550 added.

Note that one of the disappointments on pricing is that last year, the 3550 EMI switches priced out at $210, whereas they appeared to be noticeably higher at $290 today.

$1200 or less (Large Build):

2 2950 standard image  ($150)

1 3550 EMI or IP Base  ($290)

3 1721 12.4T Adv IP Services, 1 WIC-2T ($270)

2 1721 12.4T Adv IP Services, 2 WIC-2T ($260)

Total: $970

(For those of you enticed to suggest an alternative to try and win a free book, I left you plenty of space to spend more $.)

Building again onto the medium build, I left $230 on the table, on purpose, to give us a good place for discussion and possible improvement with that extra $.

As is, I think this build is enough to practice for ROUTE and SWITCH. Not too much gear, but enough. It has three switches for STP practice, and support for most of the other SWITCH layer 2 features. Support for a four DTE Frame Relay topology, plus a five router WAN if you prefer, or six total routers if with the 3550 EMI. And since I know some of you build the same thing you see in the books you're studying with, I think you can match all the topologies in my ROUTE book, other than some of the BGP examples.

What's more interesting is that this build list gets you pretty close to the topology that Cisco shows as the TSHOOT exam topology, by doing the following:

  • Use one 1721 with 2 WIC-2T's as FR switch
  • Use that same router to act as the ISP router, through it's LAN interface. As a result, the ISP Connection will be Ethernet rather than FR.
  • You can build out 3 of the 4 switches in the layer 2 topology part of the TSHOOT topology doc, just missing one layer 3 switch

But we've got $230 left over - where would you spend it?

Earlier posts in this CCNP Lab series:

2010 CCNP Lab Series Overview

Layer 3 Topologies for CCNP Prep

LAN Switch Topologies for the New CCNP

The Right Router IOS for your CCNP Lab

The Best Router for CCNP Prep in 2010

The Best Switch for CCNP Prep in 2010

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