CCNP Lab – for $750 plus cables

So, it's taken a few months, and a break for a topic or two, but I've made it to the last post on my Springtime CCNA/CCNP lab series. I'll suggest an option or two with a $750 budget, give some pros and cons, and give some comments on some of your suggestions as well.

First off, this is just pure emotion, but I'm suggesting 1721's as the main router model. It seems to be the sweet spot, with a price of $110 with a WIC-2T, does 802.1Q, runs 12.4T, supports IOS IPS with the right feature set, all the routing protocols, etc. I just don't like them, never did. Purely emotional, so I'm choosing to be objective and listing them. I think I'm biased against the form factor - if it's not rack mountable without a shelf, I tend to shy away. But for a home lab, not a big deal.

So, for $750 before buying cables, here's my lab, with all the usual assumptions:

  • 1 x 2950 Standard image -       $  70
  • 1 x 2950 Enhanced image -      $120
  • 1 x 3550 EMI Image -              $210
  • 3 x 1721 w/ power brick -          $330
  • Total:                                     $730

Pro's with this build:

  • Three switches, which allows much more interesting STP labs
  • Two switches that support the more advanced QoS and STP features
  • A layer 3 switch
  • Three routers with serial interfaces, allowing triangle designs for labs
  • Most recent router IOS, with good security feature support with right feature set
  • Four "routers" for routing protocol labbing


  • I don't like the 1721 form factor!
  • With Frame Relay on one router, only two FR DTE's, so you miss learning with multipoint designs

A close second place alternative for me was the same thing, but replace the 3550 with another 2950 Enhanced, and add another 1721. You then get the ability, through some extra config, 3 routers connected to Frame Relay, but you lose the layer 3 switch. And it costs $20 more.

For comparison, let's look now at a few of the suggested lab builds from you folks in the last post. Fuzz suggested:

Switches: 1x 2950 Enh, 2x 2950 Std - $260

Routers: 1x 2600XM, 2x 1721, 1x 837 - $480

Total: $740

I like this one as well. You do get four routers, and the ability to do Frame Relay, and two switches with all the features you want except L3 support. Also, the variety of router platforms may be a positive compared to my trio of 1721's in the long run - if something's not supported in my 1721's maybe it could be in the 2600XM or 837.  But I'd lean towards using my build in part because you still have 4 boxes that run routing protocols, plus get L3 support in the 3550. But they're both solid.

(By the way, I didn't read the builds from you folks until I made up what I was going to say, just for fun. Yes, I need to get out more. ;-)

Kale suggested the following:

Routers: 1 x 837, 3 x 1721 = $390

Switches: 2 x 2950 Std, 1x 3550 = $350

Total: $740

Again, a solid build as well. It's pretty similar to my build - replace my 2950 enhanced with a 2950 std to save $50, and make room for an 837, to get a 5th router platform. So in this comparison, I think the real question is whether you need a pair of switches with the additional advanced features, or is one enough - and if you need two such switches, would you really rather have another switch? A quick look at my table of features in the enhanced 2950's - which I haven't scrubbed in detail of late - lists two categories: QoS and STP features (like PVST+). You can play with the QoS stuff with a single switch (3550 EMI), but need two to experiment with the advanced STP features. So, comparing Kale's build to my build, with his you get one more router platform, and lose the chance to test advanced STP features with a 2nd switch .

To be complete, kctexan61 posted a build as well, but it wasn't an attempt to keep within the $750 I pulled out of the air. Using 2811's, 1841's, and 3560 L3 in the build puts it way past the shoestring budget stage. But, it's a nice lab!

So, let me know what you'd do differently, or suggest another round. Or just bag it and use GNS3 for your routers!


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