CCNP Lab Part 5 – CCNP Wireless Config (Poll)

So far in this CCNP lab series, we've discussed all of the gear you'll need for studying the topics in BCMSN and ONT, except for the wireless coverage. Today I'll look at the wireless coverage in CCNP - it's only in the BCMSN and ONT exams, not in the other two CCNP exams - and look at what should be some clear trade-offs when building a low-cost lab to prepare for CCNP. Then I'll let you all click a poll so we can know what the group is generally thinking about for wireless.

First, for perspective, here are the official exam topics from ONT that mention wireless:

  • 1. Describe and Configure wireless security on Cisco Clients and APs (e.g., SSID, WEP, LEAP, etc.).
  • 2. Configure and verify basic WCS configuration (i.e., login, add/review controller/AP status, security, and import/review maps).
  • 3. Describe and configure WLAN QoS.

And from BCMSN:

  • 4. Configure a wireless client (i.e., ADU).

(Note that on the Cisco web site, the exam topics aren't numbered - I numbered them here so I can reference them easily.)

Also, it's useful to list a few of the acronyms that are mentioned in those exam topics:

  • Wireless Control System - WCS - Cisco software that manages, configures, and monitors APs, LAPs, and WLCs.
  • Wireless LAN Controller - WLC - Cisco device that actively controls Lightweight Access Points (LAPs)
  • Lightweight Access Point - LAP - A wireless access point that is designed to rely on a WLC for configuration and firmware. The LAP performs all real-time functions, like managing access to the RF medium, with non-real-time functions being performed by the WLC.
  • Aironet Desktop Utility - ADU - The software and drivers for a Cisco wireless LAN card intended for use in PCs as a wireless client card.

With all that mess out of the way, what's that mean as far as choosing lab gear? As usual, I'm basing my lab recommendations on what's listed in the exam topics, as well as in the authorized courseware and in the Cisco Press Exam Cert Guides. From that analysis, it looks like there are three major choices you can make it you buy any wireless lab gear for CCNP study.

First, you can get 1 Cisco Aironet wireless card, and a used AP (not LAP) - so you don't need WCs or a WLC. I figure about $150 on EBay. With those, you can practice objectives 1 and 4 from the list above. Easy enough.

The dilemma comes when deciding how  badly you want hands-on practice for exam topics 2 and 3 above. After looking at the lab guide from the official ONT course, and the ONT exam Certification Guide from Cisco Press, the associated coverage in those sources focus on the WCS software and on configuring LAPs - which in turn requires a WLC. A quick search on EBay shows the cheapest buy-it-now WLC at over $1500, which blows the whole CCNP budget. So, you could download the WCS software from cisco.com, assuming your relationship with Cisco allows that. However, it seems cost prohibitive to spend the bucks on the WLC.

The other choice is to go cheap on the WLAN gear, and spend the money elsewhere. Most everyone has a WLAN NIC in their laptop (if you have a laptop), or you can get a cheaper consumer-market NIC, like a linksys NIC. Many people already have a WLAN router/AP for their home Internet connection. You could experiment with the configuration settings on those devices, ignore the Cisco Aironet series - at least for buying lab gear - and just read about the details of the equivalent with WCS and WLC. Then you could spend your money on other CCNP gear.

So, I have two questions back to you folks. You helped a lot with the CCNA discussion on which gear you'd buy for cheap. If you bought Cisco aironet NICs and APs for your lab, which models do you think you'd buy? Or did you buy? And the second question is, given the details listed here, what would you buy? To answer that 2nd question, I tossed in a survey. Thanks!!!

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