CCNP Wrap-up I: Picking Switches

Yes, for those of you who've been sticking with me on this seemingly un-ending ramble about CCNP labbing: it' finally reaching it's conclusion. I've covered all I'm going to about content on th eexams. Next, I'll spend a few posts making suggestions on gear, topologies, and build lists for building your own CCNP lab. I'll start by listing some thoughts about which switches to buy today, routers next post, and the pull together some build lists.

For budget, I'm going to fall back on the budget survey I asked about a few months back. Feel free to weigh in if you haven't already - I'll look at the results again before I put the final build list together. Or just post on today's page and I'll see it there. I was surprised at how few chose the "more than $1600" option - not because I think the economy's going great, but because it didn't seem like a lot. I'll try to stay frugal (just like Cisco!), and I'll probably then shoot for a final topo/build list of $800, $1200, and $1600. Unless you folks change my mind in the mean time, that is.

OK, today's topic is switches. It's been a while, so let me start with some choices I'm making for our sample labs:

  • Layer 3 switches are too expensive for our lab.
  • You need at least a pair, although 3 helps a lot when looking at STP.
  • The difference between 2950 standard versus enhanced image is small.
  • 2900XL's are useful today mainly if you just can't afford the 2950's.
  • Better/more recent switches would be nice, but don't fit in the budget.

To see more of the background, look to my CCNP lab post 2 and CCNP lab post 3. I won't rehash all that here, but I say that my criteria here is for CCNP prep, and CCNP prep only - no consideration for moving to another CCxP or CCIE cert.

Next, here's what I found today on Ebay for prices on the gear we discussed when we were kicking ideas about switches. As usual, my pricing goal is to get a general idea, but not to necessarily look for today's best bargains. So, I go to Ebay, search, sort by price, and select "buy it now only" so I can see what I really could get it for today without waiting on bidding to finish. I'm pretty much ignoring the number and type of interfaces, other than those that require more hardware (eg, for GBIC and SFP ports, I adjusted a bit mentally for those costs as well, versus those with copper gigabit built-in.) I also ignored shipping, again to make it more generic. Here's what I found:

2900XL:                        $50

2950 Standard             $150

2950 Enhanced            $250

These prices are a little lower than when I looked a few months back for the CCNA lab posts. Interestingly, there were a very large number of WS-C2950 (that have the standard image) available today on Ebay, with a few number of Enhanced image 2950's. There were several enhanced image switches at less than $250, but those didn't have 1000Base-T - but lots of $250 each did.

Also, be careful about which switches do and don't have the EI software - here's a good link to check those that have EI, and here's one for those that don't. Look to the bottom of the links.

Finally, I did check the 3550's, which are the lowest-price option to get into an L3 switch. The SI image 3550's (no layer 3 switching, but can be software upgraded to do so w/ Enhanced image) still seem to be around $600.

Now, for topologies. While you can learn something with just 1 switch, it's really helpful to have at least 2 switches, and with 3, you can do a lot more with STP practice. Here's a couple of sample topologies with 2 and 3 switches, respectively, that would be how I'd deploy the gear when doing switch-centric practice. This assumes I've got 3 routers, but they're cheaper, and I'm going to suggest a minimum of 3 routers in the next post anyway...

To close for today, here's what I'll suggest for the three CCNP lab budgets. You tell me where I'm missing, and maybe that'll influence what I put in the sample build lists in the coming week:

  • Budget 1: $800 - No switches
  • Budget 2: $1200 - 2 x 2950 Standard image (total $300)
  • Budget 3: $1600 - 3 x 2950 Standard image (total $450)

Admittedly, this is only part of the story - rest is coming - but comment away!

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