Making use of Cisco's labs to practice for certifications

Students have been asking for years for Cisco to provide affordable, hands-on labs for practicing the various certifications. Cisco has been responding lately.

Cisco Labs study practice CCIE certification VIRL

A major hurdle for students wanting to achieve the various Cisco Certifications has always been equipment. Sure, a student could purchase a few used devices via an auction site for something like the entry-level CCENT Certification, but what about more complex certifications that might require thousands (or more) worth of gear? Rack rental companies tend to come and go and can be very unreliable. 

Cisco is finally really attacking this issue for students thanks to exciting virtualization technologies. This article presents some current options available today. 

First up is Cisco VIRL. VIRL stands for Virtual Internet Routing Labs. What makes VIRL so exciting is a low price tag for its annual subscription (approximately $150 per year with a $50 off coupon) and a decent variety of devices for virtualization. The list includes:

  • IOSv – 15.5(2)T
  • IOSvL2 – 15.2.411
  • IOSXRv – 5.3.0
  • CSR1000v – 3.14
  • NX-OSv 7.2.0
  • ASA1000v 9.3.2
  • Ubuntu 14.4.2

Frequent updates to the product and the features supported in the images above make this product a bit like experiencing Christmas on a monthly basis. For example, while the NX-OS initially was lacking almost all Layer 3 features, more and more have been appearing on a monthly basis. 

Sound too good to be true? Well, there really is not a catch, but one needs to be aware of the resource requirements to run a bunch of the devices listed above. VIRL states the min CPU and RAM as follows - Four CPU cores and 8GB of DRAM that can be allocated to the VIRL VM (more resources allows for larger simulations). This is certainly true. While the product caps you at 15 devices total (excluding the unmanaged switches it provides), you would need a bunch of RAM to actually achieve that 15 number. I use an i7 iMac with 32 GB of RAM in order to run nice 15 device topologies. Thankfully, RAM prices keep falling. 

By the way, if money is less of an object and you need many devices beyond the 15 limit, you can examine the Cisco Modeling Labs virtualization option. This is the father of the VIRL product aimed at enterprises that need to stress test large topologies. 

Perhaps the most exciting feature of VIRL is the ability to have it preconfigure much of the required configurations for you. For example, need to test OPSF features in a multi-area config with BGP running over the top? No problem. VIRL can automate all the IPv4 and IPv6 addressing and routing protocols for you, allowing you to focus your time on the configurations you need to experiment with. 

For more information, check out the VIRL website

Studying for your CCIE R&S? Another option from Cisco in addition to VIRL is the CCIE Lab Builder. This eliminates your local resource concerns as you are accessing cloud-hosted resources via a simple Web interface. This product is available from the Cisco Learning Network store.

Currently, it is available in two subscription options: $300 for 100 hours of use, or $1,000 for 500 hours of use. 

If you would like to watch a demo of VIRL (an early release version) - watch here:

If you would like to see a demo of the CCIE Lab Builder - it occurs 7 minutes into this video: 

It would certainly appear this is just the beginning of exciting practice lab options from Cisco Systems. As I discover more, I will certainly be reporting here. Thank you so much for reading, and I hope this post was informative for you. 

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