Along my journey from CCNA to CCIE, I had to go through the task of periodically building lab environments to give me hands-on experience. This was especially critical in the CCIE Lab, which involved multiple devices, protocols, and tasks to complete. When I first began teaching CCNA courses, I came up with the idea of creating a scaled down version of a lab exam to assist with hands-on learning.
Everyone learns a little differently, but the general methods of learning are:
- Visual: Involves the use of the eyes, including diagrams, reading, and printed materials
- Auditory: Involves the use of the ears including lectures, sounds, and related materials
- Kinesthetic: Involves the use of real-time hands-on learning
Everyone can learn using kinesthetic methods, but typically people favor either visual or auditory as a primary learning style. As a result, using either visual or auditory materials with hands-on learning creates a very strong and compelling learning model. This is yet another reason that I place a great emphasis on labs scenarios for technical training.
There are two primary phases to creating a lab for study purposes. The first is design, and the other is the actual physical assembly of the components. In some cases you may be able to create a multiple-use environment from the ground up, but starting with some idea of the goal in mind is a better idea.
Phase I: Design
The purpose of any design process is to create a specific type of outcome, usually related to goals. Knowing what technology and/or certification you want to get practice with can help decide how many resources you might need to assemble. For example, a CCNA-level lab may only require a handful of routers and one switch, where a Cisco Unified Communications Lab may require phones, servers, switches, routers, and so on. For our purposes, let’s just concentrate on a CCENT/CCNA level lab environment.
Creating anything turns out better with a design or blueprint, which is the exact terminology that Cisco uses when outlining their exams. Simplifying the contents of the CCNA (640-802), the requirements include:
- VLAN, Trunks, and Spanning Tree
- Frame-Relay WAN
- RIPV2, OSPF, and EIGRP Routing
- WLAN (administration only)
Fortunately, even many older Cisco routers and switches are capable of supporting the requirements listed above, from IOS version 12.3 and later (my recommendation, 12.4 is far better). Even more to the point, the switching component(s) can involve less expensive Layer 2 platforms and be limited to just one or two. Translating this into specific requirements, the equipment list might look like this:
- 4 Routers (2600 or above, with Trunking Support)
- 1-2 Switches (2900XL, 2950, or newer)
- 1 Frame Relay switch (can be a module in one of the routers)
- 1 ASA-5505 (optional, for access)
In the next post I’ll walk you through the building process.
Images reproduced with permission from Cisco.com