Building Your CCNA Lab

We already walked through the design phase for your lab. Now it’s time to build it.

Phase II: Build

There are three generally accepted ways to access equipment for a lab. First, you can rent rack time from a wide number of vendors, which can save on your power bill and simplify practice. Second, for routing platforms, you can use an emulator or simulator, such as Packet Tracer or GNS3. Finally, you can get your own equipment and assemble your own lab, which I think is the best choice. You can utilize spare equipment at work, request some from your local Cisco Users Group, or purchase your own using Craigslist or eBay. Here is a parts list that can make the process straightforward:

4 – Cisco 2620/21 with 1 WIC1-T card
2 – 2912-XL-EN (2924 would be 24 ports)
1 – ASA-5505 (Base License)
NM-4A/S Module for 2600 Series
6 Cat-5 Ethernet Cables
3 DCE to DTE Serial Back to Back Cables

Correctly assembling these components into an easily accessible lab is fairly simple, and I have built enough of them over the years to help simplify the process. One item not listed above that can be helpful is a terminal server, which establishes console-based access to all of the devices in the lab. In the simplest setup, you can simply swap the console cable between each device, but when you have eight or more devices (as I typically do), a terminal server is a big help.

Step 1: Rack, Stack, & Power

While it may not seem like a big deal, the logistics of power and space can actually cause major headaches. To start with, if you operate your lab at home, you will have to foot the power bill, which is one reason I host mine at work when possible. Ideally, a network cabinet or rack is helpful for the physical assembly, and don’t despair if you only need a small one. Creativity is your best friend here; I discovered that an old Exabtyte tape drive cabinet with the “guts” removed was a great improvised substitute. Power can be as simple as a power strip or surge protector, but be very careful not to overload it, or you can create a fire hazard. At this point, run your power cords from the equipment into the strip, and plug everything into it. If it looks sloppy, use cable straps to bundle the cords or fasten them to the rack.

Step 2: LAN Cabling

The second basic step in assembling your certification lab is probably the easiest, namely, cabling the LAN connections. You can use CAT 5/6 cables of any length, but the shorter the better; the exception is adequate length to comfortably reach between devices. Cable all router LAN ports to the switch(es), and if you use multiple switches, cable between the switches with at least two cords.

Step 3: Serial Interface Cabling

The WIC-1T style cards utilize 60-pin connectors similar to older fixed-configuration devices such as the 1600 and 2500 series (see below).

As described in the parts list, you need a specific type of serial cable for back to back connections. Remember that interfaces can operate as DTE or DCE depending on the cable involved. You can purchase DB-60 DTE to DCE cables from a variety of sources (one is where I personally purchased). If you have spare cables in your work environment, typically DTE, then you can just use or purchase the corresponding DCE cable and connect them together.

In the next post, I’ll walk you through configuring your lab for operation.

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  1. Howard Reply

    I do think you need to mention both software level and amount of RAM/Flash each device should have. There are some great deals out there, but they are usless if you can’t do the commands needed for the tests. Also, should mention looking ahead to future certifications. This might mean you spend a little extra money by purchasing WIC-2T cards, so you can be ready for CCNP/CCIE and not have to replace equipment.

    This is a good series of articles, but a little too breif. Us techies like more beef, ;).

  2. Joe Rinehart Reply

    That’s a good point actually, because you can end up limiting yourself later. What I outlined will work for the CCNA through CCNP but when you get to the CCIE you have to be pretty attentive to the IOS version being used in the curent lab, which is certainly far above what a 2600 non-XM will be able to do.

    I have actually been thinking a litle bit about the WIC-2T cards and how to incorporate the Smart Serial connectors into a Frame-Relay switch. Since the 2800 series has 4 WIC slots, you can create an 8-port switch using WIC-2T cards or even use the HWIC-4A/S or
    HWIC-8A/S-232 cards as well.

    – Joe