In my own professional certification pursuits I have designed, constructed, and maintained a large number of lab environments. At first, this was simply a matter of practical necessity in order to gain the practical, hands-on experience required for more advanced Cisco certifications. In my own experiences, these included the CCNA, CCNP, and CCIE in Routing and Switching. I later added skills in Unified Communications, Wireless, and Data Center areas in order to stay current with newer technologies.
Maintaining and building your skills as a network engineering professional is critical to the vitality of your career and remaining marketable in an increasingly competitive job market. Standing still or maintaining a small niche is simply not an option. For example, have you have ever watched young children try to walk the wrong way on an escalator? They have to walk fairly quickly to make any progress, and move backwards if they stand still. In your career, you must constantly be moving forward or you will lose ground professionally.
Moving up the famous Cisco pyramid is no easy task; if it was simple, it would have no real value. Instead, it requires hard work, hours of study, and the ability to practically apply principles in realistic settings. Once you achieve the CCNA, you can choose to move on to the CCNP or attempt a specialization, such as the CCNA Voice, which is our focus in this particular post. Since I create training content as a career, I have successfully built and used a lab environment to serve this very purpose. You should note that of all the labs we have talked about so far, this one has the potential for being more expensive.
Using the process outline used previously, 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.
Phase 1: Design
Since our focus this time around is the CCNA Voice, the exam blueprint will be the most helpful in constructing the most optimal technical environment. If you ever need to reference any of the exam blueprints, start at http://www.cisco.com/go/certifications. For our purposes, we will examine the contents of the CCNA ICOMM v8.0 (640-461) blueprint as follows:
- Describe the characteristics of a Cisco Unified Communications solution
- Provision end users and associated devices
- Configure voice messaging and presence
- Maintain Cisco Unified Communications system
- Provide end user support
As outlined in the above diagram, there are several critical elements that you will need to create a comprehensive Voice lab environment. This includes devices supporting Cisco Unified Communications Manager Express (CUCME) and Cisco Unified Communications Manager (8.5 or newer), and Cisco Unity Connection (8.5 or newer) and Cisco Unified Presence (8.5 or newer). Translating this into more specific requirements, the equipment list could look something like this:
- 2 Cisco IP Phones (prices vary, may go for around $50-100 on eBay)
- Cisco Voice Gateway (prices vary, may go for around $800-1500 on eBay)
- PoE Switch (prices vary, may go for around $50-60 on eBay)
- 1 ASA-5505 (optional, for access)
- Servers for Hosting CUCM, Unity Connection and Presence (prices vary, may go for around $1600-2000 on eBay)
Next week we’ll discuss how to build your lab.