Home lab for CCIE exam training

Before I started with my preparation I was in front of a dilemma. I knew that I will need a rack to practice for CCIE training and I had two options: remote rack rental or home rack.

I put together side by side all pluses and minuses about the two options, but somehow I couldn’t decide which solution to choose. Both options have good and bad parts. You’ll have to figure it out which solution you can afford and works best in your case. My words below are just to be used as guidelines.

In first phase I bought some time on online racks. The prices were acceptable but I had big issues to find a time window that suits for me. As you probably know, the “good” windows are already booked in advanced. Next, most of the racks are out of Europe (where I’m located), so there is a time difference. Then I had problems with latency. It was acceptable but I could feel that the connection cannot keep up with my typing speed. All this together made me think to find a new solution.

Phase two: Dynamips. I believe that everybody who’s preparing for an Cisco exam heard of this software and used and least once. I put together a strong machine to support Dynamips and then I look around for a training provider that would offer their labs in this format. Back then, INE was my choice and it went pretty well. Almost perfect, just that the routers were stopping to respond from time to time, lack of connectivity in the emulated topology and of course I couldn’t test everything on switches.

I had some months of practice -> Brussels -> exam … and failed. Yes, failure is part of the game. Judging after my exam results (the percent part) I realized that I’m not totally out of topics, but I need to polish my knowledge a bit more to pass.

After this episode I had to stop for a while my preparation due to lack of time. A while ago, I decided to give another exam try, but before I need  to start polishing my knowledge.

Phase three: mixed home rack. I have now a mixed rack with Dynamips for routers and switches in hardware. I opted for this solution because of multiple problems like lack of space for a full rack, costs, power consumption, noise and so on.

To put the things together for this mixed topology, I had to buy some things on eBay. Here is the list:

3 x Quad Ethernet cards

2 x Cisco 3560

2 x Cisco 3550

3 x Cisco 2600 (for BB routers)

There is another solution, that don’t require quad cards, but an extra switch that support QinQ. You can read more about that solution here.

The there quad cards will give me 12 ethernet ports enough for 6 routers (R1..R6) in common topologies. The serial connections will be emulated in Dynamips and the Ethernet will be something like:

R1 F0/0 -> Eth1 (Linux box) -> 3560 Fa0/1

and so on…

The three BB routers are not really necessary if you use the topology from INE , as one of the BB has a Serial connection to topology routers, and I cannot have that connection from virtual to physical environment.

If you use MicronicsTrainig, well-know as Narbik topology, then you will need the physical routers or an additional quad card. In this topology the BB routers have Ethernet connection to the switches and I don’t have enough ports with my three quad cards. Anyway the price was not a problem for the 2600.

With IPexpert training books, it’s a bit different. I didn’t check too much into their topology, because I understand that you need more resources as it include more routers (about nine). I will have a look in future, as I would like to see if my home rack can be used with any provider.

Here are some pictures of my home lab:

In my next post I will describe how I build a “rack” from an IKEA table, cable connection, console configuration and so more technical details for those who would like to follow this solution.