UPDATE – www.ccnaHomeLab.com is now live with updated information and equipment.
So you have heard that you need a lot of hands on time before you take your Cisco CCNA or CCENT. The next logical question is ‘How do I do that’ closely followed by ‘How much will it cost me?’
In this article I will show you the basics of buying and setting up your own home CCNA training rack.
Actually cost is the wrong word to be honest, it is better to think of it as an investment in your future. When you buy your own home rack you can actually sell it for what you paid for it or close anyway so consider it cheap router rental. I would budget for around £250/$500 for a basic CCNA training level rack or around £350/$700 for a super duper rack. That includes all your kit and cables. But if you find a great deal somewhere you could pay a lot less.
If you are completely broke and can’t even afford that then I would recommend using an online CCNA rack as opposed to a router simulator. Router sims are okay if you have nothing else to work on but to be honest, you can never honestly put time spent on router sims onto your CV or résumé whereas you can definitely put time spent on live routers and switches onto your CV. If you want to access live Cisco routers over the web then the absolute best rack you can use is the howtonetwork live Cisco rack which comes with 10 free hours when you sign up.
What You Need
For a basic home rack you will need:
2 Cisco routers, each with a serial port (WIC) and fast ethernet port
1 Cisco 2950 switch
2 Ethernet cables
1 WIC back to back (DTE-DCE) cable
Console lead for hyperterminal or putty connection
Copy of Putty (software)
The models of Cisco router available can seem overwhelming but here is my take:
1600 – too old to be useful
2500 – okay but they have the old 10meg ethernet ports
1720 – perfect for home labs
1760 – great if you can afford but heavy to post
1800 – too expensive for CCNA level
You need to have a 2950 model switch because this is what is tested in the CCNA exam.
Cisco 1720 Router
Cisco 2950 Switch
For an advanced Cisco CCNA training rack you need:
3 Cisco routers, two with one serial port and one with two serial ports (the hub router)
2 Cisco 2950 switches
2 Ethernet cables
1 crossover cable (to connect the switches together)
2 WIC back to back (DTE-DCE) cable
Console lead for hyperterminal or putty connection
Copy of Putty
If you are buying 1720 model routers make sure you get a power supply unit (PSU) with it because this is what plugs into your router. You plug a three pin kettle lead into that which leads to your power supply.
Cabling for your rack can seem a little confusing at times. Here is the lowdown on the cables you need:
Ethernet – I hope you know this one. Ethernet is used to connect devices to your switch at 100meg.
Crossover – You need a cable to connect your PC or laptop to the console port on the router or switch. This lets you log into the device and configure them. They are usually light blue in colour and connect to the COM port on the back of your PC. Modern laptops no longer have them which is a pain so you need a USB to COM converter cable. You can search on Ebay for the term ‘Cisco console cable.’ Expect to pay a few pounds for one.I would personally buy three or four of the crossover cables so you can have one window open per device.
Plug the rollover cable into the console port
USB to Console – As mentioned above. You will need a cable which your console cable can plug into before it reaches your USB port. The cable should come with drivers to get it working on your PC.The picture to the right shows my rollover (console) cable plugged into my USB to Console cable.I have actually filmed a short video which shows you how to do this and it is posted on YouTube:
WAN Cable – A serial or WAN cable lets you configure your connection between the serial interfaces on the routers. When you work at an office you usually connect one end of the cable into your router and the other into a socket on the wall provided by your ISP. Your home lab will have two routers, one as the customer router and the other as the ISP router.Your WAN cable will have one end as the customer end (DTE) and the other end as the ISP (DCE). The DCE end provides the speed for the connection.
DB60 – Serial WAN cable
WIC Card – If you buy a modular router you need to have cards to slot in to the black slots in the router. For Cisco CCNA racks you simply need a WIC card which you can buy from Ebay. They can be a little expensive so you may actually be better off buying a router which comes with a WIC card.A WIC is a serial card with a 60 pin connection which of course you plug your 60 pin WAN cable into.Please turn the power off before you insert the WIC or another other card into your router.
You will need software to run a terminal connection so you can connect through the console port of your routers and switches. The old faithful program has always been hyperterminal developed by Microsoft but this hasn’t been updated for years and is not very flexible.The best program to use is Putty and best of all it is free. You can download putty here.You simply install putty, plug your console cable in and connect over serial COM 1 port. If you are using the USB to COM adaptor you can look in device manager under COM and LTP ports and see which COM port you have been allocated.
There is a video showing you how it works on our sister site howtonetwork.net.
Cisco IOS – routers and switches need an operating system which is referred to as the IOS (internetwork operating system). When you buy second hand equipment it should come with one installed. Technically, you are supposed to pay Cisco to use their software but if it is installed on the device already then great. If you you have to buy an image from Cisco it may well cost you a few thousand dollars so make sure you have one on whatever you buy.
The latest versions of Cisco IOS run at 12.4 but anything from 12.1 onwards will do you fine. For the CCNA you only need something which support basic routing which is almost every release available. You do need to know about IPv6 for the CCNA but at the moment you are not expected to know how to configure it.
Cisco SDM – there is now a graphical tool you can use to configure Cisco routers. It is called Security Device Manager and is now featured in the CCNA exam. Although Cisco expect you to be able to configure routers with SDM it appears that they have not worked out a way to test you on it in the exam yet but of course this could change. If you want to use SDM you will need to download it (for free) and then install it on your router.
SDM only works with Cisco routers model 1760 or higher. If you want to use it you are going to have to go to the trouble of buying the routers, getting a higher release of Cisco IOS and then spend a few hours playing with it. My advice is either to watch a couple of SDM videos on YouTube or put the software on your PC for free and connect to a live Cisco rack which can support SDM. Before you ask, yes, our live racks support SDM.
I have put the info you need in the above SDM videos.
Where To Buy
The best place to find second hand Cisco kit has to be Ebay. There are several companies now who offer Cisco CCNA racks or you can just buy the kit individually. Buying the entire rack with cables will save you time but if you are up for a bargain you can bid on Cisco CCNA routers being sold by people who do not know what they are worth. I can’t personally recommend any particular sellers but look for somebody who offers a warranty and e-mail support to help you get set up.
Beware companies who seem to be selling cheap equipment but then charge a fortune for postage. Ebay are clamping down on these rogue traders. You can do an Ebay search for ‘cisco rack’ or ‘ccna rack’ or for the individual items such as ‘cisco 1720’ which are my personal favourite because they are light and cheap.
Get yourself an account on Phantom Bidder and set a low bid amount to go in at the last 3 seconds. This way you can pick up Cisco 1720 routers for a few pounds.
Setting it Up
Once you have all your shiny equipment at home, setting it up should be fairly easy. You connect your power, plug your devices together with your Ethernet and serial cables, plug your console cable in and open up Putty. I recommend just playing with one device first until you get used to opening up your Putty sessions.
If you want to use another device I recommend having one console cable per device. If you only have one console cable you are going to have to continually unplug it to connect to the other devices and you may well wear out the metal contacted inside the console port on the routers (I have lost several devices this way).
This is actually a bit of a challenge. You need to configure lots and lots of labs if you want to be a good Cisco engineer as well as the small matter of passing your CCNA exam. I have read most of the books by CCNA authors and they are all missing one small detail – labs for you to configure! I’m not kidding, I have read them from page to page and they give you all the theory but then they don’t give you a lab to configure! Is it just me or is that completely crazy.
I don’t want to go all salesy on you (I know that isn’t a word) but I ended up writing my own Cisco study guide to plug that massive gap in the market. More details on that below. Meanwhile, there are lots and lots of challenge labs for you to get your teeth into for FREE at our sister site howtonetwork.net under the section Free CCNA labs.
I hope this has all been some help to you. When I was learning about Cisco networking it used to drive me nuts when the sites and books presumed I knew the basics. They launched into all the protocols and OSI layers but forgot to tell me where to plug in my cables and how to connect to the routers. Small details I know but kind of important don’t you think.
Best of luck in your exam.
About Paul Browning
Paul Browning owns Networks Inc. Ltd who have been teaching Cisco courses in the UK since 2002. Customers include BT, Shell, British Army, Jaguar, Ford and many many more.Paul also owns the worlds only complete end-to-end CCNA training site www.howtonetwork.net which is one of the fastest growing training sites in the world. Paul believes that anybody can pass their Cisco exams if they are prepared to put the work in and follow a proven successful study method. He is the only person in the UK to have authored his own Cisco CCNA study guide – CCNA Simplified.