Cisco Packet Tracer
I’m sure you know already but Cisco have created a wonderful network simulator called Packet Tracer. It is designed for use by Cisco network academy students but I’m sure many non-academy students have got their hands on a copy of it.
I know you can get a copy when you buy academy books from book stores as well.
I have used it myself for quick labs and have been very impressed. Especially when you compare it to the poor offerings from every other company who claim to offer a network simulator. Their version is a bit like sucking a sweet with the wrapper still on.
PT is easy to use, convenient because you can simply start it up on your laptop and off you go. No reloading routers or cabling switches up.
The major drawback of course is that PT is not live kit. I get questions on the forum almost every day with students complaining that the labs are not working right (the ones from my site) or that they are getting strange output.
After some digging, it transpires that they are using PT and this is the problem. It will never act exactly like live kit. You will never get to see the real world type of problems you find when configuring kit so when you come across them in the real world or interviews you are basically stuffed.
In the real world you will be expected to be able to cable up equipment, console in and then configure it either remotely or on site. If you have never seen or touched a real router then you might as well pack you bag and go home.
For your résumé, you cannot put down PT time as hands on experience either. You wouldn’t want to sit in a plane being flown by a pilot with purely flight simulator training so why would anyone expect to be hired with only PT experience.
Having said all that. I do like it as a study tool.