Getting started with your Cisco Certification Lab

Congratulations on your decision to purchase a home lab for your Cisco certification exam studies.  This will not only be the most beneficial tool you could have purchased to unlock your learning potential, but also the best investment you could have made into your IT future.  This is the first to in a series of many helping you to achieve your Cisco Certified Network Associate certification with the real hands-on experience you will need to succeed in this tough and massively growing employment market.

So where do you start? First, go to our Facebook page and like it now!  You can also find us on Instagram @CertificationKits and on Twitter @CiscoKits

Next, we suggest that you review lab 1-1 in the CertificationKits CCNA self-study lab workbook you received with your kit. This lab will review the components of both a Cisco 2500 series, 2600 series, the 1841 series, and the 2801 series routers.  These are good core units to start the building blocks of understanding Cisco routers from some Legacy models up to more current models. It will explain the function of each port via illustrated descriptions. Additionally, it will cover common cables such as the console kit, the DTE/DCE back to back WAN serial cable, and components such as transceivers, WIC-1DSU-T1, WIC-1T, WIC-2T, WIC-2a/s and NM-4A/S modules along with descriptions of what they are used for along with illustrated pictures. Finally, it will review the inside components of each router highlighting things such as DRAM, Flash, and even old school boot ROMs.,

Then you will want to proceed to lab 1-2. In this lab you will learn how to connect your PC to a console session on your Cisco router or switch. Please note that you will need to download a terminal emulator such as PuTTY or TeraTerm, both of which you can find on your provided Study Tools and Ebooks Disc!

In lab 2-1 you will learn the basics on how to do the password recovery procedure on a Cisco router, (1700/1800/1900/2500/2600/2800/2900/4000 Series) . We do not cover the password recovery procedure on every series router in our lab workbook as it would really be a waste of space and they are all pretty similar. You can find the password recovery procedure on our website for various other routers and switches at the following link.
CCNA Certification Articles

The rest of the labs in chapters 2 and 3 and full of really cool stuff, but let’s now move on to actually setting up the routers and switches in your CCNA lab environment. As you embark on lab 4-1 for Static Routing, you will notice the lab illustration shows three routers. It is quite possible you may have purchased a CCNA lab kit with only two routers. So, does that mean that you can’t complete the lab? No not at all. It just means that in your lab environment, it will not be as complicated as the one illustrated in this CCNA lab workbook. You will see the routers or labeled R1, R2, and R3. You will follow the configuration example for just R1 and R2. You will still be able to complete the lab and see the route propagation between router one and router two. This holds true for remainder of the lab workbook. In situations where the lab calls for more routers or switches then you currently have in your CCNA home lab, follow the instructions for the number of routers in which you have.

The new CCNA exam has moved pretty much everything over to using ethernet ports, but if you added on serial ports and/or our new CCNA Beyond Serial Lab Workbook we wanted to touch on some things with those below.  To be clear, we still consider an understanding of serial technology and connections and an essential skill for all network engineers.  You will see these in your Cisco Security Certifications, CCNP Certifications, as well as most data centers and especially in international networks.  Just because Cisco has removed serial ports from the direct CCNA curriculum does not mean that they just all of a sudden dispersed from real world networking in the field.

Kits Utilizing DB60 Serial Ports (WIC-1T Modules)
We would like to take an opportunity here to point out a few common mistakes that are encountered by new CCNA students. As you move into further networking studies that involve serial ports, you will notice that some ports have the designation over it of DCE. This router is going to be the router which provides clocking for your WAN connection between the two routers on serial 0/0/0 and serial 0/0/1. So it is very important that you make sure that you plug-in the DCE side of the back to back cable to the router which will be configured as R1 or holds that side of the clocking configuration. If you plug the DCE side of the cable into R2 (which in this case will holds the clock rate command), the lab will not work as the serial line will not come up and stay up. In the real world serial connections require clocking and this is generally provided by your provider through your CSU/DSU. Since in the labs you will see on Cisco exams do not have a CSU/DSU, we will have a Cisco router simulate the clocking by plugging in the DCE side to R2 and running the “clock rate ” command on R2. Additionally another common mistake we will see is that students will inadvertently plug the cable in upside down. This is even though the cable is keyed. If you look closely at the cable you will notice the top row of pins has more pins in the row then the bottom row. But if you force the cable on the serial port upside down it will fit although it bends the pins on the serial cable. So please try not to make this mistake so you do not destroy your serial cable.

WIC-1DSU-T1 Serial Port Based Kits
These kits are a little different as we have covered in other articles on our site. As they do not utilize the general lab standard of DB60 or even smart serial cables. But not to worry, they will still work fine with our labs with just a little modification. This will hold effective for all the CCNA labs so please don’t forget these items. Since there is no DCE side, you do not need to configure the clock rate command. So you may be asking how is the clocking done? Well, what you should do is configure one router(the center router if you are using a 3 router CCNA lab setup) with the service-module T1 clock source internal command. Then on the other router, you should configure the service-module T1 clock source line command. This way they sync up. That said, a majority of the time if you don’t configure either of those commands it will still work…  Don’t worry, your lab workbook fully reviews this.

Smart Serial Based Kits

This is our most recommended setup and you will see an upgrade option for the smart serial cards and cables in pretty much every kit we offer.  These are a more current technology, faster and offer a direct match to the clocking commands you will see Cisco use on their exams.  Once again, these are a DCE/DTE style connection and you can find the cables labeled as so.  If you want the most streamlined experience that is a direct match up to Cisco’s specs, these are the way to go.

Additional Information
If you purchased one of our three router kits, most of them come with a modular router that will support an NM-4A/S module. In this situation, you will install the NM-4A/S module in the modular router and use that router as R1. The NM-4A/S module is a four-port serial module. In some scenarios, it will act in its native mode and route between the four serial ports. However, in other advanced lab scenarios, we will configure the module to act as a frame relay switch. *As frame relay has been dropped from the previous 200-125 exam, you may still receive a modular router, but not an NM-4a/s module. You can still study frame relay if you would like, as it is great knowledge to have, but you will use your WIC card serial cards instead.

The LAN connections in the labs should be very straightforward. If you are using a 2509 or 2511 access server and purchased a transceiver, you will connect the transceiver to the AUI port. On the transceiver you should see an RJ-45 port. It is here you will connect an Ethernet patch cable(which is straight through) to the transceiver on one end and usually to a switch on the other end. If this is a 1841, 28xx or higher series router, there is no need for a transceiver as they either have a built-in RJ-45 style ethernet port or we have included a network module that has an RJ-45 style Ethernet port. Similar all the way back to the 2500 series router, you will insert one end of the Ethernet patch cable into the RJ-45 style Ethernet port on the router and the other end of the Ethernet patch cable into a switch. The 1841, 2800, 4221, etc. series routers all have either dual fast ethernet or gigabit ports for the LAN connections.

Please note that when you connect a switch to a switch, you will use an Ethernet crossover cable (we like to say “like devices”). You can identify this cable one of a few different ways. Generally it will be written right on the cable that it is a crossover cable. The other way to identify a crossover cable is by putting the two side by side and you will notice the color cables are in reversed order between the two ends. You can view some illustrated examples of this and all the cables we described above on our website at the following link.
CCNA Lab Cable Guide

Your kit will come with at least two crossover patch cables. Again, these must be used when you are patching between two switches or like devices. If you do use a regular Ethernet patch cable, the link will not come up. This is something that you will want to play with yourself to see it happen in real life. Now, normally you will not want to connect two crossover cables between the same two switches. You may ask why? Well, that may cause some Layer 2 problems. But don’t worry, they are generally taken care of after some convergence by STP(Spanning Tree Protocol) that you will become familiar with as you progress in your CCNA studies. That said, you can create multiple links between switches if you configure the switches for EtherChannel. EtherChannel is a port trunking(link aggregation) technology that you also will become familiar with during your CCNA studies.

With more current routers auto-MDIX is enabled by default which will automatically recognize the connection type.  This will make correction and still bring your links up if you make a cabling mistake.  However, Cisco still tests that you understand the difference between using a crossover or straight-through cable.  So, even though you can get away with cabling errors, if you don’t practice these connections as-if auto-MDIX didn’t exist, you will run into trouble come exam time.