Cisco CCNP Enterprise Lab Suggestions

When you are building your Cisco CCNA lab, it is pretty easy as three Cisco router and three Cisco switches will put you in a pretty good position at a pretty reasonable price. The same is now true of the new CCNP exam!  Where the previous version of CCNP required a larger four router and four switch topology, Cisco has reduced that down to the same device count as CCNA.  So, you can now build a CCNP lab for considerably less than ever because you only need three routers and three switches as your core topology. This is also definitely a lot less than the price of attending a Cisco CCNA training class or boot camp and you will get to keep the equipment to practice on for as long as you like, even after you certify!  This is also key because a lot of the real deep learning truly begins when you can tinker with your own lab, on your own time and at your own pace. The CCNP ENCORE 350-401 exam is also now the pre-requisite for CCIE, so you’ll have the building blocks in place to move up the certification ladder after completing your CCNP!

ccnp lab kits

Now with building your Cisco CCNP lab, you will start with CCNP ENCORE 350-401 as your core requirement.  Then you pick a concentration exam to complete your certification.  The vast majority of candidates move directly to CCNP ENARSI 300-410 at this point.  This is the “Implementing Cisco Enterprise Advanced Routing and Services” concentration that completes CCNP Enterprise.  This is the most similar concentration to what we saw on the previous ROUTE, SWITCH and TSHOOT exams and teaches you to install, configure, operate, and troubleshoot an enterprise level network.  This directly builds on the skills and curriculum from ENCORE and you will even see some overlap from what you previously learned.

What we try to do is provide you a few different levels of CCNP kits from the Super Economy CCNP kit all the way up to the Titanium CCNP kit.  We even have a kit that is an updated version of the old four router and four switch topology in case you want to play around with expanding past the new smaller topology for “bonus points”. As you go from one level of the kit to the next, we try to strike a balance between the cost of the kit and the features you will be able to experience in each kit. Obviously, as the price goes up, you can experience more of the features throughout the Cisco Academy labs. The upper end CCNP kits add in more G2 routers all the way up to XE routers. We understand that people have budgets and thus we give you choices for all price points.  We have built modular style selections that make it easy for anyone to find a kit that matches both their budget and their goals. Voice was dropped from the new CCNP exam and Wireless is lightly touched on, but we will get into why you might still want to learn these technologies later in this article

We have also gone the extra step by offering our pre-configured CCNP kits to take all the guess-work out of building your lab. These kits offer our best suggested devices, at the most reasonable price points to accomplish as much lab material as possible. They match the Cisco Recommended CCNP topology as closely as possible and provide you with the most capability for your money.

CCNP Lab Approach

Now that you have an idea of what you are looking to accomplish in your Cisco CCNP lab from an equipment perspective, let’s see how we might approach this. If you are not real strong on the features or pros and cons of the various routers, you may want to review our Cisco CCNA lab suggestions. Not only are there suggestions on building a Cisco CCNA lab, but we also cover many of these variables concerning Cisco routers and Cisco switches. Now, if you are only just beginning your Cisco certification studies looking to obtain your CCNA, but are looking ahead to your CCNP, we applaud you!  On the flip side of that, if you are an experienced IT person or have some strong networking experience, you no longer are required to take the CCNA as a pre-requisite for CCNP.  So, if you are feeling confident, you could simply dive right into CCNP and skip right past CCNA.

Network engineers must be able to sharpen their skill set of planning ahead for things like capacity and infrastructure upgrades. In this case, you are planning ahead for your Cisco certification career. So, if you are at the Cisco CCNA level and are ready to purchase a CCNA lab but you want to make sure it scales well to your future Cisco CCNP studies, we would recommend taking a look at our CCNP Recommended Lab Kits section of the site.  The lab kits in this section are where the majority of people building their CCNP Lab Kits from.  Now another option would be to go with a mid level to more advanced CCNA Lab Kit from the CCNA Recommend Lab Kit section.  The primary difference between the equipment in a CCNA lab and a CCNP lab is that the CCNP lab come with the serial cards and cable by default, usually run more capable devices and also usually incorporate more true layer 3 switches.  So, if you wanted to keep the budget down a bit, you could start with a CCNA Lab and then build it up for CCNP very easily.  We even have an awesome trade-up program that many customers find very useful for scaling up their lab at their own pace.  No other company out there has this program available to allow you to scale up as well as help future proof you.

Preferably, for CCNA, you should purchase three IOS 15.x routers and three IOS 15.x switches, so when you are ready for CCNP you will now only have to add one more router and one more switch of similar capability. If you didn’t purchase IOS 15.x routers from us for your CCNA studies, do not worry, you can always take advantage of our trade-up program and upgrade to the devices you need to get the best CCNP experience possible. As with most things in the world, the more you pay for the kit, the more features you will get to play with in your Cisco lab. Our pre-configured economy and standard CCNA lab kits are great if you do not have all the money for a full blown CCNP kit now or if you aren’t 100% sure you will want to continue on to the Cisco CCNP certification. But then again, who doesn’t want to progress in their career?

Common Cisco CCNP Lab Questions

What are the CCNP Exam Objectives?

Below you will find the three new CCNP exams listed along with a link detailing the objectives for each. You may note that the core exam objectives are very similar to the previous CCNP exam objectives. You only have to pass two exams and you are provided 120 minutes for each exam. Additionally, you will see an article that covers some of the changes between the old and new objectives.

It is true that having  voice hardware and any specialized need for wireless dropped from the new CCNP exam topics will save you a lot of potential money in building a lab. The trade-off here is that the new CCNP exam topics have now moved from standard IOS IOS 15.x to officially IOS XE. So, this does mean that more expensive routers and switches are now recommended for the CCNP exam, but with the removal of the need for wireless and voice hardware, the overall cost is still less than it was on the previous exam.  Additionally, we do not recommend that the vast majority of candidates spend the high cost to obtain IOS XE routers for the CCNP labs.  Even with standard IOS 15 routers, you can still accomplish a lot of the capability you need to complete the majority of CCNP labs.  What we have found to be the best route of meeting a fair cost and capability balance is going with a lab using G2 routers such as the 1921, 1941 or 2911 (if you want voice expansion capability).  The G2 routers were mentioned by Cisco as being officially recommended when the XE is not an option.  These will work exceptionally and will do just about everything you need at a far lower price point!  If you can’t decide between the standard routers, G2 or even XE, then we even have a solution for that with our various “Hybrid Kits” that blend these together.  This way anyone can find a perfect solution.  Now, once again, we come back to the fact that the more you spend, the more capability you will have. This is also true when you choose which model router to go with. The more expensive the router, the better the version of Cisco IOS it is capable of.

This also leaves us with the question of, “Do you need the wireless and voice equipment”? Well, if you are only interested in passing the exam and becoming a certified CCNP, then the answer is an easy, no. What the old CCNP exam did with these was give you a foundational understanding of both technologies. Is it highly possible that you will encounter and be expected to have some basic knowledge of how wireless and voice technologies work in the field? That is certainly possible. So, once again dropping the wireless and/or voice will bring your total cost down, but if your budget allows, gaining the extra experience with two highly used technologies will only increase your versatility as a professional network engineer!

Part of the CCNP officially recommend switches are the 3850.  Part of the reason for these is that they incorporate a Wireless Lan Controller in the lab.  These are incredibly expensive, beyond what anyone would consider reasonable for a CCNP lab.  So, we built all of our CCNP Lab with a far more economical solution with the 3560 and/or 3750v2 switches.  These will do what you need for the switching portion and remove the built in WLC.  There is very little need for anything past your standard home “generic” wireless router you probably already own.  However, if you want to expand the wireless portions, the most cost efficient way to do it is to add our Wireless Expansion Pack to your lab when you are ready.  This includes a stand alone WLC and two APs.  Adding these to the topology on their own instead of incorporated into a super expensive high end switch is dramatically cheaper and will get you to the same place.

Our Standard IOS 15.x capable routers from cheapest to most expensive include:

  • 1841 256/64
  • 1841 384/128
  • 2801
  • 2811
  • 2821

Our G2 IOS 15.x Universal capable routers include:

  • 1921 Base
  • 1941 Base
  • 1941 Base + Security
  • 2911 Base
  • 2911 Base + Security
  • 2911 Base + Security + UCK9 (Voice License)

Our IOS XE capable routers include:

  • 4321 Base
  • 4321 Base + Security
  • 4331 Base
  • 4331 Base + Security

What Can I Do With My Old 2500 or non-XM 2600 routers?

Pretty much as this point they have very little value in the CCNA, CCNP, and CCIE tracks. For someone who is attempting to pass their CCNP exam, you should be willing to invest a little bit of money into your education and obtain the correct routers and switches. After all, you can build a base CCNP kit for under $1000, so it is not overly expensive like when I built my first CCNP lab for $23,000.

Why Do Your Kits Mostly Have 1760, 2600XM or 1841 Routers?

In many of the customizable kits, we have included the 1760 and 2600XM routers as the base devices, as they are the most economical way to build out a lab on a tight budget. These will start you with an IOS 12.4 lab supporting IPv6 and can run Advanced IP Services. Since it is on the exam, you should be able to perform most IPv6 labs running Advanced IP Services. Again, worth mentioning for more advanced level labs, you will see more 1841 or 2800 series routers as they support MLPS whereas the 1760s and 2600XM routers do not. So if you can build your CCNP lab with 1841 or 2800 series routers now that support the ISR functions, you will be a step ahead of the game and have a better lab experience. Another item of note is you should have at least one dual FastEthernet router with enough memory to run the T version of the IOS so you can do all the IDS/IPS labs.

*A note here.  This is and old question, but we left it up because you still see many Ebay sellers and third parties build very old labs using these very out-dated models and passing them off as legitimate.  Don’t be fooled and get stuck with a bunch of “doorstops”. We have phased out and retired the 1760 and 2600XM models from all of our kits, as Cisco has moved the exams to IOS 15. You can still use these for some basic practice and functionality, like propagating additional routes, but it is now highly stressed that all devices should be running IOS 15 at a minimum.  This also includes old switches that you will likely see in old kits such as the 2950, 2950C, 2950T, etc.

How Many Routers Do I Need?

CCNP ROUTE Lab Topology

Sample CCNP ROUTE Lab from the Workbook

Another great question! The more the better! Actually, we need to make it complex enough that we can see routes propagate, DHCP relay agents working, load balancing, route summarization, different OSPF stub types, Frame-Relay, BGP groups and IPv6 on a dual-stack router. Wow, that was a mouthful! So more than two routers is a safe assumption to build your CCNP lab. We like to see three routers in your lab so you can match the Cisco Networking Academy Lab Companion CCNP ENCORE and ENARSI lab manuals and not have to scale back the labs. You can see the available CCNP lab kits we offer to review the specific Cisco models. Our pre-configured CCNA & Premium Plus CCNP Kit will match the lab courseware and official Cisco topology very well, offering the best bang for your buck in capability. The pre-configured CCNA & Economy CCNP kit will match closely and you will be able to comprehend most of the concepts by running the commands on the equipment you have even though it may not exactly match up to the labs you will be performing. So, if you can only afford the CCNA & Economy CCNP kit, don’t worry, you will still get tons of great experience! *Note, some people ask to be able to perform every concept that is covered in a general study guide and those generally cover concepts outside what you will see in a lab manual. That is not realistic for most customers who are self studying as this will cost well in excess of $10,000 per person.

If you want the exact router that the new CCNP exam calls for, the 1941 is where you should look. The 2811/2821 can handle the vast majority of the lab work and will still give you the most capability for your money in our opinion, but the 1941 will be what you need to match Cisco’s exact recommendation. The downside to these is that they reasonably increase the price of your lab and buying (4) of them can get fairly expensive. So, if you do want to have a router that is on par with Cisco’s exact recommendations, a great option is to mix and match the 1941 routers in with some 2811 routers. So, for example you could go with (2) 1941 routers adn (2) 2811 routers or (1) 1941 router and (3) 2811 routers. This would give you a few devices that can complete the syntax and do the command where the 2811 router lack some capabiltiy. Rememeber, even if the 1941 routers are completely out of budget, you will be bale to complete a significany percentage of the labs using the 1841 or 2811 routers and still get a great hands on experience!

How Many Switches Do I Need?

CCNP SWITCH Lab Topology

Sample CCNP SWITCH Lab from the Workbook

We think four switches is a pretty good number for your CCNP lab and follows the recommended Cisco topology. That gives you the ability to configure various scenarios which require multiple switches such as trunking in multi-layer switched networks, multi-casting, QoS, VTP concepts such as pruning, creating loops and suppressing them with STP, controlling root bridge elections, and multiple spanning tree environments, UplinkFast and BackboneFast, EtherChannel and Layer 3 through 7 switching. Layer 3 switches are highly suggested for the new CCNP material.

One of the advantages of the recent price drops is it is now feasible to build a CCNP ROUTE, SWITCH and TSHOOT lab the way Cisco meant it to be built. That is with (4) 3560 switches or (2) 3560 switches and (2) 2960-TT switches. But if you have to keep costs down and don’t mind giving up the ability to run some commands and are just looking to get some experience with hands on devices, you can go with (2) 3550s and (2) 2960-S switches.

What Is A Layer 3 Switch?

Wait until you get to SWITCH (300-115) exam as this is a cool concept. This is a switch that can also do routing! So, no need to bounce the traffic out of the switch, to a router only to have it sent right back to the same switch because the destination is on a different subnet. These switches will route that traffic within the switch and save precious bandwidth and time!

So what are your options? If you have the budget, the 3560 is the cheapest fully dyanmic layer 3, IOS 15.x switch we standardly offer. If you were to go with (4) of them or (4) 3750v2, that would be the optimal situation. As previously mentioned, to match the exact topology for the current CCNP SWITCH (300-115) exam, you should have either (4) 3560 switches or (2) 3560 and (2) 2960 switches. The 2960 is an IOS 15.x switch and layer 3, but with less capability than the 3560 in that it only support static layer 3 routing. If you are looking for a cheaper option to simply gain some experience and understanding of layer 3 concepts, the 3550 is similar to the 2960 in its layer 3 capability, but it only supports up to IOS 12.x.

Our newest layer 3 IOS 15 switch that we offer is the 3750v2. These can be used in place of the 3560 or you could go with (4) of these as well. These are similar in capability to the 3560, but give you a few more options that include stackwise technology.

Can You Give Me A General Idea Of The Lab Environment?

The topology per lab changes to match the objectives of the lab as you can see from the lab topology pictures illustrated earlier in this article. However for the most part you will have four routers and four switches. Some items may not be used in all labs. An example of this can be seen when you are doing your ROUTE labs and may not need all four routers. Also, if you purchase one of the higher end kits, you will receive equipment to cover the Wireless and Voice concepts that are not included in the more inexpensive kits. Here is a sample of the lab topologies from the previous CCNP exam with the Voice and Wireless components.

CCNP Lab Topology with Voice
Sample CCNP Lab Topology with Voice from the Workbook

CCNP Lab Topology with Wireless
Sample CCNP Lab Topology with Wireless from the Workbook

So, if you have the budget, it is wise to pick a CCNP lab kit that also has the Wireless and Voice components. This will give you the ability to configure a basic VoIP setup (use a 2811 512/128 to get the most out of it with the latest version of CME) and also to play with a Wireless controller and two wireless access points. Why is this important? Well it will get you exposure to two really in demand technologies and quite possibly you will get you excited enough about one of those two technologies to decide that you want to specialize in Voice or Wireless for you next certification.

What Is A Terminal Server Router And Why Do I Want One?

A very nice to have is a 2509 or 2511 access/terminal server router. This way you do not have to keep moving the console cable from router to router as you are configuring them. You can access all your routers and switches via the terminal server and connected octal cable. This is not going to function in your lab, but it is nice to have to make your lab much easier to use.

If you already have your Cisco CCNA certification, the above should have made a lot of sense to you. Also congratulations on your CCNA! You should have a very good grasp on the different features of the various Cisco routers and Cisco switches. Now you will just need to know what Cisco routers and Cisco switches you need to purchase to build your Cisco CCNP lab.

CCNP Lab Kit Options

Well, we have five Cisco CCNP labs available for you, three customizable kits and two pre-configured, all at different price points. As mentioned before, the more you spend, the more bells and whistles you will be able to experience in your Cisco CCNP lab studies. Not only that, the more you spend, the more labs you will be able to accomplish. We map our lab kits to the Cisco Academy lab workbooks as where would be a better resource for the topology for the labs to prepare you for your exam than from than straight from Cisco? The Cisco Academy Lab workbooks come with full blown labs for the ROUTE (300-101), SWITCH (300-115) and TSHOOT (300-135) exam modules. Now you must understand that to follow their labs using the exact equipment they have, you would have to spend considerably more than what we are charging for any of these kits. So, from our experience we have modified the kits with some more reasonably affordable Cisco routers and Cisco switches that will cover a majority of the concepts in the labs. Again, the more you pay for the kit, the more concepts you will be able to experience. So again, we have to look for the best bang for the buck in building these kits.

But there is a light at the end of the tunnel! You will be able to use all these pieces of equipment in your Cisco CCIE lab as long as you have a minimum of 1841 or better routers and 3560/3550/3750v2/296-TT switches so they will not go to waste! Especially with the CertificationKits Trade-Up program which enables you to upgrade your Cisco routers and Cisco switches you purchased from CertificationKits. Please see the Trade-Up Program for details. But since you have most of the CCIE equipment already, you are well on your way to acing your Cisco CCNP exam and then conquering your Cisco CCIE certification.

CertificationKits Trade-Up program

Why would you purchase a CCNP Standard of Platinum Kit if wireless and voice are no longer exam topics?

This is where we talk about real world scenarios and what is often expected of a working CCNP. Voice and wireless are rapidly expanding technologies in live environments and it is expected that a network engineer at the CCNP level has knowledge of how they work. Just because these topics were dropped from the new CCNP exam does not mean that having experience with them should just be overlooked. We still offer our kits that match the old CCNP topology, which includes voice and wireless, so that you can still go back and follow those labs and prepare yourself for as much as possible for things you may encounter in the field. This is also a great way to get some exposure to two technologies that are only growing in demand and this introduction to them may even cause you to get interested enough want to specialize in one or both of these focuses.

How to build your Cisco CCNA or Cisco CCIE Lab

Feel free to review our Cisco CCNA and Cisco CCIE Certification lab suggestion articles below: