Cisco CCNP 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. Definitely a lot less than the price of attending a Cisco CCNA training class and you will get to keep the equipment to practice on for as long as you like. When building a Cisco CCIE lab, you concentrate on one particular discipline such as CCIE Security, Voice, Service Provider, Storage or Routing and Switching so you only have to purchase Cisco equipment for that area of expertise.

ccnp lab kits

Now with building your Cisco CCNP lab, you have to cover three different modules which encompass many different networking technologies. The modules are ROUTE (300-101) which is basically advanced routing concepts extending everything you learned in your Cisco CCNA training to the next level. This module requires a plethora of Cisco routers to complete most of these CCNP labs. SWITCH (300-115) which also extends on what you learned in your CCNA training from a Cisco Switching perspective adding in new concepts such as Layer 3 switching and QoS to a greater degree. This module really gets into the nitty gritty of Cisco Switching and thus requires some of the higher end switches that are layer 3 capable. Additionally in a perfect scenario, you will need four of these Cisco switches to complete your labs and really get the full experience of the topics. Finally we have TSHOOT (300-135) which covers troubleshooting from the combined topics of ROUTE (300-101) and SWITCH (300-115). If you purchased IOS 15.x Cisco routers for your CCNA (200-120) module, then you are in good shape. This only makes it easier to expand your lab into one for the CCNP labs! Thus to a large degree, you will be able to use the equipment in the first two modules to support the concepts in the TSHOOT (300-135) module.

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 Platinum CCNP kit. 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 are the ones with the Voice and Wireless components. We understand that people have budgets and thus we give you choices. Voice and Wireless were dropped from the new CCNP exam, 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 accomplished 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, I applaud you! 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, well then look at our Basic 3 Router & 3 Switch CCNA Lab Kit v2.0 RS 200-120. If you take this kit and use the convenient drop down boxes to upgrade to (3) 2811 routers, (2) 2960 switches, and (1) 3560 switch, you will have the perfect CCNA kit that is primed for CCNP. When you are ready to start your CCNP studies, all you will need to do is add (1) additional 2811 and (1) additional 3560. This will give you a total of (4) 2811 routers, (2) 2960 switches, and (2) 3560 switches, which is exactly what comes in our pre-configured CCNA & Premium CCNP Kit. These were developed to give you the best experience possible from a Cisco CCNA perspective with the understanding that this kit will be used as a base for your CCNP kit. 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 three 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.

15.x IOS

It is true that having wireless and voice hardware 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 IOS 12.4 to IOS 15.x. 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. 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 can handle.

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

  • 1841 256/64
  • 2801
  • 2811
  • 2821

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.

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 or three routers is a safe assumption to build your CCNP lab. We like to see four routers in your lab so you can match the Cisco Networking Academy Lab Companion CCNP ROUTE, SWITCH and TSHOOT 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 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.

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 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) 2950C EI 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 most capable layer 3, IOS 15.x switch we standardly offer. If you were to go with (4) of them, 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.

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 3560/3550/2960 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: