Doing Lab’s is a must for learning/passing the CCNP. I can tell you from 22 years of experience, that in the “Real World”, you will continue to setup labs, either to re-affirm old concepts or learn new ones or just test things out.
In the old days, many people opted to purchase real switches and routers to have a home lab in order to practice and pass their CCNP. Personally, I am not a fan of this because it takes up a lot of space, uses a lot of power, is loud, requires wasting a lot of time backup up/reverting configs, requires cabling, can hardware fail on you, and costs a lot of money in some cases.
There are benefits to all of the above since it gives you direct hands on experience with switches and routers, however you should not need that at the CCNP level.
If you decide to buy switches and routers, you will want to look at the following options:
- 3-4 Routers – Cisco 1800/2800/2900/7200 series routers (or even an 1841) are all decent options based on price.
- 2 Layer 3 Switches – 3750 Switches that support IOS 15 are good
- 2 Layer 2 Switches – 2960 Switches that support IOS 15 are good
Network Emulation is where it is at and what people should look at using. That being said, GNS3, Eve-NG and VIRL use actual Cisco IOS images for emulation and they support automation.
What are Cisco IOS Images? They are actual Cisco IOS’s.
In general, you need to use IOSv, IOSvL2 and IOS XE (1000v) for Enterprise. You can also look around and probably find various IOS12 and IOS15 images for older Cisco Catalyst and ISR routers.
- GNS3: (Free)
I find GNS3 to be excellent for network emulation. It comes with a lot of support, hundreds or even thousands of online YouTube videos to support it, and there are many, many options for it.
David Bombal has an excellent Udemny Video Course (Part 1 and Part 2) that really helps you learn GNS3 and a lot of network concepts at the same time, which I think is well worth the $25-30 to buy the courses.
On the flip side, it can be difficult to use, hardware intensive and in some cases, many people just have issues getting it to work at all. That being said, I use GNS3 on Windows 10 with VMPlayer 16, and I also have a secondary Linux Server running it. I have no issues with it.
You will still need to get a CML 2.1/VIRL Subscription for $200 a year to get access to the correct images unless your work provides them for free.
- Eve-NG: (Free, Pro Version = $100US/Year)
I have only played around a little bit with Eve-NG, but I know many people swear on it. Personally, I find it to be a bit easier to use than GNS3 in most areas, but harder to configure and uploading IOS images can be a pain in the ass.
You will require the same IOS Images that you use on GNS3, so you will still need to get a CML 2.1/VIRL Subscription for $200 a year to get access to the correct images unless your work provides them for free.
- CML 2.1/VIRL: ($200US/Year):
As of this writing, I have not uses CML 2.1 yet, but have read a lot about it and the people who use it say it “just works”. This might be the best option if you want to just focus on CCNP Enterprise and not delve too much into other topics.
This gives you access to the following Cisco Images:
–NX-OSv and NX-OS 9000v
–IOS XRv and IOS XRv 9000
-IOS XE (CSR1000v) (CCNP)
Read the documents to see what does/does not work.
- Cisco Packet Tracer 8.0: (Free)
Packet Tracer is free, and great for CCNA level studies. It starts to drop off a bit for CCNP. You can do the majority of your training on here, but you will run into issues with more complex routing at the ENARSI level.
- Boson Net Sim: ($180US)
I have not used Net Sim, but people say it is decent for CCNP Study as it guides you through labs, however you can not go too far off base.
- Cisco DevNet Sandbox (Free)
Cisco provides a DevNet Sandbox for free, and it is very, very awesome from what I hear. I have not played around with this too much though. You can run VIRL images in here for free, do automation, etc.
Note on IOU-L2 and IOU-L3 images:
These were Cisco experimental images that are a little bit less resource intensive. If you can find them online, they will do most of what is required for CCNP as well. GNS3 doesn’t recommend them, but they work.
Features that WONT work in VIRL Cisco IOS Images:
IOSv does not support:
IOSvL2 does not support:
-Port mirroring (SPAN) and Private Vlans are NOT currently supported