Your own CCIE Lab – Option 1: BYO

So when starting the CCIE lab (or any Cisco qualification for that matter) you have to decide whether it’s best to purchase your own hardware, use one of the rental labs that are easily found on the internet, or a hybrid approach or real and emulated equipment.

We are first going to have a look at purchasing your own equipment.

Buying your own hardware

Knowing what hardware to buy is a bit of a minefield. I have seen lots of people reference the INE Networks lab topology as the go-to reference for purchasing hardware. 

Their lab topology, allow with its connections can be found on their website (if you search for it). So I plan on using this as my frame of reference.

CCIE Lab equipment

Device Platform Modules RAM Flash Approx price (£)
R1 2610XM 2x WIC-1T 128 32 25-40
R2 2610XM 2x WIC-1T 128 32 25-40
R3 2611XM 1x NM-4A/S 128 32 40
R4 1841 2x WIC-1T 256 64 90
R5 1841 2x WIC-1T 256 64 90
R6 1841 1x WIC-1T 256 64 90
SW1 Catalyst 3560-24TS-E 150
SW2 Catalyst 3560-24TS-E 150
SW3 Catalyst 3550-24 EMI 60
SW4 Catalyst 3550-24 EMI 60
BB1 / FR Switch 2522 16 16 150
BB2 2501 16 16 20
BB3 2501 16 16 20
Access Server 2511 16 16 150

If you purchase the devices without the modules referenced and need to pick them up separately then you are looking at about £10 per WIC-1T, and about £25 for the NM-4A/S, so all in all there is about £1000 of hardware to purchase.

But can we change, substitute and combine hardware to make a more manageable and perhaps cheaper option?

I did find one seller on eBay offering a slightly different setup, still one that will fulfil the INE labs, and also the CCIE 4.1 blueprint (including MPLS).

In this alternate lab R4, 5 and 6 are 2611XMs, all the switches are 3550s, this will save a few hundred off the price.

So lets look at the platforms and the different options.

2600 Series Modular router

From this series we can give the 2612 a miss, its a token ring router, so no use to us (or pretty much anyone nowadays). The difference between the 2610XM and the 2611XM is that the 2611XM has an extra ethernet port. This is the same for the 2620XM vs the 2621XM, 2650XM vs the 2651XM. The 2691 comes as standard with 2 ethernet ports. The only other difference is that as you go up the model number the performance (measured in kpps) goes up with the 2610 range at 20, the 2620s at 30, the 2650s at 40 and the 2691 comes in at 70.

Price wise there isn’t a huge difference between the models really, all hover around £40.

You can check out the Cisco comparison page here.

1841 Integrated Services Router

There arn’t many options in this line-up, infact the 1800 product line has a huge jump between the entry line up (1801, 1802, 1803, 1805, 1811 and 1812) and the 1841. If you are keen on following the INE blueprint then go for the 1841s, but as we have already shown we can swap these for the much cheaper 2611XMs. This could cause an issue with MPLS support though and the software version must be at least Advanced Enterprise 12.4T.


35XX series switches

If money is a consideration (and let’s face, for most people it is) then definitely go for all 3550s instead of the 3560s and 3550s. The 3550s are end of life, but the 3560s are still being touted by Cisco, therefore the prices are higher. Don’t head downstream into the 29XX range. Although the 3550s are missing some of the features of the 3560s (LLDP, per-VLAN port policies, Private VLANs, DHCPv6, Source Specific Multicast, MP-BGP) its possible to do without these. A full comparison between the 29XX series and the 35XXs can be found here

Backbone and access

The backbone and access switches you cant really do much about. Prices will be roughly £350-400 for the four. Though I did pick up BB2 and BB3 for 99p!

*Update* – There is an alternative to the 2511 – read about it here.

Final notes

It’s going to be expensive to buy your own, especially when you factor in delivery charges, racking, cables, and power. No matter how you look at it, you probably won’t get any change out of £1000. There are plenty of places to buy and sell used Cisco equipment, a quick google for “used cisco equipment for sale”, or being more specific such as “used cisco equipment uk” will bring up pages and pages of results. I stuck to ebay though as there are many people (possibly people who have completed their CCIE and are wanting to recoup some of the cash) and companies willing to sell used cisco equipment at good prices. Take your time though, keep a watch on the prices and set a (realistic) budget.

Keep an eye on sites like freegle and freecycle items do crop up occasionally, I managed to get a full sized rack for free. Saved me about £100, and like the advert says, every little helps.

There is also a comfort factor in having your own rack to play with, and at the end of your course, once you have finished and have your plaque proudly displayed on the wall, you can sell the equipment back on eBay, and recover some of your hard-earned cash!

In another post, we will have a look at the other alternative, which is renting a rack.