Home Lab - Hardware or Simulators?

TheVirusTheVirus Member Posts: 19 ■□□□□□□□□□
Hi all,

I'm currently studying for the CCENT (then going to take the ICND2 after I study for that) but I'm curious about getting actual experience with Cisco equipment and what is a good 'starter' kit.

My goal is to get into some network security but most of the companies are hiring CCNA/MSCE people. I figure that I could get into a decent sized company and work my way up. The problem I'm at now is that, while I am an extremely fast learner (I studied the Security+ and Network+ for about 2 weeks and passed, in that order, about 2 weeks apart), it's hard for me to convey that on a resume/interview. I'm sure the hiring person has heard it all before and I'm sure they've been let down a lot as well.

So, I want to get some sort of lab set up so I can tinker around and get some experience with real-world scenarios. I've looked at Boson and a few other simulator packages out there, but am unsure of whether or not they are proper packages to play around with. I was also trying to find some websites or info on how to train real-world scenarios, kind of like homework, so I can get experience outside of what is taught in the lessons.

I'm looking for a software solution simply because it doesn't take up extra space and it might save on cost in the short-term.

A little background on myself:

BS in Computer Science. I have Security+ and Network+. I only took the Network+ to beef up my resume and it was all stuff I've seen before. I have 2-3 years work-experience doing IT for various companies (which I believe is more like 5+ years, since I was the most relied upon employee and did a lot of the work). I have experience with all aspects of Windows and server platforms, C/C++/PHP/MySQL/Python programming experience, Linux experience (off and on) since 1995, and general computer troubleshooting for almost any situation. I've been in the help-desk field most of my career and want to get out of handling phone calls and onto security and low-level maintenance.

I have an extreme thirst for knowledge, which is kind of a hindrance since I want to look up everything that I don't understand and that takes up time. I'm in a non-techcentric area of the US with no plans on moving (wife, house, family and all). Since I'm unemployed, I have all the time in the world to watch videos and study for exams. But I digress (I think I went off on a rather long, and unexpected, tangent).

Back to my original question. What type of software/hardware should I look into getting to get experience with Cisco equipment to land a decent job? Since I am unemployed with student loans and a car payment, I can't break the bank. After I pass the CCNA, I'll probably go for CCNA: Security and then go for the MCSA/MCSE if I don't have a job by then.

Thanks.

Edit: Crap. I realized this has been asked before and I did search (honest!) before posting, but I think my search criteria was too specific, hence why I made the post. I'll continue to search but I also look forward to your feedback.

Comments

  • alan2308alan2308 CISSP, MCSA 2008, MCSA 2012, CCNA R&S, CCNA Security Ann Arbor, MIMember Posts: 1,854 ■■■■■■■■□□
    You'll get a lot of different responses on the real gear vs. simulator question, but here's my take on it. Simulators have a lot going for them, but they all have their drawbacks as well. GNS3 will do everything you need as far as routers go, but it doesn't do actual switches. There's a work around, but that still leaves you missing features that you'll want to work with. Packet Tracer is real easy to work with and does switches, but it doesn't run a real IOS image (its limited primarily to CCNA level work) and you have to be a CNA student to legally obtain a copy. I can't comment on Boson, as the only version that I tried was old, and it was quite some time ago.

    So if you want to go the simulator route, I suggest GNS3 and use this site which will take you through pretty much everything on the CCNA. Beyond the CCNA, you'll definitely want to pick up a couple switches at least. And if you can afford it, I suggest that you pick up something and get some hands on with real gear now.
  • TheVirusTheVirus Member Posts: 19 ■□□□□□□□□□
    alan2308 wrote: »
    You'll get a lot of different responses on the real gear vs. simulator question, but here's my take on it. Simulators have a lot going for them, but they all have their drawbacks as well. GNS3 will do everything you need as far as routers go, but it doesn't do actual switches. There's a work around, but that still leaves you missing features that you'll want to work with. Packet Tracer is real easy to work with and does switches, but it doesn't run a real IOS image (its limited primarily to CCNA level work) and you have to be a CNA student to legally obtain a copy. I can't comment on Boson, as the only version that I tried was old, and it was quite some time ago.

    So if you want to go the simulator route, I suggest GNS3 and use this site which will take you through pretty much everything on the CCNA. Beyond the CCNA, you'll definitely want to pick up a couple switches at least. And if you can afford it, I suggest that you pick up something and get some hands on with real gear now.

    Thanks for that. It seems a lot of people recommend Boson out of all simulator packages out there. I also see that people recommend 2950 switches.

    Here's my question about the switches right now:

    I see on eBay that there are quite a few on sale, quite cheap, too. My only question is, is there a difference between the models other than the number of ports available? Are all Cisco Catalyst 2950's the same in terms of available memory and the IOS they can run?

    As far as routers go, I haven't found any conclusive info, but it seems people favor the 2610XM and 2611XM routers. I haven't done much research on them yet, so I don't have any questions regarding them.

    It seems Boson can simulate these recommended pieces of hardware, how well, I do not know. I can only assume it'd be 'good enough' to pass the CCENT/CCNA exam as well as give some decent hands-on experience.
  • jovan88jovan88 Member Posts: 393
    if your primary goal is to pass the CCNA you can do it with packet tracer. But I would recommend anyone studying for the CCNA to get atleast 1 real router and switch so you can mess around with layer 1 stuff, IOS upgrades, password resets and so on.

    I based my entire CCNP lab on 2600XM routers and with the right ram, flash, and IOS version, they can pretty much do it all. If you want to get 2950 switches make sure you get the EI version.
  • TheVirusTheVirus Member Posts: 19 ■□□□□□□□□□
    I picked up the Boson demo and realize I have no idea what to do. I can create a topology and telnet into the devices, but I don't know how to configure certain things, like Frame Relay or RIP. The included scenario document is a little light. My former co-worker is going to see if he can get me Packet Tracer to try out, but I've watched videos on it and it seems to be similar to Boson (easier UI, but still the same style).

    I need a guide that shows you how to set up various topologies and then I can understand how to do it. I might grab LabSim from TestOut and their CCNA package since it seems to include these types of scenarios. While they are dumbed down and very narrow/specific, it'll still teach you how to configure various protocols and topologies.
  • Paul BozPaul Boz Member Posts: 2,620 ■■■■■■■■□□
    Get started with sims and software then buy gear as needed down the road. I got the CCNA with Boson's software but geared up for the CCNP.
    CCNP | CCIP | CCDP | CCNA, CCDA
    CCNA Security | GSEC |GCFW | GCIH | GCIA
    [email protected]
    http://twitter.com/paul_bosworth
    Blog: http://www.infosiege.net/
  • TheVirusTheVirus Member Posts: 19 ■□□□□□□□□□
    Paul Boz wrote: »
    Get started with sims and software then buy gear as needed down the road. I got the CCNA with Boson's software but geared up for the CCNP.

    That's what I think I'm going to do. The problem I have is understanding how to do things in the simulators, like setting up RIP or Frame Relay or something more than a hub and 2 PCs. My biggest fear is that the CCENT/CCNA exam will ask me to configure something from scratch and I won't know how and I can't seem to find any solid tutorials on how to do this.
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