Cisco CCNP Switch Lab Equipment

If you are going to study for CCNP SWITCH you’ll have to build a lab that allows you to practice all the different topics. I receive a lot of questions about CCNP SWITCH labs, stuff like:

  • Should I buy switches?
  • What switches should I buy?
  • Can I use GNS3 for switching?
  • Can I use packet tracer for switching?

This lesson will explain all of these questions.

Topology

Before we look at the different (hardware) options, let’s focus on the topology first. I would recommend to build the following topology:

CCNP SWITCH Lab Topology

This topology allows you to practice anything without having to re-cable:

  • The switches are connected in a triangle so that there is a loop. This allows you to practice all spanning-tree related topics.
  • Two links between each switch pair allows you to play with Etherchannels.

So what hardware or emulators should we use? I highly recommend to buy real switches so let’s discuss this first.

Real Hardware

When I’m talking about real hardware I mean real physical Cisco Catalyst Switches. You should get these on Ebay or any other online marketplace close to where you live. The reason that I recommend real switches is that emulators don’t support 100% of the protocols that you have to practice for CCNP SWITCH. Also, switches are pretty cheap nowadays so there’s no reason not to buy them. You can always sell them once you pass the exam.

So what switches should you get and how many? Let’s take a look.

Cisco Catalyst 2950

Cisco Catalyst 2950

This is a great layer 2 switch and it’s very cheap nowadays. If you look on Ebay you can probably find them for about $30. This switch allows you to practice 90% of the CCNP SWITCH topics. Things like VLANs, trunks, spanning-tree and etherchannels are no problem.

Advantages:

  • Cheap.
  • Supports all the “core” layer 2 protocols.

Disadvantages:

  • No routing support.

Cisco Catalyst 3550

Cisco Catalyst 3550

The 3550 is a layer 3 switch that is very affordable nowadays. It’s similar to the 2950 but it also supports routing so you can use it for inter-VLAN routing and routing protocols like OSPF or EIGRP. Inter-VLAN routing is an important topic in CCNP SWITCH so you will need a layer 3 switch.

The only disadvantage of this switch is that it doesn’t support private VLANs or stackwise. These are both minor topics in CCNP SWITCH but you can’t configure those topics on this switch.

Advantages:

  • Cheap.
  • Supports all the “core” layer 2 protocols.
  • Supports routing (protocols).

Disadvantages:

  • No Private VLAN support.
  • No Stackwise support.
  • Limited support for IPv6.

Cisco Catalyst 3560

Cisco 3560 switch

The 3560 is the successor of the 3550 and supports everything that the 3550 does. The main difference is that the 3560 supports private VLANs which the 3550 does not. Also if you ever plan to study QoS (Quality of Service) then I would recommend this switch over the 3550 since the QoS mechanism is a bit different. It’s also a bit pricier than the 3550.

Advantages:

  • Supports all layer 2 and 3 protocols.
  • Supports private VLANs.
  • Great if you want to study QoS.

Disadvantages:

  • Pricier than the 3550.
  • No Stackwise support.

Cisco Catalyst 3750:

Cisco 3750 switch

The 3750 is similar to the 3560 but has one extra that the 3560 doesn’t have. It supports stackwise which is a technique to combine multiple switches into a single virtual switch. It’s a minor topic for the CCNP SWITCH exam but still, if you want to practice everything then you’ll need this switch. For stackwise you’ll need two of these switches.

Advantage:

  • Supports everything you need for the CCNP SWITCH exam.

Disadvantages:

  • You’ll need 2x 3750 to practice stackwise and make sure you get the special “stackwise cable”.
  • Price.

Switch Models

Each of the switches has different models. There are 8, 24 and 48 port editions, different IOS versions, Gigabit interfaces and some switches support POE (Power over Ethernet) and such.

My advice is to get the cheapest model you can get. For a lab it doesn’t matter if you have 8 or 48 interfaces and if these are FastEthernet or Gigabit. The IOS version can be easily replaced so you don’t have to worry about that. The only thing you could consider is if you want POE or not. If you have plans to study VoIP or wireless someday then it might be useful to get POE for your IP phones and/or wireless access points.

So how many switches should you get? Here’s what I recommend:

Budget lab:

If you are on a budget then I would recommend to buy the following switches:

  • 2x Cisco Catalyst 2950
  • 1x Cisco Catalyst 3550

This allows you to practice 95% of the CCNP SWITCH topics while saving quite some money.

Normal Lab:

If you want to practice most of the topics including private VLANs then I would recommend this:

  • 2x Cisco Catalyst 2950
  • 1x Cisco Catalyst 3560

What I like about the 3560 is that you can also use them to study QoS sometime.

Complete Lab:

If you want to practice 100% of the CCNP SWITCH topics then you will need this:

  • 1x Cisco Catalyst 2950
  • 2x Cisco Catalyst 3750

This allows you to practice all topics including private VLANs and Stackwise.

Emulators

There are a number of Cisco emulators out right now:

  • GNS3
  • Cisco Packet Tracer
  • Cisco VIRL
  • IOU (IOS on Unix)

The problem with all of these emulators is that they don’t support switching 100%. GNS3 supports an emulator switch module which is barely enough for CCNA R&S.

Packet tracer was originally created for CCNA R&S. It supports quite some switching commands but not everything for CCNP SWITCH.

Cisco VIRL is the official Cisco emulator but as of now (May 2015) it doesn’t support any layer 2 switching, only routing. Since April 2015, VIRL has layer 2 switching support.

IOU (also included in GNS3) does have some decent layer 2 switching support but it’s not officially available to the public. Even if you use it, you’ll probably run into some issues.

So my advice…stick to the real hardware for the switches. Emulators are great for routing but for switching it’s best to buy some real hardware. You can always sell them once you are done.

I hope this information is useful to you. Feel free to share! If you have any other questions then please leave a comment in our forum.


Forum Replies

  1. Hi Raymond,

    I’m not 100% sure if VIRL supports all L2 commands but I think you will be fine. Most catalyst switches are pretty noisy…:slight_smile:

    Rene

  2. Rene,
    Isn’t the iOS version the most important fact…rather than the switch model?
    I have played with all iOS (iOS 12.2,12.4, 15m&T) and they all offer differing CLI commands and functionality e.g. in iOS 12.2 there is no SDM, UDLD etc.

    Correct me if I’m wrong, but as far as I can ascertain, if you want to practice with ALL the commands, the only iOS that provides ALL commands is iOs 15.x.x.

  3. It can be so frustrating with both Packet tracer and GNS3. Packet tracer 6.2 uses 12.2 with 2960 and 3560 but lacks commands. You can use iOS 15x in GNS3, but with GNS3 it is a nightmare to set up a fully functioning L2 or L3 switch lab (without adding modules and using Virtual appliances). It’s a complex task. Maybe I’m wrong about GNS3 but I’ve read everything that GNS3 has to offer in building a CCNP capable switch lab and to tell you the truth, I’ve failed.

    It would be absolutely invaluable if "somebody " created a fully functional GNS3 L2 & L3 topology or

    ... Continue reading in our forum

  4. Hi Seamus,

    It can be for sure, it’s also time consuming which is better spent at actual learning :slight_smile: GNS3 has always worked very well for routing but not for switching. The only thing it could do is emulate the switch module in one of the routers, it works but it’s very limited compared to a catalyst switch. Nowadays GNS3 also supports IOU which has L2 images. If you can get it working then most of the switching commands are supported.

    Packet tracer is nice but it’s a simulator, you’ll always have some unsupported commands or differences with show/debug commands.

    ... Continue reading in our forum

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