The Cheapest way to maintain or get Cisco Certified.

Since 2009, I decided to expand my network fundamentals by tackling the CCNA certification. At this point I was 12 years into my work as a Windows Systems Administrator, but I found supporting the domain and the network quite frankly…boring.

After researching and calling various Cisco boot camps, I was quoted as much as $9000.00 for a boot camp. Trouble is, my employer at the time had no need for me to learn a new cert when I was very good at what I did already. In other words…no self improvement.

When I came across GNS3 back in 2009, I thought it was a wonderful idea. The graphical aspect really helps to understand the connections, interfaces as well as the types of Cisco IOS images and what their limitations are.

For the next year, I struggled with the interface on and off because I really didn’t devote that much time to it except for maybe 15 minutes a day. Then things got really interesting.

I received a call from an old friend who ended up way back in 1994 go the Cisco route and we lost touch for the next 18 years. He’s made millions installing Extreme Network switches and he needed a polished administrator to take care of his best client. He also could trust me in our relationship and I was offered the job.

It turns out, learning Extreme switches was far easier than Cisco. Once you understood the syntax and more importantly the non-proprietary routing protocols: (OSPF), it was a snap to streamline the replacement of switches and reduce down time. At this point, with the experience I had dealing with a vendor’s switches, I was ready to get certified in Cisco.

Back to GNS3.

Learning Cisco was  a snap and I spent more time working with the GNS3’s graphical interface to the point it was second nature and now it was about mastering the routing protocols of OSPF and BGP. I failed the first time taking the CCNA test. I tried again the next month. When I did finally pass it, my total expense to get CCNA certified was the actual cost of the test. I also bought some books from Cisco press and the simulator from Cisco. With miscellaneous expenses (like memory upgrades for the computer and other licensing fees) I spent $695.00 over the course of 1 year. Compare that to $9000.00 for boot camp and I knew this was the future to learning network fundamentals.

In 2014, I was offered a position with GNS3 to get the Jungle community off the ground. At this point, I have spent off and on with GNS3 an average of 1 hour per week between the years of 2009 and 2012. When I was in the role of managing a client’s network…the time spent in the lab was exponential. The average time spent in a Cisco IOS image (3725) was about 2.5 hours PER DAY. Translating the port channels to MLAG in Extreme was relatively easy since it was fresh in my mind and I was basically ‘soft loading’ the necessary steps to assist in upgrading various devices around the data centers and MDFs.

I genuinely enjoyed sharing the learning process and felt quite accomplished with each project we turned out ahead of time and on budget. Now the question was, how far can I go with GNS3 and getting CCNP certified?

After spending many months in the Jungle community, I am pleased to say you can go far but only in certain situations. Since CCNP is broken up into 3 areas; Routing, Switching and Troubleshooting, I was determined to expand GNS3’s capabilities by hosting connections to all kinds of routing and switching virtual machines for the reasons mentioned above.

But the people that came to that Jungle wanted Cisco certifications for the most part, and so came all the disclaimers and trials and tribulations with fitting the right routing and switching image into GNS3. The truth is…there is no ONE image that does it all. But that speaks to a greater truth about Cisco. There is no real image in “Cisco-land” that does it all either. I suppose you COULD say that getting an image LIKE a 3750v2 can do it all, but in each situation a network engineer finds him or herself, is the 3750v2 the RIGHT image and platform for the size and scope of the company you want to work for? The answer is no. Therefore, GNS3 is very much like a real small ‘branch’ network that you have to build from scratch that works with the scope of what you are going to use it for. If it’s for Cisco certifications, then with CCNP, you can go quite far in the Routing section…but things break down when you absolutely need to learn Switching. Specifically ADVANCED switching topics.

It has already been discussed (and at great length I might add) the BASICS of switching are amply covered in a 3725 image and more importantly, will work for small branch networks. Then that means, you can get a great deal of the topics done at the CCNP level. But now after years of studying and training, I’m at the point where I would need to buy a 3750v2 switch to continue on the private vlan and Q0S aspects.

Still ever trying to get the most out of my money, I don’t feel getting fully CCNP certified is beneficial salary wise. I make quite a great deal of money writing IT articles and doing IT Agile projects. I also can represent all routing and switching vendors…not just Cisco. But I still feel it’s important enough to maintain the certification. So I’m happy to announce I will write a series of articles to get prepared for the CCNP ROUTE since I know the GNS3 platform (and other platforms like VIRL, EVE and VAGRANT) can do the same thing. It makes sense to prepare with something you know you can achieve with little or no money and then once the re-certification is done, buy more time to complete the next two exams.

The next section is using the 3725 image for obtaining the CCNP-ROUTE cert.

March 7th, 2017: Reviewing CommonErrors website.

As promised, I decided to try my hand at getting CCNP Route certification because I’m confident that’s a cert you can do with GNS3 and get nearly all topics understood with little to no money except for taking the actual test. Out of Googling different sites, the one that received the top hits is this site called “CommonErrors”. If you want to follow along…here is the link:

The first part of this is actually a review based on my experience with the configuration settings for this particular lab. Here is the actual screenshot of my lab inside my refurbished Dell PowerEdge server running Ubuntu Server here:

new gns3 image

Comments about the above pic: As you can see, the areas are defined and the interfaces match exactly to the website’s design.

TIP: If you’re just starting out, pay attention to how to add modules to the GNS3 image. In this case, what was not communicated is how to add these modules. You need to RIGHT click on each router and add the module in the appropriate slot to match the interface numbers EXACTLY. Otherwise you will have to substitute your interface you connected in your version and it gets easy to mess up which interface to turn up. For a seasoned veteran, substituting interfaces in an overall design comes as second nature. But for the beginner, if you see something like “f2/0”, you need to make a mental note that the interface is in “slot 2” of this device as if you were loading a physical module to the back of this router. I purposefully omitted the interfaces in my notation to keep the diagram clean and focus on what is being tested.

Objective 1: Setting up your environment for the practice.

As you follow along with the CommonErrors EIGRP space, something hit me that is not mentioned. Which image is being used? To fill in that blank, I am using a 3725 image.


3725 slots

Comments about the above image: Notice the slot 2 has a NM-1FE-TX? That’s important since some of the routers have that interface and others do not need it. Just remember the architect on the website is using these interfaces and I recommend taking the time out to match each slot and each interface connection exactly to avoid unnecessary errors in mismatches. Some interfaces are very specific for a purpose and generally speaking, if you see a different interface…it’s best to match it for now.

  • Once the interfaces match exactly, you are free to use the CommonErrors to start entering the commands for each router. However, I give CommonErrors a 9/10 for this lab since there are obvious commands MISSING from the setting up the environment that you will NOT be tested on. One common thing missed when writing about labs is the fact that you need all the interfaces configured turned up. The no shut command is missing on some of the interfaces and to a new person that may not seem so obvious. So if you are setting up your environment and you hammer away at entering the commands shown…don’t forget to turn up the interfaces on both sides by using the no shut command as the last step on each interface.
  • The next thing to note is when you have done ALL THAT, there is a possibility that the initial connection between interfaces fail due to your GNS3 environment ‘going to sleep’. That’s a term I used to talk about the occasional issue with interfaces not working even though you’ve emphatically turned up the interface. When in doubt, go ahead and delete the connection between the two interface and force GNS3’s local server to re-create that connection. That usually clears things up and then all of a sudden you see traffic flowing between them. Remember, GNS3 is not intended to replace any actual network, but GNS3 has had software bugs in connection with this common issue. Get in the habit of removing and reconnecting connections in GNS3. That’s normal troubleshooting anyway in a real network.

Objective 2: Entering the actual commands to complete the lab.

The reason why I liked this lab in the CommonErrors website so much is they naturally step you into only the commands needed to complete the CCNP lab. The problem is after you enter the commands…how do you know you did it right? As mentioned before, given the nature of emulating a network. It’s best to create your project FIRST prior to actually attempting to enter these commands. I found it easier to do the following. You don’t have to do it my way, but it’s the most efficient and saves you time agonizing all the lost configuration settings.

TIP: When using GNS3, perform the following:

  • When launching GNS3 and you get the default screen…please create the name of the project FIRST. Don’t click off it. Allow the GNS3 server to create the files in the back-end to save any configuration files.
  • When setting up your lab (like the EIGRP route redistribution) it makes more sense to connect all the routers, make sure the interfaces are up and then enter the initial configs. Then take a moment to SAVE the configs on each router and also save the actual project before you shut down GNS3. Bring the entire lab back up and check the saved settings. That way, whenever you launch this particular project, you only need to practice THOSE commands that are relevant to completing the lab.
  • When entering the commands to complete the lab, DON’T SAVE the configs. Why? Because you are training yourself to perform these steps by memory and is actually a common task you will find yourself doing in a real job. So reboot the machine, take some time away from the lab. Read up on some other part of the CCNP Route course and the next day, see how many of the commands you remember. If you do this about 8 to 9 times, you have the redistribution routes down pat.

Take notes in notepad. It is such a pity to go through all that work and sacrifice away from family and friends when you don’t remember the key ACL or EIGRP command. I find when coming back to a topic 2 to 3 months later, my notes in Notepad has refreshed my memory and I am ready to pick up where I left off in a matter of minutes instead of an hour relearning all the nuances of using this platform and image.

Overall, I think the CommonErrors “EIGRP-OSPF Route Redistribution lab” gets high marks and only loses a couple of points in failing to mention the image and the obvious omission of the no shut command. But I was able to do Objective 1 and 2. The fact that I didn’t have to go to another site to find the information is an added bonus.