How To Set Up Your CCNA Home Lab

by Girard Kavelines
how to set up ccna home lab

In my last article, I discussed some of the benefits of having your own physical CCNA home lab. Some of the pros vs cons and more. Now imagine you’ve assembled all of your network gear, and awesome rack to hold it and cabling for the gear. So, what do you do next? Here I’ll review over some key tips and strategies for anyone including first-time lab builders on how to get the most out of your lab gear. Let’s take a look!

Good Cage Nuts Are Hard To Come By

Now before I go any further, I will say that there are hundreds of different brands of cage nuts to choose from. What works for me may not work for you and that’s ok. This is just what I’ve found the most success with in my labbing journey. StarTech rack units come with their own cage nuts and washers. However, from my experience and cutting myself a few times, I felt that didn’t hold my gear the best and I spent more time racking than working on my gear. I looked and found AC Infinity Carbon Steel Screws and Cage Nuts. I’m telling you they are without question some of the best cage nuts I’ve used. No matter how much gear you’re looking to hold, I would definitely pick them up – well worth the investment.

Design Of A Lifetime

Once you’ve purchased your hardware along with the perfect rack, it all comes down to the next important question which depending on what stage you’re at in the process should be your first one! How will you CCNA home lab design look?

Upgrades are imperative and if you’re just starting out, some switches and a firewall should be more than sufficient to begin with. But what if down the line you want to add a few servers? Familiarize yourself with VMware ESXI. That’s when you should be really designing your lab with the concept in mind that upgrades will come down the line. I found that designing how you want to rack your gear on paper or in your head will give you a much clearer idea of not just how you want to set up your rack, but how much space you’ll need if you plan on adding any additional hardware in the future. Now sometimes you may not realize that when you start out. That is a common occurrence. But as you get your lab set up and established you’ll probably want to incorporate more hardware into the fold and that’s never a bad thing

Racking & Stacking

Once you’ve assembled the rack for your gear, now it’s time to get everything stacked into your CCNA home lab. One of the tricks I’ve used when racking switches is to start from the bottom and go up. That way racking will give you less of a headache. Initially I tried racking from the top and made it much harder for myself.

Power, Cabling, Time To Lab

The final steps once you’ve racked your gear are to power on your switches and get to labbing. For me with my OCD, one of the things I’m doing now is redoing all my cabling to make it cleaner. If this is your first time building a home lab, I would recommend to perform good cable management. Why? Because I can tell you that having good habits in your lab will most certainly help you in a real production environment. Getting the experience now, and familiarizing yourself with how organized your network can look is without question a best practice that will become second nature over time and help you tremendously down the road. Trust me on this. Also doing a show version on your switches is good to check which version you’re running before getting into any upgrades or config changes using the command listed below.

SW1#show version

Once you’ve assembled your lab, the next steps on your journey are boundless. Supplementing with online resources will really allow you to get the most out of your lab by applying the concepts you’re learning for both the CCNA and CCNP certifications. I can tell you there’s no better feeling than physically applying the changes on real hardware that will most certainly prepare you for the real-world experiences that will follow soon after.

Training Resources:
CCNA Certification
Implementing and Administering Cisco Solutions (CCNA v1.0)

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