Looking for some practical experience with Cisco routers and switches for little to no cost? There's no shortage of free Cisco labs on the Web.
These sites are designed to assist network operators and Cisco certification students with common problems or challenges that crop up in configuring Cisco networks. In some instances, they may serve as teasers to get students to pay for more elaborate and comprehensive testing services.
Here's a sample of six free Cisco labs available either online or in person:
PacketLife Community Lab - Currently offline until November, the PacketLife community Lab provides free access to "modern" Cisco networking equipment for training purposes. Lab equipment and other costs are provided or sponsored by the site's owner, commercial sponsors, and voluntary contributions by community members.
Free Cisco Catalyst Switch Lab - This non-commercial effort provides free 24x7 access to Cisco Catalyst switches to learn networking, Cisco IOS, and prepare for certification exams. It requires no reservation or registration. Users telnet in to get 80-90 minutes per session on each console line, a one hour waiting period, and a two hour reset period. Users have many logins and sessions per day on each console, and can login to as many devices as they want that are available. Each line is timed separately.
Free Cisco Lab -- Free Cisco Lab is dedicated to providing educational help for students pursuing Cisco certifications. It provides exam preps, practice exams and free lab scenarios for routing, switching, security, wireless, and VOIP. It is operated by Barry Burdette, a 15-year network industry veteran who has designed, installed and maintained network infrastructure during his career.
Free Cisco Lab Simulators - The Ciscoconsole site has a link to free Cisco lab simulators available for download. One is the GNS3 simulator, an open source program that allows users to design complex network topologies. The program enables emulation of many Cisco IOS router platforms, IPS, PIX and ASA firewalls, and Juniper's Junos. It also simulates simple Ethernet, ATM and frame relay switches, and enables connection of the simulated network to production networks. GNS3 also performs packet capture using Wireshark. It can be run on multiple operating systems, including Windows, Linux, and MacOS X.
Dynamips - Dynamips is an emulator program for Cisco routers. It emulates Cisco router hardware by booting a Cisco IOS image into the emulator. Dynamips emulates Cisco 1700, 2600, 3600, 3700, and 7200 series routers for testing and experimenting with IOS features, and checking configuration before production deployment. GNS3 can be a graphical front-end for Dynamips; another front-end is Dynagen. Dynamips runs on Linux, Mac OS X or Windows.
Free CCNA Workbook - This site provides a free lab to those that prefer to use real equipment over emulated gear from Dynamips/Dynagen/GNS3. The lab consists of Cisco 3725, 3550 and 2950 hardware running 12.4 images of IOS. Each lab session is limited to total of three consecutive hours, which equates to eight sessions per day. Users are only permitted to schedule one session at any given time.