The Cisco CCNA (Cisco Certified Network Associate) exam verifies that you have the knowledge to troubleshoot and support the many different Cisco technologies and the networks that these Cisco products run on. The Cisco Certified Network Associate Exam is a very known and well respected exam within the IT community.
The key to passing the CCNA is knowing your hands on configuration like the back of your hand. This presents a challenge to many of us who’s budget is limited from buying the latest and greatest Cisco equipment that could cost anywhere from hundreds to thousands of dollars to create a decent lab! Fortunately many simulation programs are out there to help replicate the hardware and software needed to pass the exam. Even newer to the Cisco world and in my opinion closer to the real thing is emulation software that uses the actual IOS to simulate working on a Cisco router.
Simulation programs provide a very affordable way to create labs to possibly pass the CCNA exam with the bare minimum requirements. There are many simulation programs to choose from. In particular you would want to look for something that has many different Cisco devices to play with along with being updates with the newest IOS commands. This is something you should note because it’s not uncommon for different IOS versions to use a slightly different set of commands to accomplish the same task. Before choosing a simulation program it is also valuable to note that you won’t have access to every feature available with a real router and equipment so many commands will not be available to you.
There’s also the option of using emulation software such as GNS3 which allows you to completely emulate a Cisco device without the actual hardware. You can also do cool things such as connect to a real Cisco device from the emulator program to help cut down on cost if you already have a few Cisco devices but not enough to create a full CCNA lab. There are a few downsides though as well. The main downside is that as of today, you aren’t able to emulate Cisco Switches due to the way Cisco switch hardware works.
However emulators such as GNS3 has a simple Ethernet switch built in that you could use or you can connect your emulated network to an outside world to connect to your Cisco switches. The other downside is that you must have access to actual IOS images in order to use any of the emulator device. This can be particular hard to acquire unless you are a vendor or a CCIE with credentials to access these images from Cisco directly. There are many choices out there but always remember that nothing beats actual equipment and hardware!