Cisco HomeLab – On The Cheap

I thought I’d just put together a quick write-up of how you can get yourself a Cisco Wireless HomeLab on the cheap – it isn’t going to be enough to get you through a CCIE exam but it might help get you learning. Whilst this is aimed at Cisco, I’m sure it would be applicable to most vendors who allow a virtualization option.

First off, I’ll talk about the host. When I was putting together my lab I wanted something small, low power and quiet – I made mistakes previously over-engineering a home lab using a few IKEA Lack tables as racks, with lots of PDUs, switches, routers, servers, etcetera, etcetera- it used so much power that I ended up building my own solar charging system for the garage… so yes, despite looking impressive, and me being quite proud of myself, it wasn’t the most efficient system. Anyway, a combination of a leaking garage roof and losing the will to live trying to get IGMP working for a YouView box put an end to the madness.

 

So, having learned from my lesson, I decided to virtualize. Most of Cisco’s wireless components (except for DNA-C.. grr!) can be virtualized, the vWLC has some restrictions (Around mobility anchors and TrustSec mainly) but it does the job. On the flip side, some products like Prime Infrastructure just can’t sensibly be virtualized at home, as they do some heavy lifting and you’re not going to get quiet or cheap running things like that.

Anyway, so I was just focused on a couple of vWLCs (the second only to play around with redundancy options for pseudo resilience) and an ISE.

There are 2 versions of this blog – one with the hardware I should have bought, and the other with the hardware I actually did buy.

I first started my hunt looking for EXSI capable mini PCs, and the first I stumbled upon was the Brix Gigabyte family. These are low footprint, low voltage, fanless servers with just enough grunt to get you by. I opted for a Gigabyte Brix 2807, which retails for around £90 barebones. As my research was poorly carried out, it turns out it was very difficult to install ESXI on the box, so I ended up opting for Microsofts HyperV, however if I was to go through the process again, after doing my own research, I would probably go for a 4200 series Brix, more information can be found here.

Within the Brix, I installed a 16GB stick of DDR3L (the most costly purchase) and a 256GB SSD which I had laying around.

As I mentioned, I had a lot of problems with installing ESXI, so opted for HyperV which Cisco now support, and managed to get the vWLCs and ISEs installed and configured without a hitch. You can get evaluation licenses from CCO and download the eval software too.

For ease, I use a couple of unmanaged Netgear POE switches, however, if you are starting with Networks I strongly suggest you get a managed switch and use it to learn the basics. I also didn’t need to purchase any access points, which always helps!

In total, I managed to get 2 vWLCs and an ISE for less than £300, and it runs like a dream!

It’s really useful to quickly test configuration and features, as well as learn. We have some critical services like Netflix, Youtube, Peppa Pig and Spotify running over the network so we spot issues very quickly!

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