Those Bits Have to go Somewhere: My CCNA Experience

This will come as no surprise to a lot of you, but I feel it’s worth underlining: virtualization covers the entire stack in the data center. This can easily be proven by looking at the vSphere Client. All four food groups are shown: compute, OS, storage, and networking.

I'll take some hosts and clusters with a side of networking and an extra helping of datastores.

I’ve spent a lot of time in those first 3 segments in the forms of servers and blades, various Microsoft operating systems, and all tiers of storage. This has given me a healthy amount of respect and experience for what’s out there. Recently, I’ve made it a goal to focus on the fourth segment, networking, and I wanted to share a bit of my experience to obtaining Cisco’s certified network associate (CCNA) certification. The ultimate journey will most likely end with CCNP and being able to work with NX_OS (Nexus) switches, but this is a good start.

Learning Materials

While I do have an undergraduate in networking, it’s been a long time since I’ve implemented anything on a router or switch. Plus, things like RIP v1, which I spent many hours learning and committing to memory, are nearly worthless now (RIP is a very ironic name). Here are the materials I used to learn and study:

CCNA Cisco Certified Network Associate Study Guide: Exam 640-802 (Amazon): This is a very detailed book written by Todd Lammle. It goes into all sorts of the nitty gritty on what you should know for the CCNA, and includes a lot of things that you may just want to know or be curious about outside of the exam.

CCENT/CCNA ICND1 640-822 Official Cert Guide (3rd Edition) (Amazon): While a bit dry and filled with Flinstones based examples, the infamous Wendell Odom does a great job and explaining things in a very simple set of terms. This thing is a tome of knowledge with some great examples and walk-throughs.

CCNA Exam Cram (Exam 640-802) (3rd Edition) (Amazon): This was actually my favorite resource because it’s written in a very conversational tone and doesn’t wander deep into the weeds at every turn. It also had a great set of practice exams (not brain dumps, I assure you) that help prepare for the style of questions on the CCNA exam.

If you want the CD that comes with any of these books, grab the dead tree edition, as it’s a bit of a pain to try and get them in Kindle format. I recommend getting the Exam Cram book in paperback, as their CD is really good. The others I did not feel added any significant value in the very limited digital content.

Home Lab

My entire home lab was simply a virtual machine running Windows 7 and GNS3. This allowed me to set up a rather complex topology of routers and switches to use while following along with the learning materials. For more details on working with GNS3, head over to their tutorial page.

The other possibility would be to purchase equipment. There’s a lot of places out there that sell CCNA/CCNP hardware kits for a couple clams, but I found GNS3 to be “good enough” for my intentions. It will not suffice for the CCNP as GNS3 cannot emulate a Catalyst switch.


I’ve taken exams from Microsoft, VMware, and NetApp, and to date Cisco wins the “wow this is hard” contest hands down. The exam requires 800/1000 (one required 825/1000) to pass and consists of many simulated environments where there is a terminal configured to accept line commands – you are expected to perform live commands to achieve goals set by the question (very cool!). I really enjoyed the exam content and difficulty, and I now have more respect for anyone else who has gone through the process. 🙂

I took both the ICND1 and ICND2 as opposed to the straight CCNA exam – my reason for this was to avoid taking the entire thing all over again if I did not pass, and to narrow down the content for each exam.