How to build a home lab

Future network engineers will have many questions about a home lab. What components are necessary? How can I ensure I get the best equipment within my budget and not be restricted as I learn?
You can do many things in a hybrid environment, whether you are setting up a new environment to prepare for a CCNA certification exam or another purpose.
This article will address these concerns and get you going. You will be able to learn the Cisco CLI and make your own cabling, routing, and switching and put it all together.
There is no need to reinvent your wheel, spend a lot on licenses and hardware, or do trial and error with configurations and devices. You may have come across expensive enterprise-grade solutions when searching for Networking devices or software. We will list hardware equipment that is more accessible and doesn’t require licensing to be used.
Let’s start with our physical equipment. There are physical Firewalls as well as SOHOs, Hubs and WAPs, Routers or Switches, etc. but for now, we will only require Routers or Switches.
Our home lab’s main purpose is to simulate a Network environment. Therefore, it makes sense that we start with the recommended list of devices. We’ll then recommend a selection of these devices to help you build your home lab.
3 RoutersCables & ToolRecommended Selection: Switches
Cisco switches offer many capabilities, including Layer 2, Layer 3, Power over Ethernet(PoE), and many others. The Cisco Catalyst 2950 (Layer 2) and the Cisco Catalyst 3355 (Layer 3) are the best options for this setup. There are many options available for these Switches. It may depend on the scalability you require for your home lab. However, here is a suggestion:
2 Cisco Catalyst WS-2950-12 switches. Other options include the WS-2950C-24 and WS-2950C-24. The 12 and 24 nomenclatures refer to the ports included. The difference between 2950C or 2950C is that the former has 100BASE-FX uplink ports. Fiber is optional for our purposes.
1 Cisco Catalyst WS-3550-24 EMI Switch. Other options include the WS–C3550–48-EMI, WS–C3550-24–SMI, and WS–C3550–48-SMI. There are differences in the number of ports between them (24 and 48), as well as the fact that EMI supports enhanced routing capabilities (EIGRP and OSPF). These are optional, but they can be helpful in future scalability.
Routers are a recommended selection
There are many Cisco Routers that could fit in our home lab. However, we can only offer a few and then go from there. It is important to know which models and series to look for. This is the most important lesson you can learn in your lab work: Hardware selection.
There are three series of ISR Cisco Routers: the 1800, 2800, and 3800 series. Here’s a quick description of each so you can choose which one.
Cisco C1861 Routers are capable of voice, sometimes with FXO and FXS voice port as well as an 8 port built-in switch. A C1841 router can be used if voice capabilities are not available in the lab. There are also the C2011 and C2821 models for more than four line cards. You can compare them here.
Cisco offers bundles that provide more Voice and Security capabilities. They are conveniently called Voice bundles and Security bundles and VSEC (Voice + Security).
Once we have chosen our devices, we can now move on to the peripherals that we will need to connect them together to make our lab functional.
Cables – The Nervous System of Your Home Laboratory
Fiber cabling can be omitted for now. Cat 5e and Cat 6 UTP cables can be used to set up your home. Cat 5e cables are more affordable than Cat 6. They can support Gigabit speeds and Fast Ethernet. As a baseline, you can add Cat 5a cabling.
Next, let’s consider the two types of Ethernet connections: Crossover and Straight-through. Pre-made cabling can be expensive. You should first consider the type of connections you are going to make and then calculate your costs. This option can be costly and may require you to purchase a lot of cables.
One roll of Ethernet cabling will be required for this last option. Keep in mind, however, that there are length limitations for each Cat 5e and Cat6 cable. The maximum length allowed is 100 meters (or 328 ft), so be aware of this when designing your home lab.
Now that we have our cabling in place, let’s move onto the types of connections and then the tools required.
Crossover vs. straight through connections:
The only difference between straight-through cables and crossover is the order of the connector’s cabling colors. We will discuss this in the next section. Crossover cables change the order of the color, but straight-through cables use the same color order at both ends.
When designing networks such as your home laboratory or cable work, keep the following in mind:
Cross-over cables can be used to connect like devices (Router, router, switch, etc.). Straight-through cables are used to connect different types of devices (Switch router, switch computer).
This information will allow you to get an estimate of the total cabling distance you desire.