How to build a CCIE rack with GNS3 / dynamips — Part 1

Hey people!
Here is part one of my “How to build a CCIE rack”.
Of course there are also some howto´s in the internet how to do it, but every howto is understood differently and maybe you like the way I did it :).

The “howto” consists of some parts because I do not have time to do the complete setup in one big part. Here they are:

Part 1 : Preparation and intention
Part 2a: Building the GNS3 server (Hardware)
Part 2b: Building the GNS3 Server (Software)
Part 3 : Building up the 4 switches and the server into the rack
Part 4 : Connecting the 4 switches to the server
Part 5a: Remote power switch
Part 5b: New 19″ case for the remote power switch
Part 6 : Building the GNS3 topology and configure the IdlePC values
Part 7 : Configure the serial lines and remote access to the server and the routers
Part 8 : Run the LAB

So first of all, like it is with many things in life, we need to know what we want to have!

My goals of setting up a rack/lab were the following:
– Although I have racktime at I wanted to have a own lab because sometimes the racks are booked out or sometime slots are not available

– you can just book one 6h block of labtime. So if you are learning a technology and want to tests a specific configurationyou have to pay for a whole 6h session

– I wanted to have the possibility to use traffic generating pcs and take a look what happens with real packets

So as you can see you are a lot more independent with an own lab. To the rented racks I have a RTT of 200msec, which is okay…but not as low like in my own LAN.

+++ positives +++
So here are the good things about an own LAB:
– independence (time and slot reservations)
– gaining hands-on experience
– learn about gns3/dynamips
– topology can be changed to whatever you want
– scalable
– the possibility to build in real pcs/voip phones etc.
– the strange look in your friends faces saying “what the hell is this? are you sure this is legal?” 🙂

— negatives —
Here are the drawbacks of a LAB:
– it costs more or less money (depending on how big you want to set it up), but it costs money 🙂
– takes time to install
– requires some space in your room
– can usually not be deployed in your living room as it is noisy and heating up the room
– for comfort you would need a 19″ rack
– depending on how often you use it you thin that the electricity bill has been sent to the wrong receiver 🙂
– you got to keep the lab intact when using it

Here are the steps that I started with:
1. build the “what do I want-list”
2. build the “what do I need for that-list”
3. where to place

1) What do I want?
– 1x PC/server with enough power so simulate the INE.COM router-topology this can be found here ->
– 4x switches with console connection to them (each costs about 100$ at ebay)

2) What do I need for that?
– Components for the server (details for the server are covered later on). Recommendation for the server is a quad core with at least 4G of ram, at least 3xPCI slots and 4 USB ports) (about 550$)
– 4x usb to serial converters (to access the switches) (about 5$ each)
– 3x 4-port PCI LAN Adapters (to bridge the virtual router interfaces of GNS3 to the real switches) (about 50$ each)
– 1x 19″ rack (optional) (costs for that differ very much, I got one for free but if you buy one you probably need about 100-400$)

– 1x remote power switch (optional) (this one is covered in a part later on)
– 18x crossover cables (about 35$ at ebay)
– 12x straight trhrough cables (about 20$ at ebay)
– 4x Cisco console cable (some dollars at ebay, won´t be more than 15$)

3) Where to place?
– Well the answer for that question depends on your local environment. If you live alone you can put it in your living room or anywhere else. But always remember that the rack will warm up the room. In summer this can be really annoying! I have put mine in the basement. Cooling there is absolutely no problem and there is no noise for me. A drawback for this is just, that I need to implement remote administration which costs some dollars and some time. But if it works it is fine!
Noise here is a big topic…for one or two hours it can be okay but any longer its just killing your brain!
I have put all the hardware into a 19″ rack because it looks gook and everything is sorted

Here is a picture:

You can also give me feedback within the comments what your choice was and where you put it!


About markus.wirth

Living near Limburg in Germany, working as a Network Engineer around Frankfurt am Main.
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2 Responses to How to build a CCIE rack with GNS3 / dynamips — Part 1

  1. Jochen says:

    Having a network lab at home is great. Especially when you are studying with INE`s workbook 1. My setup looks very similar. But I had to buy one expensive (300 €) quad gigabit HP nic, because my server has only 2 PCI-32 slots.

    My server runs Ubuntu 10.04 64bit with Dynamips/Dynagen and has been very stable so far. But you should watch out for some nasty Dynamips bugs[1]. I have wasted way to much time with some of them. But I guess that`s the price one has pay for not buying real hardware routers 😉

    If you are looking for interesting remote access solutions to your lab, then you should check this out:

    It is a nice idea, but I would change a few things to make this setup more secure (like not using XAMPP, …). But on the other hand, OpenVPN and SSH works for me at the moment.

    Happy labbing.




  2. Addy says:

    Hi Markus!
    I am trying to build a lab just like yours. Not sure if possible, but so far, I have the Unix server, the 4 layer3 switches (they are all connected following your part 6: “build your own gns3 topology, and configre the idle values”, and can lab when at home).
    I also have 2 routers (1841 & 3640), some other spare switches and one 1242 access point.
    I am looking into buying the “Smart IP-based PDU Power Reboot Switch” that you recommended for powering lab remotely…
    But … now that I see your diagram/picture on this page, it looks like I am missing many more components to get my lab to look just like yours.
    I would like to be able to access the lab remotely from the office, and not sure where to start.

    I was wondering if you could give me some advise?

    Thanks for your awesome posts, and your help!
    Addy R.

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