How to Build a Cisco Wireless Lab

The best way to learn is to engage in hands-on practice using real equipment in a non-production environment. Having crashed a few networks in my time, I can tell you that having the freedom to make changes on the fly without any risk can reduce unnecessary pressure and keep you focused solely on learning. Having said that, don’t use consumer-grade devices for this type of preparation, as they do not even remotely resemble the actual Cisco components used in the exam environments. Ideally, if you have older components in your work environment, then by all means use those. You may also be able to borrow them from friends or your local Cisco Users Group (see the directory at http://www.cisco-users.org/). If necessary, buy your own in the second hand market on sites such as Craigslist or eBay (eBay is probably safer). Here is a suggested parts list that can make the process straightforward, erring on the side of lower cost:

2-3 — Cisco Aironet 1200 AP’s
1 — 3524-XL-EN (Power over Ethernet)
1 — ASA-5505 (Base License)
Cisco 2106 Wireless LAN Controller
7 Cat-5 Ethernet Cables
1-2 XP Pro Laptop/Desktop

Correctly assembling these components into an easily accessible lab is fairly simple, and I have built enough of them over the years to help simplify the process. One item not listed above that can be helpful is a terminal server, which establishes console-based access to all of the devices in the lab. In the simplest setup, you can simply swap the console cable between each device, but when you have eight or more devices (as I typically do) a terminal server is a big help.

Step 1: Rack, Stack & Power

This particular lab environment is rather small and probably will not create significant issues if you have to host it in a home environment. You can probably find a very small network cabinet (6-9RU) that would be able to host the rack-mountable pieces. When possible, fasten mountable devices and cable strap the various power cables together to a power strip to provide electricity to the components. If you use Power over Ethernet (PoE), then you need very little else regarding power cabling and such. Additionally, most wireless device configurations are done through the web graphical user interface (GUI), so console access may be somewhat irrelevant.

Step 2: LAN Cabling

The second step in assembling this wireless lab is extremely simple. Run LAN cables from the PoE switch taking care to connect all the following devices in the lab:

  • Cisco Wireless Access Points (2-3 depending on your quantities)
  • Cisco WLC-2106 (only cable one connection, the others will not be needed)
  • Run the AP cables directly to the WLC as two ports supply PoE (Optional)
  • Workstation/Laptop Hosting WCS
  • Client Workstation (Optional)

You can use CAT 5/6 cables of any length, but the shorter the better (the exception is adequate length to comfortably reach between devices). One option is to cable the client workstation so that you can easily use Remote Desktop Protocol to reach it and perform any wireless configuration on the client adapter without locking yourself out of the device.

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