Cisco Learning Network Announces Lab Access based on IOS on Linux

Cisco Learning Network will announce their Cisco Learning Labs today, which offers a full remote lab of networking equipment targeted students in authorised Cisco training. We are finally at a level where we can call training “professional” because the resources are now professionally available.

Some bullet points about the program: Cisco Learning Network

  • the environment will be hosted by Cisco and available by remote access over the internet.
  • students will pay a fee for “lab bundles” for a fixed amount of time.
  • “25 hours of lab time for each 90 day subscription bundle”
  • “5 hour extension options”
  • the labs are preconfigured to meet the requirements for ICND2, CCNP Route, CCNP Switch, CCNP Troubleshoot, and CCIP MPLS at first release and more are expected to follow.
  • The hosted platform uses IOU – IOSô on Unix and includes the new Layer 2 “virtualised switch” rumoured to be in the latest version of IOU so you can practice and test your Layer
  • The hosted service will be available for Authorised Cisco Training partners to use in delivering Cisco authorised training.
  • expanded programs will be available later presumably to provide labs for CCIE. Although I’m still wondering how they will handle ASA firewalls and IDS units for CCNx Security.

Good Points

OK, so it’s great that Cisco Learning has finally recognised that access to equipment is necessary and a requirement f|or their own training programs. They may be late to deliver something (IOU has been available for years), but at least students and new starters to networking will have access to necessary tools. We need more networkers in the industry.

  • the pricing appears reasonable. I hear that IOS on Unix uses almost no CPU or Memory for even very large number of routers & switches so hosting a couple of UCS systems in the existing Cisco infrastructure is not going to cost much. Most of the internal Cisco cost would be building a system that manages users and does the billing (( and I’m betting it’s been outsourced, not done internally given the state of Cisco internal politics )) .
  • It’s possibly cheaper and easier than buying equipment online. It might be time to start selling your home labs.
  • Its environmentally friendly – much less power wasted running routers that have no actual purpose.

Limitations

  • Not everyone has Internet connections that allow telnet or ssh through the corporate firewall so you probably won’t be able to use it from the office. Apparently they hadn’t thought of that.
  • The configurations are fixed.

Criticisms

  • “The IOU software is not being released publicly due to copyright issues”. Huh, a quick check on a bittorrent tracker shows that it is already out there and, corporate ignorance aside, this comment is patently stupid. Uncle John needs to tell the lawyers to get a life in reality and back off.
  • This doesn’t solve the problems of people, like myself, who need to design, build and test concepts, ideas, software features, capabilities that are not a part of any learning program.
  • Because Cisco is not one company but several different divisions, it seems unlikely that they even recognise that this is a problem at a business level.

Suggestions

1321733 broken heart

I wonder why Cisco doesn’t build a simple subscription program like the Microsoft Developer Network (MSDN). In effect, the MSDN lets any qualified Microsoft Professional have the option of a low cost subscription (less than $400 per annum) to every piece of software Microsoft makes. And when joining the program users are required to agree a set of terms & conditions that include copyright and ownership of the software as a temporary license, with no support either implied or guaranteed. As part of the program, license keys are issued

I believe that most people would be happy to pay a reasonable subscription for this kind of service and a license key. The ability to access multiple versions of IOU for testing and validation means that customers can validate change control processes, adopt and implement the amazing features in IOS.

Why is this important ?

I know that many organisations have defined processes for testing and validation proposed changes to the networks using Dynamips, and that the final closure of IOS based on the MIPS processors will be a significant point of change for their organisations. Once they are no longer able to test IOS, they will start to look at alternative vendors.

With that said, neither Juniper nor HP, have yet released emulators their software and we could hope for better from them. For example Arista have released their software which can run on a VM for testing and proof of concept work, and I am aware of several organisations who have purchased Arista where this made a key purchasing influence.

As networks get more and more complex, and there are less and less networking resources there is less opportunities to learn and develop skills in the field. While development in the classroom is important it is equally important to develop post certification skills and meet the requirements of their customers.

The EtherealMind view

It’s great to see a Cisco division doing something in response to what users need and clearly this should have been done years ago so it’s hard to be overly positive about delivering today. This is a case of too little, too late and it doesn’t go far enough.

In particular, IPv6 is going to be a major test for network engineers and the capabilities. We need access to viable platforms to build competency and confidence with IPv6 protocols rooting and security before we can roll them out. For every mistake we make in the field customers will take the view that the network is not reliable, not capable or that the people involved cannot handle the challenges.

I take the view that Microsoft understands this challenge and has made this software is freely available as they can practically make it and this has been a significant part of their success. Adoption of SharePoint by corporate entities has been widespread because it was freely available as part of the MSDN package not because it’s a particularly good or even competent piece of software. It is part of any change for M isicrosoft upgrades to develop allowed inside a virtualised server and test before deployment.

Why are the networking vendor’s preventing us from doing the same and blocking the delivery of real value to our businesses?

Appendix – Petition

As at 9th April, the Cisco IOS Emulator has 1086 confirmed signatures, another 130 non-confirmed signatures (and non-spam). A total of 18000 page view between Jul 2010 to April 2011 on this page alone.

I don’t know, and I didn’t ask, whether the petition had any effect. But I’m hopeful that the community by signing this petition had some impact. If it did, it wasn’t because of me, it was because you supported the petition that asked Cisco to deliver it. By working as a community we can achieve things together, hopefully we will do it again in the future. Thanks for joining in.

Related

Wendel Odom has made several posts at Network World – here is the first one – Cisco Introduces Cisco Learning Labs. Of course, Wendell would know much more, and offer more insight than I can.

 

I have placed the slides from the presentation that I received†http://etherealmind.com/cisco-learning-labs-slides/

About Greg Ferro

Greg Ferro is a Network Engineer/Architect, mostly focussed on Data Centre, Security Infrastructure, and recently Virtualization. He has over 20 years in IT, in wide range of employers working as a freelance consultant including Finance, Service Providers and Online Companies. He is CCIE#6920 and has a few ideas about the world, but not enough to really count.

He is a host on the Packet Pushers Podcast, blogger at EtherealMind.com and on Twitter @etherealmind and Google Plus

You can contact Greg via the site contact page.

  • http://blog.initialdraft.com JL

    Great post Greg.

  • http://third-world-networker.blogspot.com/ jgtau

    this line “Once they are no longer able to test IOS, they will start to look at altern≠at≠ive vendors.”…. is especially true for networks and cto’s that really have no budget to buy lab kit and have no intention of risking their infrastructure.

    It gets worse when ‘alternative’ vendors -huawei- throw in ‘free’ test/lab kit or access to their test labs after purchase of equipment worth ‘x’ amount.

    jgitau

  • Alex S

    Thanks Greg, great sum.

    Just a thought – maybe the “licensing problems” making it unavailable for general public come from Unix license that runs IOSes? I.e. you.d need license to run Solaris on your own, Cisco wouldn’t be able to toss software package with that OS jut like that. I do not know how hard is to port that environment to different OS under GNU or BSD license.

    • nld

      Actually, the images floating around Internet are Linux builds. Thus it doesn’t appear to be much of an issue.

    • http://evilrouters.net Jeremy L. Gaddis

      Nah, I have Linux, Solaris, and OS X IOU binaries, so that isn’t it.

    • http://etherealmind.com Greg Ferro

      I don’t know anything. I guess we have to wait for Cisco to act like grown ups and look to help their customers.

  • Brandon

    Juniper’s version will be out soon and be a lot more than IOS (actual microcode emulation so that you are fully emulating the target platform, not just the OS)

    • http://etherealmind.com Greg Ferro

      Now that would be fantastic. I could achieve some serious testing and validation with that approach.

    • jack

      Hi Brandon,

      Is it true that juniper gonna’s come out with a fully funtional verison of their olive(Junos). Since juniper’s technology is more asic based their features are locked with their asics. Though their Olive emulator being out in the market for quite some long you cannot test all the features as it does not emulate the hardware dependant features just like IOS on UNIX.

      Hope you are very right & they really come out with their microcode emulation of the true hardware and not just the Junos. In fact in my opinon juniper needs it very much more than cisco does looking at the no. of certified engineers in the market. There are hardly any options available in the market for hands-on juniper. The rack rentals are damn expensive and aa very few in teh market to offer. People want to learn junos but unable to find gear to lay their hands on. Customers face a real problem with finding juniper certified people with real hands on experience. This will really help them in producing more hands certified engineers in the market and more acceptance to the customers.

      Just my 2 Cents.

      Jack

      • http://www.3fives.com IPv6Freely

        It’s not just olive. And its certainly not just the Olive you’re used to, either. This new platform will be able to run any JUNOS… EX, MX, SRX, M, J, etc. And it’s entirely cloud based, with full support. So don’t worry, all of your concerns are being addressed. Juniper will be quickly surpassing everything Cisco has done so far.

        • jack

          Hi,

          wow that’s sounds amazing I think this would be the answer to all the juniper fans asking juniper for a simulator to prepare for their prestigious JNCIE Certification.

          I am not sure how the pricing of this cloud based model would be and will it be open to candidates preparing for their certifications or will be only open to customer already having juniper gear and would be allowed to them for testing new features before rolling them out in the production environment.

          I really hope this thing would turn out to be favorable to candidates preparing for Juniper Certs includes me too :)

          Regards

          Jack

          • http://www.3fives.com IPv6Freely

            It’s cheap – trust me. I’m not sure if the pricing has been released yet, so at this point I unable to disclose the pricing… but believe me, it’s *VERY* inexpensive. Lots cheaper than INE or IPX rack rentals, that’s for sure.

            As far as I understand it, it will be first only available as a line item purchase. Meaning, you’d have to go through a reseller to get it (like any other Juniper hardware). However, after some discussion with Juniper, it seems the goal is to open it up to take credit card payments right on the site (www.junosphere.net), which would allow it to be accessed by JNCIE candidates.

  • nld

    @Greg – AFAIR, GNS3 provides ASA support via QEMU for quite some time already.
    There was also a website called ASA Project (now closed) that provided LiveCD environment for running ASAs in both virtualized and native modes. ISOs might still be lying around somewhere in the torrents, I think.

    Thus I don’t see any issues for Cisco with regards to running some ASA VMs in a lab.

    • http://etherealmind.com Greg Ferro

      In the days when the ASA was completely Intel compatible this may have been true. I think that later versions of ASA code have systems that cannot be emulated. Happy to be wrong though.

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  • wD

    Last year our Cisco SE told me that they are working on a blade on which they want to put IOU and then sell it to their customers. When I asked a few months later, I got told that the “IOU-blade” project (I am making this name up here) had been put on hold as a cloud-based version of it had been given priority.

    I guess we are now looking at the cloud based version. So there is hope that we will see the IOU-blade making an appearance in the near future and that we would finally getting faster and easier access to the tools we need to get our jobs done.

    Cisco might loose initially a tiny amount of dollars that companies would have otherwise spend on lab equipment but from there on onwards… For example: My employer is operating globally and is BIG. But outsiders would still be amazed how the rollout of large-scale projects is getting delayed nearly ALL THE TIME by things like IOS certification and the initial development stage of a solution, because the individual departments don’t have enough hardware to go around to get their work done. The purchase of lab/test equipment these days is to 99.9% project-funded – It is the individual business units that have to sponsor the expense for lab equipment up front and they never throw around with money at the beginning of a project, ever. These sponsoring business units only really start to open their wallets during the rollout phase of a project.

    So Cisco: Please give us those blades – which will allow everyone in network engineering related departments to get their work done much faster. Faster development and testing cycles equate to faster deployment of projects.

    “More projects rolled out per year… More money spend on Cisco-gear!” ;-)

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