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I am an MCSA and Linux enthusiast planning to give LCP-01 in December. I am looking to learn more in the switching and routing world and I'm trying to understand which kind of certification would be a nice balance between money spent / valuable certificate / a good amount of useful skills for everyday work.

Of cource CCNA is the way to start but it's made by different exams...

Which do you suggest to take 1st? Is there a better certification about this subject than cisco's?

Thank you all, sysadmins!

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up vote 4 down vote accepted

Most people start with the Cisco CCNA Routing & Switching track. If you want a vendor agnostic test to get your feet wet with, you may want to start with Network+.

If you want to work with some Cisco gear, you can use Dynagen & GNS3 though you will need to supply your own copy of IOS (the operating system that Cisco gear runs).

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I studied the CCNA. However I also studied Electrical Engineering at university. Did I learn anything from the CCNA? No. Though it seems to cover a lot of the basics. The common complaint would be that much of the material is Cisco-specific and that to pass exams you have to answer questions the way Cisco would like you to, not the way you'd otherwise think through reading RFCs yourself.

It would be very difficult to pass a CCNA without direct access to a Cisco router to experiment and learn on. Indeed some of the questions on the computer-based exam use simulated routers which you have to configure.

By all means study the CCNA but I would also recommend having a wander around Wikipedia and reading some RFCs.

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Thanks: good point. I think I can find vmware machines that emulate cisco routers... I don't want to get to real deep knowledge but I'd like to "put hands" on networks with a little more knowledge and readiness :) – Pitto Nov 25 '10 at 11:52

There are two paths towards CCNA certification:

  1. The two-exam path: 640-822 (ICND 1) and 640-816 (ICND 2). Typically, you pass the ICND 1 exam (you become a CCENT then) and then you pass the ICND 2 exam and you become a CCNA. Each exam costs about 125 US dollars.

  2. The one-exam path: 640-802. This is the "one-shot" composite exam. If you pass it, you become a CCNA. This exam costs about 250 US dollars.

People usually suggest the one-exam path if you have some decent networking experience, or the two-exam path if you are more of a newbie. But this isn't really important, just go with whatever path feels right for you.

In addition to the excellent GNS3 emulator that Peter suggested, you will probably need Packet Tracer, a free simulator from Cisco. Normally GNS3 would be more than enough but unfortunately it can't emulate Cisco switches (it offers only simple, unmanaged switches).

In contrast to what PP is saying, I don't believe it's difficult to pass the CCNA exam without access to real Cisco equipment. This is more of a requirement as you go further up the chain of Cisco certifications (e.g. CCNP). Real switches and routers definitely give you better insight but GNS3 + Packet Tracer will suffice for the CCNA exam. Having said that, you can get free access to real Cisco equipment over at the Packetlife Lab (haven't tried it myself).

You can find forums, advice etc at the Cisco Learning Network.

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I don't know much about current CCNA version, but when I took CCNA (version 3) classes I realized that only the first half is that all I need, the CCNA INTRO (1st-2nd semester). Like PP said above, I found the rest was really Cisco specific, so you might want to ignore it (3rd-4th semester) to save money and time.

EDIT: I think they call it CCENT now. CCNA = ICND1 + ICND2; CCENT = ICND1.

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