I was privileged to acquire a copy of the RouterSim CCNA Edition 2.x Interactive Router-Simulated Training program. This program is available from the RouterSim site, which claims: “Enhance your learning and get the hands-on experience that you need! Create and configure a network at your own pace. This is an affordable alternative to the price of a real environment…“
Does this package live up to RouterSim’s claims? That's exactly what I set out to discover.
This particular package costs $229.00 for a single license and includes one CD, one floppy disk, and one manual. The floppy disk contains your authorization codes, and you should use caution when installing the package. The authorization disk contains the authorization files (usually one or two). After you install the simulation software, you must transfer an authorization file to the hard drive. This transfer process actually removes one authorization file from the floppy disk. Once you have used up your authorization codes, you can no longer install the software. So install wisely.
The accompanying manual is a simple introduction to the software and includes an introductory lab section. The lab section contains seven labs that range from logging in to ISDN configuration. These labs can also be accessed from within the software itself (more on that later).
I have to admit I was a bit skeptical about installing router simulation software on the Windows 2000 platform. I was pleasantly surprised. Slap the CD into the tray, select Run from the Start menu, and select either SRSInstall.exe (for a single system install) or NRSInstall.exe (for a network install).
After you've run the installation, put in your authorization floppy disk, double-click the RouterSim CCNA icon, and click Install Authorization. Once the authorization is installed, you are ready to rock.
And rock is exactly what you will do. As I stated earlier, I was a bit skeptical about this application’s value. No more. If you need to learn about Cisco routers in preparation for the Cisco Certified Network Associate (CCNA) and don't have access to the actual hardware, this is the way to go. You are not only getting a solid way to work with the Cisco IOS but also getting the chance to configure a complete network and check your progress as you go.
When you open RouterSim, you’ll see a screen like the one shown in Figure A. Here you'll see a simulated network above and below the configured information. In Figure A, you'll see the network as is "out of the box." In Figure B, you'll see the process of configuring the router (hey, doesn't that look familiar?). Finally, in Figure C, you'll see the results of the configuration. (Look near the pointer.) This configuration is done exactly as it is on a Cisco router.
|The initial screen of RouterSim shows both a graphical representation of the network you are configuring and textual information on the network.|
|One you've configured your router, simply click Network Visualizer and you'll return to the graphical representation.|
How it works
Now that you've seen the screen shots, how about an explanation?
After you’ve installed the application and started it up, the next thing you will do is open Network Visualizer. (See Figure D.)
Once you have started Network Visualizer, you'll see a screen like the one in Figure A. To configure any one of the machines installed on your virtual network, you simply have to click the desired device. Clicking a device will open a console simulator (for the routers and switches) or a DOS window simulator (for the PCs).
Once the simulator is open, you can then run the configuration commands as if they were native to that device.
The included labs
One of the highlights of this particular simulator is being able to work through the labs with your virtual network. To test these labs, I opened Lab 5, which explained configuring static routes for all the various switches and routers.
If you've ever taken a CCNA (or related) lab, these labs will look very familiar. The labs walk you through the various steps but go one step further by explaining what happened within the lab. This is a huge plus. Many times, in CCNA class, I found myself wondering what I had just done in a lab—not so with this software. I was always aware of what was happening.
Once I completed Lab 5 (within the application), my virtual network went from looking like the one in Figure A to the one shown in Figure E. As you can see, I now have a completely configured and working network.
If you take a look at Figure F, you will see an MS-DOS window. This window is from the Host B virtual PC. In that window, you will see the Net Detective button. If you click that button, a new window will appear that gives you the status of any known issues on your network.
|The virtual MS-DOS window contains a Net Detective button that indicates any problems with your connection.|
In my case, I clicked the Net Detective button and discovered that no communication protocol was present in the 2621 router. Figure G shows the full error.
|Net Detective is capable of detecting errors you may not be ready to detect.|
The RouterSim software is truly an outstanding method of practicing and clarifying the information needed to pass the CCNA exam. This tool not only allows you to practice using the Cisco IOS but also allows you to fully comprehend how networking with Cisco products is achieved.
If you're looking for a tool to help you study for the CCNA, or to just refresh your Cisco skills, the RouterSim CCNA edition is just the ticket. I feel very strongly that this tool is a must-have for anyone wanting to take the Cisco CCNA who doesn't have access to the equipment. The price of admission is well spent.
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Jack Wallen is an award-winning writer for TechRepublic and Linux.com. He’s an avid promoter of open source and the voice of The Android Expert. For more news about Jack Wallen, visit his website jackwallen.com.