My CCIE - EI Lab setup 🧪🥼

2021-09-23 · Series: CCIE - EI · Tags: SDA, Cisco, SD-WAN, Networking

One of the first hurdles one has to overcome in achieving the CCIE - EI has been getting access to a proper lab environment. At the time of writing I have not found any reputable “rack rental” provider for the CCIE - EI. Hence I found it neccessary to build my own.

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Hardware & Software

Cisco has released the equipment and software list for the CCIE - EI Pods for the exam. This is the logical starting point for any lab build. I will break down my choices of lab software choices by the points on this list.

The CCIE - EI Exam pods look like this pre-cabling:

Virtual machines

  • Cisco CSR 1000v Series Cloud Services Routers with Cisco IOS XE SD-WAN Release 16.12
  • Cisco IOSv with Cisco IOS Software Release 15.8
  • Cisco IOSv-L2 with Cisco IOS Software Release 15.2

All of the above virtual machines are available in CML-PE

  • Cisco SD-WAN (vManage, vBond, vSmart, vEdge) Software Release 18.4

SD-WAN appliances are available to lab on for free if your Cisco account has access to the images.

  • Cisco DNA Center Release 1.3.1

The DNA Center is the main challange on the list is the DNA Center. At the time of writing it is yet to be released as a virtual appliance. The cheapest option(ignoring any partner benefits) is currently the DN1-HW-APL at a price of $24000 on Ebay. Your best bet to get hands on with SDA is through your employer.

UPDATE: Cisco now offers CCIE - EI practice labs, which includes everything necessary for the EI lab. A bit expensive to rely on 100% thoughout the CCIE EI study process, but a reasonably cheap way to get access to a DNAC.

UPDATE: Cisco is about to start supporting virtual DNA centers that’s easier on the hardware requirements. See the Cisco blog

Physical Equipment

  • Cisco Catalyst 9300 Series Switches Release 16.12

Catalyst 9300 are very nice switches, the ideal choice if your budget allows for it. They allow for “Fabric in a box” and they can assume the role of control node, border node and edge node in SDA. The Catalyst 3850 can be used as a cheaper alternative.

I had a few ISR 4331 routers available that could be used as control-plane and border nodes in SDA. Hence the choice of edge nodes landed on refurbished c3650-24p switches with a license upgrade. If the 4331s weren’t readily available I would have gone for 4 x Catalyst 3850.

Supporting virtual machines

  • Cisco Identity Services Engine 2.6
  • Microsoft Windows 10 Professional
  • Ubuntu Desktop 18.04 LTS

Peter Palúch, the CCIE Enterprise Infrastructure Exam Program Manager published the CCIE - EI host VM on the Cisco Learning Network. Getting hands-on experience with the tools available on the Host VM is recommended as automation tasks will be carried out on this VM.

Based on the CCIE - EI Learning Network webinars the desktop environment will be Xubuntu 18.04. This as available as an OVA from or as an iso from I went the ISO route and a ‘minimal installation’.

Lab topology

The lab topology I use for my studies is a direct copy of the topology presented in the CCIE EI webinars. Writeups on this exists elsewhere.

End result

The completed lab build looks like this from the front. Not as pretty as the CCIE - EI exam pods but functional.

In the back there’s a laptop and a USB hub acting as a console server. It is connected to the console port of all devices via the Mini USB console ports.

As the lab will be used remotely I have put all ‘Always on’ hardware and lab hardware on two different UPS units. This way I am able to cut the power to the lab hardware from home if neccessary without taking down everything.

I started using CML-PE but found it to be cumbersome and lacking in functionality. The main benefit of it is that it provides the neccessary device images). EVE-ng is a far better option, especially due to the support for multiple startup configs. It does however require a bit of Linux networking knowledge to successfully use it with external devices.


Virtualization 1Dell R720 (40c, 384GB RAM, 2TB NVMe)
Virtualization 2Dell R720 (48c, 384GB RAM, 2TB NVMe)
Console serverLaptop, USB hub + Mini USB
Power controlEaton 9130
Infrastructure router1 X ISR 4331
Infrastructure switch1 X C2960G-48P
SDA Control plane & Border2 x ISR 4331
Intermediate node2 x C2960-X
SDA Edge2 x C3650-24p

Must-have Software

VMware ESXi 7.0Virtualization host OSVMware
Xubuntu 18.04Workstation VMXubuntu
Ubuntu 18.04General purpose OSUbuntu
CCIE Host VMEnd host, Automation workstationLearning Network
Cisco Modeling Labs - PEIOSv and IOSvL2 imagesLearning Network or
Cisco Modeling Labs - PE Plus or EVE-NGVirtual network environmentLearning Network or
Cisco ISE 2.6Network security policy managementCisco
Viptela vEdge 18.4Viptela SD WAN componentCisco
Viptela vSmart 18.4Viptela SD WAN componentCisco
Viptela vManage 18.4Viptela SD WAN componentCisco
Cisco CSR1000v 16.12Virtual IOS-XE RouterCisco
DNAC 1.3.1DNAC Appliance OSCisco

Nice-to-have Software

NetboxLab documentation(hard to see cabling remotely)Github, Ansible role
Veeam Backup & ReplicationEnables easy full resets of VMs(ISE etc.)Veeam

See Also

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