We have come a long way from the days of using Packet Tracer and other simulation programs to prepare for certification exams. GNS3 was indeed a game changer because it opened up a world of possibilities and drastically reduced how much money you need to spend preparing for exams and creating test environments.
I remember going to my friend’s house to learn how to use GNS3 for the first time but once I got the hang of it, I used GNS3 in so many fun ways that the only factor that limited me was the capacity of my laptop. Once I passed my CCIE lab exam with great help from GNS3 (and INE, rack rentals, etc.), I continued using GNS3 to test solutions and create labs (most especially for the articles I write on here).
CCNA Training – Resources (Intense)
However, even GNS3 has evolved! I’ve spend the past couple of days researching the new possibilities in network simulation, not only in GNS3 but also in other products as well. Some of these things are not new but I am just finding them out so don’t take the word “trends” too seriously. I decided to write an article documenting them in case there are others like me who have been left behind.
Virtual PC Simulator (VPCS)
Apparently, this has been included in GNS3 for a while yet I have been using routers as test PCs all this time. VPCS allows you to add test PCs to your topology and do basic things from these PCs such as ping and traceroute. Although VPCS is included in the GNS3 installation, you can download it from the SourceForge page.
I think VPCS needed some configuration to work in earlier versions of GNS3 but with the current version (1.2.3), it’s basically plug and play (at least for Windows OS). A view of the devices I have in my GNS3 program shows the VPCS at the bottom:
Just to show you how it works, I will create a small lab in GNS3 as shown below:
I will configure the router with the IP address 192.168.1.1/24 and this router will act as the default gateway for the VPCS which will have an IP address of 192.168.1.100/24. To configure the VPCS, you just right-click on it and select Console just like you would other GNS3 devices.
You can use “?” to get help.
You can also get help for a particular command. For example, the “ip” command is used to set the IP address of the VPCS. We can type “ip ?” for help about how to use this command:
That’s cool, huh? I hope you are as intrigued as I am (assuming this is your first time seeing this).
ASA in VirtualBox/VMware
I have in the past used VMware to run the Cisco IPS but I never really knew about running the ASA in VMware or VirtualBox. I have written a standalone article concerning this so you can refer to that article. In that article, I was able to run the Cisco ASA virtual appliance (ASAv) with software version 9.2(1) but as I concluded in that article, I wasn’t as intrigued because some of the features in the 9.x version that I wanted to test out are not supported by the Cisco ASA virtual appliance.
Cisco Virtual Internet Routing Lab (VIRL)
Even though I don’t have first-hand experience with this, I decided to include it in this article because it looks interesting. A description of VIRL given on the website is “VIRL is a comprehensive network design and simulation platform. VIRL includes a powerful graphical user interface for network design and simulation control, a configuration engine that can build complete Cisco configuration at the push of a button, Cisco virtual machines running the same network operating systems as used in Cisco’s physical routers and switches, all running on top of OpenStack.”
It was initially expected to be free to use but it actually comes at a cost of $200 for a 1-year personal license or $80 for 1-year academic license. This license allows you to manage up to 15 Cisco nodes (at the same time) and I guess there won’t be any legal issues concerning the Cisco operating systems (as you may have with GNS3). The current release doesn’t support Layer 2 switching though so that’s not an advantage over GNS3.
You can find more information about the VIRL here. If I ever get to try it out, I will write an article on it.
This is one of those things that people say “Oh it’s really cool but don’t ask me for images because it is meant for Cisco internal use only.” There are a couple of sites that talk about IOU/IOL in detail, for example, here and here. What interests me is that there are Layer 2 IOUs which basically allows switching. In summary, GNS3 is now complete!
GNS3 hosted in the cloud
Truth is I’m not sure for how long this has been possible but I was absolutely mind-blown. One of the issues with running GNS3 is the processing capacity available to you on your local computer or laptop. How about using the low-cost option of high-capacity cloud hosted servers (e.g. Amazon AWS, Google Compute Engine) to run your GNS3 setups? For example, using the Google Engine Price Calculator, the estimated monthly price of a 4 CPU 15GB RAM server running for 12 hours a day for 7 days a week is about $82. Wow!
This opens up so many great doors of opportunity such as conducting trainings using GNS3 without rack rentals (or minimal rack rentals), running full-scale CCIE prep labs and so on. There is a really detailed article here that walks you through setting up GNS3 in a remote server hosted on the Google Compute Engine platform.
I don’t want to sound too optimistic about this (I already sound that way, right?) so when I try it out, I will give you my verdict.
In this article, I have detailed the result of my research into new trends in network simulation tools. Some of the things I discussed here may not be new to you (e.g. VPCS) while others are very recent (e.g. VIRL). I have personally used some of the technologies I wrote about in this article while I can’t wait to try my hands on others.
Feel free to drop comments regarding the ones you’ve used and other ‘trends’ that I didn’t mention in this article.