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Lab Requirements for Ansible for Networking Engineers Online Course

One of the undergraduate students attending my Ansible for Networking Engineers online course got to the point where he wanted to start hands-on work and sent me a list of questions:

Do I have to buy a VIRL license to use your Ansible course materials? Or is VIRL in any Github repository? Is there a way to use your files in a free Tool like GNS3?

Let’s go through them one by one:

  • Is VIRL somewhere in my GitHub repositories? No. VIRL is a commercial product sold by Cisco Systems.
  • Do you have to buy VIRL to use the Ansible course materials? Of course not. Most of my examples use Cisco IOS (because I’m familiar with the platform for historic reasons), but you can easily adapt them to work with other platforms (I’ve heard some people within Cisco think Arista EOS is a close alternative), or build a Cisco IOS lab in a variety of ways.
  • Can you use the example files in a free tool like GNS3? Absolutely. I’m publishing the VIRL topologies I’m using to run my examples in case someone wants to replicate them, but of course you can also open those same files in any text editor (they are XML files) and extract the router configurations if you wish.

But what if you’d like to work in a virtual lab built from Cisco routers without paying for VIRL? There are numerous alternatives to VIRL, some of them completely legal, others a bit less so. For example, some course attendees would download Cisco CSR ISO image and build a lab using multiple VMs by hand. Someone turned Cisco CSR images into Vagrant boxes (the instructions are somewhere on the Internet) and used Vagrant to build the lab topology. If you like Docker, use vrnetlab from Kristian Larsson. Finally, there are other free tools like GNS3 or EVE-NG.

Also, there’s no need to blindly follow my examples. You’re an engineer, find alternatives ;)

The variety of equipment the course attendees use is amazing. I’ve seen labs built with Arista EOS, Cumulus VX, Cisco IOS (in various incarnations), Cisco Nexus-OS, Juniper vSRX, vMX and vQFX. I think I’ve even seen someone using HP or Dell switches. The most important part goal of the course is that you learn how to automate the equipment you have in your network.

Sounds like fun? Join hundreds of your peers who already started they journey into network automation land.

Finally, I use VIRL because I’m familiar with Cisco IOS, I already paid for VIRL, it works well for me, and paying for it is still cheaper than investing my time into exploring alternatives and building something. However, if you have a choice, go with a vendor that gives you a virtual lab environment for free; there’s no reason to pay a vendor tax for virtual test lab in 2017.

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