Building a home lab for the Wireless CCIE- Part 4

By Jeff Rensink on July 24th, 2013

At this point in the series, we have discussed all of the networking gear that you’ll need in your lab to practice the blueprint items.  In this post, I will talk about the servers used in the lab.

You will have the best experience if you build your own ESXi server to run all of the individual servers in your lab.  This has the benefit of needing only a single physical box and it also allows you to use snapshots.  Snapshots are basically backups of the state of a Virtual Machine (VM) at a given point in time.  Take a snapshot of the starting point of your servers.  Then you can do whatever you want to them and fairly quickly get back to your starting point again by reverting to your starting snapshot.

In terms of server specs to build off of, I’d try to get one with at least 4 CPU, 12 GB of RAM, and a few hundred GB of hard drive space.  Try to give each server at least 1 CPU and 4 GB of RAM (or more if you have it).  You can check out the recommended server specs for each server in documentation.  ESXi will run on quite a few platforms.  So if you have a space PC laying around, you may be able to use that.  Otherwise, you can find old servers on ebay to fit the bill for $500 or so.

From here on, I’ll talk about each server that you will want to run in your lab.


This is probably the easiest one to get working.  You’ll want to download the ISO image for ACS 5.2.  Then install it as a VM in your ESXi server.  Once installed, you can request a 90 day demo license from Cisco and install that.  After the 90 days is up, you can always request another.  I’ve done it multiple times and haven’t been stopped yet.  You can find some instructions for this at the link below.

If you do not have rights to download the ISO, try to google the file name and you’ll probably find it for download somewhere out there.

You absolutely need this server to practice on.  ACS has been the downfall of a number of students that I’ve talked to.


This one is also fairly easy to get working, provided you have access to Windows 2003 Server or Red Hat Linux Enterprise Server 5.  You can get a 30 day trial license for this.  You will want to download and install version  My recommendation is to do this on Windows 2003.  That will replicate the lab environment and also give you a Windows 2003 server to run things like AD, DHCP, DNS, and CA services.

If you have access to an actual WCS license, you can utilize that on your home lab.  They are keyed to the server’s host name.  You can see this in the text of the license file.  So give your server the same host name and the license will apply.


This is the tough one.  There is no easily obtainable installation of the MSE at the code version that we want (which is  Cisco didn’t release VM versions of the MSE until 7.2, which won’t work for us.  So what can you do?

What I did during my studies was to get a demo version of the MSE that would run in a VM Player from within Windows XP.  So I built a Windows XP VM in ESXi, installed the VM Player and ran the MSE from within that.  I got this directly from one of my Cisco contacts while I was working for a gold partner.  So if you have Cisco contacts, you can try to reach out to them.  Or you could try reaching out to your partner if you have a good relationship with them.

Another option might be to do a physical to virtual conversion of a working MSE.  That will create a VM from a physical server.  I don’t know how to do that myself.  But I’m sure you could ask your resident ESX person or google it.  Of course, you need access to a physical MSE in order to do this.  I’ve never attempted this myself, so I cannot guarantee that this would work in practice.

If anyone else knows of a method, I’d appreciate them sharing.

The good news for the MSE is that it has the least amount of studying related to it.  If an MSE becomes too hard to obtain, you can always purchase a few rack rental sessions over at to get some MSE practice.  That’ll be much cheaper than spending $1500 or so for a physical server.


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