There are certainly a number of different ways that an individual can choose to learn the material covered in Cisco's Cisco Certified Network Associate (CCNA) program. The selection of which ones to choose is very subjective and depends greatly on a number of factors, including previous networking experience and learning preferences.
For example, students with a good amount of previous networking experience may choose a completely self-study route and buy the appropriate books to study before taking the exams. A student with no previous experience may be better off physically going to a CCNA course with a proctor. Both of these options are also (for the most part) on opposite sides of the cost range.
Pearson's Cisco Network Simulator product is intended to be a nice fit between these two opposite options. It offers a reasonably affordable option for learning the material while also providing a course-like structure that lends itself to easy learning.
This new version of the simulator is an update of the very successful CCNA 640-802 Network Simulator product that is a few years old. It is updated to meet Cisco's new CCNA guidelines.
This article primarily highlights the changes that have occurred between the previous and current simulators, including a completely new interface and user interface (UI) enhancements. There is also a brief walkthrough of some new capabilities that exist in the new simulator.
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Simulator Interface Differences
The primary thing that will be noticed by those students who are familiar with the older simulator is that the interface has been completely redesigned to be more user friendly and intuitive.
For those not familiar with the older simulator, Figure 1 has been included to contrast the difference between the two interfaces.
Figure 1 640-802 Network Simulator interface (older on left; newer on right)
As is shown in Figure 1, the older interface had a number of user interface deficits including:
- Selection of each specific device required a drop-down selection from the top bar (no hot image zones)
- The interface was very condensed and not easily resized across the various resolutions that are used by students.
- The text of the labs was not integrated directly in the initial interface window; this was done through an external Acrobat viewer. This could be a considerable annoyance because the time spent launching the labs could vary considerably and delay learning time.
With the new simulator, all these different issues were addressed—plus a number of different interface additions were made (based in large part on student comments) to enhance the learning experience.
Figures 2 and 3 take a look at the interface of the new simulator.
Figure 2 Cisco CCNA Routing and Switching 200-120 Network Simulator—main lab selection window
Instead of trying to force everything into a single screen, as the old simulator did, the new simulator breaks the screens into a lab selection window and a lab screen. The lab selection window allows the student to sort the labs based on Lab type or by Book Chapter (based on Wendell Odom's Cisco Press books) as well as the ability to search for a specific lab. The highlighting of each lab populates the right pane with an introduction of the lab, the type of lab, and the ability to start the lab. The screen also includes a column to track the student's progress on each specific lab.
A new feature that should be very helpful to students is Grade History, which enables students to track their progress in taking the labs including how they did (pass or fail), what commands they ran, the command-line interface (CLI) output from each device during the lab and a lab performance review.
Figure 3 Cisco CCNA Routing and Switching 200-120 Network Simulator—lab screen
The lab window includes a number of improvements over the previous simulator including the following:
- The lab text is now integrated into the same window as the console and the topology. This integration enables easier lab step tracking for the student while completing the lab. Steps are also provided with appropriate text boxes and tables to allow the student to answer the questions asked throughout each specific lab.
- Lab text can now be resized within the interface.
- Device selection is now more intuitive because it simply requires the user to click on the device being configured to gain access to that specific device's console.
- Students now can save their lab configurations, exit, and come back to finish the lab at a later time.
There are a number of different things that have been added to the new simulator over the interface differences, including these:
- More than 100 new labs
- More than 175 new commands
- Support for IOS 15
- Support for an additional topology (with more to come in the future)
- Support for a number of new technologies that are covered in Cisco's new CCNA blueprint (more specifics will be covered in a later article)
These additions and changes, along with the strength of the existing lab base that still exists from the previous simulator, provide a good value to the student looking for a reasonable alternative to a physical (or virtual) class while providing hands-on CLI experience.
As stated in the introduction, there are a number of different alternatives that exist in the introductory Cisco certification marketplace. While there are alternatives out there that enable students to get hands on with Cisco IOS CLI, they typically do not provide the main driver to most students' learning experience, including an easy-to-walk-through stepped approach that enables the student to learn the material in a logical way by building the skills of the student over a series of labs.
This is where the Pearson Network Simulator excels, with easy-to-follow labs that gradually increase in difficulty to follow the learning of the student.