Question: Complete network virtual setup - practice

  • Not a beginner. This is purely to keep me sharp with practice and trying out new configurations that won't be used in my immediate work place, but maybe some clients would have use for. Plus I just find it stimulating to learn new methods of doing things. What I've been using (just to practice and stay fresh) is Packet Tracer for networking, and Hyper-V / XenServer for systems. Tired of using two different ways of learning.

    What I'm looking for is basically a sandbox for combining both of those (jumping into switches/routers, as well as configuring servers. Definitely something virtualized; I don't intend on purchasing a bunch of network gear. If modules are available in whatever program gets used, that's a bonus, always looking to learn new things. Setting up different environments/scenarios then tearing it down not only keeps me fresh, but I could also put them to use as demos for clients (about how their network could look... if they were technically inclined and this was contractual work of some kind. Just spit balling for additional use).

    I have a desktop at home that can handle a lab, but I'd be open to subscription-based/cloud-based.

    Any ideas?


    I tried to be very specific. I went back through my OC and looked at cleaning it up to better specify but I'm not sure how else to put what I'm trying to say. What I'm looking to do is just stay sharp on stuff because here is the issue I had with my last couple jobs...

    Some years ago at "employer 1": I did all of the network engineering, as well as systems/virtualization. We didn't implement new stuff so it was rarely changed. But I still worked with everything enough that I stayed pretty sharp on every front.

    Next position, "employer 2": Did all systems, zero networking (that was handled by the networking team that only did networking. My department only did systems. So I started getting rusty and I missed doing heavy network engineering. I want to stay sharp so I stay very versatile in the job market. Plus, overall I really like trying new setups in labs. There were a few times where I'd setup systems in a lab and present it as a demo to a company that was looking to overhaul their network but wasn't sure what it would look like implemented, all they had were my drawings of the network but wanted to try out some new features/replication technology/etc.

    To stay up to date on networking, I've always just used Cisco Packet Tracer to build the network and try out different setups. But I can't work with servers/etc in that program because that's not its focus. So I used XenServer and Hyper-V for working with systems (which does very little networking wise. You don't configure routers/etc in Hyper-V as that's not its focus).

    What I'm looking for is a subscription/cloud-based, or locally installed program that incorporates everything you'd find on a network and able to configure it all. Something that I could build a network, configure the routers/L3 switches/servers/desktop clients/etc. Instead of having two different programs, I could just use one. I started considering Azure but that isn't really viable because all the backend connectivity isn't something people mess. It's pretty much just all systems.

    Honestly I'm not sure if what I'm looking for exists. It would be a 100% end to end sandbox lab that includes network device configurations, system configurations, etc. Basically an entirely virtualized network. The networking side would not be for any kind of production use, because that wouldn't make sense. You can't deploy something you created inside Cisco Packet Tracer. The networking side of the learning lab would only be used for practicing to stay sharp like setting up new failover routes, OSPF and taking routers offline to see different metric determinations when setting speed limits/etc.

  • I'm unclear why you want to combine things into a single space, in the production world you don't mix systems and networking together, they are different layers of things in the stack. But that doesn't mean that you can't just that I'm unclear as to the value.

  • So the really obvious answer is "just do it." You can build enterprise class routers that are essentially identical to Brocade gear using the open source VyOS platform. These are not "consumer firewalls" like people often virtualize. This is a kernel level router that you can do the most advanced routing functions on. You can do anything you would do with the biggest, baddest routers. You can virtualize as many as you like.

    Likewise you can put software switches into VMs and work with those that way, as well. In this way, your systems and your networking gear are "all the same."

  • Also, of course, you get virtual switching and routing with many hypervisors, especially VMware. Often you even get a choice of networking appliances that can run on top of the hypervisor. Cisco, Juniper and others play in this space.

  • Open vSwitch is one place to start.

  • Don't forget to play with ZeroTier, too. SDN that you can build your own controller. Very different approach and meant for breaching the WAN. But great stuff to learn too.

  • I like to build "Internal networks" with some servers on "one side" and some servers on the "other side"... and put VyOS or pfSense, etc... between the two.

    [Generally, I do this with VirtualBox on my laptop, but this setup also works well in Hyper-V]

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