1 2 Previous Next 16 Replies Latest reply: May 8, 2012 9:44 AM by Daryl Musashi RSS

    Alternative to an access server

    Daryl Musashi

      So theory question for you.  I’m scheduled to sit for the CCNA on April 3rd .  Not too long ago I went out and invested in a lab.  2 catalyst switches and 3 2610XM routers.  Nice setup for a home lab.  Switching the console cable back and forth has quickly become old.  I did a little bit of research and found that buying a cisco access server is a common way around that.  The 2509-2512 with an octal cable seems to be the way to go.  A little bit of searching on the ebay and I’ve found a 2509 for just less than $100.  The octal cable is around $20 - $25.  So probably an additional $130ish investment.  Not too horrible however, I’ve got an idea.  I’ve got 5 cisco devices that each have their own console cable.  If I were to buy a 5 serial to usb adapters (which I could pick up off of monprice.com for a little over $5 each) and then a USB hub (which I can also get from Monoprice.com for $15, so order total of about $45-$50 after shipping), then plug all the USB adapters into the USB hub, do you think I would I be able to console into all the routers?  $50 is much cheaper than $130 to buy the actual access router & octal cable.   What do you think?  I’d rather go the cheaper route if there is a good chance it’s going to work however I don’t want to spend $50 to find out that for whatever reason going the hub route doesn’t fly.



      Thanks in advance!

        • 1. Re: Alternative to an access server
          Steven Williams

          $50 - $100 > moving the cable manually.



          You have 5 devices, I am not sure if your idea would work or not, but it does then you are going to have to remember what COM port goes to what device. Best bet is to configure the lab in a way where you can access 4 devices from telnet from the one you are consoled in. Management VLAN maybe?

          • 2. Re: Alternative to an access server
            Daryl Musashi

            I gave up on the idea and purchased an access server.  Thanks for the reply though.

            • 3. Re: Alternative to an access server

              One nice thing to do in a lab is to actually buy a patch-panel and patch all the console ports into the panel.


              That way you have a single point of access for all your lab equipment and just move the single cable around in the patch panel, it works very well. And you could also prepare a simple config that you copy-paste in your lab to setup the management interface. That would get your lab up and running for telnet/ssh in about 2 minutes.


              If you want to make it even more automagic, setup your equipment to load the config via tftp and have the management config load during bootup. That would also stop you from moving the console cable around...just don't forget to forward the console messages and you should be fit for fight for your exam.

              • 4. Re: Alternative to an access server
                Cristian F. Stoica

                I have a linux box set up for accessing the console lines via 2 USB-4xSerial cable. Previously, I was using Minicom (with shortcuts to the tty lines), but now I've switched to using ser2net which is a nice utility that forwards telnet to tty ports. If anyone needs details feel free to give a shout. The tty lines stay pretty much the same, i.e. the line numbers aren't changing when the machine is rebooted.

                • 5. Re: Alternative to an access server

                  I realize you've made your choice and I'm arriving too late to the party; but I use a four-port serial converter and love it! I don't have to move any cables nor remember any COM port associations, as Any terminal emulator can be comfigured to remember such associations and then add shortcuts to that connection on your desktop...saves some electricity and whirling fans (which I don't mind at all)...running Cisco gear is soothing to me!

                  • 6. Re: Alternative to an access server

                    Hey Chris

                    I am highly considering your method as I am in the process of setting up my home lab and I am in need of a console solution. Do you see this set up causing any issues for Mac.I am currently connecting to my Cisco equipment using a Win XP Image on VM Fusion. Any thoughts?


                    • 7. Re: Alternative to an access server

                      Hi Tim,


                      I've not ran into trouble with these USB to Serial converters on MAC as long as the driver supports MAC...i rarely use MAC for other reasons though but I think it works fairly well.


                      Just a friendly advice in case you're not already familiar with cisco, juniper or other high-end networking equipment....although these labs can be built rather automagically, the real world is a whole different matter....don't forget the real-world scenario, where chances are you'll even not have access to nothing but your own console-cable!


                      ...if you're new in the networking industry knowing console, serial, ethernet cables and how and where to connect them during an interview can be the extra edge to get the job.



                      • 8. Re: Alternative to an access server

                        Thanks Daniel,


                        I am actually preparing for the TSHOOT exam  so  I may end up just  using a rackable 12 port patch panel with a straight-thru connection between the panel and devices and   connect via rollover cable to start the sessions. At least it should work theoretically....What do you think?  My lab set up is 4x3550 switches 2821,1841 ISR routers.



                        • 9. Re: Alternative to an access server

                          Hi again Tim,


                          Haven't prepared myself for the TSHOOT exame quite yet, done the studying though ....it's supposed to be a tough one!


                          I think using a patch-panel is an excellent choice, that's what i use myself...i find it to be pretty real-world but simplified of course....but you still "gotta move that console cable around" which is why i use it


                          And if i visit customers and implement patch-panels i try to add a patching cable for console access as well if there's room for simplified troubleshooting in the future. (not to meantion that in very big installations it can be handy to patch the console up to a different floor, location etc)


                          I like your lab-setup, i wish i'd have room for all that myself . I can strongly recommend using a patch-panel unless you want it automagic, then the access-server is good choice too ...


                          i see cheap rack mounted servers from time to time....but i can't express how much i prefer real world scenarios over lab-scenarios!


                          If you have done some work already you know what i mean, usually 75% of the job at customer locations are figuring out wth they've done...and trust me, it's never easy



                          • 10. Re: Alternative to an access server

                            Yes!! I couldnt agree with  you more,  I have also found that alot of individuals are under the misconception that you have to use a "Cisco Router" for an access server which is simply not the case. I have found many access servers under 70$ that do more than just promote laziness  lol.  Thanks for you input though Daniel.

                            • 11. Re: Alternative to an access server
                              Daryl Musashi

                              Just my opionion here but I'd argue your point that "access servers promote laziness".  Yes, it's not very "real world" but my study time is very precious.  I work full time, go to school full time, and have got all the responsibilities of running a household.  The time I get to play in my lab is precious and limited.  If an access server gives me an extra minute or two of study time per study session that would have otherwise been spent dinking around with cables, it's well worth the cost.  Toss on top of that the saving of "wear and tear" on my used lab equipment from having a console cable plugged and unplugged and it's even more worth the cost.  Totally true that you could telnet from one router to the other but if your doing inital configs, troubleshooting connectivity issues, or just plan don't have telnet access, a access server is quicker and easier.  Again, that's just my opionion!

                              • 12. Re: Alternative to an access server



                                I understand the use for an access server for larger labs where this can be tedious but I did not mean that literally.  If moving a cable 1 inch to the left or right takes up alot of your time then an access server is highly beneficial in your case. In my opinion, an access server will always be a luxury and is not essential to the task at hand but thats just me.

                                • 13. Re: Alternative to an access server

                                  Hi Daryl,


                                  I don't question that you think access-servers save time. They really do...but they're usually complex to implement in real-world scenarios, they require initial configuration and they add complexity to your topology and can implement weird errors that would normally not occur.


                                  And if you add a patch-panel you'd not "wear and tear" your equipment since you would switch the console cable around in the patch-panel - not the actual equipment.


                                  It takes me roughly 2 seconds to move my console cable around and at least for me i doubt i'd even save another second using an access server.


                                  But the real reason i strongly argue for not using one is that unless you consult large-size business chances are you'll not run into an access server, you are much much more likely to run around in patching-closets where the only accessable method are.....yeah, moving the console cable around!


                                  Just my 2 cents as it's not about luxury, it's about learning....and i can't deny that knowing how to configure an access-server is also a good skill to know, but i agree with tim - it's a luxury you'll rarely run into in the beginning!



                                  • 14. Re: Alternative to an access server
                                    Daryl Musashi

                                    Um, let's see.  All I said was that an access server, in my opionion, is well worth the cost.  I never said they were real world.  I never said they wern't a luxury. 

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