Network Simulators provide a virtual networking environment so that one can learn to design, configure, and troubleshoot networks consisting of virtual devices. The following are the parts of a virtual network:
- Serial connectors
- Ethernet RJ-45 connectors
- Console and Aux ports
- Ethernet cables
- Serial cables
- Console/Aux cables
- Cable adapters, etc
Advantages of learning using virtual networking:
- There is no physical hardware and therefore there is no obsolescence. It costs fraction of the cost of actual networking devices. Remember, most of the networking devices are very expensive when it comes to gigabit speeds. However, you don’t need to use a gigabit speed device just for learning how to network.
- Labs – The network simulator comes with dozens of labs on various topics including subnets, IPv6, routing protocols such as RIP, EIGRP, OSPF, BGP, etc.
- Simulate NAT, VPN, ACLs, and more and see if you got the configuration properly. See what happens if one interface is down or misconfigured.
- Design you own labs using drag and drop GUI
- Simultaneously work on several computers without having to buy multiple hardware setups.
On the other hand, it is important to know when to use actual hardware:
- That you are a professional network engineer working in a production environment. Here, you may need to follow every precaution in configuring the network devices, which may not be ideally placed as in case of a simulator. You may need to take several factors into consideration.
- One of the disadvantages of a virtual netsim is the support for a limited set of commands. Note that a simulator is a simulator and can’t replace actual hardware. Usually, network simulators are designed with a limited scope (say according to CCNA objectives) and can extend beyond the scope without added support to commands and labs.
- A network simulator can’t give the feel of connecting the cables, and devices. You are not exposed to the problems associated with wrong cable connections, non working cables, wrong ports, or missing hardware.
In summary, if you are a networking professional with experience and pursuing advanced certs, it is recommended that you work with actual hardware. If you are learning networking, it is a good idea to begin with a virtual networking software.