While most of the lab work I do is with virtualized networking gear, once in a while, I need actual hardware. For instance, to fully explore QoS, hardware is key. Many QoS commands won’t be available to you in a virtual network device.
eBay offers lots of older networking gear for pennies or even fractions of a penny of what the gear was worth new. Why so cheap? Mostly, older networking gear is too slow for modern LANs and WANs. That’s a win for learners who don’t care about the speed as long as they can still use the old box to learn the fundamentals of routing and switching.
There are caveats to eBay networking gear, though, not unlike buying a used car. Know what you’re getting into.
You’re buying someone else’s junk.
Why is it junk? It could be the gear aged out, but still works fine. It could be that the gear broke, but you’ll be able to fix it. It could be that the gear broke, and you won’t be able to fix it. Sometimes, folks who move out of a data center sell pallets of retired gear by weight to whoever will take it just because they want it gone. Been there, done that.
However the gray market dealers get the used gear, hopefully they go through it, make sure it boots and gets to a prompt, clears out the config, and then passes it on to you. This is the gamble with eBay gear. You don’t really know what you’re getting with any certainty. Research your sellers carefully to stack the odds of getting working gear in your favor.
For example, I picked up a Cisco ISR4321 for ~$230 from a reputable eBay seller who specializes in used networking gear. Thousands of sales over a period of years. Dozens of used networking devices being auctioned at that time. A real deal seller who knows exactly what they are selling. Even so, the ISR arrived slightly broken. No cable to attach the power supply to main power. No power switch–just a hole in the chassis where the off/on rocker switch should have been. And, the ISR would not load the saved configuration at boot time.
No problem–I was able to sort these little issues out. Ordered a power cable for ~$5. Opened the cover and shorted the wires going to where the power switch used to be so that it was always on. Figured out that the config register was no longer set to 0x2102 and reset it.
Now I’ve got a serviceable little lab router. I wired it to a smart plug so that I can turn it off and on remotely. Hooray, it’s all good now, even though out of the box it was a brick.
Cisco isn’t going to cover your old gear.
Unless something has changed in recent years, Cisco doesn’t want to talk to you about your used gear. At all. Cisco considers used gear to be gray market and are not amused if you try to get coverage for it. That’s not likely a problem if you’re building a lab to hack around on, but is potentially a problem if you’re buying for a business trying to save a few bucks. If that used device is more critical than you wish it was, plan to self-insure by buying an extra device to keep on the shelf just in case. Lots of folks do this even when buying new. Annual maintenance coverage is a major expense that can be hard to justify depending on the piece of gear in question and its overall impact to a business.
Related to this is the issue of upgrading the network operating system. As in, you got whatever IOS the Cisco device shipped with. You won’t have a service contract on that used gear, and therefore you won’t have access to the latest and greatest images. For typical lab use cases, this probably doesn’t matter…but it might. Know what NOS the box is shipping with if the specific version is important to you.
Watch out for licensing.
I’ll assume you don’t want to have to add licenses to your piece of used network gear you’re sticking in a lab. Therefore, you have to know what license the device is coming with to be sure it’s got the features required for your learning project. Some gear doesn’t have any licensing to be concerned with. Some gear does.
In my case, the licenses on this ISR4321 are permanent or “eval with right to use” for the various feature sets. The permanent licenses cover the features I am looking for in my project, so I’m all set. However, from what I can tell in this Cisco Community thread, EvalRightToUse licenses keep working once you’ve turned them on, whether or not you bought a license after the 60 day eval period is over. You’re on the honor system. Let your moral compass guide you from there.
ISR-RT1#show license Index 1 Feature: appxk9 Period left: Not Activated Period Used: 0 minute 0 second License Type: EvalRightToUse License State: Active, Not in Use, EULA not accepted License Count: Non-Counted License Priority: None Index 2 Feature: uck9 Period left: Not Activated Period Used: 0 minute 0 second License Type: EvalRightToUse License State: Active, Not in Use, EULA not accepted License Count: Non-Counted License Priority: None Index 3 Feature: securityk9 Period left: Life time License Type: Permanent License State: Active, In Use License Count: Non-Counted License Priority: Medium Index 4 Feature: ipbasek9 Period left: Life time License Type: Permanent License State: Active, In Use License Count: Non-Counted License Priority: Medium Index 5 Feature: cme-srst Period left: Not Activated Period Used: 0 minute 0 second License Type: EvalRightToUse License State: Active, Not in Use, EULA not accepted License Count: 0/0 (In-use/Violation) License Priority: None Index 6 Feature: hseck9 Index 7 Feature: throughput Period left: Not Activated Period Used: 0 minute 0 second License Type: EvalRightToUse License State: Active, Not in Use, EULA not accepted License Count: Non-Counted License Priority: None Index 8 Feature: internal_service ISR-RT1#
Are you feeling lucky?
Buying used networking gear from eBay is a gamble. You’re gambling on the honesty of the seller. You’re gambling that the device you get will work well enough for your use case. You’re gambling that if a problem arrives on your doorstep, that the seller with either take it back or you’ll be able to fix it yourself. So how lucky are you feeling? That’s what it comes down to.