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A call for educational IOS licensing

By stretch | Wednesday, January 27, 2010 at 4:26 a.m. UTC

As Greg Ferro of Etherealmind has pointed out, IOS 15.0 will be introducing some significant complexity into the way we install and manage IOS images on Cisco routers. This brings some potentially devastating changes to the way we've been maintaining IOS devices for the last decade or so.

Up to and including IOS 12.4, the software image to be installed on a device depended on the feature set purchased from Cisco (as well as the device's physical hardware capabilities). With the latest major IOS revision, Cisco introduced a more modern (read: painful) approach to feature activation using a single universal software image and per-feature set unique license keys.

Setting aside the enormous implications this introduces to what used to be a delightfully straightforward software management scheme, I worry about what this means for the future of networking education. Up until now, the use of IOS images by students and other individuals in their home labs has been generally avoided as a topic of discussion altogether (as covered by the first two rules of Fight Lab) and accepted as a fact of the industry. But Cisco's new IOS licensing mechanism thrusts the issue into harsh light.

Cisco likes to talk about how proactive they are in education and how hard they work to help engineers pursue career advancement. And indeed they do, with their "learning network", their own press, and most recently their own CCIE study program. But what I want to see is legitimate IOS licenses and CCO accounts issued at no or low cost for individuals to use strictly for educational purposes.

To elaborate, I want to see Cisco make available fully-featured (yet restricted) IOS licenses at little or no cost for educational use by individuals. Utilizing the new software activation scheme in IOS 15, these license keys could unlock all the features of an IOS for study, yet cripple the operation of a parent device so as to make it virtually useless in a production network. Implementing a simple packet throughput limitation, for example, would do the trick. Thousands of software applications already implement such a scheme for personal and demonstration use; why not IOS?

Yes, it's a development which requires a significant investment by Cisco and yields no direct return. But consideration must also be paid to the many thousands of people who have relied on home labs and the Dynamips IOS emulator (both of which typically make use of not-quite-legally obtained software images) to achieve certification or simply to enhance their abilities as engineers overall. While I'm not against the new licensing scheme Cisco has implemented to protect their intellectual property, there is no need to forsake the community in doing so.

Posted in Rants


January 27, 2010 at 4:53 a.m. UTC

I second this . I'm staying clear of 15.0 for as long as i can, 'coz the CCIE labs don't mandate the use of 15.0 . I hope someone from CISCO watches this and hopefully act upon it.

Thanks for writing this article stretch. Your clarity of thought and wording continues to amaze me.

January 27, 2010 at 7:11 a.m. UTC

I think you could use temporary license.


You may want to move premium licensed features from one device to another for reasons such as a change in network topology. Once you select the source and destination devices, Cisco License Manager simplifies this procedure by securely obtaining re-host permission from, revoking the license from the source device, and obtaining and installing the transferred license to the destination device as well as installing a temporary license for the feature being transferred to give you enough time to migrate all connections or traffic to the destination device

January 27, 2010 at 7:21 a.m. UTC

I completely buy your point, for communities Cisco has to opt some other action. Otherwise it's become very difficult.

January 27, 2010 at 9:12 a.m. UTC

I fully agree with your point, Stretch.

It would be interesting to know how many Cisco 'hobbyists' are out there. With 'hobbyist' I mean somebody who has done some self-learning on Cisco technology, with Dynamips, own home lab and the compulsory stack of CCxx books.

For a parallel in the IT world, seeing how industry is currently embracing Linux, I think one important reason for its wide adoption is that there is a growing availability of advanced Linux 'hobbyists'. I wonder how important is that factor in the Cisco ecosystem.

January 27, 2010 at 10:32 a.m. UTC

Man that really sucks!!

January 27, 2010 at 1:12 p.m. UTC

Curious on what this does for the size of software image - more flash = more $$

January 27, 2010 at 1:59 p.m. UTC

@bugbear: Flash memory is so cheap these days and Cisco buys so much that the cost is virtually irrelevant. Of course, if they included a decent amount of Flash in each device, then they would have much more difficulty moving their CF cards with Cisco stickers at 300% markup.

Network Engineer
January 27, 2010 at 2:31 p.m. UTC

I think Cisco does its best to forsake the community every chance it gets. They come storming into every meeting like they've already made the sale. When the engineers aren't convinced Cisco is the way to go they B-line to the Management Office to end-run the people who actually know what they're talking about.

You'll then end up arguing with your management on why YOU want to buy a Juniper or Brocade. The years of experience you've gained working on this equipment is suddenly trumped by the latest Networking article in CIO Weekly about Cisco's "new" 6500.

Cisco has never cared about the community and/or education. Anyone who's ever taken a CCNA/CCNP/CCIE test will know the internal struggle of answering the questions the RIGHT way or the "Cisco way" to pass the exam. Cisco makes all decisions with the goal of padding that bottom line as much as possible.

However, I agree with your plight. More companies need to make their software available for learning purposes at a large discount. In the end it'll help further your business more than you can ever imagine.

January 27, 2010 at 2:46 p.m. UTC

I think the new licensing model is probably a good thing to Cisco, but it's about 10 years too late. As mentioned, we're all entrenched in our library of IOS images for different platforms and feature sets, and this abrupt change is going to eventually kill off the home study lab. With one fell swoop, Cisco can wipe out the most easily accessible method of learning their products.

I work on thousands of pieces of Cisco gear, but there are lots of people out there studying from their couches to get a cert or just some experience to get a job or promotion or whatnot. They're screwed since they're going to have to pay for some rack time (which has its own set of problems). The idea of a free (!) educational license is a possible solution.

January 27, 2010 at 3:25 p.m. UTC

The issue with your solution is that if you implement a packet thruput than your links and QoS will not function correctly and/or may cause to give you different behaviors than a normal IOS licensed.

January 27, 2010 at 4:12 p.m. UTC

Very nice article Stretch, and I agree with you 100% that it will be beneficial for everyone if Cisco has an educational licensing. To go even further I would say they should offer for educational and training purpose only CCNA/CCNP/CCIE lab equipments along with licensing for a low price.

You have stated “Yes, it's a development which requires a significant investment by Cisco and yields no direct return”. To add to your comment, my personal opinion is part of the reason Cisco is so successful today is because of the Army of technical people like us who has the know how to support their products. We are the one who recommends, and in many cases make the decision to buy Cisco products. In order for Cisco to maintain this and their dominance in the market place, it is in their best interest to educate new technical people who will be the future decision makers. Just my two cents, Thank you.

January 27, 2010 at 5:28 p.m. UTC

@sombloke: A simple hardcoded packets-per-second throughput limitation would have no effect on QoS applied to low-volume traffic.

January 27, 2010 at 7:46 p.m. UTC

I cannot agree more.

On the other hand, the universal image / feature licensing scheme only applies to devices that were newly introduced, like the x9xx ISR and some switches.

For older hardware, like x8xx ISR routers, Cisco still provides various feature set image files with 15.0. Of course, this can change over time (think when these boxes are EOL'd), and certainly does not obsolete anything from what you wrote in the article. A hobbyist license would be great, I hope it wont be crippled as much as the former IRIX hobbyist licensing model for example.

January 28, 2010 at 10:17 p.m. UTC

I'm on board and love the rate-limit solution. This is done with Cisco's ACE module currently with 4/8/16Gbps throughput licenses. With the revamp of the higher level certifications, I can't imagine Cisco turning their backs on the community at large. That is, unless they are trying to create business for the training companies offering remote racks...

January 29, 2010 at 7:38 p.m. UTC

Should we start a Facebook group? Social sites seem to have power these days. Maybe if enough join Big C will notice.

January 30, 2010 at 10:02 a.m. UTC

Hi stretch Thank you for the very useful Information and nice Article. i Wander is The CCIE LAB V4 will effect after this change or will be the same 12.4 IOS?Please any one can provide me this answer cause i will prepare for CCIE Exam and i will Buy some Equipment.

February 3, 2010 at 4:36 p.m. UTC

Stretch, you started a spirited discussion :)

The new licensing is only for the ISR G2 platforms. The ISR G1 (1800,2800,3800 and the 7200) will continue on the current path of individual compiled images even on 15.0.

FYI- The new licensing method comes with IP Base for free.

February 4, 2010 at 3:31 a.m. UTC

Just FYI, SearchNetworking has a related article (based off this post and Greg Ferro's) here.

February 6, 2010 at 4:21 a.m. UTC

FYI #2: Ivan Pepelnjak expands on the issues facing Dynamips here.

February 9, 2010 at 10:14 p.m. UTC

Another way to limit to educational use, is to have the router reboot itself every 12 or 24 hrs. Most production shops would not like this, but would be sufficient for edu use.

A guest
April 22, 2010 at 8:51 p.m. UTC

Someone that I know well (me) started a facebook group called Educational Cisco IOS 15 Licencing. If any of you care to "like" it maybe it'll get some attention. It's akin to the dreaded internet petition but this newfangled social networking stuff may work for us. I'm sure way more people read packetlife than many of us realize.

September 2, 2010 at 12:30 a.m. UTC

Well, the CCIE has become almost worthless. I hope the do license the IOS and make it hard as heck to get the CCIE in the future. Between Dynamips and being able to purchase the labs out of China, the cert has really lost the respect in the industry. When I did my two CCIE's, it required a substantial investment in hardware and study. Sadly, it has become low hanging fruit that almost anyone can obtain. I wont post my name or number for privacy but I could care less if you dont believe I am a real IE. I speak from experience...

Dont believe me? Then ask yourself why Cisco stopped reporting the number of CCIE's worldwide. The last month reported on CCO showed a decline in the number of R/S CCIE's.

Cisco has lost their focus. What is their core competence now? Wireless, Voice, Security, cable modems, servers? Cisco is headed for troubled times - think IBM and Novell.

With six CCIE certs available, it has become just another money making venture for Chambers.

I moved over to Juniper serveral years ago. If your smart, you will do the same. I am working on the JNCIE now. Juniper is becoming the Cisco of the mid to late 90's. Aggresive and eagar with a focused vision. It is sad, I drank the Cisco kool-aid for many years. It was a fun ride, but its time to move on.

July 23, 2011 at 1:13 a.m. UTC

"Up until now, the use of IOS images by students and other individuals in their home labs has been generally avoided as a topic of discussion altogether and accepted as a fact of the industry."

You hit the nail right on the head with that statement. How are we suppose to play with the equipment and get acquainted if we cant even use all of the features. I'm sitting here learning on some 2924's when real world businesses would have 2960Gs.

Keep up the good fight.

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