Name: Frank Denneman
Twitter Handle: @frankdenneman
Blog URL: frankdenneman.com
Current Employer: VMware
VCDX #: 29
How did you get into using VMware?
During our VCDX sessions in Copenhagen we spoke about things in your life you would always remember. My reply was ; Seeing Return of the Jedi in the cinema, the falling of the Berlin wall, 9/11 and witnessing vMotion in action for the first time.
I clearly remember my colleague screaming through the wall that separated our office. “Frank do you really want to see something cool?” As an MS exchange admin/architect responsible for a global spanning exchange infrastructure nothing really could impress me those days but giving him the benefit of the doubt I walked over. Peter sitting there grinning like a madman, offered me a seat, because he thought it was better to sit down. He opened a dos prompt, triggered a continuous ping and showed the virtual infrastructure explaining the current location of the virtual machine. As he started to migrate the virtual machine he instructed me to keep tracking the continuous ping, after the one ping loss he explained the virtual machine was up and running on the other host and to prove me, he powered-down the ESX host. I just leaped out of my seat, said some words I cannot repeat online and was basically sold. I think we migrated the virtual machine all day long, inviting anyone who passed by our office to see the best show on earth. No explanation needed of course, but from that point I was hooked on virtualization and the rest is history.
What made you decide to do the VCDX?
The VCDX certification is the highest echelon of certification. That by itself fuelled my drive to get it. The way VCDX is structured by presenting to a panel and defending your decisions was very appealing to me, how crazy as it might sound. Being part of the first group of VCDX’es in the world outweighed the fact that I was going to be grilled by a panel containing Industry leading individuals.
How long did it take you to complete the whole VCDX journey?
It took me something like 6 months. I completed the VCDX enterprise and design exam in 2009 unfortunately I received the results of my VCDX design exam 2 days to late. That meant I couldn’t submit my session for the panels in Frankfurt in 2009 and defended my design 3 months later in Las Vegas in January 2010.
What advice would you give to people thinking of pursuing the VCDX accreditation?
The way I perceive VCDX is that it’s a validation of your skill-set as an architect. Through the years 2010 and 2011 I participated as a Panel member and seen many candidates. Usually the candidates that passed the exam were comfortable in having a dialog with the panel members. Being able to listen and respond to the question in such a way that the reply contained not only the answer but also explored the train of thought of the question itself. This usually is a product of having gone through multiple customer-facing projects as an architect. Helping the customer to understand how the product works and how certain features support with their business requirements or leverage or align with existing constraints. One often heard tip is to know your design. And this is really key! It doesn’t matter if your design you submitted is something you did 6 months ago, but you really need to know the details of the designs. The best advice I can give is know why you chosen for a specific setting but most of all understand why the other options of that particular setting did not align with your design. For example, understand why you selected port id load balancing on your vSwitch, but be ready to explain to the panel why IP-hash wasn’t a viable option for this particular design. Leaving out or disabling features to avoid discussing that technology does not work, for example if the requirements listed the customer was seeking for a high consolidation ratio \ high return of investment, then you better bring your A-game if your design list DRS as disabled. Another key is to know when you should leverage the whiteboard while explaining a certain configuration. Practice at home or at work drawing your diagrams such as storage layout or a vSwitch design, find a type of diagram that conveys the architecture and allows you to feel comfortable explaining it while drawing. I’ve seen many candidates trying to think about how to draw the architecture. This by itself should not decrease your score, but it cost a lot of time and believe me that is something you do not have when defending your design!
If you could do the whole VCDX journey again what would you do differently?
To be honest, no. I took a design I worked on for many years, I know my design choices inside out. The presentation deck I prepared had all the key diagrams in the main part and contained every possible diagram as a backup slides. I dressed the part, fully suited up just as I did with customers, giving me the correct frame of mind and just enjoyed the journey. One last piece of advice I can give. Enjoy it, enjoy being there in front of the panel. Before you know you are out the door again and if you prepared well you never have to do it again.
Life after the VCDX? How did your company respond? Was it worth it?
I’m currently not pursuing any level of certification as it is not a requirement of my current role. Earning VCDX opened many doors for me and I even prioritized it over finalizing my thesis for my bachelor’s degree. Though it’s not the primary basis of my the evolvement of my career it certainly contributed to it.