My ramblings about all things technical

VCDX Spotlight: Joep Piscaer

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Name Joep Piscaer

Twitter Handle

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Current Employer OGD ict-diensten

VCDX # 101

How did you get into using VMware?

I started using VMware in 2006 while I was a sysadmin at a large community college. They were just upgrading their Novell NetWare servers to Novell SLES and were testing VMware virtualization for both SLES and NetWare. I used VMware Workstation for my Novell CNE certification virtualizing NetWare and SLES to practice for the exams. Later that year, I switched to a different college, where they already had VMware infrastructure based on version 2.5 and 3.0, some blade chassis and other pretty advanced stuff, I thought. I became more interested and took on more and more responsibility of the VMware infrastructure. I quickly convinced my boss to send me to the VI ICM training course and attained VCP3.

That was the start of my VMware certification journey. I have collected all versions of VCP since v3, VCAP4- and VCAP5-DCA and –DCD, and even VCA310 and VCD310, the predecessors of VCAP (which I needed to drive 380 km for; the VCA and VCD exams were only available in Frankfurt).

What made you decide to do the VCDX?

I wanted the personal challenge. It was simply a matter of seeing if I could actually do it. On a more subtle level it was about proving to myself that the route I took towards VCDX-level experience and knowledge could pay off.
I had attended the vSphere Design Workshop, and was really interested in following the VMware way in designing an infrastructure and learning from that experience. In essence, I wanted to accelerate the process of learning a fundamentally different way of doing designs, since I had built up my own set of processes and tools over the years. I found the experience of VCDX immensely useful from that perspective, and am still working on integrating all the lessons-learned into my day-to-day work.

How long did it take you to complete the whole VCDX journey?

I’ve been considering going for VCDX since the VI3 days; but even reading through the blueprint was something I dreaded for a very long time. Seriously, I had that file on my desktop in multiple versions for over two years. So obviously, I thought I wasn’t ready yet.

From the moment I decided to actually, really, really, really go for it, it took me about a year and a half.

Somewhere in the spring of 2011, I attended a VMware PEX on Tour in the Netherlands. During the reception, I had a discussion with a couple of peers about VCDX. During the next couple of months, a VCDX study group was formed. Besides myself, Duco Jaspars, Arjan Timmerman and Marco Broeken took seat in this study group. During a preliminary meeting, we discussed methods of preparation, exchanged some study materials and drafted a rough planning. We agreed to meet every month or two to monitor progress and motivate each other.

I was given one day a week by my employer to work on VCDX and worked evenings and weekends for months.

What advice would you give to people thinking of pursuing the VCDX accreditation?

The best tip I have for anyone thinking about the VCDX certification: attend a VCDX Boot Camp.

Make sure you don’t go through the process on your own. You need your peers for review. Everyone takes a different approach and has a different angle, and you’ll need that fresh lookout on your design. Secondly, make sure you plan very conservatively. You might run into a writers-block or otherwise. The peer pressure of the study group might make the difference.

Make sure your partner and employer are on board. You’ll need their support during the whole process! Thankfully, my employer agreed to free up some time (about one day a week in the last month-and-a-half) to focus on VCDX.

You know how people tell you you need to know your design by hard? That’s true. Very, very true. I have some references to a Microsoft Exchange Server Database Availability Group (DAG), and got asked more about Exchange than I’d expected. Just so you know: your panel might not stop asking questions outside of the VMware-box. Know your design in-and-out, out-and-in. Let peers review your design and have them write-up a list

of weak points or otherwise point out parts of your design that grabs their attention. You’ll want to dedicate extra time to those areas.

I had a blackout during one of the tougher questions on recovering from a split brain scenario and VMware HA. I just couldn’t explain the how and why, although I did know the answer and had dedicated a whole section of the testing plan to this specific area. I could only say “I don’t know, but I know I have documented this specific part in such and such document”. Tip: if you don’t know, say so. Don’t fool yourself, be honest and concentrate your effort on the next question.

I did make sure I had some fun stuff planned to take my mind off the waiting. Since the hard work was behind me, I felt I deserved some time off to horse around. I have completely re-built the home media centers (Raspberry Pi’s with XBMC with a central MySQL library database), the central media server (Microserver with Windows Server 2012), re-organized the eBook collection using Calibre (since I won a Kindle at VMworld Barcelona!) and spent lots of time with family and friends, whom I had neglected in the months prior. Tip: make sure you plan a cooling down period with lots of fun activities with friends, family and hobbies.

If you could do the whole VCDX journey again what would you do differently?

I have combined two real world designs into a single fictitious design. I wouldn’t take this path again.

I would have started either source projects or any future project with VCDX in mind. Having all the required documents alongside when you’re actually designing an environment makes all the difference. Taking each step with the VCDX blueprint in mind gives you the chance to actually align with all the requirements of the application, and is way easier than having to accommodate those application requirements post facto. I effectively did a post-mortem on two designs while integrating the two.

I felt I didn’t whiteboard enough. I had a whole list of diagrams in my head that I wanted to whiteboard, but I simply blacked out: I had a hard time coming up with that list once I stood there. I decided not to worry, and to just wing it. I should have practiced diagramming out various specific parts of the design more. I believe a study group is of immense value here: whiteboarding out parts of your design for the study group trains your muscle memory to be ready for the real deal. Tip: practice whiteboarding specific diagrams in a mock defense session.

Life after the VCDX?  How did your company respond?  Was it worth it?

Professionally, things haven’t changed a lot. I did get an insane amount of congratulations, as I made sure people knew what VCDX was all about before defending. Otherwise, I am still working on integrating everything I have learned in the VCDX process in my day-to-day work, which means adopting a couple of new ways of doing design documentation, working with the Zachman framework more often, and most of all: making sure my lessons-learned are passed on to other consultants for their benefit.

Concluding: I’m still waiting for the surprise party I’m sure my boss is going to throw me Smile.

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