TheSaffaGeek

My ramblings about all things technical


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EMEA #vBrownbag VCAP5 Presentation

Last night on the EMEA vBrownbag’s that I co-host I presented my London VMUG Presentation around the VCAP5 exams, the resources I used for them and my experiences. We had the largest turnout yet for it which is great and very promising for future sessions where hopefully the numbers will keep on growing. I have uploaded the recording to Vimeo and embedded it below. Also all the resources covered in the session and more are listed on my blog page here

EMEA vBrownbag with Gregg Robertson Covering VCAP5 Study Materials and Experiences from EMEA vBrownbag on Vimeo.

Gregg


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My VCAP5-DCA Experience

Yesterday the day finally came and I attempted the VCAP5-DCA exam. For anyone that doesn’t know what the exam entails then the below description for the VCAP5-DCA Blueprint should help:

The VDCA510 exam consists of approximately 26 live lab activities and a short pre-exam survey consisting of 9 questions. Live lab activities consist of multiple tasks, where each task is scored. The total number of activities provided is based on the total number of tasks. Because of this, the actual number of lab activities may vary slightly between exams.

As I am under NDA and because I want to maintain the high level of the exam I’m not going to go into specifics but more my experience of the exam, what I used to prepare, how it compared to the VCAP4-DCA and what I would recommend to someone looking to attempt the exam.

The Experience

I did the VCAP4-DCA twice so I knew what to expect a lot more but my experience of this exam was fairly different. I arrived at the testing centre far too early (an hour and a half before my exam), my slot was at 11am but I wanted to miss traffic and forgot it is Half Term for UK schools so I had a very easy drive in. I waited in the testing centres cafeteria, ran through a number of commands, and advanced settings in my head that I wanted to remember just in case I was asked to do them in the exam. I was called through and did the usual security clearances, photo’s, signing sheets and removing my watch etc. as Pearson are very strict now on what you can take in (no drinks,watches,phones,food,sweets). I then got setup on my testing station, said a little prayer and began the test.

This is my third attempt at a VCAP-DCA exam although my first VCAP5-DCA attempt but for my VCAP4 attempts I had loads of problems of the screens hanging when I tried to flick over, making a stupid mistake by not reading a question carefully and essentially ending my exam early and for the VCAP5-DCA beta I never even got to question 1 as the lab wouldn’t show up for me. This time however the exam worked really well, the resolutions were much better and therefore allowed me to work in multiple screens without having to move around things too much and I made sure I read the questions very carefully so to not make any mistakes. Personally, I thought the VCAP5-DCA was harder than the VCAP4-DCA as for the VCAP4 they seemed to hand hold you a bit more and almost tell you what you should do to complete the task whereas for the VCAP5 they expect you to know what solution would fulfill the requirement outlined in the question. There were much less low-end questions and quite a few high-end ones where I had to rely on experience to know how to do things that I would not have learnt from any of my study resources. Although it was harder I personally enjoyed it more, now that’s not to say the exam is enjoyable as it REALLY tests your skillset but I felt it was more focused on real world requirements of a VI Admin/Consultant rather than the skill of regurgitating information. I was on my last task when my time ran out which I’m pleased about as it meant my time planning was almost perfect and I got through enough tasks and hopefully did them correctly to give myself a good chance of passing this time. I did skip one or two that I felt I wouldn’t be able to do in the fast paced way the exam requires you to do tasks but this did give me more time to do the things I knew correctly (I hope)

What I used to prepare and what I would recommend using

The resources I used to prepare are listed on my VCAP5-DCA and DCD Study Resources Page already so I’m not going to go into too much detail there but I do have to give special thanks to Josh Coen, Jason Langer,David M Davis and all the US vBrownbag guys as all their resources were priceless in my studying for the exam and I would highly recommend watching the vSphere 4 VCAP resources David did around troubleshooting and Management especially as even though they are on vSphere 4 they are highly applicable and as ever of a very high level.

What wasn’t and is not listed on that page which I did mention a bit about above that I needed in the exam was real world experience with the solution and the technology. I am very fortunate that I work for an IT consultancy specialising in virtualisation and for the past year I have been designing and rolling out vSphere 5 at an enterprise level to customers, which meant I had to really learn what everything did to ensure what I recommended and built for the customer was the best. Now I know everyone can’t/hasn’t had that kind of experience but what I also did that I didn’t do enough of for my VCAP4 attempts was spend loads and loads of time in my home lab building, breaking and fixing every single piece mentioned in the exam blueprint. I worked out that For the last month whilst preparing for the VCAP5 I spent around 55-60 hours practicing in my lab which is a serious amount seeing as I was at VMworld Europe a few weeks back. I believe this piece is as important if not the most important part of preparing for the exam as this exam isn’t like the VCP or any other exam I’ve done before as it is 100% lab based and you are under extreme time pressure to get things completed and so you need to know how to do something like it is second nature and know how things are connected. Micro servers are really cheap, it is worth the investment in getting one or two, and some shared storage and spending the time practicing.

Summary

The exam was very challenging but I hope I have done enough and the amount I have learnt by preparing for this exam is only going to help me do my job better and feel more comfortable doing my job now with the knowledge and skills I have learnt but preparing for the exam. If you are thinking of trying the exam then I would highly recommend it, it is a challenge but it’s one that isn’t impossible and it will push you to that next level. The resources out there for preparing are amazing and are extensive. Make sure you don’t cut any corners and practice, practice and practice some more as I was able to do a few things only due to me forcing myself to practice every single method of doing things. Also, let your partner know you are aiming for the exam, I know this is a drop in the ocean compared to the time you need for something like the VCDX but to fully prepare for the exam you will need to study in the evenings after work and for all of your weekends.

Good luck to anyone attempting the exam and hopefully I will be able to update this posting stating I passed in three weeks’ time

Gregg

*UPDATE* I’m super pleased to say that I got my results back and I PASSED!!! Super pleased and now onto my VCAP5-DCD


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VCDX Spotlight : Hugo Phan

Name: Hugo Phan

Twitter Handle: @hugophan

Blog URL: www.vmwire.com

Current Employer: VMware

VCDX #: 75

How did you get into using VMware?

I first started using VMware in 2005 when I was shown VMware Workstation by a trainer during my MCSE courses, I was immediately hooked and then it spiralled from there. My career then focused on datacentre consolidation and VMware was central to my roles as a customer and then a partner and eventually as an employee.

What made you decide to do the VCDX?

There are many reasons, some of these can be considered slightly egocentric, such as the acronym on a business card or e-mail signature, the profile on the VCDX Directory, the kudos that comes with the certification and the career opportunities and doors that are open to VCDX holders. However the primary reason why I decided to go through the process was down to the challenge, I always enjoy a good challenge and the thought of achieving the VCDX certification was a central driver to me obtaining it.

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

5 years if ‘the journey’ is classified as starter’s gun from passing VCP3 in 2006. There were many hurdles in the way such as kids, family stuff, changing jobs, life in general Smile but I would count it from the day that I passed the VCP4 so it took around 6 months to complete.

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

Put your mind to it, plan your journey and execute. It’s as simple as that.

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

I would have made the commitment to it a lot earlier. I do have one regret and that is I did not go for the VCDX3 certification, mainly because I felt that I was not ready. There are many readers that are probably thinking the same thing, don’t. Just go for it, have a vision, engage people to help you and deliver!

Once I made the decision to go for VCDX4, I pretty much planned and executed it according to my timelines and objectives, you can read about that here http://vmwire.com/2012/02/24/my-vcdx-journey-5-simple-steps-to-vcdx/. Good luck!

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

Definitely! I would say it was worth it from a personal point of view – achieving the certification allows me to focus on other aspects of my personal development and not focus too much time on certifications. It’s certainly contributed to some of my successes since obtaining VCDX but it’s not been critical to those successes.


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VCAP5-DCA is now GA

A very quick posting for those people out there who are looking to either test out their skills over and above the VCP5 accreditation or those like myself you are hoping to try for the VCDX5 accreditation. The official posting went out earlier today as did the blueprint which hasn’t changed since the beta.

If you feel you are willing to take the challenge of the VCAP5-DCA then you can register for the exam here. Due to my being part of the VCAP5-DCA beta I have already started listing all the resources I’m going to use for the exam on my VCAP5-DCA and DCD Study Resource Page and I’ve also almost finished covering all the VCAP5-DCA blueprint objectives.

Good luck to everyone looking to do the exam and if you know of any other resources I’m missing from my resources page please leave a comment so I can add it to the list

Gregg


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VCDX Spotlight: Frank Denneman

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.


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VCDX Spotlight: Duncan Epping

Name: Duncan Epping

Twitter Handle: DuncanYB

Blog URL: http://www.yellow-bricks.com

Current Employer : VMware

VCDX #: 007

 

How did you get into using VMware?

I guess like many people… we were looking for a way to consolidate servers as we were growing out of our datacenter. Especially cooling was a huge problem for us so we needed to drastically lower the amount of iron in our datacenter. We explored several options but VMware was the only enterprise solution at that point. It proved to be the right decision, and that is also what was a huge change of direction in my career. Cause I changed from being a Windows admin to focusing purely on the virtual layer.

 

What made you decide to do the VCDX?

Well I worked for VMware already at that time. I was invited to take two early beta exams for VI3, which are now known as VCAP-DCA and DCD. Our group were literally the first group to take those exams. After about 6 months of waiting I finally found out that I passed those exams. When I was told I could do the VCDX Defense Panel I figured why not. Back then, and I was the first to actually take the exam (together with Richard Damoser who was in the room next to me), the process was slightly different though… You could say the early group did the beta defense.

 

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

From those beta exams to the defense itself probably 9 months in total. Funny thing is that in my case I heard 10 days before the defences were scheduled that I got a slot. Because I did not anticipated on it I didn’t have my docs ready. Although I heard it 10 days before, I only really had 4 days to complete the design as the panel of course needed to review and prep as well… on top of that I had a holiday with the family scheduled. So every night when my kids were in bed I was typing like a mad man. I guess I work best when under extreme pressure as the docs were accepted and the outcome of the defense was a pass 🙂

 

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

Don’t just talk about it, DO IT! If you want to become a VCDX you better start prepping today. It takes a lot of time to produce a proper set of documents and those documents are the key to success. Before you go to the defense make sure you know your design. I know many will think “hey I do know my design”, but go over it with a colleague. Let him question you… You will notice that some decisions were made “just because it is a best practice”, well that is not the right answer I can tell you that. Know why it is a best practice, know why it met you customer’s requirements. Know your design inside out!

 

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

Not much to be honest. I used two existing designs and merged these. I made sure I had constraints, assumptions, risks etc. There were politics involved in those projects and I made sure I exactly knew what drove some of the crazy design decisions in there.

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

When I took my defense we were at an “off-site” in San Francisco. The people who passed that week were all pulled up on stage during an “award dinner”. I can tell you that I felt really honoured receiving my VCDX plaque from the VP of Technical Service back then, Enis Konuk. Besides that, how cool is it to be up on stage with people like Mostafa Khalil, Kamau Wanguhu and John Arrasjid.

See pic in the below blog post, first 8 VCDX’s

http://www.yellow-bricks.com/2009/05/15/vcdx-award-dinner/


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VCDX Spotlight–Nathan Raper

About two years ago I came up with the idea of the vExpert Spotlight to help people looking to get into IT,virtualisation and possibly gain the same kinds of roles a number of the vExperts are in. I’m pleased to say the idea gained loads of interest and is now being published three times a week on the VMTN blog. At present I’m looking to start my journey on becoming a VCDX5 and came up with the idea of using the same kind of format as the vExpert Spotlights but getting the current VCDX’s to answer a few questions so that VCDXWannabe’s like myself can find out more about each of them and why they decided to start the journey in becoming a VCDX. I asked a few of the VCDX’s I know who follow me on twitter if they would be willing to answer the questions and as is the case in the VMware community, everyone was more than happy to do it and liked the idea. So I would like to introduce the first in hopefully almost 100(the current number of VCDX’s worldwide) VCDX Spotlights and one from a good friend of mine who obtained his VCDX only a few months ago:

Name: Nathan Raper

Twitter Handle: @nateraper

Blog URL: nateraper.wordpress.com – I swear I’ll blog soon!

Current Employer: Catholic Health Initiatives

VCDX #: 85 – that’s “ochocinco” for the US folks 😉

How did you get into using VMware?

I worked for a small Citrix and Microsoft reseller in the late 1990s (Hensmann Technology in Castle Rock, CO for anyone who remembers them) that was focused on delivering solutions to small healthcare providers. The owner was a forward-thinker and saw VMware as a game changer. We started using ESX 1.5 internally and went to the 5-day certification class so that we could attain VCP certification and become an authorized reseller for VMware. I was hooked…

What made you decide to do the VCDX?

I love a challenge! VCDX was a motivation for me, a goal that would help me take my virtualization and datacenter skills deeper. I also saw it as career insurance – a way to differentiate myself in the job market.

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

I think it was some time in mid-2010 that I started exploring the idea of pursuing VCDX. In late 2010 I made up my mind and I started studying in earnest for the DCA exam and took that in early 2011. That’s probably the most difficult exam I’ve ever taken (although VCP2 was no walk in the park either). DCD came later that summer. I stalled a bit at that point because I knew that there was a lot of work that needed to go in to my design and there was uncertainty from VMware whether or not they would hold another VCDX 4 defense. I also had taken a lot of time off from pursuing my Master’s degree and needed to take some classes toward that. When VMware announced that Toronto would be the final shot at VCDX 4, I got busy! So I guess around 18 months, but I certainly didn’t hurry.

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

Do it! I learned a tremendous amount through the process and took myself beyond limits that I thought that I had. Don’t look at the VCDX as a purely technical certification – it’s not. VCDX requires both technical and business skills, so seek peer review of both your submission and your presentation skills. Plan to do several mock defenses with both technical gurus and business leaders – the business leaders may ask more difficult questions and ones that you wouldn’t otherwise prepare for! Study the blueprint, VMware publishes it for a reason. And get support from your family and friends – find a cheerleader to keep you motivated when it’s late at night and you want to give up. VCDX is a long journey and I could not have achieved this without the support of my wife!

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

I would definitely work more on my soft skills and mentally preparing myself. I’m in a position right now that doesn’t require me to be in front of people very often, so my presentation skills had dried up a bit from my consulting days. Above all I would learn to control my nerves better and calm down – I was a nervous wreck during my defense!

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

Well it’s only been a couple of weeks since the results went out…not a lot of time for change, but it has certainly opened up some exciting doors for me. Several folks at my company congratulated me and my boss took me to dinner but I don’t think that many understand the significance of the certification. My reps and contacts at EMC and VMware were all excited and happy for me. Was it worth it? Absolutely!