My ramblings about all things technical

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VCAP-CID Objective 1.2 – Identify and Categorize Business Requirements


 Identify discovery questions for a conceptual design (number of users, number of VMs, capacity, etc.)

  • These questions are ones you are going to ask during the design workshop for the design/project. For the workshop you need to make sure you have the applicable project participants/stakeholders who can join the workshops (depends if you want one big one where people come and go at certain points or multiple ones where you speak to each business unit/ team). For the stakeholder meetings/design workshops I personally like to try bring in the following people, this does vary depending on the project and what has been chosen but 9/10 times these are the people you want to speak to:
      • Virtualisation administrators (if applicable. If not already present then future administrators of the solution)
      • Server Hardware Administrators
      • Backup Administrators
      • Storage Administrators
      • Desktop/OS Administrators
      • Network Administrators
      • Application Administrators (these are very important as their applications may have very specific requirements)
      • Security Officer
      • Project Sponsors
      • End users/ Help desk personnel (this I find is helpful to find out what are the current support desk tickets/problems the company are facing and if these will impact the project in any way. Also these discussions are easy to have in the hallway/over a coffee but have alerted me to unknown risks that would have severely impacted the design and delivery)


Identify the effect of product architecture, capabilities, and constraints on a conceptual design.

  • I may be looking at this the wrong way but I think this is actually around how specific products architecture, capabilities and constraints isn’t applicable in a conceptual design as for a conceptual design you are only creating a “napkin” design diagram of how the whole environment is going to be delivered.

Skills and Abilities

Relate business and technical requirements to a conceptual design.

  • From one of the VMware service delivery kits available to VMware partners they give a great breakdown of what requirements are and what business and technical requirements are:
    • Requirement – Documented statement that depicts the requisite attributes, characteristics, or qualities of the system
    • Business requirements – Describes what must be achieved for the system to provide value
      • System must provide self-service capability
      • System must provide x% availability
      • System must provide optimal scalability and elasticity
    • Technical requirements – Describes the properties of a system which allow it to fulfill the business requirements
      • System requires a Web portal where users can log in securely and deploy virtual machines based on defined policies
      • System must have fully redundant components throughout entire stack (host, network, storage)
      • System leverages virtualization technology and associated features
  • As mentioned these requirements will be gleamed from the Design Workshops/Stakeholder meetings and then put into the conceptual design. This is where you would work out if the customer requires a private, hybrid, public or even community cloud deployment. For example if the customer requires certain data to remain in a country for regulatory reasons then in the conceptual design you know compute resources, networking and connectivity between that country and the primary site need to be available. The speeds, number of hosts, make of hosts and amount of memory and vCPU are not in the conceptual design as this is the “napkin” design just covering the concept of how it will all work out and may actually change once you get to the logical and physical designs.
Number Requirement
R001 Virtualise the existing 6000 UK servers as virtual machines, with no degradation in performance when compared to current physical workloads
R002 To provide an infrastructure that can provide 99.7% availability or better
R003 The overall anticipated cost of ownership should be reduced after deployment
R004 Users to experience as close to zero performance impact when migrating from the physical infrastructure to the virtual infrastructure
R005 Design must maintain simplicity where possible to allow existing operations teams to manage the new environments
R006 Granular access control rights must be implemented throughout the infrastructure to ensure the highest levels of security
R007 Design should be resilient and provide the highest levels of availability where possible whilst keeping costs to a minimum
R008 The design must incorporate DR and BC practices to ensure no loss of data is achieved
R009 Management components must secured with the highest level of security
R010 Design must take into account VMware best practices for all components in the design as well as vendor best practices where applicable
  • For Technical Requirements a great way of doing it is to break them down into sections like:
    • Virtual Datacentre Requirements – eg: Allocation model Virtual Datacenters reserves 75% of CPU and memory
    • Availability Requirements – eg: VMware vCloud Director (clustering, load balancing)
    • Network Requirements – eg: Organizations have the ability to provision vApp networks
    • Storage Requirements – eg: Different tiers of storage resources must be available to the customer (Tier 1 = Gold, Tier 2 = Silver, Tier 3 = Bronze)
    • Catalogue Requirements – eg: Catalog items are stored on a dedicated virtual datacenter and dedicated storage
    • SLA Requirements – eg: SLA Requirement #1 – Networking 100%
    • Security Requirements – eg: Organizations are isolated from each other
    • Management Requirements – eg: Only technical staff uses remote console access
    • Metering Requirements – eg: Metering solution must monitor vApp power states for PAYG
    • Compliance Requirements– eg: Solution must comply with PCI standards
    • Tenant Requirements – eg: Customer requires the ability to fence off vApp deployments
  • To make sure you are doing the design in a VCDX-like manner which should push you to do it at a very high level, don’t forget to refine the customer-specific technical requirements and validate that they are specific, measurable, accurate, realistic, and testable (SMART).

Gather customer inventory data.

  • This is what is going to be on the new vCloud system whether it is existing workloads or new workloads. A good way of getting this if the customer allows it is to run a VMware Capacity Planner collection on the existing workloads that are going to be migrated in so you know sizes, I/O and current state analysis values. The Capacity Planner can only be run by VMware partners so if this isn’t possible for you then manual collection and recording is going to be required. Another method is via the VMware vCloud Planner which is another tool only available to VMware Partners so maybe getting a VMware partner in to do this for you prior to the project running would be a good idea
  • Also knowing what the customer already has can help you understand possible future constraints for example that all their current servers are IBM and so this is likely to be the server platform for this design.
  • There may also be a requirement to use existing legacy physical kit already present in the datacentre which needs to be recorded and fully understood so that the risks and constraints of using this infrastructure are fully understood. For example if you are using legacy network switches which can’t do stretched VLANs this will impact your design substantially if you have two sites and a requirement for the Management cluster to be failed over/migrated in the event of a disaster.

Determine customer business goals.

  • This is plainly what is the customer looking to gain from the deployment of this solution? At the end of the project what do they hope to achieve? These are sometimes not as clear as you may hope as people have different ideas of what they want the solution to achieve so as the architect you will need to take all these business requirements, set expectations if they are unrealistic due to varying reasons like cost or pre-selected hardware and then define them and get sign off from the customer that they agree to these before any additional work is done. This is very important as if these aren’t defined and agreed to by the customer then scope creep can happen which could cause the project to fail.

Identify requirements, constraints, risks, and assumptions.

  • I’m not going to go into great depth here as I think the definitions of each will give you a good idea of what each is. During the design workshops/stakeholder meetings these are worked out, recorded and agreed to by the customer. Always remember that for any design you need to collect all of these and then look at it in a holistic manner and understand the impacts of each decision.
    • Requirements – Documented statement that depicts the requisite attributes, characteristics, or qualities of the system. See above portions around Business and Technical requirements plus the examples.
    • Constraints – Requirements that restrict the amount of freedom in developing the design
      • Hardware which already exists and must be used (for example,host or storage array)
      • Physical limitations (distance between sites, datacenter space)
      • Cost $$$
    • Risks – Potential issues that may negatively impact the reliability of the design
      • Lack of redundancy for specific hardware component
      • Support staff has not had any training
    • Assumptions – Suppositions made during the design process regarding the expected usage and implementation of a system
      • Provides a sounding board for design decisions which must be validated
      • Hardware required is installed before vCloud implementation
      • Network bandwidth is not a limiting factor for external end users
      • Appropriate training is provided to existing technical staff
    • For assumptions and risks I like to get these highlighted to the customer right away as you normally don’t want any assumptions if possible and for the assumptions you record in your design you want these to be realistically clarified already so that the assumptions are only there to ensure that if what they promised would be there isn’t you can refer them to the assumptions they signed off.

Given customer requirements and product capabilities, determine the impact to a conceptual design.

  • This I think is covered above in places but is also something you can only really learn from actually doing a design and understanding how requirements shape a design and what impacts each of them have. On a conceptual design it isn’t as much of an impact as in a logical and physical design but limitations like keeping workloads in specific geographies and the capability of vCloud stretched clusters between the two locations for example are something that will impact the conceptual design. I would also read the Service definitions listed below in the recommended tools from the blueprint and the implementation examples from the vCAT.


If you feel I have missed something or am wrong on something then please do comment as I don’t proclaim to be the best and am always learning and welcome constructive criticism and feedback


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VCAP-CID Objective 1.1 – Create a Conceptual Design Based on Business Requirements

Due to an imminent customer engagement I am due to be working on I have been refining my vCloud skills and dusty away the cobwebs. One of these tasks was to book the VCP5-IaaS and sit it so that it forced me to learn the basics again and be sure I had a solid base knowledge with no gaps. My experience of the exam and the resources I used for it are mentioned in my VCP5-IaaS Exam Experience blog posting. I have now been using the VCAP-CID blueprint as a structure for perfecting my vCloud design skills and so I thought I would slowly post up each objective for my own benefit but also hopefully help other people looking to take the VCAP-CID. I will be consolidating all the objectives on my blog page here

Skills and Abilities

  • Distinguish between virtualization, automation and cloud computing.

    • This could be defined in a number of ways (I’m more than happy to be corrected here) but the way I piece it all together is:
      • Virtualization is what VMware has been doing for years with vSphere and its complementing technologies. This is nothing new to anyone preparing for this exam and if it is then I hate to tell you this but this exam isn’t for you.
      • Automation ties perfectly into the NIST definition of on-demand self-service which is :  Unilaterally provision computing, as needed, automatically without requiring human interaction
        • This can be done through multiple technologies and mechanisms like VMware’s vCenter Orchestrator, vCAC,vFabric Application Director and third party tools like Puppet, Razor and IBM’s Virtualization Automation solution. Without true automation you can’t have a Cloud.
      • Cloud computing is perfectly defined by the industry recognised NIST cloud requirements which are:
        • On-demand self-service: Unilaterally provision computing, as needed, automatically without requiring human interaction
        • Broad network access: Capabilities are available over the network and accessed through standard mechanisms
        • Resource pooling: The provider’s computing resources are pooled with virtual resources dynamically assigned and re-assigned according to consumer demand.
        • Rapid elasticity: Capabilities can be rapidly and elastically provisioned, in some cases automatically, to quickly scale out and be rapidly released to quickly scale in.
        • Measured service: Cloud systems automatically control and optimize resource use by leveraging a metering capability. Resource usage can be monitored, controlled, and reported providing transparency of the utilized service.
      • For VMware’s IaaS definition from which they define the VMware vCloud blueprint is:
        • A cloud must be built on a pooled, virtual infrastructure. Pools include not only CPU and memory resources but also storage, networking, and associated services.
        • The cloud should provide application mobility between clouds, allowing the consumer to enter and leave the cloud easily with existing workloads. The ability to use existing consumer tools to migrate workloads to or from the cloud is highly desirable. Mobility of workloads between clouds requires cross-cloud resource management.
        • The cloud should be open and interoperable, allowing the consumption of cloud resources over open, Internet-standard protocols. Access to cloud resources does not require any other specific network protocols or clients.
        • Cloud consumers should pay only for resources they consume or commit to consuming.
        • The cloud should be a secure, trusted location for running cloud consumer workloads.
        • Cloud consumers should have the option and the ability to protect their cloud-based workloads from data loss.
        • Cloud consumers are not responsible for the maintenance of any part of the shared infrastructure and do not need to interact with the cloud provider to maintain the infrastructure. They are not responsible for storage and network maintenance, ongoing cloud infrastructure patches, or business continuity activities. The cloud should be available to run high-availability workloads, and any faults occurring in the cloud infrastructure should be transparent to cloud consumers as a result of built-in availability, scalability, security, and performance guarantees.
  • Distinguish between private, public, hybrid and community cloud computing.

    • These are defined perfectly in the vCAT 3.1 introduction document as:
      • Private cloud: A private vCloud (also known as an internal vCloud.) operates on private networks, where resources are accessible behind the firewall by a single company. In many cases, all the tenants share one legal entity. For example, a university might offer IaaS to its medical and business schools, or a company might do the same for various groups or business units. The private vCloud can be managed by the enterprise and hosted on premise or operated on a dedicated infrastructure provided by a vCloud service provider or systems integrator. In any case, a private vCloud must conform to the organizational security constraints.
      • Public cloud: A public vCloud offers IT resources as a service through external service providers and is shared across multiple organizations or the Internet. This can be viewed as a vCloud infrastructure that is operated by one organization for use by multiple, legally separated organizations. A public vCloud is provisioned for open access and might be owned, managed, and operated by one or more entities. A public vCloud provider might also support a private, community, or hybrid vCloud.
      • Hybrid cloud: A hybrid vCloud combines the benefits of the private and the public vCloud, with flexibility and choice of deployment methods. A hybrid vCloud consists of multiple, linked vCloud infrastructures. These distinct vCloud infrastructures can be private, community, or public, they but must meet a set of requirements defined by the providers and agreed to by the consumers. Connecting these vCloud instances requires data and application mobility as well as management. When load-balancing between vCloud instances (cloud bursting), use a consistent monitoring and management approach when migrating an application or data workload.
      • Community cloud: A Community vCloud is a specific public vCloud use case where the cloud is shared, and typically owned, by a group of organizations with a common set of requirements. In many cases, the organizations also include some level of legal separation. Community vCloud resources are shared, with some parts under central control and other parts with defined autonomy. A vCloud built for government, education, or healthcare might be an example of a community vCloud. A community vCloud can be offered by a traditional service provider, by a member of the community, or by a third-party vendor and hosted on one or more sites. It can be placed on-premise at one or more of the organizations’ sites, off-premise at a vCloud provider site, or both on- and off-premise.


  • Analyze a customer use case to determine how cloud computing can satisfy customer requirements.

    • For this I would recommend you read the Service Definitions document from the vCAT as this covers all the definitions and how they map to customer requirements and fulfil these requirements. Also the VMware vCloud Implementation Examples document also from the vCAT shows you how varying implementations can benefit businesses in differing ways


  • Given a customer use case, determine the appropriate cloud computing model.

    • This is one I feel you can only do once you have a firm understanding of the capabilities of all the different Cloud offerings and how each of them meet varying requirements and also have differing constraints/disadvantages.


VCAP5-DCD Retake

This Monday I re-sat my VCAP5-DCD exam after having marginally failed it the first time in January this year. I wrote a fairly extensive blog posting about my opinions about the exam and the additional resources I planned to use. I would recommend people read that posting first if you haven’t as I still maintain 95% of the pieces I said and mentioned in there are true about the exam. This time I thankfully passed the exam and with not a bad score of 333 also.


Resources used:


For this attempt i did use a fair portion more resources and actually think I studied more this time than I did for my first attempt. I thought I would list the resources I used or re-used for this attempt and am planning on adding the resources mentioned here on my VCAP5-DCA & DCD Study Resources page if they aren’t mentioned on there already:


– I read the official VMware book Building a Virtual Datacenter to try help me get the holistic view and mentality you have to maintain during the build of a virtual datacenter and how every decision can have an impact on another portion of your environment and design. The book was really good and I would recommend it but I have to admit I did skip certain portions as I had covered them in books that had them covered much better and in more depth.


-I bought the kindle version of the new VMware vSphere Design book from Forbes Guthrie and Scott Lowe. I bought the kindle version as the paperback version wasn’t out in Europe for a while and my timeframes for studying were very tight. The book is utterly brilliant and covers both vSphere 5 and 5.1 and I would HIGHLY recommend it for the exam and anyone who works with VMware.


-As I stated I would, I read the  VMware press book Managing and Optimizing VMware vSphere Deployments by Harley Stagner and Sean Crookston which helped me gain more knowledge around all the portions of a design and the link each component in the design has. The main piece from this book that i really liked was the operational portions as you can’t do a design without having the end goal and plan of it being able to run for a long time after you have left (if you are a consultant like I am).


-The main thing I really focused on was going through the whole vSphere Design workshop course notes, lab guides and answers to the lab guides and made sure I understood every single portion and why certain decisions were made by VMware in the completed designs of the labs. If you haven’t been on the course I would beg management to put you on it as it covers every portion you need to know for the exam and gives some great tips for the exam (no I cant tell you what these are)


Exam experience:

I was more nervous for this attempt than my first attempt as I really wanted to pass it this time as with having a five week old little one my studying schedule took a knock and I actually postponed the exam for two week later from it’s initial date due to not getting through portions I wanted before the attempt.


Once I got into the exam and started making my way through the questions with each question I felt I had got correct or very close to correct i became more and more confident. I also think i managed my time a bit better this time and wasn’t as overwhelmed by what they were asking of me. Before the exam starts they tell you how many visio style questions you are going to get so I wrote down the numbers (1-6 for me) and marked them out after each one so that I knew how my time management was going. I did have two drag and drop questions in my last three questions which used up my time and meant i only had around 8 minutes left by the time I completed the last question. The result came up and very quickly and I was in shock that it stated congratulations and actually started feeling dizzy after not having been able to eat much before the exam due to feeling sick from nerves and not having drank much as I knew I couldn’t afford toilet breaks.




For this attempt i came across and learnt a few tips for the exam which helped me with the visio style questions and allowed me to be sure portions were connected correctly.


-There is a scissors icon beside the bin in the right hand bottom corner that allows you to cut a connector/connection you have made in error without moving loads of portions across the page by trying to move the connection to the bin. I did this drag and drop mistake a few times in my first attempt and it really hurt me as it moved portions off the screen and so meant I had to redo pieces.

-Make sure connections have stuck to boxes by carefully trying to move the box and seeing if the connector follows. This is related to the piece above and is a good tip to make sure you have connected the boxes correctly. Also make sure you connect the correct portions together as I noticed once or twice I didn’t click the correct piece and so the pieces I meant to have connected were actually not connected so be careful where you click.

-Do practice designs at home on paint or visio or even word to allow yourself to visualise how you would do different visio style designs scenarios so that when you are in the exam and maybe see one of them you know what your final designs should look like.


Conclusion/what’s next:


So now that I have both my VCAP5-DCA and DCD I can start designing my VCDX infrastructure and submit the design for defence for the VCDX5 accreditation. I still need to do some soul searching and decide when I want to submit as it’s a serious amount of work to complete all the required documents and my planned design is only about 60% where I want it to be before submitting it so I’m estimating around 40 hours of work to get it all ready which isn’t easy to find with a 5 week old, a full time job as a consultant and my sanity maintained. I will most likely slowly start building my design and documents and submit for PEX early next year although I may be drawn to do it sooner or later.


For those looking to do either of the exams I would recommend starting right away and also booking a date for it so that you are pushed to get through everything, the exams are very challenging but there are amazing resources out there which will help you gain the knowledge to pass the exam and with loads of lab time and practicing you can pass them. Good luck to all those who are preparing or looking to do the exams and hopefully my resources page and this blog help you.




Safe and Legit Storage Design

In my previous posting I created a fictitious company who requires you as the VMware Architect to design them a vSphere 5.0 environment to meet all their requirements whilst keeping within their constraints and mitigating risks. Now I didn’t list the constraints or the risks as I felt this was something that is very important to learn how to define in preparation for the VCAP5-DCD and vSphere designs in real life practice.

The first portion of the design I’m hoping to create (and get everyone’s opinions,participation and comments on ) is the storage design. So below are the portions I will be trying to fill out for the Safe and Legit scenario and hopefully people also wanting to learn and participate will fill out each of the sections with their own design decisions and then we can compare and hopefully learn together/off each other.

Storage Array

Design Choice
Design Impacts

Number of LUNs and LUN sizes

Design Choice
Design Impacts

Storage load balancing and availability

Design Choice
Design Impacts

VMware vSphere VMFS or RDM

Design Choice
Design Impacts

Host zoning

Design Choice
Design Impacts

LUN Presentation

Design Choice
Design Impacts

Thick or Thin disks

Design Choice
Design Impacts

Virtual Machine I/O Priority

Design Choice
Design Impacts

Storage Profiles

Design Choice
Design Impacts

Describe and diagram the logical design

Attribute Specification
Storage Type
Number of Storage Processors
Number of Fibre Channel Switches (if any)
Number of ports per host per switch
Total number of LUNs
LUN Sizes
VMFS datastores per LUN

Describe and diagram the physical design

Array vendor and model
Type of array
VMware ESXi host multipathing policy
Min/Max speed rating of storage switch ports

Loads of bits to decide and design. I’m hoping to have my storage design decisions and what I thought were the constraints and risks for the design up by the end of the week and if not then by the latest next week Monday in my next posting. Happy designing Winking smile


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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.



VCAP5-DCD : My Experiences

I thought I would put out a posting around my experiences of the VCAP5-DCD exam I sat yesterday and what I felt helped me in my preparations and what I plan to use to better my knowledge for my resitting.

Yep I am going to need to re-sit the exam as unfortunately I just failed the exam but I do feel that what I studied was extremely helpful as without having done it I wouldn’t have been close so that is very positive and now i have a great idea of what I need to do in preparation before my retry.


The Resources I used this time

The resources I used for yesterdays attempt of the exam were quite extensive to say the least but I am learning design from the ground up almost as I have only been doing enterprise level designs for the past year having previously been a VMware Administrator. The resources I used are on my page here but I wanted to list out the exact ones and what i felt they helped me with and why I think they are essential for the exam:

I know this is going to be a strange one but it did really help me in my preparations and that is having studied for my VCAP5-DCA prior to doing this exam as it helped me learn the new technologies, how to physically create them and the level logical and physical designs have to be to allow the VMware administrator (if this is a different person) to build the solution

The VMware vSphere: Design Workshop [V5.0] was extremely beneficial and really gives you a great idea of what doing designs for a living is like but also how there are many different options for each solution. Unfortunately for the VCAP5-DCD exam there is only one way of doing something and that is the VMware recommended way and this is my first BIG piece of advice before doing the exam. Make sure you learn the VMware way of doing design as in the exam the way you think it should be done or have done it in the past may not be the VMware recommended way of doing it and it is therefore incorrect. Also the course is only three days so I would HIGHLY recommend trying to do all the lab work from the course at home and then make sure you go to your transcript under VMware learning, click next steps under the course name and then download the completed design scenarios that you followed during the course so you can learn how VMware would have built it.

Next piece of material I used was the VMware vSphere Design book from Scott Lowe,Forbes Guthrie and Maish Saidel-Keesing. The book was amazing and I would recommend it to no end to anyone doing the exam and anyone doing VMware designs in general as they cover everything and it is extensive to say the least. I did read the version 4 version as the version 5 is meant to be out within the next few months and it gave a really great covering of all the components as 85% of vSphere 5 is the same as vSphere 4 and most of the concepts are exactly the same

The vSphere 5 Clustering Tech Deepdive book by Frank Denneman and Duncan Epping was amazing in giving me a deep understanding of the vSphere 5 cluster, it’s components and technologies and the advanced settings you can create and use for certain scenarios. This book is an absolute must for the exam and covers parts I haven’t seen mentioned anywhere else. My recommendation on this book is read and understand and be able to apply EVERYTHING in this book prior to your exam.

As I mentioned I did my VCAP5-DCA prior to attempting this exam and therefore I used resources for that exam like the VMware vSphere 5 Training trainsignal videos by Elias Khnaser and David Davis and all the VMware vSphere 4 VCAP Training Package videos David did for the VCAP4-DCA exam.  These helped me build a solid understanding prior to the DCD exam as I believe how can you design something if you don’t know how it works and how each part integrates.

Talking of Trainsignal videos a MASSIVE resource I used for the DCD was Scott Lowe’s Designing VMware Infrastructure Trainsignal set of videos. These were amazing and Scott gives some brilliant descriptions and examples of what Risk,Assumption,Requirements and Constraints are and how to apply them. I personally battled with differentiating between Functional and Non-Functional requirements and Scott’s videos helped with this as did an article that Victor Forde sent me when I asked if anyone could try help me clear up the definitive differences and Bas Raayman did a great posting asking these questions here . The videos don’t just cover the terminology but cover every facet of designing a virtual infrastructure and how they are are holistically interconnected. I plan to re-watch a few of these videos and also the second last one where Scott brings all the pieces together to create a final design as I think this is very important for the exam and  real world designing

The APAC vBrownbags were another resource I used extensively and is something that helped loads in my preparations and understanding of certain things. The content covered in a number of the sessions were amazing and I took down loads of notes during them and made sure I watched them whenever I could including the gym


The DRBC Design – Disaster Recovery and Business Continuity Fundamentals course was another online course I did in my prep to fully understand DR and BC concepts but also how certain decisions impact how things are done. The course is free so I would highly recommend it.

The resources I will be using and re-using next time

The above resources were really great and all the notes I created from all of them will be used extensively again to try get everything into my mind.

The official VMware book Building a Virtual Datacenter will be a book I am planning to read in my aim of trying to get myself into the VMware mind-set of designing and what are the recommendations for every component. The book was given to me a while back so I am planning to start reading through it very soon

Harley Stagner and Sean Crookston’s VMware press book Managing and Optimizing VMware vSphere Deployments is another book I am planning to read prior to my re-take as they have covered how to take your existing knowledge of all the components and apply it to a design as well as having done a mock design which I’m hoping I will learn loads from.

As I mentioned above I attended the design workshop VMware course and so I am planning on going through all the course notes and the lab work and actually trying to create every portion as I don’t think there was near enough time in the workshop to be able to complete all the lab work. Also as I highlighted in red I was fortunate to notice (no one tells you these are available if you did the course) that the completed designs from the lab work have been done for you by VMware and therefore you can use these to see how VMware recommend doing them and thereby hopefully I will learn the VMware way of designing every portion.

Doing some mock designs of my own and then trying to apply VMware recommendations (notice I never say best practices as supposedly there are none but for the exam there has to be as only one answer is correct) and hopefully learn how to apply these for the Visio like questions

Talking of the Visio like questions, I am planning on trying to create my own mock questions while using these kinds of ideas so that i know how to create all portions super fast as the time frames in the exam are very tight.


I felt the exam is passable which is fairly comforting for me, the exam reminded me a lot of the Microsoft Design exams I did for my MCSE’s but on steroids. As for when I am going to re-try the exam that is still something I need to work out as I was hoping to also get my VCP5-IaaS and thereby my VCP5-Cloud before the VCP5-Cloud exam is released and the upgrade path is gone. A lot of people said if you have been doing design for years then don’t really bother studying and just go do the exam but I disagree massively on this as if you have been doing designs for years you know there are many many ways of building a solution but in the exam there is only the VMware way and so experience may work against you as maybe that isn’t the VMware recommended way of doing it. Good luck to anyone doing the exam, I hope my thoughts above haven’t stressed you out and maybe help you study places I missed or didn’t know would need to and thereby you pass the exam




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.


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


*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: Wade Holmes

Name: Wade Holmes

Twitter Handle: @wholmes

Blog URL:

Current Employer: VMware

VCDX #: 15

How did you get into using VMware?

The year was 2004. I was an IT Specialist working in the IBM’s Business Continuity and Resiliency Services, and became aware of customers utilizing VMware for backup and recovery of their datacetners. I went to my manager at the time and told him about this trend, and that I was interested in becoming a VMware SME for IBM BCRS. I started working with ESX 2.0 and VirtualCenter 1.0, attended VMware training, and in 2005 became a VMware Certified Professional. During this time I spearheaded the creation and rollout of IBM BCRS’s first VMware based warm-site disaster recovery offering across the US, reducing the RTO of numerous fortune 500 clients. And so began the journey towards VMware excellence!

What made you decide to do the VCDX?

It was early 2008, and the VCDX certification was announced. The rigor of the requirements immediately attracted me to pursuing the certification. I knew this was a certification that could help further my career as an IT professional.

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

I completed the VCDX the summer of 2009, after taking the beta exam and defending during the first publically available defense. Below was the path I took before defending.

VCP on VI3
Enterprise Exam (beta)
Design Exam (beta)

I had no idea what to expect when coming to defend, and was extremely nervous. I spent countless hours preparing, reviewing my design, making sure I knew the in’s and out, and could justify every granular detail I documented. Luckily, that was exactly the approach necessary for me to be successful. I can’t describe how happy I was when I got a phone call that I passed and was a VCDX! (yes, back then I was actually contacted by phone to be informed I passed). In becoming VCDX #15, I was the first non-VMware employee worldwide to achieve the certification (as I worked for a partner at the time).

What advice would you give to people thinking of pursuing the VCDX accreditation? Dive in hear first to master your craft. Understand not just the what, but more importantly the why of architecture and design. Use the plethora of resources available to you online to become familiar with the format. Sign up for a VCDX Bootcamp to help prepare.

If you could do the whole VCDX journey again what would you do differently? Nothing except more sleep the night before the defense (if you can sleep).

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

I believe I have a unique perspective on the VCDX program, having completed the VCDX program in 2009 as the first non-VMware VCDX worldwide, and then joining VMware and participating in the ongoing development of the program as a panelist. As an outsider looking in, the VCDX program was a goal that drove me to work on my craft, and become a better architect.

Since joining VMware, my participation in the VCDX program has only helped to hone my skills as a virtualization and cloud architect. It has forced me to sharpen my understanding of enterprise architecture principals, principals that aid me greatly in my day-to-day role dealing with virtualization and cloud solutions. I will be forever grateful to the VCDX program in providing a vehicle that forced me to push myself, and aiding me to take my career to another level.

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VCDX Spotlight: Randy Stanley

Name: Randy Stanley

Twitter Handle: @randystanley

Blog URL:

Current Employer: IT Partners

VCDX #: 94

How did you get into using VMware?

In 2003 I was working for a small software development company managing their business applications and supporting their software development team. Initially we began utilizing VMware GSX Server for those simple use cases trying to consolidate and save on our hardware spend where ever we could. In support of the software development team we also deployed ESX in a lab environment for testing and development purposes only. A fairly common introduction and use case early on in the adoption of VMware solutions. Plus, vMotion was the coolest freakin’ thing I had ever seen.

It wasn’t until I re-entered the consulting field in 2007 that I really started to dive deep into the VMware products and they have been an integral part of every solution we sell and deploy. It was this exposure to the VMware technology that really allowed me to develop my abilities and deepen my experience. I also should say that a large draw for me was the large, friendly and helpful community that supported and shared knowledge around the VMware products; easily the best community with which to be associated.

What made you decide to do the VCDX?

For me the decision was twofold, first because I’ve had the great fortune of working with one of the best consultants I know in Doug Baer, VCDX #19 and second for the shear challenge of obtaining the certification. A natural, underlying part of the equation has always been my love of the technology and interest in understanding how it works at its core. In my current line of work, utilizing the skills and knowledge measured by the VCDX certification is highly relevant and in many ways a validation of those abilities.

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

It’s hard to say exactly when the journey started, as I had wanted to go after it for the last couple of years, but it seemed so far off and I never really got going. In May 2011, I started and then stopped my journey with a failed attempt on the required VCAP-DCA exam which in combination with a heavy load of customer commitments limited my ability to focus on it. Since I wasn’t accustomed to failing an exam, the DCA failure caught me off guard and I needed to regroup. It was then about 6 months later over the 2011 Thanksgiving (US) holiday that I had a little heart-to-heart with myself and decided regardless of the time, effort or success, I was going to go after the VCDX4 before it was updated to version 5. I was leaving too many good designs on the table which I had worked on with vSphere 4 to not try to at least defend one of them. That’s when my real, 6-month journey toward VCDX began. This involved the DCD4 exam in December, the DCA4 exam in January, the VCP5 upgrade and the DCD5 beta in February, the VCDX4 Design and application in March and then the VCDX4 Defense in May. Approximately 6-months start to finish, but ultimately the journey never ends or at least I hope it doesn’t.

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

My advice to those interested in the VCDX would be to dedicate themselves to the investment of time and resources necessary in the effort. This may mean the setup of a home lab, the time to read product guides, the repetition of product implementation and design, and/or the review of countless blogs and knowledge base articles. But beyond having a sound technical and architectural knowledge it will also require comfort in the spotlight, an ability to present from a white board, a quickness to think on your feet, an ability to envision the big picture design, and an openness to feedback, critique and improvement. With all that said, bottom line for anyone seriously considering it, I would say go for it. You’ll never know what could have been if you don’t try. I believe many will be surprised by what they can accomplish when they focus on a goal like the VCDX.

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

I probably would have started it earlier. Overall I felt the execution was successful once I got going, but for me it was just the issue of starting and sticking with it. Beyond that I don’t think I would have changed much.

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

In my consulting position, the certifications are very much a part of the role and needed by the company to market, sell and deliver the solutions that we focus on. The certification definitely brought some recognition and accolades. It also provided some instant credibility amongst those in our community. For the most part, I do believe it was worth it mainly because of the challenge it provided to me and the opportunity to do what I love most which is work with the technology, understand the architecture of the products, solve the business problems of my customers, and participate in a community that is passionate about all these same things.

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VCDX Spotlight: Tom Ralph

Name: Tom Ralph

Twitter Handle: @tomralph

Blog URL:

Current Employer: VMware, Inc

VCDX #: 51

How did you get into using VMware?

I first started by purchasing an IBM xSeries 1U rack mount server off eBay to try out this new product from VMware. I fired up the server in my home office, installed ESX 2.53, and started to learn about virtualization. After the first 20 minutes, I could see that VMware and server virtualization was the future.

What made you decide to do the VCDX?

As soon as I learned of the VCDX certification, I made it a goal to achieve the VCDX certification and a number under 100.

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

I had already had my VCP from 2007, I first took my VMware Design Exam in March of 2010, with the Administration shortly after that. I then defended my design in August of 2010. I then paced around VMworld awaiting my results, which finally came 2 weeks after the show ended.

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

If you want it, go for it! I learned more about technology, enterprise architecture, and process than I ever thought I would have. During your defence know when to say ‘I do not know’, it is a hard skill to master but a critical one. Know the smallest details of your design and know them through and through.

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

When I first attempted the VCDX certification, I was newly married to a wonderful woman that allowed me to focus 100% on the process. Now we have a 1-year-old child, I am not able to devote the time needed. I would take more time to thoroughly understand and complete my design.

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

My previous company did not know what to make of the certification or what it really meant. It wasn’t soon after I got the VCDX certification that I made the choice to leave that company and move to VMware. From there, my career has blossomed and continues to do so.