TheSaffaGeek

My ramblings about all things technical


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VCDX Prep Advice Series – The X in VCDX

For every VCDX round, I normally run unofficial face to face mock as the last hurdle and prep for all those defending the VCDX that round in the UK and for anyone wanting to come to assist with the mocks and learn from them. I have run these for a number of years and have got really great feedback from them but last year alike to so many things I was unable to run any due to Covid and who knows if I can this year. So I thought I would do an updated series of postings around the advice I normally give in these mocks, advice I give in the VCDXPrepGroup slack channel I founded and run and link to postings where I summarised previous advice. I will break the series into distinct areas along the path to VCDX to try help people wherever they are along the path *NOTE* All advice here is keeping within NDA’s and despite me now being a VCDX panellist it is the same as when I wasn’t one.

The X in VCDX

If it isn’t obvious the X in VCDX is for eXpert but this posting isn’t about that simple answer but about what that X means in relation to the certification and how it relates to what level you should be prepared to show in your submission and defence so that your panelists can validate you are indeed that level.

The VCDX is about showing that you are at the level to be able to lead a project as the Lead Architect/Enterprise Architect and despite your submission being about the track you chose you have to have a holistic view of how other designs impact your design. I have always told people to think of it like I did when I was preparing for my VCDX defences where you are proving to the panel that if any of them had to leave a project then they would be certain that they could bring you in to replace them at any stage of the project and you could deliver at the required level that they hold themselves to.

Being an amazing architect of a certain product set be it vRA,vCD,NSX,vSphere,DTM is something you have proven when you passed the VCAP design level and is something a very good senior consultant can do. Taking it a level above and being able to validate, drive and deliver the business objectives of your customer via technology is where that VCDX level comes in and even though for your submission and defence you are showing you know a certain track very well you also have to have that Lead Architect skillset to know that all the other designs that underpin or work in tandem with your design aren’t going to impact your design as well as impact the success of the project and most importantly deliver the business outcomes the business requires.

I tell people often that despite the VCDX being a VMware certification the skills learnt and proven in it transfer to all types of architecture design and the ability to take business initiatives and meet them with technology is applicable for any architect role. Just look at how many VCDX are working at all the cloud providers and you can see that the skills they learnt in the journey to VCDX are now benefiting them in their current roles.

So if you are submitting your design or are due to defend I would recommend looking at your design and seeing how are you showing that expert level knowledge. How are you showing that knowledge not just of your product set which certainly is very very important but how are you also making sure all the pieces your design relies on whether it be technology or processes are met and not conflicting with your design to ensure the success of your project?

Gregg


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VCDX Prep Advice Series – The Mentor/s

For every VCDX round, I normally run unofficial face to face mock as the last hurdle and prep for all those defending the VCDX that round in the UK and for anyone wanting to come to assist with the mocks and learn from them. I have run these for a number of years and have got really great feedback from them but last year alike to so many things I was unable to run any due to Covid and who knows if I can this year. So I thought I would do an updated series of postings around the advice I normally give in these mocks, advice I give in the VCDXPrepGroup slack channel I founded and run and link to postings where I summarised previous advice. I will break the series into distinct areas along the path to VCDX to try help people wherever they are along the path *NOTE* All advice here is keeping within NDA’s and despite me now being a VCDX panellist it is the same as when I wasn’t one.

I want/need a mentor but how do I find one?

VCDX mentorship splits opinions as I know of several VCDX who did the track without a mentor and there are people like myself who had a few mentors to help me with advice and mock with me once I had my design submitted and I was getting ready to defend.

The first and official place to look for a VCDX mentor is at VCDX.VMware.Com and select the mentorship flag. I would recommend not limiting it just to people within your geography and time zone as I personally had one mentor in Australia another in Saudi Arabia and another in the USA. I personally believe having a few gives you different perspectives, naturally each will have skills in different areas and it allows you to have catchups possibly in your morning but their evening when they have time outside of work to chat with you.

Another great place is to ask on Twitter and add the VCDX hashtag to your message as not all people who are willing to mentor have the flag on the VCDX page as many don’t want to let someone down by saying they can mentor and then feel they can’t allocate the time to assist.

One of the main reasons I created the unofficial VCDX Prep/Study Group slack channel is to allow people to be in contact with many people who are mentors both officially and unofficially as well as people who are also aiming to obtain the certification so that ideally their questions are answered. Also akin to myself, there is VCDX panellist in the group who can give generic NDA permitting advice.

The role of a mentor

Mentors are naturally VCDX who have chosen to set the flag for being a mentor and are not panelists as panelists are not allowed to be mentors due to them knowing the scoring rubric used for the scoring of the designs for invites to defence and scoring of the defences.

There is no official guide for being a mentor and therefore each mentor will give the best advice and guidance they can give whilst base it on what worked for them personally and if they have been a mentor for a while then what advice they gave previous mentees who have succeeded. This again is another reason I created the study slack group so that different perspectives could be shared as there are many ways to pass and you have to work out what works for you.

Below to ideally clarify some views I’ve seen over the years of people being upset that they emailed a mentor and they didn’t respond or they did but the person felt the mentor didn’t give them the level of guidance they had hoped for I have listed some points around mentorship in no particular order:

  • Mentors are not there to walk you through every single piece of your submission and handhold you, you have to own your design/submission and the best mentors, in my opinion, direct you in the right direction and let you learn or else you’ll get to the defence and fail as you don’t understand half of the design because you didn’t learn it on your own.
  • Mentors have a day job and are very likely to have a very busy and demanding job never-mind they also want to have time with family etc so if a mentor can only do a few hours a week with you then you as the mentee need to utilise that time to the best of your ability to get the most out of it. Again, this is why having multiple mentors is beneficial IMO and why the prep/study slack group is helpful as you can ask a question and a whole host of mentors based in all time zones can give you advice.
  • If you don’t use Twitter then I would recommend getting yourself an account just to maybe tweet out asking for a mentor and seeing who might be available to assist you. Sometimes people don’t set themselves as mentors but are willing to privately do a review for you or a few mocks.
  • The design and submission are yours and all VCDX and those who have defended have signed an NDA so they can tell you their experience but can’t tell you about the design scenarios etc. There are ample blog postings out there from myself and numerous others that give generic advice that should help you prepare more than enough to pass but this is your journey no one else’s and like someone training for a marathon people can give you advice of how they trained and prepared but it is your race. 
  • I have had people ask to join my slack group and normally what I ask is if the person is really aiming to defend within the next twelve months as the group will be what you make it, no one is going to run after you to ask you to do mocks or send out your design for review before submission. 
  • Linked to the above if you want a mentor to review your design don’t send it for review a few days before submission as I have done far too many reviews where I have had to review the submission in a very short space of time and it’s heartbreaking for me and I’m sure other reviewers to find issues and then feed that back which stresses the person due to submit even more to try to fix it.

All the above is my perspective and from my experience, I know people who never had a mentor and passed and I commend those people but I believe if you can practice and prepare yourself before submission and before defence then why wouldn’t you take that opportunity. I know how stressful it was to send out my design for review as you worry people will look at your design, find an error and think less of you (this is how I felt at least) but rather you find those issues now than your design not being invited to defend or you are found out in the defence. I see sadly far too many people only defend once as they have burnt themselves out and can’t bring themselves to submit again.

Gregg


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VCDX Prep Advice Series – The Supporting Documents

For every VCDX round, I normally run unofficial face to face mock as the last hurdle and prep for all those defending the VCDX that round in the UK and for anyone wanting to come to assist with the mocks and learn from them. I have run these for a number of years and have got really great feedback from them but last year alike to so many things I was unable to run any due to Covid and who knows if I can this year. So I thought I would do an updated series of postings around the advice I normally give in these mocks, advice I give in the VCDXPrepGroup slack channel I founded and run and link to postings where I summarised previous advice. I will break the series into distinct areas along the path to VCDX to try help people wherever they are along the path *NOTE* All advice here is keeping within NDA’s and despite me now training to become a VCDX panellist it is the same as when I hadn’t gone through the training.

I’ve built the design but what are all these other documents needed?

Naturally, most people focus on their design as this is what you are defending but the VCDX requires you to also submit at a minimum:

  • An installation guide
  • An implementation plan
  • A testing plan
  • A Standard Operating Procedures document

I will break down what each of these is if you’ve never come across them or if you think some of them are the same thing.

  • Installation Guide

The installation guide is a document that shows for someone that is of VCP level skillset how to install the solution. This can have links to VMware documentation but it has to be personalised to your environment/solution as just a plethora of links will not suffice. I always tell people to do this document like you are providing it to a paying customer as they will want it at a level that their staff can follow it if they have to, for example, build the environment from scratch without you. I get asked sometimes if screenshots are needed and whilst it isn’t likely a hard rule, naturally if the person using the document can see a screenshot that looks exactly like the one they are on it will make it easier for them to follow

  • Implementation Plan

This is your project plan where you have to set out all the roles, responsibilities and the timeframes for each portion of the design. Again this has to be specific to your project so even if you have a generic timeline from your vendor or company you need to amend it to your design and trust me the panellists review all the documentation so don’t put your design being accepted to defend at risk by not doing this or any of the supporting documentation properly.

  • Testing Plan

This is where you now prove your design and components by running it through tests to prove it works. I personally like to number all of my tests as even though it isn’t a requirement for your VCDX submission I find using a Requirements Traceability Matrix and showing how you have taken all the requirements from the conceptual design all the way to the testing and validation phase and proven the design you have created meets these helps you ensure you’ve not missed something. Alike to what I mentioned in the implementation plan section you have to provide a testing plan specific to your environment as generic tests of just pulling some cables etc will not suffice.

  • Standard Operating Procedures

The SOP is all the steps and procedures needed to keep the environment running whilst you are away as well as steps your end customer must follow in the event of certain failures. A good design is one where at the end of the project when you leave the end customer can run it with as little effort as possible. If your design is so complex and requires so much continual manual monitoring and tweaking to keep it running then you have very possibly over-engineered it and the project is at risk of failing. This document should be covering places where the end-user can do checks on all the dashboards, automated reports, configured alarms and how to troubleshoot and build out the environment once you have left.


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VCDX Prep Advice Series – Building your submission

For every VCDX round, I normally run unofficial face to face mock as the last hurdle and prep for all those defending the VCDX that round in the UK and for anyone wanting to come to assist with the mocks and learn from them. I have run these for a number of years and have got really great feedback from them but last year alike to so many things I was unable to run any due to Covid and who knows if I can this year. So I thought I would do an updated series of postings around the advice I normally give in these mocks, advice I give in the VCDXPrepGroup slack channel I founded and run and link to postings where I summarised previous advice. I will break the series into distinct areas along the path to VCDX to try help people wherever they are along the path *NOTE* All advice here is keeping within NDA’s and despite me now training to become a VCDX panellist it is the same as when I hadn’t gone through the training.

The mysterious VCDX Design

I hear from a lot of people about various challenges and hurdles in building their design and below are the main ones:

  • Ive Never seen a “VCDX Design”

When I defended my first VCDX I received a fair few messages from people asking if they could see my design as they too wanted to submit but said they have never seen a design that got invited to a VCDX defence. What I shared instead was the table of contents so people can possibly understand the flow (in my personal opinion) a good design should have. I have posted screenshots below of my table of contents from my actual VCDX-DCV submission and there is also the blog posting Derek Seaman posted a while ago around this exact topic. Every person and design is different but outlines like Derek and I’s are relatively the outlines most DCV designs follow that have a good flow from conceptual to logical to physical and cover all the pillars.

  • I’m waiting for the right project before starting my design.

This partly refers to my first posting and how I always tell people to just get started. It is highly unlikely you will find the right project and for most people, I’ve spoken to and including my own, your design will normally be a merger of two or more designs where maybe for the main design the customer didn’t ask you at that point to add certain features until later phases or not at all but you added them to your design to show you design skills and the lessons you learnt from another project which had those features are now in this design.

Basing it on real-world projects helps you refer to those real challenges you had that will come to light when you have to defend your design and I can’t even remember what was and wasn’t in the main project that I based my design on as after a while it became its own sole project.

  • I haven’t passed my VCIX yet

Whilst you need the VCIX in your chosen track before submitting there is no reason you can’t start building your design whilst getting the certification as it takes a fair amount of time and effort to build your submission and you don’t want to wait until you have your VCIX and then realise it might take you much longer than you planned to build the design and submit. I have seen far too many people sadly lose the motivation at this point.

  • My customer/company won’t want me to use my current design.

This one is a tough one sometimes and I want to say that for high-security customers you should get approval before submitting as my normal advice to people for this is that you can sanitise the design and change all the name to something generic which is actually fairly common for people to do but if it is military or government this is normally not enough so do get it checked. 

Sanitising your design is fairly easy and most companies outside the edge cases I mention above are fine as long as you remove their names and their information from the design and normally if they review it to ensure they feel it has been done sufficiently. The designs are only shared with those scoring the designs as well as your panellists if these are different people and once your defence is completed these are removed so no one has them.


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VCDX Prep Advice – Building your submission

For every VCDX round, I normally run unofficial face to face mock as the last hurdle and prep for all those defending the VCDX that round in the UK and for anyone wanting to come to assist with the mocks and learn from them. I have run these for a number of years and have got really great feedback from them but this year alike to so many things I was unable to run any due to Covid. So I thought now I have a chance to catch my breath after my first year as a VMware employee I would do an updated series of postings around the advice I normally give in these mocks, advice I give in the VCDXPrepGroup slack channel I founded and run and link to postings where I summarised previous advice. I will break the series into distinct areas along the path to VCDX to try help people wherever they are along the path *NOTE* All advice here is keeping within NDA’s and despite me now training to become a VCDX panellist it is the same as when I hadn’t gone through the training.

I don’t know where to start

Building your VCDX submission can seem a massively daunting task and the more you work on it the larger it seems to get but my first piece of advice I always give people is to just get started as soon as possible. 

  • Start with the conceptual design and ensure your requirements are clear and concise and verified. Far too often I have done reviews for people and sadly they haven’t recorded the requirements very well and have built their design around these but because they aren’t clear it can make their design fall apart fairly quickly with very simple questions. One example I see often is people not recording availability and recoverability correctly where they have a requirement of 99.99% availability but it isn’t clear what this applies to and when. You need to ensure of you have SLA’s, RPO’s, RTO’s and MTD defined that it is very clear where this does and does not apply.
  • Once you have completed the conceptual design get it reviewed before moving onto logical. Like above I see it far too often where people don’t have their requirements clearly defined and to then change it at a review a week before submission deadline is nigh on impossible. Getting someone to have a quick review of them will then help you ensure you have them defined well and is something I see far too often in real life where requirements are defined clearly and then the customer isn’t possibly happy as you misunderstood their requirement. For this, I did a Requirements Traceability Matrix for my defence and I use one on all major projects I work on to ensure that the requirements I have recorded and got approval for can be tracked all the way to the verification tests at the end of the project. This RTM is one part I changed about my design after my first VCDX failure as blogged about here: What Changed Between My Two VCDX Design Submissions
  • Get yourself a mentor and into a good group of people also aiming for the VCDX. When I did my first VCDX I didn’t have a mentor and I built the whole design “alone”. By chance when I had to pay for my VCDX design review the link to pay didn’t work and when they sent a new link they included the other people also submitting and even though I knew Bobby Stampfle was submitting I didn’t know Rene Van Den Bedem (Quadruple VCDX) was going for his first. Out of this, we three built a study group that became the basis of my now pretty successful VCDXPrepGroup slack channel. The amount I learnt from those two in that first defence is why I made the channel and the number of people who have benefited from all the help those in the channel provides from NDA permitting advice to mocks to design reviews I personally feel is invaluable. I know there are people who have passed without a prep group but why not use a good group of people who have gone through the process already to soundboard off of and who understand the grind and can show you the journey you are on is worth it (in our opinions). If you are really looking to defend within the next twelve months then please contact me and I will add you to the Slack channel. (realistically is if you at least have your VCP and one VCAP in your planned track and are planning to do the second VCAP and start your design very soon if not already)

In the next posting, I will cover off something I hear often and have heard from numerous people over the years of “I am waiting for the right project”. If you want me to cover something then please do leave a comment or message me on Twitter @greggrobertson5 and I will try to incorporate it into this series.

Gregg

 


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#VCDX Design Scenario “Tips”

Yesterday I ran some face to face mocks at Dell EMC’s offices in Brentford UK and during part of those at the end we discussed the design scenario and what i recommend people practice. I have partly mentioned some of it already in a posting i did after the last face to face mocks here. Additional to that I was showing those people that were going to defend this coming week the plan I had around the things I wanted to ensure I asked and also what I felt I needed to keep in mind during the design scenario. Now i have to make it clear I am not a panellist nor have i seen nor know the rubric the scenario is scored on but what worked for me at least are the following:

Question any information that doesn’t make sense!!!!

Compute

1. NUMA aware applications/OS’s?

2. If not how wide is the VM that is not NUMA aware?

3. Amount of growth?

4. Total vCPUs? Divide that by 5

5. Peak GHz for CPU?

6. Peak RAM for Memory?

7. PCIE connected hardware or USB dongles?

8. Rack or Blade? If blade are they half or full and logical diagram spreading across chassis. FDM mention

9. What kinds of applications are on these servers?

10. Scale up or scale out? N+ value

11. Right size VM’s after conversion

12. Add N+ value

 

Storage

1. FC,FCoE,iSCSI,NFS,VSAN,vFRC

2. Existing Tiers of Storage?

3. Amount of Free space? Is this dedicated to the project? How long is the support for this?

4. PEAK IOPS

5. Average IO size

6. Read/write ratios

7. SP speeds? Active passive,active active, ALUA?

8. Standard access switch and core setup?

9. Speed of existing FC switches if applicable?

10. Existing HBA’s? speeds of these HBA’s?

11. Software or hardware initiators?

12. CHAP?

13. IOPS, Amount of required storage?

14. Amount of growth?

 

Network

1. Traditional or CLOS?

2. North/south or East/West traffic?

3. vSS,vDS on N1KV?

4. Hybrid or vDS only?

5. 1GbE or 10GbE?

6. Converged Network Adapter or 10GbE?

7. Peak network throughput required?

8. Speeds of Network Switches

9. MTU for Jumbo frames 9000

 

VIM

1. HA and DRS? (limit 32 hosts and 3000 VM’s)

2. Dedicated management cluster?

3. Virtual vCenter or VCSA?

4. Linked Mode?

5. vCenter heartbeat

6. VUM and UMDS?

7. BC/DR?

8. vCenter design to separate vCenter from DB

 

I also did a second prep list that is very much alike to the one above but some slight addtional parts and for the cenceptual were the questions i had made a sentence out of to remember to ask them as i felt they gave me a good start and it was what i asked myself during each practice of the design scenario so when i did it in the defence it just felt like another practice and so calmed my nerves

 

Conceptual

  • Pick out the main objective of the project (design a cluster for the migrated workloads)
  • Write down all other requirements ,assumptions ,risks and constraints
  • Availability Requirements? <- if over 99.9 then warn of additional costs
  • N+ requirements
  • If existing hardware then how old? Is it dedicated to the project? What speeds and free space does it have? Processor family? NIC speeds? Room for growth? Anything missing that is required (HBA cards or 10GB NICS)
  • Consolidation and containment seem to always come up so ask about the steps for migrating the servers to vm’s and minimizing the risk of server sprawl….
  • Licencing?
  • Budget?
  • BC/DR? <- How soon is the requirement for the failover site and is the site even built? Distances and latency if already built

 

Compute

  • Total number of CPU’s <- Question/highlight if really high or low
  • Are applications/OS’s NUMA aware? What is the largest non numa aware vm?
  • Calculate number of required hosts
  • Very quick mention that could work it out with Peak CPU and Peak RAM also but DON’T DO THIS CALC
  • Add N+ to the total number and make sure the cluster doesn’t go over 32 or 3k vm’s (This was applicable to my vSphere 5.0 design where the limit was 32)
  • Right size VM’s after conversion

 

Storage

  • Peak Storage ,Peak IOPS,Average IO,Read/write? <- Question/highlight if really high or low
  • Storage Protocol?
  • Active/Active, Active/Passive,ALUA?
  • Different workloads require different tiers of storage?
  • Allocate RAID levels to different tiers

 

Network

  • Traditional Core access switch setup?
  • Total Peak throughput <- Question/highlight if really high or low
  • North/south and east/west
  • 1GB or 10GB
  • CNA or 10GB
  • vSS,Hybrid or VDS based on licencing question and on amount of required throughput and storage protocol

 

VIM

  • HA and DRS with the N+1 portion from earlier included
  • If avail was high and they keep to it then vCenter heartbeat
  • Dedicated Management Cluster
  • Separation of database and vCenter for resiliency
  • vSphere licences from conceptual questions


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Why you should attend VMworld US

VMworld US is just around the corner (58 days to be exact) and I have been graciously allocated a bloggers pass for the conference and given backing from my company Dell EMC to attend. This will be my sixth time attending and my third time attending the US one. VMworld has something for everyone from those just learning about virtualisation to those who have been part of the industry for a number of years and are looking to those in depth sessions and discussions with the evangelists and guru’s of VMware plethora of offerings and solutions. If you haven’t yet booked your place then let me list some of the reasons I think you should attend as they are the reasons I try to attend every year:

  • On the Sunday of VMworld is Partner Exchange and TAM day where VMware partners can attend exclusive sessions talking about everything from future roadmaps for all of VMware product lines but also new solutions VMware are looking to release. The sessions are always extremely interesting and from my experience are the best chance to speak to the “rockstars” who evangelise and breath the various solutions. If you aren’t a partner or are looking  for something community driven then the vBrownbag crew along with the VMUnderground crew are again running opening acts and then the VMUnderground party in the Evening (unfortunately the party tickets are now sold out). I will be attending opening acts and have actually submitted a panel idea that I hope will be accepted.

vbrownbag

  • My next reason is about the community again but this time the ability to network with like minded individuals at the bloggers tables, fellow vExperts, fellow VCDX at the VCDX townhall on the Saturday before VMworld and all those I hope to meet over lunch and at the vBrownbag TechTalks who are working in collaboration with the VMTN team to run the infamous TechTalks. If you have never heard of the TechTalks then a brief overview is below:
    • Tech Talks originated at VMworld 2012 where they provided an opportunity for community members, whose presentation submissions were not accepted into the main catalogue, to present the core of  a topic.  #TechTalks are a ten minute presentation by a community member for the benefit of the community. Since almost everyone working in technology has solved problems and learned something almost everyone could present a #TechTalk.  The format can be a slide deck or simply talking, they are usually about how to solve a problem or get the most out of a product. The TechTalk is captured on video and published on the vBrownBag YouTube channel.
    • If the conference Internet connection allows, the talk is also live streamed from the show.
    • #TechTalks are for community members to reach other community members, any topic that will help other people is good.  The one thing that TechTalks are not is an opportunity to present the corporate slide deck about a great product you would like us to buy.  #TechTalks are about up skilling and education, the only marketing should be from the TechTalk sponsors who help make the whole thing happen.
  • Next are the breakout sessions, group discussions and expert panels. The content catalog is now live and it is packed with amazing sessions by some of the biggest names in the industry and those up and coming in the industry. I’m personally really looking forward to all of the VMware Cloud on AWS sessions as it bridges my existing knowledge and interest in VMware with my exponentially growing interest in AWS. The sessions are also recorded so if you can’t make it to a sessions due to a conflict then by registering for VMworld you get access to all the recorded sessions after the conference for you to watch in your own time.
  • My next reason are the VMware Hands-On Labs which cover all VMware technologies and allow you to play with the latest releases and offerings not just from VMware but also VMware partners. Alike to the sessions the hands on labs are available after the conference but I would recommend going to a few that really interest you (again I’ve allocated some walk trough’s of the VMConAWS solution) and then you can do the remaining ones after the conference. If however you really want to hit the labs hard then I know they normally give a free pass to next years VMworld to the top few people who have completed the most labs.
  • The solution exchange is my next reason as this is the perfect opportunity to speak to those vendors who are offering the latest solution that might save your business and team loads of money and or time and this is the perfect opportunity to speak to that vendor who might be offering the solution that will fix the issues your company is experiencing and take that knowledge back to your company and impress your management with how you’ve found a great solution and to prove that your going to VMworld was worth it and that they should send you again next year. I would be remise if I didn’t encourage you to go speak to Dell EMC and hear about their amazing offerings all the way through the stack as well as pre-packaged and validated solutions for SMB’s all the way to large enterprises.
  • If you are looking to obtain that next VMware certification or want to speak to the certification team about the performance of your latest VCAP-Deploy exam then there are loads of  VMware Certification opportunities. You can also book reduce cost exams at VMworld which I have personally never decided to do but loads of the community swear by it and due to the reduced cost it means if you unfortunately don’t make it then it isn’t that much of a dent to your pocket and lets you scope out the exam to better prepare for next time.
  • Last is the parties and due to the conference being in Vegas you can imagine the amount of them there are and the amount of meet ups after the parties that happen.  There are parties for everyone so if you are looking for a chilled drinks evening then there are loads of opportunities for that and if you want to party all night (save some sleep to be able to attend the conference) then there are plenty of those as well. If you haven;t got a ticket to VMUnderground on Sunday then the Welcome Reception kicks off the conference experience with food, drinks, and networking in the Solutions Exchange. There are normally loads of announcements about the parties closer to the time so keep an eye out on social media as the parties fill up fast and remember the strip is big so unless you plan to uber it then getting to three parties in a night might not be possible. The VMworld party finishes off the conference on Wednesday night, the venue hasn’t been announced as far as I’ve seen but he bands have been and teenage Gregg is super excited about it as  Blink 182 and Bleachers will be performing. Last years aprty at the Las Vegas Motor Speedway was really fun and fall out boy were awesome in my opinion

If you are looking to attend then sign up here https://reg.rainfocus.com/flow/vmware/vmworldus17/reg/account?src=so_590b899c53598&cid=70134000001K6I4 and make sure to come find me and say hi as well as i encourage you to attend the TechTalks which are due to be added to the content catalog very soon.

Gregg


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VCDX Preparation Advice

Yesterday I ran  face to face VCDX Mock sessions for three people defending their VCDX at the Dell EMC offices in Brentford. During the NDA permitting discussions a number of questions came up around the outlines of VCDX designs,advice for the design scenario, things to read/watch from others who attended who are looking to submit soon and I thought I would put out a quick posting around the advice given to hopefully aid people also looking to submit soon.

  • What does a VCDX design look like?
    • I get this question often and I know a large number of other VCDX do as well. People might not have seen a “VCDX Level” design before and so are unsure what they need to produce. It is highly unlikely a VCDX will send you their submission as with the invested time as well as the high likelihood of their customers name and information being in the submission. But one portion that is possible to share is the table of contents so people can possibly understand the flow (in my personal opinion) a good design should have. I have pasted screen shots below of my table of contents from my actual VCDX-DCV submission and there is also the blog posting Derek Seaman posted a while ago around this exact topic. Every person and design is different but outlines like Derek and I’s are relatively the outlines most DCV designs follow that have a good flow from conceptual to logical to physical and cover all the pillars.

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  • How do I prepare for the design scenario as I’ve spent 98% of my time preparing for the design defence portion?
    • I’ve seen this ALOT and depending on your experience this can be where a lot of people fail their defences (I base this on having done design scenario mocks with people but obviously have no actual proof in the real defences). I made this mistake in my first VCDX attempt and even though I had done ones at customer numerous times before, due to the time constraints a relatively unusual way you don;t know anything about a customer and design before doing a design workshop this can be a new skill to learn but one I now use for most customer engagements I have. The way I learnt and prepared for this for my second attempt was:
      • Have a “script” you plan to follow to ask the right questions early on to gleam the information you need and how to manage you time to cover all the pillars in the time allocated for the design scenario. The best method IMO is one blogged about by Rene van den Bedem. Rene created this when he was preparing for his second VCDX attempt and i was preparing for my first.  The questions and whiteboard layout are a great idea and allows you to collect and record information whilst allowing the panellists to see your thinking and your very important whiteboarding skills.
      • Stemming off of Rene’s method above Larus Hjartarson who had Rene as his mentor took the method one step further and blogged about it here. I used Larus’ method in my second defence preparations and recommended it highly yesterday as it allows you to really show your skills and get your diagrams logically drawn up on the whiteboard by the end.
      • Get yourself a whiteboard and practice it again and again and again. there are a number of example design scenarios out there that you can use and adapt. I would use some as a starting point but would change the answers i was expecting the panellists were giving me or changing the answer they gave me half way through to practice how I could look at what i had written down and drawn and change it due to that requirement change. Certainly practice talking about what you are doing on the board and continually ask questions to try gleam out information but make sure you have good reasons to ask those questions as sometimes the panellists who are role laying as customers might have to email someone to get the answer to your question.
  • VCDX’s are floating brains and I’ll never be that good
    • Some people think that to obtain the VCDX you have to be an unachievable rockstar who can provision via mindcontrol and whilst there are some big names from the community who are also VCDX certified what I tell people is that all these people were in the same place they are but with work and dedication they learnt and practiced and proved they had the skills and knowledge to obtain the VCDX. From yesterdays mocks a number of the guys who are looking to defend over the next few defences said what easy going and normal people the four VCDX were and whilst that’s very nice of them to say I feel it lends itself to the point that people who have passed the exam are no different than anyone else and that anyone can pass it with time and effort. I give the same advice to those defending that they have to remember that they belong in the defend room and that the panellist were at the same place they are and to think of them as their peers. 99% of VCDX are really nice humble people who are really happy for more people to join the ranks and try with what spare time they have to share the knowledge and help those looking to pass it realise that it isn’t an insurmountable mountain. But no one will carry you and what might come across at points as someone not being willing to help is that for you to learn the most and really get value out of the journey (more about my feelings about doing it for the right reason here) you need to do it yourself and by someone carrying you it won;t help you nor the program to have “paper” VCDX even though the defence should make this pretty clear.
  • I’m waiting for the right project to come along before I start working on my VCDX submission
    • I hear this one often and certainly see it quite a bit on slack channels I’m part of as well as twitter. I don’t believe a perfect project will ever come along, there are certainly projects that can cover a good portion of the bases but I know a number of VCDX including myself who supplemented existing designs they had done to fit the blueprint or to show their architect abilities and a number of VCDX who merged a few projects together as if it were one so that they could still speak to real experiences they had around the designs and not have the challenge of remembering a fictional story. There are also a number of people who passed with fictional designs but even for these they state they related back to previous project they had been on where customers asked for the portions. I recommend getting started right away especially due to the timeframes it might take you to build a design if you are doing it in your spare time.
  • I’ve got a wife/young kids/I travel a lot/I have a full time job/all of the above
    • I hear this often and I do hear where people are coming from but for me it is like anything people state they want, how badly do you want it as if you realistically want it bad enough it’s amazing what time you can find to do it. When i was preparing for my second VCDX attempt i used to watch two different YouTube videos https://youtu.be/scr2PrcDxEo https://youtu.be/Ofo2lv9-nVY to remind myself and question myself how badly I wanted to pass it and also due to my having failed the first time and that I couldn’t bring myself to not complete what I had started. When i did my first defence i had a six month old daughter who would only sleep 3-4 hours a night, I have a wife, I had a full-time job on a challenging project and I needed to do things for myself so I didn’t go insane but i found the time to submit and for my second time I was flying to Rotterdam and was out there for three days a week on a high profile project but I made the time to study on the plane and trains back and forth each week and studied in the hotel room. I studied and worked on my design an hour before work started and after my daughter went to sleep. I’m not saying I’m anything amazing at all all I am saying is if you realistically look at your time you’ll find opportunities to do it and lie the Eric Thomas video I mentioned above you question yourself do I want it more than X and very often you’ll work out what’s really important whilst still spending time with significant others in your life, working successfully and not burning yourself out.
  • The more I learn for the VCDX the more I realise how little I know
    • Welcome to the club. As I covered above about doing it for what i believe are the right reasons the VCDX journey will expose you to so much technology and options and people who have experience in so many things you might have little to no experience in. You will learn LOADS along the path to VCDX and I will be honest with you even after passing the VCDX I realised how little I still knew and how much I still had to continually learn. The below image explains this for me perfectly

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    • I have massive imposter syndrome around being a VCDX and I have spoken to numerous others who say the exact same thing. I’m not sure if it will ever go away and I think it’s a very common thing so if you think being a VCDX means you know everything and don’t experience the feeling of having to “fake it until you make it” then it just is not true, no one can know everything and everyone is having to continually learn new things and there will always be people who know things better than you do, it’s the profession we’ve chosen to be a part of. A great piece I saw recently about imposter syndrome from Neil Gaiman is the below:
    • imposter

If you are looking to do the VCDX then I would highly recommend it, certainly speak to your significant other around the work that needs to go into it as it does take dedication and depending on your progress for a submission package and your skillset can require you to spend time learning but with dedication and work it is certainly achievable.

Good luck on your journey and I hope some of the advice above helps.

Gregg


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My First VMware Certification #vExpert NSX

The VMware vExpert NSX program is running a community blog series and this post is about my first VMware certification.

Why did you decide to take your first test and what was your motivation?

I had been allocated to look after the VMware 3.5 estate of my old company and decided that trying to pass the VCP3.5 was the best way for me to learn VMware. I followed this up with the VCP4 which had been released around the same time in quick succession to help me learn what was coming in the next version.

What was your journey for the first test?

The VCP3.5 was my first one but due to me doing the VCP4 almost immediately after the journey actually merged covering both which I blogged about on my blog here https://thesaffageek.co.uk/2009/12/02/vmware-certified-professional-vsphere-passed/ . VMware was very new to me then but the community was in it’s relative infancy in 2009 and twitter had a small but hard-core group that I loved being a part of and learning from some of the famous pioneers like Scott Lowe, Duncan Epping and Frank Denneman to name but a few. My preparing for the exam started off my interest and now continued link to writing up the study resources (Part 1 and Part 2 ) I used for the exams which became very popular and actually led me to getting my first vExpert the year after.

Were you nervous, how did you study?

I was very nervous as I actually mentioned in my posting for VCP4 as the technology was very new to me as I had up until that point been a Microsoft fan boy having done the MCP’s and MCSE’s and virtualisation plus what it could do was in it’s infancy (at least in my opinion then) . How i studied for it had been covered in the blog postings I mentioned earlier around the VCP4 (Part 1 and Part 2 ) and the methods I followed then I still follow largely today around using multiple techniques to learnt he material such as books, podcasts, CBT and good old lab time. I also had much more time then to read blogs announcing the latest features or what people were having issues with and how they fixed them. This interest in learning what issues people had and how they fixed them as well as trying to help people with issues drew me into the VMware communities and which led me to become Master status and being asked to become a VMware communities moderator.

How did it benefit your career as well as your community?

Immense amounts as just reading the posting around my passing the VCP4 reminds me how much I’ve learnt over the time from doing those exams as a junior IT Technician freshly “off the boat” from South Africa to a Cloud Practice Solution Lead and VCDX #205. The community involvement was what really got me excited and I made some great vFriends whom I am still very friendly with as well as countless others from VMUG’s to VMworld’s to Twitter to the communities to now being part of the vBrownbag crew that I learnt so much from in the early days. The VMware community was amazing then and even though some people have moved onto other things that ethos is still around and is something I personally try give back to the community.

Knowing what you know today, what are some of the pain points in this certification that you can share with your audience?

It varies based on the level of the VMware certification you are going for. For the VCP it is now much easier to learn about the technology as there is a sheer abundance of resources out there to learn from whereas the amount in the 3.5 days was much less although the suite of products and amount of features were much less then so I think it balances out somewhat. As with any certification it is about spending the time understanding it and for me as I’ve mentioned before I sometimes find different methods of learning it helps explain it better as sometimes reading page after page of a book can make you lose focus but a video by the vBrownbag where you hear it from someone in the community can keep your interest much more and maybe even explain it in terms you would have never thought of.

 

If you are going for the VCP6 then why not have a look at my study resources page and good luck on the journey. If you told me in those VCP3.5 days that I would be a VCDX doing enterprise level work like I am now I would have never believed you. Also with so many paths such as NV,DTM and CMA the amount of amazing technology you can learn to advance you career never mind the integrations with Openstack, AWS and Azure it’s still an exciting time to being doing virtualisation.

Gregg


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Why do you want the #VCDX certification?

A recent twitter comment or should I say declaration by Craig Kilborn reminded me that I wanted to write a posting about doing the VCDX for the right reasons (Disclaimer: this is my opinion and if you disagree then that is perfectly fine). Also I am really looking forward to the posting Craig is going to put out as he was and still is one of the most prepped people I know for the VCDX defences yet sadly failed it.

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When people come up to me at conferences or VMUG’s and chat to me about my VCDX journey and my achieving the VCDX certification and state they are looking to start the journey towards getting a VCDX number I always ask them one initial question: Why do you want the VCDX certification? The VCDX and path has been an amazing experience and learning curve for me and I know many many others and I personally feel you should do it for the cliché reason of “for the journey and not the destination” as the amount you need to learn and the breadth of not just technical skills but also public speaking, white boarding skills, stress management skills and the biggest one I had – realising how little you actually know and still need to learn is the best reason to do it. I know I ruffled a few VCDX feathers on a Geek Whisperers podcast appearance I did where I stated that getting the VCDX won’t always mean you will get a top role at VMware or get that six figure salary or automatically get that promotion. But the skills you have learnt and perfected along the way to obtaining your VCDX might bring some of those. I still believe this and if you do it for those reasons you might be disappointed once you get your number.

I use certifications to force myself to learn new technologies and for me the VCDX track was something that was going to push me to learn VMware technologies to a level only a certain amount of people globally had “proven”  this level of knowledge. What I didn’t realise was that the VCDX was going to force me to not just know VMware technologies to an expert level but also all the supporting technologies around it and how the VCDX requires people to have a very strong holistic understanding of all the technologies in a solution and how differing decisions can/would have impacts on the success of the design/solution. So even though this might sound a level that is daunting to you (it was certainly for me and to be honest it still is a work in  progress due to the ever changing landscape of IT) the amount you learn about all the supporting technologies, from people also aiming for the certification as well as the community around it is priceless and for me has been the main “prize” of doing the VCDX.

Last year October I defended a vRealize Automation design I had done in my spare time for a real world customer along with the infamous Rene van den Bedem and Andrea Siviero to hopefully obtained my VCDX6-CMA. I was ultimately unsuccessful in this attempt but gained an untold amount of experience not just from building a VCDX level design for vRA along with the required supporting documentation but again realising where there were gaps in my knowledge that needed to be filled. One of these was NSX where I knew a certain working level but in hindsight I naively  should have realised the amount NSX played a part in our solution and even though the defence was about vRA the impacts on the decisions and design we had made for NSX was a direct influencer on if the solution succeeded or failed. From this I have been up skilling on NSX and last week Friday I passed the first step in this by obtaining my VCP6-NV. I will also most likely resubmit for my VCDX6-CMA in the future because 1. I seem to be a masochist and 2. I fully believe a quote from a video I used to watch in prep for my VCDX-DCV second defence of “Pain is temporary, it may last for a minute, or an hour, or a day or even a year but it will subside, if you quit however the pain will last forever” and I can’t help myself but want to complete what I started or else I am accepting the failure. From needing to better my knowledge of NSX I have seen a direct impact and benefit to my role as a Solution Lead in Dell EMC’s Cloud Practice and the methods I learnt and used for my DCV and CMA submissions have proven untold benefit on the deliveries I have had to produce on projects I have worked on.

I’ve possibly been as clear as mud in this posting but my main personal thoughts and opinions about wanting to go for the VCDX are:

  1. Do it as it has been an amazing learning experience and continues to be for me.
  2. Don’t be afraid to fail it as for me it has been the best way to truly show me where I need to be better.
  3. Do it to be a better architect and have a more well rounded knowledge as the IT landscape is forever changing and you never know when one of those supporting technology skills will maybe get your foot in the door to a new exciting opportunity
  4. The community around the VCDX is amazing and 98% of VCDX’s are more than willing to help you along your journey but you have to take the initiative as no one is going to carry you. As Rebecca Fitzhugh a relatively recent VCDX wrote about, a good mentor never coaches you but challenges, encourages and provides “wisdom” when needed.
  5. There is a fair likelihood that once you achieve the VCDX your company and/or boss will have no idea what it really means and most recruiters are more excited about someone being a vExpert than a VCDX but the skills you learnt in the journey towards VCDX will be what might get you that new role or promotion but don’t do the certification for those reasons as you might be disappointed that not much changes initially if possibly at all once you get a VCDX number. It’s actually one of the reasons I ask “ Life after the VCDX?  How did your company respond?  Was it worth it?” in my VCDX Spotlight postings as for most the change is minor and might only happen a fair time later.
  6. There is a substantial amount of personal time and effort that goes into the journey and if you don’t use it for all the lessons along the way then once you achieve it you might be saddened by what is behind the Wizard of VCDX’s curtain.

If you are realistically aiming for the VCDX(You have the VCAp’s/VCIX in your chosen track or are on the cusp of having them) then I run a VCDXPrepGroup slack channel where people also aiming for the VCDX can work together and where we have almost a dozen VCDX mentors covering all four of the tracks. Message me and I’ll add you to the group but be warned the group won’t give you anything that will break the NDA’s and you won’t be supplied people’s VCDX submissions so you will have to put in the work, the group just provides the platform to get some valuable feedback and link you to fellow VCDX Wannabe’s.

Lastly good luck to those that defended VCDX this week (a fair few from the slack group) and for those aiming for future defences good luck on the journey.

Gregg