Name: Jonathan Kemp
Twitter Handle: @ActuallyVirtual
Blog URL: http://www.actuallyvirtual.co.uk
VCDX #: 100
How did you get into using VMware?
It all started about April 2008 when the company was looking to setup a brand new branch office. This was for about 120 people and my first design brief was “Can we do anything interesting with virtual desktops?” At that point I had only been with the company 6 months and my virtualisation experience consisted of a MS Virtual PC machine I used to test SMS packages. I did a quick search on virtual desktops and came across VMware’s VDI 2.5 solution. I was able to setup a small test lab using a couple of desktops and an old server running a virtual iSCSI san appliance. Up to that point the company had run entirely traditional desktops and server environments with local storage.
Having proven that it was possible, the first design was a bit of a stab in the dark as far as requirements were concerned. I was able to get the company to send me on the VI 3.5 Fast Track course, which was really well done with a great trainer and great facilities to do the exercises on. This really helped with improving the desktop design and migrating our datacentre over to virtualisation.
What made you decide to do the VCDX?
It was after I took the VCP 3 that I read about the VCDX certification. I made the decision then that I wanted to work towards that goal although I knew it would take some time.
I attended the vSphere 4 Design Workshop course to get a better understanding of the method that should be used to design infrastructures. At that point with the newly released VCAP certificates being made available I really began working towards the VCDX goal I had set. I took the VCAP-DCD first as the design course was still fairly fresh in my mind and the DCA was the exam I was dreading the most (and still do). Once I had both of these under my belt it was really down to finding the ideal design to use for the VCDX itself, which took a little while.
How long did it take you to complete the whole VCDX journey?
The whole journey took about 4 years, although in reality it was probably only the last two years that I was able to think of it as a possibility. I had read the blueprints for both the VCDX 3 and 4 and realised that I wasn’t going to be ready for 3 and needed a lot more practical experience for 4. I had got the pre-requisite certifications for VCDX 4 done by the end of 2011 and then it was down to choosing the right design to submit. This was the bit that took a bit of time as I wanted the submission to be as real a design as possible. Although a wholly fictitious design is possible, it is easier to defend decisions based on real requirements and constraints. Finally in August 2012 I had a design I felt was a good candidate with a few minor changes to cover the requirements in the blueprint. I spent about 3 weeks solidly working on completing the design documents to fit the requirements. I spent a lot of time reading the blogs of existing VCDX holders and the tips on the VMware site, trying to put all that advice into practice.
I submitted and defended the design at Barcelona in October 2012 and happily, along with seven others, received confirmation I had achieved VCDX about two weeks later.
What advice would you give to people thinking of pursuing the VCDX accreditation?
Firstly go for it. The whole process is worth it.
Lots of research. Read the experiences of others who have already been through the process, there is a wealth of advice out there. Also read the advice tips given on the VMware site, especially the tips on what not to do.
Read the blueprint. Read it again and then again. Make certain your design covers the objectives, adding to your original design if necessary.
Plan your time and then possibly double it to allow for unforeseen problems.
Peer review. Get as many people to read through your documents as possible and I would say get a mix of technical experts and non technical people. Can someone with little or no experience understand your design and see why they would implement your design? You may be asking them to make a big investment.
Run some mock defences. Again I would say try to include someone who is not technical on the panel. A non technical person may well ask you to explain something that a technical person will take for granted. Try and keep to the real time limits so you get a feeling for how quickly it passes. Remember you have to defend all aspects of the design so, for example, why did you do X? Could you have done Y differently?
Print your documents out and proof read them, both by yourself and someone else. Get yourself a red pen and be ruthless.
Finally, if you have the opportunity, attend a VCDX boot camp. I attended the one in Barcelona two days before my defence and I can say it made a huge difference on the day.
If you could do the whole VCDX journey again what would you do differently?
Not much, knowing my own personality. I should have started the design submission documentation earlier and made time for a mock defence or two.
Life after the VCDX? How did your company respond? Was it worth it
The company, I think, is a little unsure of what it all means but my colleagues were certainly impressed. I am encouraging our other VCPs to begin the journey themselves and put the lessons I have learned into greater practice.
Was it worth it? Categorically yes. The process was, for me, more a personal goal rather than something I felt was professionally required. Had I not been successful at Barcelona then I would definitely have been back for another try.