My VCAP-DCA Exam Experience

In case you have been living under a rock and haven’t heard, VMware is getting ready to release a new set of advanced certification exams that will take you along the path to become a VMware Certified Design Expert on vSphere 4 (VCDX4). Just like VCDX3, it starts with the requirement of being a VMware Certified Professional on vSphere 4 (VCP). You will then need to pass two exams before being able to submit and defend your design. VMware has decided to award new certification statuses for passing these exams. The exam to become a  VMware Certified Advanced Professional on vSphere 4 – Datacenter Administration (VCAP-DCA) is currently finishing up its beta run. The exam to become a VMware Certified Advanced Professional on vSphere 4 – Datacenter Design (VCAP-DCD) is not yet in beta. The path to achieve VCDX4 status is laid out on VMware’s site and is illustrated below:

Just like Jason Boche, William Lam and Duncan Epping, I had the privilege of taking the beta version exam. As you can see from the upgrade path, I am not required to take the exam to obtain the VCDX4, but I am a glutton for punishment I guess. Also, not having it as a requirement took some of the pre-test jitters off of me. At first, scheduling conflicts prevented me from being able to sit for the exam within VMware’s original deadline. However, I got a call on June 17th that I could take it on July 2nd. Wow…a two week notice, and on my only scheduled day off since April. But I eagerly accepted the invite. Because of the limited notice and the fact that I was juggling a few projects at the same time I debated even studying for the exam. An unscientific survey on twitter showed that 4 out of 4 followers recommended that I study for the exam. I don’t want to come across as arrogant or as a “know-it-all.” My argument here is that I am already a VCDX, I should know this stuff.  My schedule and my severe procrastination tendencies made me decide to do a little bit of review the night before.

Before I begin with my thoughts on the exam content, I want to express that I only had two “issues” with the exam experience itself. First a little bit of background: The exam consists of 41 “questions”, which are actually multifaceted problems that you need to solve with the tools that are presented to you. You have 4.5 hours to complete the exam. The problems are presented in a familiar Vue test engine. You click a button to switch to a desktop session with a few of the typical tools used  to administer a vSphere environment. The issue was with the screen refresh for the GUI based tools. When I clicked on an item, sometimes all of the tabs are not presented properly or the content is not complete. This was pretty annoying and sometimes a hindrance. When I participated in the beta exam for the VI3 Advanced Administration Exam, I did not experience this. Hopefully, this will be cleared up before the exam becomes GA. I would think that a leader in desktop virtualization would have a method to avoid this type of thing. The second issue is a provision for breaks. You can take “unscheduled breaks” but I think the clock keeps ticking. It would be nice to actually have a scheduled break without a time penalty. As you get older, you NEED the breaks…

Now, on to the content. Forget about me actually telling you the actual content of the exam. The NDA prevents this and I want to participate in future beta exams. I got my VCDX3 via beta exams and I hope to get my VCDX4 this way!

I’ll admit it. Working primarily in the SMB market limits your skills a bit. I am not as exposed to some of the more advanced features of vSphere 4 as I used to be when I worked in an “enterprise” market.  I skipped a couple of problems because of this. I intended to return to them, but the clock ran out before I could. The problems were a very good compendium of the advanced skills required of a more senior VMware Administrator. It was the toughest exam that I have ever taken. The second toughest was the VI3 Advanced Administration Exam. I thought the questions were very fair and there was nothing in the content that caused me any objections.

I was pretty relaxed when I started the exam, but started to PANIC during the last 30 minutes.

The one (personal) issue I have with this type of exam is that it measures you at a point in time on how much you have memorized. Since I don’t want to use an example of a problem that may be on a VMware exam, I will use one of my cars as an example here. Say, for instance that I am sitting in on the 1972 Ford Gran Torino Advanced Administration Exam…

Let’s say a question on the exam is to set the Ignition Points gap. This is something I did a few times on several cars. I know where to find the ignition points. I know how to set the gap. I have the proper tools to do it.  But I don’t know what that setting should be. In the REAL world, I would look it up in a manual or on Google. And I looked up the setting every time I did it. Would I fail the test because I know HOW to do it, but don’t know the proper setting? Probably. My teenie brain can’t hold all of this information – especially with all of the Monty Python references in there, not to mention the words for almost every song by Rush and Iron Maiden…

My Advice

Back on track… Echoing Duncan, Jason and William,  I have a few tips to offer for this exam:

  1. Read the Exam Blueprint. Perform each task listed in the blueprint a few times, so you know HOW to do it. You DO have access to “–help” and man pages during the exam if you are stumped. However, refer to item #3.
  2. Build a LAB! You will need it for item #1. You don’t have to go out and buy servers and storage. All you need is a reasonably fast 64bit PC or laptop with a decent amount of RAM. Some things may be slow, but you will get through it. You can make an ESX server in a VM. Use VMware Player or VMware Workstation to host your lab VMs. Every VMware product in the blueprint is either free or has an evaluation period. Didn’t you get a free VMware Workstation license with your VCP?
  3. Manage your time! I ran out of it. You have the opportunity to go back. Skip questions if you don’t know how to do it or think it will take a while. The other thing I noticed was that, since the exam is using a live lab environment, the tasks happen in real time. During my panic state, I started to multitask and work on more than one problem at a time. Instead of clicking “Next” and waiting for the task to complete, click “Next” and start on the next problem. Juggle two or three problems. Use your dry erase board to keep track of skipped problems and multitasking. I am not very fast with my typing and I am constantly mixing up letters in words. I call it “typing dyslexia” and it doesn’t help me in these situations!

I don’t know if I passed this one. I am a little bit pessimistic at this time. I will find out in “4-6 weeks”, but that is VMware Time… Good luck to all that have or are planning to take this exam.

Leave a comment ?


  1. Good point there at the end about multitasking the questions. I also ran out of time on this exam. Sensing the time issue towards the end, I began multitasking. Had I known there would be a time issue, I would have spent less time earlier on on certain tasks where I was spinnging my wheels. I missed some low hanging fruit at the end as a result. Bummer. The car was a great analogy for this exam!

  2. Hello Dave,

    i curently passed VCE310 and i am wondering could i continue with my certification on becoming a VCDX3 and afterwards just pass the VCAP-DCD4 and become VCDX4 certified also?


  3. @Bozo Popovic
    From the way that I read the chart from VMware, if you have your VCDX3 and VCP4, then taking the VCAP-DCD4 will make you a VCDX4. Good luck!

  4. VCAP-DCA Study Break - pingback on August 24, 2010 at 7:07 am
  5. Hi Dave,
    Man what a very insightful blog on the VCAP. I just got my VCP yesterday and I am pretty ambitious about attaining this cert as well. This stuff has always been a dream for me but at times seems daunting due to my lack of inexperience. I currently support one of the largest virtual infrastructures in the United States but just dont have a lot of hands in it. Again, mostly support. Hopefully I can get some time to throw a lab together and begin going through that blueprint. Thanks again and appreciate your helpful feedback!

    Oh did you pass???

  6. Dave,

    So you got the result and let everyone know?


  7. @Chadwick King


    Sorry for the delayed response guys! I did not get the results back. I can say that many of us were asked to retake the exam during VMworld because of some of the glitches that occurred during the first round of the beta. The content of the exam was exactly the same and the time restrictions were also the same.

  8. Dave,

    Good luck, and let us know your experience.

    I’m planning to take it by End of the Year or early next year (depending upon availability)


  9. I took the VCAP-DCA beta a VMWorld 2010. Like Dave, I’m waiting on the results.

    Folks, that test is HARD. I feel confident that I passed but man I took up every second of the time they gave me..

    Oh, BTW, you had better make sure you know the vMA. You WILL be using it. Also, the test is ESX and ESXi 4.0… 4.1 is not covered.

  10. Rick,

    Thanks for your input. Good luck!


  11. OOP! I forgot to update this!

    I DID pass the exam! YAY!

    I took it a second time at VMworld because of issues with screen refreshes in the first round of the beta. I was contacted just before VMworld.

    One of the nice things I can report is that all of the relevant documentation in PDF format is available to you during the exam.

  12. Congrats Dave.

    “One of the nice things I can report is that all of the relevant documentation in PDF format is available to you during the exam” – What ?? did you mean we can review the PDF’s during exam? !! Yippie.


  13. @Sanjai
    That is correct. All of the relevant documentation is available. You also have access to the normal help files within the client and man pages from within the vMA and the ESX console.

  14. vChat – Episode 13 – VMware Certifications – VCP, VCAP, VCDX - pingback on December 3, 2010 at 11:19 pm
  15. VMware VCAP Preparation Tips and Study Resources - pingback on January 20, 2011 at 1:21 am
  16. VCAP-DCA Exam Experiencies « "V" for Virtualization - pingback on February 14, 2011 at 2:18 pm
  17. It is possible to attend VCAP4-DCA without attending training from authorized training provider?
    I’ve cleared VCP4, but not attended autorized training.

  18. @Vivek
    Yes! The VCAP4-DCA and VCAP4-DCD exams can be taken without needing to attend classroom training. I personally think that the only way to pass these is with on the job or some similar form of hands-on experience.


  19. VCAP4-DCA Passed ! « vEra of the Virtual Revolution - pingback on March 1, 2011 at 5:33 am
  20. Can anyone post the toughest question faced during the exam? I mean the exact question…

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