Category Archives: VCDX

Returning to the Scene of the Crime – My VCDX Design Customer

A few weeks ago, I had the privilege of returning to the customer that was the subject of my VCDX Design Defense.

First, let’s travel back into time. It was mid-December, 2008. I was a VMware Delivery Engineer for my company at the time. The customer engagement was a VMware Plan and Design delivery. I had the audacity to design a virtual datacenter running ESXi 3.5.0 Update 2 on HP BladeSyStem servers booting from USB sticks. The Virtual Center server was a VM. This was my fourth or fifth Plan and Design engagement with my company, so it was a piece of cake to me. Read more »

My VMware VCAP4-DCD BETA Exam Experience

Yesterday, I took the VCAP4-DCD beta exam (VDCD410), like many others have done this week. There is a thread started already in the communities forum. Just like previous beta exams with VMware, I had to take the exam at a Pearson-owned facility. There are a few within an hour of me, so I didn’t need to fly anywhere.  It’s funny, Jason Boche mentions that he couldn’t take coffee into the testing center. The person at the facility where I took the exam said no food, drink, candy, etc. The center where I usually take exams is more laid back and are OK with coffee as long as there is a lid. In fact, they offer to sell you bottled water to take in with you. VMware only requires a finger print scan and a photo with the two forms of ID. I noticed some people were getting their hand vein patterns recorded. Crazy.

Passing the VCAP4-DCD exam is one of the requirements for anyone, including a VCDX3, to achieve the VCDX4 certification. So passing this exam is very important to me.

VCDX 4 Paths

The Exam

The beta exam was 131 questions/tasks with four hours to complete. (There was a guy before me that was taking a test that lasts 630 minutes!) I would think that some of these may get cast off as improper, too easy or too hard. If all of the questions prove to be OK, then VMware has a nice, fair pool of design questions. I would also think that the “GA” exam will only be a portion of these questions.

There are three types of questions or tasks: The standard multiple guess questions, a few “match the object to a category” drag and drop tasks and a few diagramming tasks.

Exam Content – What You Need to Know!

I am under countless NDAs on this, so there will be no “scoops” here. I can say that the exam is true to the Blueprint. Rather than giving a direct link to the PDF, which could change, I will tell you to go to www.vmware.com/go/vcap. Click on the “Datacenter Design” tab. There is a link to the current blueprint there. It was just changed to fix an issue with broken hyperlinks. There are also links to a FAQ, the VCAP Communities landing page and a link to a demo of the diagramming tool.

Make sure you read and understand all of the documents and web pages that are linked in the blueprint. VMware leaves no stone unturned. I would not advise trying to memorize all of the content listed in the blueprint, your head would explode. Just comprehend what you read. Much of this is conceptual and revolves around the methodology and best practices GUIDANCE that VMware chooses to publish.

Make sure you take a look at the VCAP4-DCD Exam UI Demo. This is the exam version of a Visio tool. One of my complaints about the VI3 Design Exam was the quality of the diagramming tool. It is greatly improved in this exam. In the VCAP4-DCD beta exam, there were more than one diagramming task. I don’t think VMware is looking for the Mona Lisa. This is more of a “show your work” kind of thing. The diagramming tasks are not that complex and will only cover a few design criteria in each task.

Since this is a DESIGN exam, there are plenty of scenarios that involve capacity planning. Since you will not have any tools available to do your work, you will need to understand the math involved in capacity planning.  There is a simple calculator available via a link at the top of the screen. You will also need to understand the math involved with calculating HA, DRS, reservations, shares and limits.

Finally, with the beta, there was a time constraint. I think I had about 10 or 15 minutes left when I was done. Make sure you manage your time. There was no “back” button and there was no way to mark questions or tasks for review in the beta exam. This may or may not hold true for the “GA” exam. Remember: If there is no “back” button or way to mark a question, make sure you are OK with your answer before clicking the “next” button. I clicked it a few times as I was thinking “Maybe I should read that again….”

My Soapbox Moment

I don’t want to “toot my own horn” or sound arrogant here, but I purposely did not “study” for this exam. I did read the blueprint and skim some of the documents. The hyperlinks were broken in the 1.2 version and I didn’t try to find them too hard. I didn’t study for the VCAP4-DCA exam either (I passed by the skin of my teeth!). In my (humble) opinion, the exams require that you have EXPERIENCE in the subject of the exam. I don’t think VMware intends to have “paper VCAPs” although I am sure there will eventually be some out there.

If you want to pass the VCAP4-DCA exam, you should have experience managing a vSphere environment. If you want to pass the VCAP4-DCD exam, you should have experience in designing at least one vSphere environment. You need to go through the thought processes involved in the ASSESS – DESIGN – IMPLEMENT – MANAGE cycle. I am sure that the design workshop will assist you in gaining the knowledge and some experience in designing a vSphere environment, but it won’t give you everything you need for passing this exam. Certainly, if you want to progress to the final step and submit and defend a design, you will need EXPERIENCE. This is why there is such a high fail rate for the design defense.

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.

VCDX and VCP4

Monday was my first day at VMworld. I didn’t attend any sessions, but I did defend a design for my VCDX and I took the VCP4 Certification test. After that, I tried to attend the View Advanced Config and Troubleshooting Lab, but the line was huge, even for registered users. The one nice thing about being a registered VMworld attendee is that all of the materials eventually make it to the VMworld site and I can download the LAB and do it on my own time. So someone on the wait list probably took my spot.

Ok, on to the VCDX Design Defense. First off, its pricey, so make sure you are serious. The defense is the final step in the process for VCDX. I reported to the VMware San Fransisco office at the appointed time Monday morning. My facilitator came out to greet me and explain the process. Then I met the Uber Geeks (I mean that in a good way) from VMware. These guys were the first to recieve the VCDX certification and they really know their stuff. They regularly host the more advanced sessions at VMworld and Partner Exchange. The first part is to spend 15 minutes giving an executive presentation about your design, then you spend about an hour “defending” that design. Once that is done, there is a hypothetical design scenario and a hypothetical troubleshooting scenario. They guys were great and it was a really good experience. Hopefully, I will hear the results in a few weeks.

The VCP4 Test was similar to the VCP3. Questions were added for new features and the new maximum configurations were in there. I glanced at the blueprint last week and it seems to be a pretty good indication of what you will need to know to pass. The systems were slow as hell on Monday. Usually with multiple guess tests, I rifle through the questions and answer them using my gut. I will mark a few as I go along if I am unsure weather my gut is giving me an answer or if it is just gas. It took about a minute for each question to load after I hit the next button. So it took over an hour for me to get through it instead of the usual 15-30 minutes. Very frustrating, but hey, no I are one!