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VCP 5 Exam Thoughts and Experience

September 26, 2011 Leave a comment Go to comments

A little over a year ago, at VMworld 2010 in San Francisco, I took and passed the VCP 4 exam. This was my first VMware exam and at the time was based on vSphere 4.0. It was a hard test, no getting around that, but I felt it was pretty fair overall. As the test has now been upgraded to vSphere 5, I was curious to see how the exam had evolved over two generations (4.1 and 5). I’ve outlined some of my thoughts below and also included some resources that are useful for those studying for the exam.

VCP 4 Upgrade path
image

(taken from VMware.com)

First let’s start with a quick discussion on the upgrade path, which has been somewhat of a debate in the community lately. VMware has a requirement of taking a certified, week-long course in addition to passing the VCP exam in order to become a VCP. This course is definitely a barrier to entry for some as the cost of it is around $2000.

Normally, if you are a VCP 3 or 4, you will need to take a “VMware vSphere: What’s New” course in addition to passing the exam to become a VCP 5. However, VMware has waived this requirement until February 29th, 2012 for VCP 4’s. So, if you’re a VCP 4, get out there and take the exam now!

VCP510 Exam Experience

I’ve taken a handful of industry certification tests from some of the major vendors (VMware, Cisco, Microsoft, etc.) and I think that VMware’s tests are some of the best for assessing real-world skills. To me, one of the marks of a good test is not just making you memorize numbers and specifications, but presenting questions that require you to use the knowledge that you’ve gained via studying in real-world situations. It’s one thing to memorize the entire vSphere 5 configuration maximums (you should be familiar with them nonetheless), but to make you go a little further and think how these affect other pieces in an environment is the more useful information.

Without breaking any of the NDA restrictions, I actually felt like the VCP 5 exam tested more on real-world knowledge and actual implementation questions than the VCP 4 test did. VMware did a good job of taking some realistic situations and then mapping the blueprint objectives and skills to these. I felt that the VCP 4 had a lot more of the straight memorization of numbers or more marketing/cloud intro material and this test moved away from that a bit. This was a welcome change as I feel the exam has a lot more practical value this way.

The test was 85 multiple-choice questions and you had 90 minutes to complete it. I felt like this was plenty of time and was done a little early, but I’m usually a quick test-taker so take that with a grain of salt.

I’ll say it straight out, this test is not easy. You absolutely need to have hands on experience using vSphere 5 or you will have a tough time with this test. As much information as there is in the PDF’s, there’s just something about knowing the interface and components from actually performing the tasks rather than just reading about them. This can also help you narrow down answers as you know which ones don’t fit based on actual usage. The PDF’s really only tell you one right answer whereas experience tells you which answers you can eliminate. For questions that have multiple answers that seem like they could be correct, this type of experience is valuable to help focus in on the best answer.

One mistake that I’ve heard a few people who were studying for this exam make is glossing over some of the installation/deployment sections. While it may seem like a lot of the focus of the exam topics are operational, you still have to know the install procedure for vCenter server. Likewise, know how each product is deployed, whether it be virtual appliances or installing on top of Windows. I’ll say this a few times, but don’t overlook some of the smaller details!

Another element that I like about this test is that it forces you to become familiar with some of the vSphere features you may not use on a daily basis. I used to work for a small company, so I didn’t get to use features such as NUMA, NPIV, or even FC storage. However, the exam tests you on features that are used across environments large and small. This means you get a much better exposure than you might normally get in your daily job. This is a perfect opportunity to get things working in your home lab. Or for those features that you can’t (I wish I had FC in my lab!), that’s when it’s time to hit the books and ask your peers!

Official Study Resources

Your first source of information should be the VCP 5 blueprint, located here:
http://mylearn.vmware.com/register.cfm?course=103110

Additionally, the blueprint links to all of the official VMware docs in PDF format. These are must reads and map directly to the blueprint! A direct link to the vSphere 5 Documentation Center is here: http://pubs.vmware.com/vsphere-50/index.jsp

http://mylearn.vmware.com/quiz.cfm?item=24908&ui=www_cert – VCP 5 mock exam. This is VMware’s official mock exam with some practice questions to try before taking the test.

Books:

Mastering VMware vSphere 4 – Scott Lowe
http://www.amazon.com/Mastering-VMware-vSphere-Computer-Tech/dp/0470481382/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1316826328&sr=8-1

This is still the vSphere 4 version (Scott’s vSphere 5 update is coming the end of October), but it’s a great reference that covers a lot of the material on the blueprint in depth.

VMware vSphere 5 Clustering Technical Deepdive – Frank Denneman and Duncan Epping

http://www.amazon.com/VMware-vSphere-Clustering-Technical-Deepdive/dp/1463658133/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1316826399&sr=1-1

This is the resource on HA/DRS and all things clustering. There have been major changes in HA between vSphere 4 and vSphere 5, so definitely check this one out to get up to speed!

Other Helpful Sites:

http://damiankarlson.com/category/vsphere-5/ – Damian has put together some great posts on some of the newer vSphere 5 features and also some VCP 5 resources.

http://www.yellow-bricks.com/vmware-high-availability-deepdiv/

http://www.boche.net/blog/index.php/tag/vsphere/

http://blog.scottlowe.org/2009/11/27/understanding-npiv-and-npv/ – When I was first starting to learn some of the networking and FC components and how they fit into VMware, Scott’s post on NPIV was very helpful!

http://jasonnash.com/2011/08/11/vsphere-5-how-to-series-vds-port-mirroring/

http://www.simonlong.co.uk/blog/vcp5-practice-exams/ – Simon has created both VCP 4 and VCP 5 practice tests. Definitely give these a try before the exam to see if you are on track with your studying.

I’ve linked to a few specific posts on these blogs, but just browse around and check the others out as they all have excellent vSphere-related content!

Also, if anyone has any resources to add to my list, please post them in the comments and I’ll be sure to include them!

Home Lab Tips

Nothing groundbreaking here, but just a few tips for those starting out with home labs and looking for studying advice.

Get two hosts if you can! You can even do this by virtualizing two instances of ESXi in VMware Workstation. Version 8 now supports nested 64-bit guests, so this opens a lot of possibilities! I have it running on my desktop and it works great. Either way though, try to build a setup with two hosts. There are just too many things you’ll miss out on by not having that second host.

Build out some common scenarios or designs and walk through the configuration of these. I’m currently studying for the VCAP-DCD, so I’ve been using some of those designs as examples and building them out. It always helps to have some examples like this where you can configure things end-to-end.

Lastly, break things! It’s your home lab, not production! Sometimes the situations when we learn the most are by fixing something that is broken. Try configuring something and if it doesn’t work, step through the process and figure out what happened and what was wrong. When you eventually fix the problem, you’ll have a much better understanding of the troubleshooting and of each component that you’ve worked with along the way.

Final Thoughts

I did pass the exam and am now a VCP 5. I have 5 years of hands-on experience administrating/using VMware and it still was not easy! Definitely make sure you know all of the topics on the blueprint. Also, don’t overlook things that you think may not be important. I think that practical knowledge is key here and not only being able to understand the concepts from the blueprint, but also how to use them. Finally, nothing beats hands-on! Get a home lab up and running if you haven’t already and play around with this stuff! It’s the best way to learn!

Best of luck to all those taking the test! I’d love to hear your thoughts!

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