VCAP5-DCD In The Books – Exam Experience

June 18, 2012 2 comments

I took the VCAP5-DCD exam on Friday and wanted to write up a post on my experience and thoughts of the test. Hopefully this helps if you are preparing for the exam with a few takeaways and tips that I came out with.

We’ll start this post with a story about a unique experience I had while taking this test. I normally go to a New Horizons testing center which is much closer to my house, but this exam was only being offered in Boston so I didn’t have a choice on location. I noticed a lot of people in the streets around the testing center when I went in, but didn’t think much of it. Well, about an hour into the test it was clear that a protest was going on outside. This was accompanied by megaphones, an angry yelling crowd, and lots of police sirens. Needless to say, it was extremely distracting while trying to take the test. They gave us ear plugs when we went in (before the protest started) and I thought it was a little unnecessary. Guess the joke was on me when everyone put them in during the yelling!

Back to the actual exam though, I thought it was one of the more challenging, but well put together tests I’ve taken recently. I know my thoughts echo those that others have posted, but time is definitely one of the biggest challenges for this exam. I finished the exam with 3 seconds left on the clock, although that includes about 20 minutes of time I lost due to the computer which I’ll explain later. Definitely budget your time though! Have a plan going in on how much time you’ll spend on each question and stick to it!

I planned to spend about 20 minutes on each of the diagramming questions and tried to stick to that. I actually did them as they came up and didn’t leave them for later as others had suggested. Looking back, I think I would flag them and leave them for the end. It’s easier when you can get into a rhythm with the other questions and you know at that point how much time you have left to complete all the diagrams.

A short note about the actual visio-like tool. I watched the UI demo beforehand so I knew what to expect when they came up (definitely do this!). What I didn’t account for was the machine I was on seemed to be running slow. The more elements I added to the design, it seemed to bog the system down a bit. I was on my second or third diagramming question and about 20 minutes into it, I had to add one more element and the entire machine locked up. It actually went as far as to bring it back to the login screen where the proctor has to come over. At this point I wasn’t sure if all of my previous work (2 hours worth) had been lost so I was freaking out a little bit inside. After the proctor logged me back in, my previous answers had been saved, but the diagram was empty so I had to start over. I lost about 20 minutes on that, so it made the whole experience a little bit more stressful Smile I’m not sure if this was due to a network issue or what, but it teaches you to always be ready for the unexpected! In general I think the UI worked well for the questions and I really liked this kind of format.

A tip about the exam environment: screen real estate can be key! On some questions, there would be an information box that I could show/hide and move around while still reading my options. On others however, it took up the entire screen. Now hopefully you’ll get a bigger LCD than I did, but if not, be prepared to take some notes!

Another skill that is important is being able to take a bunch of information given to you and pulling out the essential pieces or being able to map them to requirements and the design framework. I’ve had experience with this just doing interviews with customers on projects or reading requirements docs, but a great way to practice these is by reading case studies or customer scenarios. These will usually be packed with information and its good practice pulling out the most essential pieces. Also make sure you are familiar with VMware’s terminology and can translate a document into those terms.

I can’t go into the actual questions on the exam, but definitely know all of the areas on the blueprint! The test will cover all aspects of those and VMware did a good job of outlining everything that was fair game. Also, I know this has been said before in other posts, but study the corner cases! I ran into this with a few of the blueprint items where I had less experience implementing the feature or product. Identify ahead of time the areas you have less experience that are on the blueprint and take some time to look them over. Set them up in your lab as well so you know them in and out. This will make it much easier if you have to include them in a design!

Overall, I really liked this exam and the types of questions and topics it focused on. I like that it had more than just the normal multiple choice (select one or select many), but also the matching questions and visio-like diagramming. This format can really give a good variety of questions and assess your skillset in different ways. Definitely spend some time in the lab on features you aren’t as familiar with, but experience designing VMware environments here is essential too. That’s one thing you can’t get from the study materials unfortunately, so it helps to have been through these before. If you aren’t doing this every day with customers, the VMware community is great for this! Bounce some design ideas off others or come up with a scenario and run through it with your peers. It really helps to talk through it and get feedback!

The 4 hours actually flew by for me on this exam! I clicked the end review button with 3 seconds to go and received the news that I had passed! Excited and relieved were two feelings that came to mind! Now onto VCAP5-DCA!

I’ve put together a list of some good resources that I used and would recommend in your studies:

  • VMware vSphere Design – This is a fantastic resource and really the only book out there right now that focuses on vSphere design.
  • VMware vSphere 5 Clustering Technical Deepdive – HA and clustering have been completely redesigned in vSphere 5 and this is the most in-depth source out there. Read this one!
  • VCAP5-DCD Blueprint
  • VMware vSphere: Design Workshop [V5.x] – I did not actually take this course and it’s not required, but if you are looking for some classroom based learning, this course maps well to some of the exam objectives and I’ve heard good things about the v4 version of it.
  • DRBC Design – Disaster Recovery and Business Continuity Fundamentals – This is now a free course offered on MyLearn that goes into detail about using VMware solutions for BC/DR. It’s about 4 hours and worth your time if you aren’t as familiar with these concepts or to introduce you to the language/terms that VMware uses when talking about these subjects.
  • ProfessionalVMware vBrownBags – As always, the vBrownBags are a great resource here and the team has put together a podcast per VCAP objective. Check them out!
  • Exam UI Demo – Watch this one and make sure you are familiar with it! This is a video from VMware that demonstrates how the diagramming interface works so you are comfortable with it ahead of time. This can save you some precious minutes so you aren’t trying to figure out a new interface for the first time during the exam!

Also some blog posts that were helpful:

Hope this helps anyone out there who’s preparing for the exam and if you have any questions, feel free to post a comment or reach out on Twitter!

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Categories: Uncategorized

VMware vExpert 2012 – A Big Thank You!

April 17, 2012 Leave a comment

I received some awesome news this weekend. I am humbled and honored to be included among the vExperts for 2012. This is an award that recognizes members of what I believe is one the strongest communities across any vendor and technology. While the other names are far too many to list, to use a phrase, I am among giants. Check out the full list here: http://blogs.vmware.com/vmtn/2012/04/announcing-vexpert-2012-title-holders.html

This also serves as a reminder of how important the community is and how I enjoy giving back. Over the years I have had the support of many members from this group and I intend to do even more this year to give back. Make sure to hold me to that!

Congratulations to all the others for their hard work this year, it’s well deserved!

And lastly, a big thank you to VMware and all those involved in this great program!

VCP 5 BrownBag: Section 7

February 21, 2012 Leave a comment

Just a quick post tonight to share the link to tomorrow’s BrownBag session. Cody and Damian have been running a great series to get everyone prepped to take the VCP 5 exam. I wanted to help out and this week’s slot for a guest presenter was open, so I’ll be hosting! Please join me at 8PM EST/ 7PM CST where I’ll be talking about section 7- Monitor a vSphere Implementation and Manage vCenter Server Alarms. It’ll be mostly lab-focused since I hate to bore people with too many slides 🙂

You can register here: https://www1.gotomeeting.com/register/918511944

Hope everyone can join me! Feel free to ask lots of questions too!

Update: The recording of the presentation and slides can now be found over on Professional VMware and I’ve included a link below. Thanks again to everyone for joining!

http://professionalvmware.com/2012/02/brownbag-follow-up-vcp5-objective-7-with-btobia/

Categories: Uncategorized

Learning To Embrace Automation

February 13, 2012 Leave a comment

As I’m sitting here on a semi-snowy New England Saturday, I’m reminded of a question that my good friend and fellow colleague, Mike Foley, always poses. Can we write a PowerShell script for this?image

Automation and orchestration products, whether it be something like vCenter Orchestrator, or just simply leveraging PowerCLI for scripting, can really be of value to both a virtual environment and the team that manages it. My project for today was re-designing my lab infrastructure and included re-installing a lot of the vSphere components. I could make a list that is pages long of the manual configuration steps I’ve been running through. These steps are also prone to error. What if I’ve missed a setting on one host? Have I configured the portgroup differently on vSwitches? The point here is there’s a lot of room for error. Since I was aiming for consistency across my environment, an error here could come back to haunt me later.

In a previous life, I was a systems admin on a small team. I barely had time to manage day-to-day operations, let alone try to write automation scripts. Looking back on it though, my approach was error prone and with a little bit of up-front work, I could have saved myself hours.

A friend said to me recently, “Brian, I could automate myself out of a job. Why would I want to do that?”. On the surface, he made a good point, but I dove a little deeper with him. You would automate yourself out of what can sometimes be mindless or repetitive daily tasks. That is very true and one thing that PowerShell is great at! Wouldn’t it be great though if all these manual daily tasks were removed and then you could focus on more strategic, long-term projects that much more fully utilize your technology skillset? My friend was skeptical until he started thinking about this. He was eliminating portions of his job requirements, or making them a lot easier and less time consuming at least. Having a more strategic focus on projects sure sounded great though!

It’s ideas like these that make automation easier to grasp. Yes, it’s a time investment up front, no getting around that. However, the time you put in at the beginning, will be worth it in the long run!

Another advantage that you get through automation is increased security. We talk about a model in security where leveraging automation and orchestration can actually increase visibility for any unknown or potentially malicious actions that may be occurring. If you create a baseline of workflows that administrators or users can perform in an environment, you can build a foundation of consistency. Additionally, now that you have defined workflows that are known good, any actions outside of these stick out to your monitoring tools. It then makes it much easier to alert and report on these potential security risks.

I’ve only touched on a few of many reasons why automation should be given a serious consideration. I’ve been talking about this to more and more customers and I’d love if this blog post is even just a starting point for future conversations. Please feel free to chime in on this, how has automation helped your environment or made your job easier?

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VCP 5 Exam Thoughts and Experience

September 26, 2011 5 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!

Categories: VMware Tags: , , ,

VMworld 2011–It’s Going To Be Epic!

August 9, 2011 Leave a comment

This summer has seriously flown by! It’s hard to believe that in three weeks I’ll be flying out to Vegas for VMworld. Between the sessions, labs, networking events, and a party or two, the week is shaping up to be awesome!

I have a bunch of great sessions scheduled for this year. I’m also really glad they are doing scheduling this time, it will avoid the hour and a half lines that I waited in last year. This will allow for more time to talk with presenters afterwards so I’m excited! I won’t list all my sessions out, but here are a few that are on the top of my list:

VSP1926- Getting Started with VMware vSphere Design

I’m really looking forward to Scott’s session on vSphere design. His book that came out this year on the same topic was excellent, so it will be good to expand on this and hear from experiences in the field!

VSP1425- Ask the Expert vBloggers

Put this many vExperts in a room, throw out some user submitted questions, what more do you need? Smile

CIM1644- The Path from Lab Manager to VMware vCloud Director: A Customer Journey

I submitted a session on a similar topic, so I’m very interested to hear this one. The migration from Lab Manager to vCloud Director is not trivial and it is a big step forward in cloud strategy. I’m interested to hear the customer experience on this one!

VSP3111- Cisco Nexus 1000v: Architecture, Deployment and Management

One of my top sessions from last year, Jason has updated the content for vSphere 5 and as a Cisco guy at heart, how can you not get excited for this one?

VSP2757- A Deep Dive on Virtual Distributed Switching and Cisco Nexus 1000v

vSphere 5 brings some much needed enhancements to the vDS. I’m really looking forward to the discussion around vDS vs. Nexus 1000v and real-world implementation advice for both! This, and Jason’s dedicated Nexus 1000V session, are ones you won’t want to miss!

VSP1682- VMware vSphere Clustering Q&A

What’s better than an early morning session from the two guys that wrote the book on Clustering and HA?

 

All things are pointing towards this year being epic! Not only do you have all the great sessions, but the Hands on Labs will be bigger and even more awesome than last year! There were some insane numbers on how many VM’s were deployed over the week last year and their goal is to crush that number!

At the EMC booth, we will also have our own Hands on Labs in the solutions exchange. RSA will be well represented with some excellent content around vShield Data Security. A lot of people have put in a ton of work on these labs, so I’m really looking forward to these! I’ll be around the booth, so come stop by and check out the labs!

Most of all though, I’m looking forward to seeing a lot of my friends from the community who for some, I only get to see at this event. I’m also excited to meet a lot of new faces and chat with my fellow vNerds. So drop me a note in the comments here if you’ll be attending and make sure to say Hi!

Will Vegas be ready for us? I sure hope so!

Categories: Conferences, VMware Tags: ,

vSphere 5 Software iSCSI Setup and Port Binding (plus a Welcome!)

August 2, 2011 1 comment

To start things off, welcome to vPrimer! This blog will be a source of how-to’s, information, and news centered around virtualization, security, and networking. I hope to provide a viewpoint from inside the industry that will be useful no matter if you are a home lab user or large enterprise administrator. I always welcome comments and discussions as one of the best ways to learn is from everyone around you!

Now, what fun is a first post without some technical content? So let’s get to it! Today’s post will briefly go over the changes to setting up a software iSCSI adapter and VMkernel port bindings in vSphere 5. One of the biggest changes you’ll notice is the addition of iSCSI port bindings to the vSphere GUI. To setup and use multiple pNIC’s for iSCSI in 4.1, part of the process had to be done via CLI. It is now all wrapped into the client for a much cleaner look.

The first step is to setup your vSwitches/VMkernel ports. In this example, I’ll be using a vDS, but the process is very similar for a vSS. Below is an example of a vDS setup with two uplink ports as well as two Port Groups:

1

Once your vSwitch is created, we’ll go ahead and create the VMKernel ports. Select Manage Virtual Adapters and then Add:

2

We’ll select a New Virtual Adapter and then add it to our first iSCSI port group:

3

Next we’ll give the VMKernel it’s IP info:

4

Finally, if everything looks okay, click finish to complete the process:

5

Next you’ll want to repeat these same steps and add a second VMkernel adapter and make sure to add it to the second iSCSI port group (iSCSI2 in my case).

In order to make sure each VMkernel port is bound to one pNIC, we need to explicitly set the failover order. This needs to be done for both ports. One the first port, set it to dvUplink1 and the rest to unused. On the second, use the same procedure, but with dvUplink2. Here’s what they should look like:

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Now that we have our port groups and ports created, let’s add a software iSCSI adapter. Under Storage Adapters, click on Add, then choose Software iSCSI Adapter:

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Once this task completes, you should see the newly created adapter:

8

Now click on the iSCSI adapter and choose properties. Under the Network tab, the VMkernel Port Bindings section should be empty. Let’s fix this by clicking Add.

12

The next screen allows you to choose which VMkernel ports you want to bind to the iSCSI adapter. You can see the two ports we just created (vmk1 and vmk2) that are on our StoragedvSwitch. You can only select one port at a time, so select the first one and then repeat this procedure for the second.

9

If all has gone well, you should see a summary screen similar to following:

10

At this point, you’re free to add in your iSCSI discovery targets and proceed with adding storage. This process is not drastically different than in 4.1, but if you’ve had to do the CLI work before, this makes it a lot cleaner. I’m also a graphical person, so it’s nice to see the status/bindings right in the GUI.

And that about wraps it up for this post. Thanks for reading and I hope you found this useful. Look for more content to come and as always, I welcome any comments or feedback!

Categories: Virtualization, VMware