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VCAP5-DCA Exam Experience

October 24, 2012 2 comments

Exam Overview

This post is a little bit overdue, but I wanted to report on my experience with the VCAP5-DCA exam that I took at VMworld US. The exam, much like its DCD counterpart, is 210 minutes. This one has 26 lab questions that you have to complete and each question can have multiple parts. There is partial credit so read each question (and its parts) thoroughly! A passing score is 300.

For studying, the first thing you’ll want to do is download the official blueprint from VMware:

http://mylearn.vmware.com/register.cfm?course=139202

Exam Experience

This was a tough exam just in the sheer amount of tasks you are asked to do in a short amount of time. It basically compresses what you know as a VMware administrator and troubleshooter into 3.5 hours. Repetition of tasks on the blueprint and knowing where to go really helps here! If you don’t have the experience from your job, make sure you lab a lot here. You need to be quick! I ran out of time on the exam as I was running a command. I’m not sure it actually finished when the timer hit zero, but I went up until the last second here.

This exam definitely would have benefited from a dual monitor setup or even alt-tab! You end up switching between the exam questions and then an actual live terminal which is a jump box of sorts. This has all of your vSphere clients, remote desktop connections, SSH, and other connectivity tools. Additionally, the vSphere documentation set is on this VM. Familiarize yourself with the tools on this VM when you start and I would also recommend opening connections to all your important sources. This will save you time later on!

I’ve read mixed thoughts on looking at the documentation during the exam. I’m taking middle ground on this. If you know what to do or how to do something, but need to reference the syntax of a command, open the PDF! This happened to me twice and I actually planned on this before. There are some longer commands that I knew sometimes I don’t remember the exact argument order on, but I knew where to look! You don’t want to spend much time in the docs, but if it’s just for a quick reference and you know where to go, it can be very beneficial. However, if you don’t know how to do an objective, you will waste a lot of time going through the PDF’s trying to find a more general solution. Don’t fall into this trap!

One thing I did notice is that resources on the jumpbox VM were a little slow. I had to close down a few of the PDF’s and I had some duplicate RDP windows which I also closed, this helped to speed up performance. Thankfully I didn’t have any interface crashes this time like on DCD, but a few times switching between questions/lab was a bit slow and it made me a little nervous!

Overall I enjoyed the exam and thought it was one of the more fun formats for cert tests that I’ve taken. It’s definitely a mad rush to the finish, but I really liked how well the live lab format worked and the way you can structure the tasks around a scenario (building out a new datacenter, deploying a new app, etc.).

You will walk out of this one tired! I was mentally drained after focusing and running through the tasks over the 3.5 hours. It is a demanding test for sure!

Tips and Tricks

  • Know each way (PowerCLI, command line, GUI) to do a task on the blueprint, but also have your preferred way. Yes, some things can only be accomplished via GUI or command line, but if not, do it your preferred way and do it fast!
  • A great tip suggested by Tim Antonowicz (@timantz) to me at VMworld was to go through all the questions when you start and write down their objectives. Some tasks will build upon others you’ve previously completed and there are others that require you to wait while something completes. This way, you can group tasks together or know what you can move onto next while waiting.
  • Be able to troubleshoot quickly. I’ve had practice with this in a production environment when your manager is breathing down your neck to get a server back up, but know where to look when things go wrong! Even if you haven’t had the job experience, do this in your lab. I’d even suggest letting a friend remote in and break a few things for you, then methodically go back and investigate/fix them.
  • Write down the password for your system account. The password will be the same across all the different resources and it’s also displayed on the desktop. However, I found a few instances where I wasted time by having to move a window out of the way to see the password. If you’re like me, the stress of the exam makes you forget the password or you try typing in your own lab password which doesn’t quite work. Easy solution, write it down on your whiteboard!
  • Make sure you know the other components (networking, storage, etc.) that can also affect a VMware environment. Familiarity with these and knowing a lot of the corner cases or lesser-used features will help you here!

Resources

Final Thoughts

One word. Patience Smile When I finished up the exam, a note said results would come within 15 business days. A little over 40 business days later and mine finally came! I was very excited to receive the e-mail saying I had passed! It looks like there is a bit of a backlog over at the certification team right now though, so don’t be surprised if your results are delayed.

The Advanced track of the VMware datacenter virtualization certification ladder has been a fun one! I really enjoyed this exam and DCD. Now it’s onto VCDX, which I hope to be defending a defense at PEX in February 2013!

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: ,