Tag Archives: VCAP-DCA

VCAP5-DCA – my exam experience

Back in March I received an email from VMware asking if I wanted to take part in the VCAP5-DCA beta exam. It was my first invite to a beta and having taken the VCAP4-DCA less than a year earlier I wasn’t sure I was prepared to commit the necessary time to study but I figured ‘what have I got to lose?’ and now I’m glad I accepted. There were delays getting the exams ready for prime time and I’ve spoken to people who took the VCAP4-DCA beta and had major issue with the environment so I went into the test with a slight sense of trepidation. My environment ran slow a few times and I had one glitch which caused me to go back and repeat a question or two but in general it worked very well. Congrats to the certification team for putting together a very solid and impressive exam!

Exam environment: There were a few tweaks to the exam environment (different background colours for putty sessions to help distinguish them, which I don’t remember from the first time round) but otherwise it’s much the same – RDP on a 1280 x 1024 screen, no task switcher, and various infrastructure details available at a glance for reference.I found it more effective to open a session once and then drag it to a corner out the way rather than close it. This saves confusion as without a task switcher you can’t retrieve a minimised window and also saves time logging back in. Maybe it’s because I’ve done it before and know what to expect but I actually enjoyed the experience whereas last time I found it very frustrating.

Time management: Time is still very challenging. The exam lasts 3.5 hours and there are 26 questions (there are also 26 objectives in the blueprint) which gives you just over 8 minutes per question. You can skip forwards and backwards through the questions so you can prioritise the ones you feel more confident about. Some questions have dependencies on earlier work but a bit of common sense will normally see you through. Do everything you can to save time. If you start a VM deploying don’t wait for it to complete, move onto the next question and come back later. You have a jotting pad in the exam so make notes on which questions to revisit.

Learning management: When was the last time you setup Autodeploy or resolved a performance issue in eight minutes, especially when you don’t know the infrastructure involved? Be realistic about how much the exam can cover but prepare to be surprised how well it tests your knowledge. As I mentioned above there are 26 questions and 26 objectives but it’s not that simple – one question could cover multiple objectives. Take AutoDeploy for example. It uses PowerCLI, ImageProfiles, Host Profiles and maybe some network troubleshooting. The blueprint covers a lot of material but you can narrow down what you study – if study time is tight prioritise the common tasks over the obscure ones (when was the last time you generated a database report from VUM?). Think about it from VMware’s perspective and bear in mind the exam infrastructure of two hosts and a vCenter server – there are quite a few ‘interaction’ points with third party technology (storage arrays, network switches etc) yet it’s a VMware focused test. For example with AutoDeploy it requires DHCP and PXE configured, yet these aren’t really VMware technology. Unless you use the vCSA of course….

The VCAP5-DCA exam is more focused on the ‘core’ vSphere platform, and is better for it. There’s only so much you can test in four hours and the slimmed down blueprint makes it more relevant to a mainstream audience – tools like vCenter Server Heartbeat and vCenter Orchestrator, which were included in the VCAP4-DCA exam, are only used by a small percentage of customers. Taking the exam was a great way of testing my knowledge of vSphere – it highlighted both my strengths and weaknesses and as a result I know where I need to spend some time improving my knowledge. My next challange? Bring on the VCAP5-DCD!

Patrick Kremer has also written up his thoughts on the beta – well worth a read, in particular the time management tips.

VCAP5-DCA study – getting started

The VCAP5-DCA exam is a tough nut to crack and will probably consume quite a bit of your time in study and practice (unless you’re a VMware PSO in which case you probably do this stuff all day every day!). Before you get stuck into the blueprint objectives there are some things you should do to prepare;

  • Get access to a lab. There are numerous options;
    • Build your own whitebox lab at home
    • Use spare equipment at your work.
    • Rent VCAP-DCA specific lab space on a weekly basis. There are a few of these popping up although I’ve not tried them myself – Optism Training, YourLabTime. You get enterprise grade equipment but at £120p/w upwards a home lab might be the more affordable option….
  • Once you’ve got your lab, have a look at AutoLab by @demitassenz. It helps you quickly build a base lab.
  • Download the official vSphere5 documentation (there’s a link at the bottom of the page to download a .ZIP of all docs combined). I’d recommend using the Xtravirt documentation downloader as it simplifies the process. Make sure you have the docs to hand as you’ll want to refer to them often.
  • Gather additional study materials. This will depend on your budget but I’d recommend;
  • Plan your study time. There are 26 objectives so work out how much time you have until you want to sit the exam and work backwards. Be aware of your strengths – some sections you’ll cruise through while you may need to spend longer on the topics you’re less familiar with.
  • Book the exam (through Pearson Vue). This may not work for everyone but many people work better with a deadline to adhere to. You can always move the booking provided you do so at least 24 hours before the day. Pick a date which gives you a suitable time to prepare.
  • Get involved in social media – the VMTN community forums, Twitter, read and comment on blogs etc. As you’ll see from my study notes a good chunk of the material comes from these sources and having people to answer questions is one of the best ways to confirm your understanding.

Now dive into your studies and good luck!

Which VMware certifications should you invest in?

IT is a fast moving industry, and the current shift to cloud computing is accelerating the rate of change. With the forthcoming release of the vSphere5 VCAP exams (VCAP5-DCA and the VCAP5-DCD) I’ve been planning to study my socks off to get both exams under my belt. I’m sure I’m not alone in struggling to make study time, particularly as my day job doesn’t tend to cover all of the material either because we’re only Enterprise level licensing or because we don’t use all the features. On top of that I’d like to update my VCAP-DCA study guide which will consume a significant chunk of time.

This serious case of study contention has made me revisit my priorities. The VMware ecosystem has evolved considerably over the last few years and there’s considerable buzz around VMware View and vCloud Director (not to mention the whole Cloud Foundry and vFabric ecosystem). Maybe these would be better areas to focus on? As John Troyer said about certifications “You don’t have to collect them all!” but it does make me wonder – which VMware certs are most likely to benefit career progression?

VCP or VCAP?

First some facts. The VMware platform which evolved into vSphere was launched in 2001, the first VCP exam was available in June 2003 (@susangude is VCP#1), and the first VCAP exams were launched seven years later in August 2010. Nine years on and the statistics are well known – around 60,000 VCPs worldwide and approximately 600 certified in each of the two VCAP tracks (so 50 VCPs for every VCAP!).

Continue reading Which VMware certifications should you invest in?

VCAP5-DCA – What’s new?

Certification is a never ending treadmill of learning...

Along with others I received an email from VMware last week stating that the VCAP5-DCA exam was due to enter it’s beta testing in the next few weeks, along with the beta blueprint. As with any beta the contents are subject to change and the exam is NOT publically available yet – it’s currently scheduled for release this summer.

The contents of the beta are covered by an NDA so you won’t be hearing any other details from me but Randy Becraft, the senior Program Manager running the beta, has specifically allowed me to post these blueprint details to give candidates more time to prepare.

Before I cover what’s new it’s worth pointing out how much hasn’t changed;

  • The bulk of the content (around 60%) is very similar to the VCAP4-DCA blueprint.
  • You still need to be VCP5 certified as a prerequisite. The one exception is if you already hold the VCAP4-DCA certification you’re eligible to sit the VCAP5-DCA exam without first passing the VCP5 exam, provided you upgrade within three months of the exam’s release.
  • The exam is still a live lab with a time limit of 225 mins (210 for the exam and 15 mins for a survey). There will be roughly 26 tasks to complete (which is less than the 36 for v4) but this can vary for each candidate.
  • The exam is booked through Pearson-VUE professional centres.
  • There will be a ten day wait for results (approximately)
  • Will the exam environment include a task switcher or a higher resolution? We can but hope! 🙂

…and what’s no longer included (some significant chunks of learning);

  • Orchestrator
  • vCenter Heartbeat
  • vShield Zones
  • vCenter Server Linked Mode

There are two recommended courses for this exam;

This is a change from the v4 DCA exam which listed four courses as ‘recommended’, including both the vSphere Manage for Performance and vSphere Troubleshooting neither of which are available yet for v5. The exam still includes troubleshooting and performance issues on the blueprint but maybe VMware felt that so many course recommendations for a single exam was too much.

It’s interesting to see that this new exam focuses on the core product – the biggest omissions are in the wider ecosystem and I wonder if they’ll reappear in some other, more specialised, certification (VCAP-Security etc). There may also have been practical considerations as the release cycle for these products isn’t aligned with the vSphere releases. This was apparent even with the VCAP-DCA4 release where the exam blueprint covered vShield Zones v1 even though v4 was released just before the exam went public (the Manage for Security course, which was recommended for VCAP-DCA, covered vShield Zones v4 so of limited use!).

VMware have also published extra guidance about the infrastructure you will be expected to work with during the exam, which will consist of two ESXi hosts and a vCenter server. This is similar to the v4 exam but you weren’t given this information in advance.

I’m running a poll on the value of the VCAP exams (to the right of this post) – I’d appreciate your feedback.

As with the VCAP4-DCA I’ll be publishing study notes as I work towards the exam. Watch this space!

Continue reading VCAP5-DCA – What’s new?

VCAP-DCA and it’s value to me

After several months of study (slightly longer than planned due to writing up all my study notes) I was finally notified that I’d passed the VCAP-DCA exam yesterday. Hurrah!

The VCAP-DCA blueprint is pretty comprehensive and for many will involve studying topics they’ve not used before. Regarding the exam itself I have nothing of value to add that hasn’t already been said, but it’s been nice to reflect on what I gained from taking the certification. Given that quite a few recruiters simply state ‘VCP/VCAP/VCDX’ as general requirements for job specs I’m not sure how much value the certification holds in the marketplace yet, but here are the top five ‘wins’ for me as a result of studying;

  1. PowerCLI. I’ve scripted in many languages over the years but none that are so easy to pick up and achieve results with. I’ve used PowerCLI in production to automate deployments, get weekly reports and automate some compliance work and I doubt I’d have done so much if I didn’t have to cover the VCAP-DCA blueprint (especially the VIX component).
  2. Distributed switches – my company don’t have Enterprise+ licencing so I don’t get to work with these in a production environment. Lab testing is never the same and the exam highlighted a few areas where I could improve. I like the concept, but with under a hundred hosts I’m not yet convinced of the value for money. Various features and products (vCD comes to mind) are dependant on vDS, so I think it’ll get pushed more and more by VMware however.
  3. Host profiles – again, I had no real world experience due to licencing restrictions.I did learn that they’re not that great though, even in limited lab testing. There are too many things they can’d do, a fairly limited interface and lack of flexibility. Definitely not the equivalent of Group Policy in an AD environment (which was my mental equivalent).
  4. ESXTOP. I’ve always been somewhat wary of this, especially after a presentation at the LonVMUG which was very good but hurt my brain! Despite being a Linux admin so comfortable with command line, something about the advanced ESXTOP settings seemed complex and hard to understand. After watching some VMworld sessions and working through the ESXTOP bible it’s now much clearer and I’ve found myself using it far more at work.
  5. vCenter Heartbeat. Like many places we’re increasingly reliant on vCenter and I worry about resilience. I now  know how to use it – and the fact that I probably wouldn’t.

vcap4-dcaAs with any exam though there are questions which you might not know the answer to, but you know a quick Google would tell you the answer (so have little real value in the exam, in my opinion). These aren’t quite in that category, but here’s three things which I had to learn purely for the sake of the exam;

  1. Orchestrator. Much though I love automation this isn’t easy enough to use and the reliance on Javascript instead of PowerCLI is a deal breaker for me. I can write Javascript (or use Onyx) but for an admin this is hard to use compared to PowerCLI.
  2. Fault Tolerance. Due to the 1vCPU restriction I’ve not got any servers which really benefit from this, so it was an exercise (if interesting) in theory only.
  3. vShield Zones. I’d actually hoped this might be in my top five, but in the end it’s in my bottom three. The interface is incredibly basic compared to any dedicated firewall so I wouldn’t want to use it in production. The exam also only covers v1.0, whereas v4.0 is the current release.

I used a wide variety of study materials, and in order of most beneficial here’s how I’d list them;

  • Blogs – these complement the official docs – it’s where people spot the real challenge of a particular feature, or the unspoken gaps not mentioned in the official docs. Start at vLaunchPad.
  • Official documentation
  • VMworld sessions – free to view (mostly) and focused on particular subjects, these an are often overlooked treasure trove.
  • Study notes – creating my own study notes definately helped me remember things, as did other people’s (Sean Crookston’s especially).
  • Community forums – both the general vSphere ones and the VCAP-DCA forum are useful places to post questions, and see what everyone else is asking. vicfg-firewall anyone?
  • Trainsignal’s Troubleshooting training course by David Davis. The information is very useful and goes above and beyond the blueprint requirements.

And of course I have something to add to the C.V.!