After passing VCAP-DCD in April I knew VCAP-DCA exam should be next. However I got sidetracked with VCA-DT, ITIL Foundations, EMCCA and double knee surgery and was not able to keep the goal of passing VCAP-DCA exam before vSphere 5 comes out. Finally after three time rescheduling the date of the exam I was able to take it 21 October.
There are about 300+ people who passed the exam already which gave me the advantage to learn from their experiences. I’ve read all their blogs or VMware community posts I could find.
There are many study guides available – I used the one compiled by Ed Grigson: VCAP-DCA Study Guide v1.0 (http://www.vexperienced.co.uk/wp-content/uploads/2010/10/VCAP-study-guide-published-version.pdf). It is excellent comprehensive resource that follows the Exam Blueprint. Each topic is described with enough detail and with additional links for deeper dives. To my surprise I found that Ed linked to my iSCSI multipathing blog post (https://fojta.wordpress.com/2010/04/13/iscsi-and-esxi-multipathing-and-jumbo-frames/).
VMware recommends 4 instructor lead courses (Troubleshooting, Performance, Security and PowerCLI). I did not participate in any of them however as a VMware employee I had access to the Student Manuals and read the Security and PowerCLI text books.
It is very important to have hands on experience. I have described my homelab a year ago here (https://fojta.wordpress.com/2010/09/12/my-vsphere-home-lab/). It changed a little bit, but it basically consists of two ESXi whitebox servers I build myself from cheap parts. One with 16GB and the other with 8 GB RAM. One is diskless, the other is running HP P4000 VSA (Lefthand) on local drives. I also have iOmega IX4 which is used for NFS shared storage. To also learn ESX Classic (which is essential) I installed it as virtual machine.
My exam consisted of 34 sequential tasks which had to be completed within 4 hours. You can skip a task however some others may depend on its successful completion. The tasks have to be done on live systems somewhere in the USA (I guess) to which you connect through remote desktop.
The user interface is very awkward and this is what makes the exam hard. If you are used to work on big monitor, comfortable keyboard with all your software tools and documentation handy here you will have small screen, severally limited remote desktop with only four applications (vSphere client, Putty, Remote Desktop and Acrobat Viewer) without easy way to switch between them. I could not see part of the screen and the latency was quite big. For example PDF scrolling and reading is very uncomfortable and should be used as little as possible otherwise you will lose precious time. The best is if you know what to look for and where to look for it and the use a keyword search.
Besides the UI I have to say I was impressed how the test was set up. It was quite thorough and went through the whole exam blueprint. Almost every topic of the blueprint was somehow covered with some exceptions (I had no vShield or Update Manager tasks, but that does not mean every test is the same). It was fun, it was challenging and the lack of time and clunky UI made it stressful at the same time.
The think is that you have about 7 minutes to solve each task where most of them consist of additional subtasks or troubleshooting. So with that in mind I knew I had to skip some tasks which I knew would take me more time. For example there was a PowerCLI task. I expect it would take me 15 minutes to solve it in my comfortable environment so there was no time for it. Another one I skipped because I did not remember how to solve it and I knew there is a KB article describing the resolution but to which unfortunately you have no access.
At the end when I wanted to go back to some tasked that I skipped I had to go through each tasks sequentially by clicking previous button. This also takes a lot of time due to the slow screen refresh and the button changing position. After the exam I was completely spent.
At home I wrote all the tasks and estimated what would be my score. My estimate indicated a pass, but I had to wait for the official result. Today it came after exactly 10 business days. It is a pass.
My next goal is to take VCP5 exam quickly. I have it already booked and upgraded my lab to vSphere 5. And then I will see if I will go for VCDX or not.