VCAP-Cloud Infrastructure Design Exam Experience

Just after I have received the result of my VCP-IaaS beta exam I got invited to another cloud certification: VMware Certified Advanced Professional – Cloud Infrastructure Design. This is the first of three Cloud related VCAP certifications. The other two are VCAP – Cloud Infrastructure Administration and VCAP – Cloud Governance, but these are not released yet. By the way there should be coming expert level VCDX Cloud soon as well.

VMware Cloud Certifications

If you are confused what is the difference between VCP-Cloud and VCP-IaaS, then note that the latter is just a name of a delta exam to achieve VCP-Cloud certification if you are a regular VCP (now renamed to VCP-DV where DV stands for Datacenter Virtualization). If you are not VCP you will be able to take (still unreleased) VCP-Cloud exam to achieve VCP-Cloud certification in one go .

As I build clouds for living it is no brainer for me to participate in Cloud beta exams. First some general thoughts about betas. If you hate waiting for exam result and want your certification quickly, doing the beta is definitely not for you. Doing beta means to not only go through much larger set of questions than on the final exams, but obviously those questions are not 100% polished, with spelling or factual errors and sometimes even do not work right (the Flash based ones). Also you do not get to know the result right away, but have to wait for the end of the beta period when all the beta results are evaluated, some questions rejected and all the beta tests are rescored. Then the Pearson Vue is sending the score by snail mail which takes up to 4 weeks to deliver to Europe. So when the result is finally delivered the GA exam is already available and the score is delivered to the participants immediately after the test is finished. Saying all that I still like to do betas because I feel I am contributing something to the development of the certification which I want to be well recognized and credible.

Now back to VCAP-CID: it is a design exam, therefore the form is very similar to VCAP-Datacenter Design (read here and here). The format of the questions is the same – a mix of multiple choice, flash based (assigning or classifying items) and drawing Visio like diagrams. The beta consisted of 149 questions where 6 were ‘Visios’. Where some multiple choice question can be answered in 30 seconds, Flash in a minute 0r two, the Visio takes anywhere from 5 – 15 minutes to answer, so the whole exam becomes a rush against time. However I believe the GA exam will not have that many questions.

The topic of the question is obviously vCloud Director, but there are other more general design type questions as well. Although it is not specified in the blueprint, all the vCloud Director questions are based on the 1.x release. This is important as the 5.1 release is different in many aspects (resource pool reservations/limits, component sizing, vShield Edge design, storage profiles) and the answers to some of those questions would be different. The blueprint covers the range of the topics very well. I think vCloud Architecture Toolkit (version 2.x) is must read for the preparation. I would also recommend to read all the VMware released whitepapers that relate to vCloud Director, vShield or Chargeback.

As expected I encountered some glitches, mainly in the ‘Visio’ topics. It is was frustrating especially when my strategy is to do the ‘Visio’ bits at the end. But you can imagine that after answering 143 questions in 3 hours or so you are pretty exhausted and intolerant. Sometimes I could not connect the right elements, sometimes deleting one element flushed the whole design and similar.

In general I like the exam and think it is relevant to vCloud architects. VMware certification team should decide how to tackle the VCD 1.5 vs 5.1 differences and hopefully fix those ‘Visios’.

VCP-IaaS Exam Experience

VMware has quietly released a new certification: VCP – Infrastructure as a Service (VCP-IaaS). The beta period ended this week and I had a chance to participate. Compared to other cloud certifications which try to be vendor neutral (for example EMC Cloud Architect) this one is very much VMware product specific. The knowledge of vCloud Director, vShield Manager, vCenter Chargeback and vCloud Connector is thoroughly tested.

As I build vCloud Director clouds for living it was a no-brainer for me to take part in the exam. After reading the exam blueprint objectives it was clear that this is entry level certification with many installation and configuration items with little architecture related topics.

There is only one requirement prerequisite and that is to be a VCP5. There is one recommended training VMware vCloud: Deploy and Manage the VMware Cloud [V1.5] which I did not take part in. Among the recommended reading materials is documentation of the above mentioned software components, handful of vCloud Director whitepapers and vCAT – VMware vCloud Architecture Toolkit. After taking the exam I think just reading the documentation and having hands-on experience with the GUI is enough to pass the exam. My guess is that especially the vCAT (which is quite extensive set of best practices documents) will be very important for the VCAP advanced cloud certification (if they will be released).

The beta test had 115 questions all multiple choice and about 2+ hour time limit. Speaking from experience (VCP-DT) the final exam is usually shorter (about 85 questions). The questions are usually short occasionally with a screenshot attached so time is not a problem – you either know the answer or not. There were some UI related functions “Where do you configure function X?” which I do not like. I have no photographic memory and usually cannot recall the name of the section/menu (if you took VCA-DT exam you know what I am talking about). The most emphasis (and rightfully so) is on networking. Networking and resource pools entitlements are the most difficult and important topics of vCloud Director so understanding those is a must. Almost all blueprint related topics were examined. The quality of the questions considering its beta status was very good, only with a few I had problem to understand the question or thought the choices given are either incorrect or incomplete.

I do not know my result – it usually takes about two months to get notified about beta exam results. I wish the cloud certification long future hopefully with other advanced exams to come.

VCAP-DCD 5 Exam

On Monday I sat the VCAP-DCD 5 beta exam. I thought I would write my experience of preparing and taking the exam, but there is actually not much to write about that is different from my VCAP-DCD 4 experience.

So just some bulletpoints:

  • For version 4 I prepared for about month, including Design course, this time during two evenings I just reviewed the vSphere 5 Design course manual.
  • It was a beta exam which usually means long and with errors: 131 questions, 4+ hours. Couple questions were missing some words, in one particular question it seemed important. I had also a crash after two hours, but the examination lady restarted the program and fortunately all of my 80+ answers were there intact.
  • I rushed through the exam as quickly as possible, did not read the lengthy scenarios, concentrated on the important points that were asked for and skipped the 5 Visio type questions to do at the end and I still had only an hour to do those. The Visios seemed to be same or very similar as in previous version so they did not take me so much time and I finished about 10 minutes early.
  • The exam questions seemed much the same as in version 4, only a few related to the new vSphere 5 features.
  • Based on that my recommended study path would be: read all the whitepapers about vSphere 5 (What’s new and best practices) and the design methodology from the Design course and you should ace the exam.
  • If you pass the exam and you are not VCP5 you get VCP5 automatically.

I obviously do not know my result yet. I am still waiting (more than 2 months) for the result from my other beta exam (VCP5-DT) so I do not expect it to arrive any time soon. I feel spending 4+ hours for something that is less than 10% different from the previous exam is not very effective. I wish there would be a shorter web only delta exam or better some kind of continuous training requirement (online webex courses) similar to PMI Project Management Professional certificaton re-examination which requires collection of certain amount of points during 3 year time period to keep the certification. The points are awarded by taking official courses, online courses, writing a blog or for the actual on the job experience.

Another way to go in the future would be to extend the design certification beyond vSphere and include SRM, vCD and possibly vCOps – designing a datacenter nowadays requires more than just vSphere…

My VCAP-DCA Exam Preparation and Experience

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.

My preparation

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.

The exam

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.

EMC Cloud Architect Certification – Training and Exam Experience

In February this year EMC introduced new certification track for Cloud Architects.

Cloud Architects deliver virtualization and cloud designs based on business strategies encompassing all key technical domains such as compute,storage, networking, applications, etc. EMC Proven Professional Cloud Architect (EMCCA) training and certification is designed to build required skill sets for experienced architects and consultants. The track has two levels. Virtualized Infrastructure (Specialist Level) and IT-as-a-Service (Expert Level).
Source: https://education.emc.com/content/_common/docs/certification/EMCDCA_and_EMCCA.pdf

Having pretty deep knowledge of virtualization (VMware Design certification VCAP-DCD) and IT service management (ITIL v3) I wanted to expand and formalize my education toward the cloud. As a holder of the basic EMC Information Storage Associate certification (EMC ISA) I was eligible to take the first step to the Specialist Level by taking the Virtualized Infrastructure Specialist Exam for Cloud Architects (E20-018).

The curriculum describes the journey to the cloud (Virtualize -> Operationalize -> IT-as-a-Service) and concentrates on the second step of the journey; the design of cloud ready Virtual Data Center (VDC). Here is the list of course modules:

  1. Virtualized Data Center and Cloud Overview
  2. Virtual Data Center Architecture – Compute
  3. Virtual Data Center Architecture – Networking
  4. Virtual Data Center Architecture – Storage
  5. VDC Architecture – Applications and Information
  6. VDC Architecture – Business Continuity and Disaster Recovery
  7. Designing for Virtualized and Cloud Environments
  8. Governance, Risk and Compliance
  9. Managing Virtualized Environments
  10. Cloud Services
  11. Course Summary

EMC offers a practice test on the education.emc.com website. It is very similar to the actual exam test and by taking it you can see very well where you stand with the knowledge related to the exam. Without any prior study I scored 73% which would mean a pass on the actual exam, however I saw some gaps in my knowledge in the non technical areas which lead me to decision to study more. There are no reading materials available other then taking the recommended course. Fortunately there is Video Instructor Led Training (VILT) option available. It contains the video of an actual class (over 22 hours) plus PDFs with the study guides. I think reading the PDFs would be enough to pass the test, but I found that watching the actual class was very informative – mainly the lab exercise parts which I really enjoyed where the instructor and students were weighting all the design options.

After the technological modules (2-6) come in my opinion the most interesting and enlightening topics 7 and 8: the Design and GRC (Governance, Risk and Compliance). The design methodology was very well described and explained on real life examples. The GRC concepts were quite new for me but still easy to understand. The module 9 – Management corresponds to ITIL and module 10 introduces the third phase of the Journey to the cloud.

My only problem with the VILT was that it contains some kind of copy protection and I was not able to play it on my corporate Windows 7 laptop and had to run it in clean Windows XP Workstation virtual machine.

It took me about three weeks of night studying, mostly enjoyable, concluded with Pearson VUE examination.

As I already wrote the actual test itself is not particularly hard and is very similar to the practice test. Sixty multiple choice questions must be answered in two hour time limit (as non English native speaker I got 30 minute extension), but I was done in less than an hour. With the passing score of 83% I am now an EMC certified Cloud Architect.

There are reports of shortage of cloud architects. This certification helps to demonstrate the expertise of being one.