Fun with Legos and Intel NUCs

After achieving my VCDX I wanted to start focusing on more of the SDDC stack, specifically VSAN, NSX and vRealize Automation. I wanted to revamp my home lab–previously my lab consisted of a cluster of Mac Minis and a Dell T110 II. The minis are long gone—I sold them when I moved from Oregon to Texas. And minis are just not the greatest option anymore since they max out at 16GB RAM.

I also planned to sell the T110 II since it is not on the VMware HCL for VMware 6 and it purple screened when I tried to install bare metal ESXi 6 Update 1.  I tried one last time (I was not looking forward to ebaying and shipping that beast) with ESXi 6 Update 2 and that worked. It’s run stably for a few month now so it is here to stay.

Enter the Intel NUC. They have all the benefits of mini; small form factor, quiet and low power consumption. Most importantly—they max out at 32GB RAM. The SDDC stack is a huge memory hog and 16GB a node is just no longer enough for a decent home lab.

I also able to leverage the VMware community for some homelab on Intel NUC Guidance:
VSAN 6.2 (vSphere 6.0 Update 2) homelab on 6th Gen Intel NUC
VMware Homeserver – ESXi on 6th Gen Intel NUC
Want a USB Ethernet driver for ESXi? You can have two.

The Lab:

2 x 3 Node Clusters of 6th Generation Intel NUCS (NUC6i3SYH)
1 Dell T110 II
Cisco SG300-28 Layer 2/Layer 3 Switch
Crappy Netgear Wireless AP/Router (not that great but it can do static routes)
A bunch of Legos!

Intel NUC nodes:
NUC6i3SYH
32GB RAM Crucial CT2K16G4SFD8213
SanDisk Cruzer Fit 8 GB USB Flash Drive (ESXi Boot)
500GB SSD Drive Crucial 
CT500MX200SSD1 (VSAN Capacity)
Samsung 850 EVO 250 GB M.2 SSD MZ-N5E250BW (VSAN Caching)
StarTech USB 3.0 to Gigabit NIC (2nd NIC)

Dell T110 II Node:
Dell T110 II Intel Xeon E3-1230 V2 (8 cores with HT)
32 GB RAM
SanDisk Cruzer Fit 8 GB USB Flash Drive (ESXi Boot)
Bunch of SATA Disks
Intel Gigabit PCI-E NIC  
EXPI9301CTBLK

Behold – Mega Lab:

IMG_6074

I will follow this up with some posts about the low-level physical and logical configurations and some of the issues I have encountered.

 

NSX, Jumbo Frames & Intel NUC Weirdness

I built a lab with Intel 6th generation NUC’s with the intent of creating a VMware NSX, vRealize Automation and vSAN learning lab. I ran into a bit of trouble when I was attempting to enable Jumbo Frames on the onboard I219-V ethernet adapter.

I tried setting the MTU using both the gui and esxcli and each time received the following error:

esxcli network vswitch standard set -m 9000 -v vSwitch0
Unable to set MTU to 9000 the following uplinks refused the MTU setting: vmnic0

I searched around to try to find others reporting problems with jumbo frames and the NUC and came a across a few mentions on Virtually Ghetto in the comments section and possible workarounds using USB 3.0 to ethernet adapters (Virtually Ghetto & DEV TTY).

So I ordered some Star Tech USB 3.0 Ethernet Adapters, but while I was waiting for them I decided to tinker around with NSX. I deployed the NSX appliance and performed host preparation–to my surprise VXLAN install was successful

NSX Install

My initial thought is that the VTEPs were probably created but not completely functional since I was unable to change the MTU (MTU 1600 is minimum recommended setting). I’m a rank NSX newbie but it would appear part of that host prep changes the MTU for the switch and VTEP vmk to 1600.

vmk

Ok, that is pretty odd–the gui and esxcli both failed setting MTU to 1600 but NSX did the job. Just for grins I went back to the gui and esxcli and tried to set the MTU of the other vmk’s (Management & VSAN)…….and it works. I can set the MTU to 9000 without error!

This all had me wondering if this was actually functional so I configured my mac with jumbo frames (MTU 9000) using a thunderbolt ethernet adapter. I first pinged my cisco switch with 8972 byte frame—that worked. Ok now I can test my hosts. All my hosts checked out, however, I can’t seem to get anything over 1572 bytes to work (MTU set to 1600). Not ideal but good enough to run NSX.

After ping testing, I’ve since built out some logical switches, a distributed logical router and an edge gateway—it all works as expected and I was able to reach the physical network from my logical switches and ping across VMs in different clusters with the same logical switch and transport zone.

Long story short—you can get the onboard I219-V NIC to functional well enough to run NSX. Now its time for some NSX fun!—including stranding my Virtual Center and figuring out how to remove my poorly conceived firewall rules that blocked it! Doh!

Special thanks to William Lam (http://www.virtuallyghetto.com/) and Jose Gomez (http://www.devtty.uk/). I’ve followed Williams blog for a long time now and especially liked his mac mini content. Like him, I am now an Intel NUC convert. I need to post something up about my lab soon.

 

 

 

VCDX Community – Thank You!

I wanted to make a public shout out to all the folks that contributed to my success by providing great resources for learning VMware and pursuing the VCDX. Thank you all–I wish I could host you all for a VCDX keg party and thank you in person. And there’s so many more people and resources out there besides the ones I listed that make this community so valuable.

Pluralsight 

Jason Nash  – VCAP-DCA Optimize and Scale class
Chris Wahl  – CCNA Datacenter classes
David Davis – Misc VMware classes
Scott Lowe  – VMware Design Class

Books

Networking for VMware Administrators
Chris Wahl & Steve Pantol

Mastering VMware vSphere 6
Nick Marshall & Scott Lowe

VMware vSphere Design
Forbes Guthrie, Scott Lowe & Kendrick Coleman

Storage Implementation in vSphere 5.0
Mostafa Khalil

VMware vSphere 5.1 Clustering Deepdive
Duncan Epping & Frank Denneman

VCDX Boot Camp: Preparing for the VCDX Panel Defense
John Arrasjid, Ben Lin, & Mostafa Khalil

Blogs & Web Resources

Rene Van Den Bedem – http://vcdx133.com/
So much great content about Architectural process, thinking & design. Some very helpful content about all phases of the VCDX process

Josh Odgers – http://www.joshodgers.com/
Very helpful examples of Architectural process, thinking & design

Derek Seaman – http://www.derekseaman.com/2014/07/vcdx-link-o-rama.html
Very helpful sample outline and some great links

Chris Wahl – http://wahlnetwork.com/
VCAP Study guides and some great content on VMware networking.

Brad Hedlund – http://bradhedlund.com/
Indispensable UCS & VMware  Networking knowledge

Colin Lynch – http://ucsguru.com/
Amazing amount of UCS content which was critical to me understanding design options with UCS

Gregg Robertson – http://thesaffageek.co.uk/2014/04/28/vcdx-prep-round-2/
Treasure trove of VCP, VCAP and VCDX resources

Duncan Epping – http://www.yellow-bricks.com
A ton of original content that is well-written and thought out.

Larus Hjartarson – http://vmice.net/vcdx/
I found this a week before my defense and wish I had found it sooner!

Cody Bunch – vBrownbags-  http://professionalvmware.com/brownbags/

VCDX Program People

Chris Cololtti –http://www.chriscolotti.us/category/vmware/vcdx/
Karl Childs
All the Panelists & Moderators

 

My VCDX Journey – Part 5 – Defense

After a year of prepping and taking VCAPs and preparing & submitting it now came down to 3 hours in a conference room at VMware HQ in Palo Alto.

Presentation for the Defense

You are expected to come prepared with a USB stick with a presentation to highlight the salient points of your design and the critical factors that influenced your decision making – all packed into 15 minutes. I ended up with about 16 slides for the presentation and 50 or so “reference” slides. The reference slides there to help you answer questions from the panelists and it saves you time from having to whiteboard.

I found it helpful to create an index page of my reference slides so I could jump back and forth between them.

I practiced the presentation a few times in front of a mirror and then on a conference call with my co-workers to get the timing down but beyond that I didn’t do much preparation. I was very familiar with my design and could speak to every last bit so I felt very prepared for the defense portion.

Mocks
Other than the practice presentation with my co-workers, I did not do any mock defenses, troubleshooting or design sessions. I really didn’t have time for these given my schedule with work and my family. Most of my prep time for VCDX seems to occur late at night and is not planned out—I just fit it in when I could.

Do I regret not doing mocks? A little bit but since I passed it on the first try I guess they were not necessary. I think if I had to do it over again—I probably still wouldn’t do full blown mocks. I get a lot of day to day speaking time with clients so that aspect doesn’t bother me. I would try to organize my approach a little better to the Design Scenario. More on that later. Ultimately it was the time factor that kept me from doing them—I had just enough to do the things I was able to do and not much more.

Analyzing my Design
I spent the bulk of my preparation making sure I could explain every decision I made and why the particular feature or decision choice best fit the customer requirements. I also spent a lot of time exploring the things I didn’t use—aka all the alternatives. My design incorporated UCS via a customer constraint so in addition to knowing all the in’s and out’s of UCS and how to best fulfill the customer’s requirements for resiliency, performance, I spent a lot of time thinking about if that UCS constraint was lifted, how else could I meet my customer’s requirements. And what impact that would have on other parts of my design. I was able to remove any constraint and be able to talk about how that would impact the solution.

Identifying weak points of my design and trying to anticipate panelist questions was another area I tried to focus on. There were many decisions that were less than idea and didn’t exactly follow “best practices”—but there were reasons and logic behind all of them.

On to D-Day
I flew out to Palo Alto the night before so that I would not be travel weary and to make sure I got a good night’s rest. After checking into the hotel and grabbing dinner, I scoped out where I needed to go the next day. I didn’t want getting lost or not knowing where to go to add to my stress. At this point my preparation was mostly done. I only did some light review of some storage & clustering topics and some re-reading of my design & presentation.

I spent the morning relaxing and trying to visualize what the defense would be like. I actually had a dream that night before about the defense but instead of a panel of 3 it was a crowd of VMware Experts from all the videos, blogs and books I had read—all people I have never met. And it went well – in my dream.

I didn’t feel like eating much- it was definitely nerves so I forced myself to eat a light lunch. I went to Panda express where I got another good omen:

Design Defense
So on I went to the VMware campus and made my way to check in for my Defense. After a brief wait, I was escorted into the room and greeted by my 3 panelists. I recognized one of the panelists and at first was little intimidated but he was so nice and unassuming that quickly faded. Later on during the break between the design defense and the design scenario I saw the same panelist talking on the phone. He was dealing with something in his regular job and it sounded just like something I would be doing on a regular work day.  I wish I had seen this prior to starting the defense as it reinforces the point that the panelist are regular people and probably deal with a lot of the same things you deal with both professionally and personally.

So it leads me to a piece of advice:
Don’t be intimidated by who is sitting across from you in the Defense!

You made it this far so you have to be pretty smart too and they are just regular people just like you. I was nervous during my design defense portion but I was confident I scored well and only missed a question or two (more related to intricacies of VMware than my actual design)—-They were items that I knew but just blanked on. I didn’t spend a lot of time on them—I just said that I could not remember but told them where I could find out the answer and moved on quickly. The time goes by very fast in all parts of the defense. I didn’t look at the clock until there was 5 minutes left.

Design Scenario
After a short break, I was brought back into the room for the design scenario. After the moderator read the scenario and I go to read it over, the clock started. I think I started out well enough but at a certain point I got a little lost. It felt a lot like Jason Nash’s experience:

I cratered. It was ugly. I never got a complete train of thought going. It was a plane wreck in slow motion in my head. It was like I could hear myself yelling “Pull up! Pull up!”. “Abort! Abort!”. Before I could regain control my time was up….and the ad hoc was over with only a small fraction of the things I needed to cover done.  I would give a lot to be able to just repeat those 30 minutes, but that’s the point of the exercise, right?

This is the part I had the most regret with–When I left the room after the defense I thought of all the ways I’d do it better the next time. I think most candidates feel this way from what I have read.

If I had to do it all over, I would have come up with a better game plan—One of the panelist’s answer to one of my questions threw me off—it wasn’t so much of what they said but what they didn’t say. What I had asked probably wasn’t vetted out in the scenario and so their answer was intentionally vague.

Perhaps, if I had a better game plan, I could have moved on to other things but maybe not. I did talk aloud most of of the time and verbalized my thought process—-I though I might have tread into the rambling zone but apparently I scored enough.

Troubleshooting Scenario
I was rattled quite bit after the Design Scenario but somehow I was able to put that behind me for the Troubleshooting Scenario. I won’t bother much with writing about this section since it is no longer part of the VCDX process but I will say that I think I did good enough on the section.

Post-Defense – Regrets and Positive Thoughts.
After I thanked and shook hands with panel and walked out the door I thought I had failed. The Design Scenario weighed heavy on my thoughts but as I replayed the entire defense and the process leading up to it I told myself a few things:

  1. The Journey was worth it regardless of the outcome – In the last year leading up to those moments in Palo Alto I had grown tremendously as a person and an architect. Even if I failed, it was already time well spent on the submission and preparation—The process made me better and I came away with some new tools in my bag and some good documentation to help me with future design engagements.
  2. If I were to fail this time, there would always be another chanceand it wouldn’t be starting from scratch. After the defense, I went back and made notes on where the panelists questioned me and my reasoning could have been beefed up or better represented in my documentation. I made a note of what went well and what could have gone better at the Defense.
  3. I might have passed –As bad as I thought my performance was during the design scenario, I might have scored enough on it and the others parts to pass. As time wore on, I thought my chances were pretty good.

Waiting and the Results
The 9 days of waiting for the results were some of the longest days—-with a two year old, days seem to fly by but while waiting for VCDX results, time moves agonizing slow. I was dying to know ANY result-pass or fail. I could get on with my life and prepare what’s next (another attempt) if I failed.  I had a hard time sleeping and was checking my phone constantly for the VCDX results email.

And finally the day (middle of the night for me) came. I knew it was coming from some tweets and it was like being a kid on Christmas. I finally got to sleep at midnight but woke around 3:30 am and checked my email on my phone. Sure enough, there it was, my VCDX Defense Results. I opened it up and read that I had passed. What a relief! I thought about waking up my wife but again that would not go well–especially if I happened to wake up our toddler. So I celebrated silently and had huge smile on my face. While I couldn’t believe it first, I reflected on the long journey from VCAPs to my Design (all the attempts) and my defense and concluded that “hell yeah!, I worked hard and deserve this result!”

Had I failed, I would have deeply disappointed and perhaps embarrassed which would have been silly. I know that if hadn’t worked out that first time, I would keep on it until I was successful—I had learned so much during the process and have no doubt if I had to do it again, I would do it a lot cleaner and would be successful.

Final Thoughts
I would encourage anyone that is serious about IT Architecture, VMware or Cloud Computing to consider the VCDX path. I would also advise to not rush the process to be honest about with yourself on how much time you can commit and set realistic goals to achieve the major milestones (VCP, VCAP/VCIX’s, Design Submission and Defense).

I would also advise to not be deterred by bumps in the road–For me it was failing a VCAP and then multiple aborted attempts at design. The knowledge is there for the taking: books, Pluralsight, vmware HOL, VMware learning zone, recorded VCDX sessions, Blogs, Twitter and good ‘ol product documentation (RTFM!). The other ingredients are time and motivation. Don’t have time, make time and set aside distractions.

You don’t have to break the bank either. For me, the biggest expense was the Defense (travel and fees) and I got the backing of my employer on that. Next was the VCAP Exams. And the rest was relatively minor—$30 a month for Pluralsight, books and a bunch of free resources. You don’t need to take classes or attend workshops (miss work and have travel expenses).

 

 

My VCDX Journey – Part 4 – The Design

I passed my VCAP-DCA in late November right and dove right into the VCDX Design submission. Prior to this I combed through all VCDX defense tips and experiences I could find. I also had read John Arrasjid’s and Ben  Lin’s Book:

VCDX Boot Camp: Preparing for the VCDX Panel Defense

From all of the experience and tips I read the most important ones for me were:

Follow the Blueprint – I have read this time and time again but it is so very true. In the end, I created an outline based mostly off the blueprint to layer my design into – a Framework that covered all the points in the blueprint.

Map your Business Requirements to the Conceptual, Logical and Physical Designs – A big part of the design and the “VCDX way” is demonstrating how your design meets the business requirements of your customer.

Best Practices is a four letter word – You can’t rely on saying you made a design decision based on best practices. You must justify why the design makes the most sense based on your customer’s set of requirements and constraints. I had a lot of decisions in my design that were not “Best Practice” but I could explain exactly why that made the most sense given the requirements and constraints.

Justify all Major Design Decisions (and know all the alternatives) – This goes for both the design submission and the defense. I spent quite a bit of time understanding all the alternatives to the design so that if questioned, I knew how to respond on why a particular alternative didn’t best achieve the design requirements and goals of the customer.

Make it your Own – I picked the most recent design i had worked on since it was still very fresh on mind and seemed interesting enough to try to defend. It had some creative ways to deal with some interesting constraints that were placed upon me by the customer. Those non-standard methods were discussed quite a bit during my defense and I was very ready to defend them.

Take I – December 15th, 2014 Deadline

My first try to submit was for the December 15th 2014 deadline, a mere 2 1/2 weeks after passing my VCAP-DCD. I worked on it every night until the wee hours of the morning. Basically, I’d go home from work, spend time with my son and wife, eat, put the little guy to bed and then hit my design—rinse, repeat for 2 1/2 weeks.

As the deadline got closer, I became less confident that I could complete a VCDX worthy design submission. I had a good nucleus but I lacked the detail and the polish I believed were necessary for a successful submission—-And I was exhausted from lack of sleep and downtime, so one late night two days before the deadline I pulled the plug. I was deeply disappointed in my “failure” to produce a design worthy of submission.

It took me a few days to realize that my goal of submitting by December 15th was not realistic given my circumstances (small child, wife and demanding day job). I then set my sights on the April 1 deadline but I needed a break—Taking the DCA and DCD in less than 3 months had taken its toll on me and I needed to step away which leads me to my own bit of advice:

Take II – April 1, 2015 Deadline

Not much to write about for Take II. I started a new engagement at work with a lot of travel–despite my best intentions of using that time on work trips for VCDX design work, I didn’t work on it. I also had some personal health issues that I had to attend to (gall bladder) that also prevented me from working on my design. Again, to the above point, submitting a design didn’t align to my family and work demands at the time.

Take III – August 25, 2015 Deadline

Having missed two deadlines, I was determined to submit for this 3rd try. I started working on it in again July 2015, mostly during work trips (on the planes, at my hotel).

I took my December try which turned out to be about 75% complete and did some re-tooling to better meet the requirements for the blueprint and to demonstrate the flow of the business requirements throughout the design.

It helped that I was fresh preparing this design submission. It wasn’t on the heels of studying for the VCAPS and work & family life were relatively calm. I found a lot of errors I had made and found that my December submission try didn’t meet all the blueprint requirements. I had a lot of solid content but the framework wasn’t quite right. So I did two major revisions:

  • Created an outline of the VCDX blueprint and made a framework to layer in my design. Doing this forced me to address all the blueprint items that my original design didn’t cover. I now use this framework for all my customer designs and it has been received very well.
  • Formulated a system to track  Business Requirements, Constraints, Requirements, Risks, Assumptions and Architectural Decision Decisions throughout my design.
    This was to make it easier on me, customers and design reviewers to be able to see how my design meets all the requirements.

Now that I had a solid foundation, the design came together quite nicely and it was just a matter of making sure all the blueprint items were covered.

A few weeks before the deadline, I ramped up my efforts to polish and complete the design submission. I still had work and family demands but had some free cycles to commit. The weekend prior to D-day, my wife generously shouldered the load taking care of our son and the house while I completed the submission.

I completed everything about an hour before the actual deadline. In the end, I felt the design was pretty solid and addressed the blueprint but it did have some weak spots–I convinced myself it was probably like doing a home improvement project where you see every flaw while others do not. I was so focused on this design and knew it so well that I was acutely aware of every little bit. I already had few things I would change if this attempt was not successful but I wouldn’t stress it—I had met my goal and submitted a VCDX design. This in itself is a major accomplishment that takes a lot of time and sacrifice.

And then it was waiting time. The next few weeks seemed to crawl by waiting for my results. And at last, the results of that hard work and sacrifice came with a simple email:

Andrew Smith,

All applications for the upcoming VCDX Design Defense in Palo Alto in October have undergone technical review by VCDX-certified panelists.  This review consists of scoring each application against the appropriate VCDX Design Defense Blueprint. I am happy to inform you that you achieved a high enough score to allow you to proceed to the defense stage of the process.

Wow, that felt good. The email came at 3:30ish am my time and I just happened to wake up a little bit after that. I couldn’t even believe it—I wanted to shout out and wake up my wife—but that would have been very baaaaad. And I dare not do anything to wake up our 2 year old son since getting him back to sleep would be harder than attempting a VCDX. So I silently celebrated and attempted to go back to sleep—no such luck! It was too big of a rush.

A couple of key takeaways (aka my advice) I think that were critical to my success:

  • Don’t rush the process and have realistic expectations. Set reasonable and achievable goals, taking into consideration your family and work demands.
  • Make time and make the most of that time – Being married & having a small child most definitely impacts the time I had to dedicate to the VCDX but there was some time available if I cut out other distractions: watching TV/Sports, mountain biking, sleep<–doh!
  • Devise a framework or an outline for the design that meets the blueprint requirements. This kept me focused and organized. I can’t imagine starting a VCDX worthy design without this step.

Now I had one final hurdle to VCDX: The Defense. Stay tuned for My VCDX Journey – Part 5 – The Defense.

 

My VCDX Journey – Part 3 – VCAP-DCA

With the VCAP-DCD down, the next challenge was the VCAP-DCA. I didn’t take a break between the two exams. While I was preparing for the VCAP-DCD, I was also prepping for the DCA. I usually have multiple irons in the fire when I’m learning new things. I find that I need a little variety and don’t like to focus on just one thing. Fortunately, at the time I was studying for the DCA, I was also in the middle of a hands-on engagement building two VMware/UCS Data Centers.

The Lab

Since the VCAP-DCA is a hands-on lab exam, I needed to resurrect my lab. I had a lab using 3 Mac Minis and a Synology NAS which I used prior to me moving from Austin, TX to Ashland, Oregon. I ended up selling this lab as part of the move so now I was starting from scratch.

I choose to build a self-contained lab using a Dell T110 II (Quad Core with HT & 32GB RAM) and I installed ESXi 5.5 bare metal on it and then nested an ESXi Environment within it. I loaded the Dell up with some SSD’s and ran a FreeNAS VM to control and carve up my storage. I choose this setup for few reasons:

Simplicity – It’s nice just having one server. I’ve had labs with multiple devices and they work great too and usually have better performance. But for this lab performance is not the goal–testing functionality and practicing on the command line were the key factors for me and studying for the DCA.

Cost – I needed something low cost and I was able to put this lab together for under $1500. I got a great deal on the Dell server and scored some SSD’s on Woot.

Scalability – After the DCA practice I planned to move on hitting NSX pretty hard and wanted something that I could expand for that. I would just need to add a layer 3 switch and another server.

Flexibility – My nested lab setup was able to support 4 nested ESXi servers with the underlying VMware infrastructure (vCenter appliance, Domain Controller, vCOPs, Orchestrator) and a few dummy guest machines (RHEL and Windows). I could test multiple clusters, autodeploy, vCOPS, etc.

Training Resources

Books
I used many of the same books I used to study for the VCAP-DCD. I used some others specifically for the DCA.

VCAP5-DCA Official Certification Guide: Steve Baca and John Davis
A great resource that made it quickly apparent that I needed to brush up on my command line skills. Speed is essential for the DCA and the command line is sometimes the most efficient way. And there are some tasks that can only be done from the command line.

Mastering VMware 5.5 – Scott Lowe, Nick Marshall & Forbes Guthrie
A must have for any Engineer/Architect. I’ve read through this many times and refer to it often.

Networking for VMware AdministratorsChris Wahl and Steve Pantol
Another must read for any VMware Engineer or Architect. Very useful on knowing functions of all the different ways of setting up and configuring vSphere Networking. I also used for reference in my creating my VCDX design.

Pluralsight
As I said in my previous post about the DCD, Pluralsight is a great bang for your buck and they have a lot of content from a lot of great authors.

For the DCA, I found one course in particular to be the most helpful—Jason Nash’s Optimize & Scale courses. They are broken down into 3 parts:

Part I: VMware vSphere Optimize & Scale: Storage & Networking
Part II: VMware vSphere Optimize & Scale: Performance & High Availability
Part II: VMware vSphere Optimize & Scale: Monitoring & Automation

Jason breaks it down systematically and demos from both the GUI and the Command line a lot of the types of tasks you are expected to know. He’s going right by the blueprint and covering each of those items in detail. His course was a big reason for my success on the VCAP-DCA.

Web Resources/Blogs
As with the DCD, I looked at a lot of others’ experiences and tips.  I found many useful but two in particular were most helpful to me:

Chris Wahl’s DCA Study Sheet & Professional VMware’s vBrownBag series
Chris breaks down the blueprint into a study guide where you can check off yourself if you’ve read it, labbed it, can do it by the GUI, or by the Cli  for each item in the Official Exam Blueprint.

The vBrownBag series also covers each item in the Blueprint and is quite comprehensive. I applaud all the folks that make these brownbags possible and available for free! I hope to be able to make such an impactful contribution to the community one day.

Practice, Practice, Practice!

The resources above are more than enough know how to pass the VCAP-DCA but in order to actually do it, I had to practice. I focused on the command line functions. I am very comfortable with the GUI but not very fast with the command line. The time constraints of the exam reward speed and efficiency.

So for a few minutes each day, up until the exam, I would commit some time in my lab to the command line—Memorizing masking/unmasking LUNS, PSA commands, marking SSD’s, Autpdeploy, esxcli functions, esxtop, vscsistats, powercli and more.

The Exam(s)

The exam day came and I felt prepared from a VMware perspective but I did not prepare myself by being well rested. I had a lot going on for work and had a lot of late night prior to the exam. The night before I was also doing some last-minute review for the test.

My first attempt at the exam was not surprising – I failed and failed hard. I was careless during the Exam and stranded one of my ESXI hosts (it was the 5.1 version of the exam and I later read that this was a common occurrence).  I did it in the first 15 minutes of the exam and knew that it was over. I reviewed all the questions and got out of there. It was tough knowing that I tossed $400 down the drain but I did learn in the failed try on what to expect for the next one. I was a little embarrassed about it briefly but I got over it quickly and was even more determined to get it done.

When I got back to my office, I immediately went to schedule my next attempt—-I would need to wait 7 days according to the re-take policy…for the 5.1 DCA. But in 7 days I had a lot going on personally and at work. I needed to finish this asap and I was ready! So I scheduled the 5.5 VCAP-DCA the very next day. There were a few items that were different between the Blueprints but not that many.

This time I got a full night of sleep and relaxed. I didn’t review any material—I was as ready as I would ever be.

So it was Exam time part Deux. This time I was rested and remained calm during the exam. Like the DCD, I didn’t dwell on the parts that I didn’t know as well or could do as quickly. I left those for the end. I also made sure that I answered as much as I could since a lot of questions have multiple parts.

The exam was fun for me. I liked that it didn’t just ask you to perform task X and configure Y—It gave you requirements and from those requirements you had to determine how best to configure the environment. You not only need to know how to configure the environment but why you would configure that certain way.

Leaving the Exam room, I of course felt much better about this try and felt that I had done enough to pass. Sure enough, I got the results email right after I powered my phone back on–PASS.

Now I had all the prerequisites completed it was time for the next step which I will explore in my next post:
My VCDX Journey – Part 4 – The VCDX Design

 

 

My VCDX Journey – Part 2 – VCAP-DCD

 

Previous Post: My VCDX Journey Part I

Already having my VCP, the next step on the journey was the VCAP Exams. I chose the Design exam (VCAP5-DCD) first since it more aligned to what I do on a day to day basis. I’m an architect first and foremost and while I can do hands-on, I don’t do it as often as I would like. Some engagements I do hands-on, but most of them I am in a consulting and design role.

I studied off and on for about two months prior to taking the exam. It wasn’t intense study and was done mostly when I was traveling to client sites.  I mostly re-read books and did some Pluralsight classes. I found these books especially helpful to review–I have read and re-read these and refer to them often.

Books
VMware vSphere Design 2nd EditionForbes Guthrie & Scott Lowe
A really good design book on the “VMware Way” which was also helpful later in the VCDX design for knowing what should be included in Conceptual, Physical and Logical designs.

Networking for VMware AdministratorsChris Wahl and Steve Pantol
Must read for any VMware Engineer or Architect. Very useful on knowing functions of all the different ways of setting up and configuring vSphere Networking. I also used for reference in my VCDX design.

Storage Implementation in vSphere 5.0Mostafa Khalil
Again, a must read for any VMware Engineer or Architect. This book was one of the ones I took with me to on Defense trip to review. It was in the trunk of my rental car while I was defending. I’m looking forward to the updated version 6 book.

VCAP5-DCD Official Cert Guide – Paul McSharry
I found some helpful information in this book. Is it comprehensive? No–but I don’t think it could be–The DCD is type of test that studying will only take you so far. It draws upon all kinds of knowledge that should be ingrained into an architect.

Information Storage and Management: Storing, Managing, and Protecting Digital Information in Classic, Virtualized, and Cloud Environments 2nd EditionEMC Education Services
Not a VMware book, but the DCD goes beyond VMware. I found this to be a helpful refresher on storage and initially read it for EMCISA certification.

Pluralsight
I’m a big fan of Pluralsight and before them Train Signal. I still have the DVD Train Signal classes  for version 3 by David Davis gathering dust on my shelf. The subscription model is simply awesome and a huge bang for your buck. I’ve watched just about every VMware class they have on there—some more than once. Just a fabulous resources especially if your funds are limited. I have only taken one official paid VMware Class (VMware 3 ICM) due to funding constraints.

I will mention some other specific classes for the VCAP-DCA but for the DCD, this class was especially helpful:

Designing VMware Infrastructure – Scott Lowe
Excellent design class on the “VMware Way”. As with his book, this was also a helpful sanity check on my VCDX design. Scott gives some other great ideas and tips to approach mapping out the design process. I definitely have incorporated what I learned from this class and his book into how I approach design in my job.

vBrown Bag Series
I didn’t use these as much since I found them only a few weeks prior to my exam date. If I would have known about them sooner, I most definitely would have used them. So much great info in these and all free!

http://nickmarshall.com.au/vcap5-dcd-study-guide/

Blogs & Exam Experiences
There’s a ton of these and I won’t list any in particular. I found reading others experiences very helpful and what i should expect as far as time constraints and general exam format/testing environment.

My Exam Experience
I found the DCD exam to be very challenging but at the same time pretty fun. I was surprised to see a lot things that I knew that I didn’t review and frankly didn’t think to review. I took all of the time allotted and could have used another hour.

Fortunately, at the end I was happy that I passed on the first go around. I wasn’t very confident that I was going to pass while I was taking the exam but did my best to stay calm and focus on the items I knew really well. Like the DCA, it is best to not dwell on particular questions that you are a little fuzzy on. I took the approach of moving along and going back to the iffy ones at the end.

I really think the DCD is a great exam and passing it proves you know a lot about infrastructure and VMware design. Anyone who can pass that exam knows their stuff–a paper DCD is not possible—I wish it was more recognized in the industry. Hopefully the VCIX versions will get the respect that this cert & the ability to pass this exam deserves.

With the DCD under my belt, the next stop was my -VCAP-DCA which will be the subject of next post:  My VCDX Journey – Part 3- VCAP-DCA

Andy