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

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.

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



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