Monday, February 3, 2014

My VCAP-DCA experience

On December 3rd of last year I took the VMware Certified Advanced Professional 5 - Data Center Administration exam. For those of you that know me, I thought for sure I had failed it for sure. I didn't finish all the questions, I wasn't 100% sure I had done the ones I did finish completely and correctly. Essentially, I had moved on and assumed I was going to have to retest. On December 12th I received an email notification that I had passed. Needless to say I was ecstatic and so was the rest of my office because they no longer had to listen to me drone on about how I was sure I had failed. I guess I will go ahead and do the obligatory logo here so lets get that out of the way, boomshakalaka!

As hard as it may be to believe, the purpose of this post isn't for me to gloat. I am actually somewhat disappointed in the fact that I didn't knock this one out of the park, I sort of scraped by. Instead, this post is here to advise those of you planning on taking the VCAP5-DCA on what approach to take when preparing for and when taking the test. Hopefully I'll be able to prevent a couple of you from going through the stress and anxiety that I went through right after walking out of Pearson Professional Center in Winston-Salem.

About the Exam

First things first, nothing I am posting here is going to be direct information off of the exam. I work for a VMware partner and posting exam content is most definitely against the terms and conditions of the test. What I can tell you about is strategies that I feel will help your prepare for the exam, as well as those that will help you when testing.

The exam consists of 26 tasks that you have to accomplish in three and a half hours. You are presented with an environment that will allow you to access a few different servers via RDP as well as putty and the vSphere client so you have all the tools of the trade. Additionally you have access to all of the documentation listed in the ESXi and vCenter section as well as the Command Line Interfaces section here: https://www.vmware.com/support/pubs/vsphere-esxi-vcenter-server-pubs.html (as of this posting the VCAP is still using 5.0 but that is likely to change very soon). Lastly you have the tasks window that you can toggle back and forth to. This window allows you to navigate forwards and backwards through the tasks you are to accomplish. Essentially what you are doing here is sitting in the seat of a Sr. vSphere Admin who has a bunch of change tickets pending, which is what I believe makes this exam such an excellent test of practical skills.

Preparing for the Exam

There are so many good resources out the that you can leverage to prepare for this exam, however as with any cert exam the best place to start is with the blueprint. Currently you can find the VCAP5-DCA blueprint here. This brings me to my first piece of advice going into this exam. Know everything on that blueprint, no joke. There are a lot of exams out there where you can scrape by knowing the major components or features, this is not one of them. This test is built to test your ability to implement an end-to-end configuration of a vSphere environment, and a lot of the configuration later in the exam is contingent upon your ability to complete the initial configuration first.

Reading the blueprint obviously isnt that much fun, so here are some folks who have done the legwork for you and put the blueprint into easy to reference guides:

I personally used Josh's and Chris' guides and they were of immense help.

Ok so great, thats what to study, but how do I study? Well first if you haven't already get a Pluralsight subscription and check out Jason Nash's Course as well as his blog. This course is a full fledged walk of the entire blueprint, and if you go through it all and feel like you could teach the course, you are probably good to go. Additionally, the vBrownBag series is an awesome podcast that has subject matter experts from nearly every area within VMware present on various topics as guest speakers. They even run a specific series dedicated to prepping for the VCAP-DCA, definitely check this out. When you really feel ready, hit Josh Andrews up on twitter and see if he will let you use his practice environment. If you follow my advice, you will be ready the day of.

Taking the Exam

I have quite a few tips for you here, I am lazy so incoming bulleted list:
  • Get some rest if you can, I didn't and I regretted it
  • Don't use the vSphere client from the launcher, RDP to the vCenter server and use it (EDIT: Apparently this is not the consensus, in fact most people have found the opposite, including people much smarter than myself, test it for yourself!) 
  • esxcli command list - nuff said
  • PowerCLI can be a big help if you know how to script your way through the scenarios
  • Don't get bound up in the documentation, if you dont know how do to something skip it and go back you will fail or come very close if you keep digging through the docs blindly, time management is key
  • Be ready to extrapolate configs based on feature requirements. For example if they ask you to create a VM so that it supports snapshots, you should be able to determine that a physical mode RDM is a bad choice
  • Know the CLI, if you think you can pass this test without knowing esxcli, PowerCLI, or the vMA you are mistaken
That's pretty much it, I hope this short post proves to be helpful to someone, I know there are a lot out there. Just to make sure I cement the idea in all you potential VCAPs minds, time management will make or break you on this exam. Best of luck, I'll try to drop some DCD knowledge on everyone if I ever manage to get that one done. Thanks for reading!