Thursday, February 27, 2014

PEX Recap - Time for VCDX!

On the 14th I returned from VMware PEX in San Francisco, California and man, what a trip. First of all if you haven't been to San Francisco, the city itself is worth the trip. Extremely hilly, but full of delicious food, great coffee, wine, the arts, you name it. I consider myself a bit of a pizza snob being from very near New Haven, CT which is basically Mecca for the pizza lover. However, my friend and co-worker Tom Queen outshines me in this discipline to an exponential degree, and he had nothing but positive things to say about the pizza in San Francisco. I agree with him 100%, check out 00 Pizza if you get the chance.

VMware PEX

As much as I wish it was, my trip to San Francisco was not for pizza alone. The main purpose of my trip was VMware Partner Exchange, a conference dedicated to VMware partners where they share roadmap information, conduct technical breakout sessions, offer Hands on Labs, and give us as engineers the opportunity to network with some really sharp folks. I am extremely grateful that my employer afforded me such a great opportunity.

Mirage Bootcamp

The first couple days I spent in a Horizon Mirage boot camp, such a great product and fairly simple to use. Basically it decouples the base OS from the Application and User data via a layering technique, then uses an agent to apply the appropriate layers to the corresponding VM or physical workstation. The tool can then be used as a backup and recovery mechanism, even supporting file level restores initiated by the user via a web portal. Additionally, Mirage offers a smooth migration path to Windows 7 by allowing the administrator to apply a new OS layer and then reapply the application and user data layers back on top of the OS. There are already some integration points with Horizon View, and I foresee this increasing eventually giving View admins real flexibility in how they handle user and application data as well as how they manage their base images. Mirage makes heavy use of compression and block de-duplication, meaning that after the initial sync bandwidth utilization back to the data center is kept to a minimum.

General Sessions

Monday I spent in an all day session by EMC. Lots of great roadmap info in here that unfortunately I cannot share due to NDA. Suffice it to say that the Software Defined Datacenter is where things are going. We all need to get our automation hats on and prepare to interact with technology in a very different way. Speaking of software defined, I also sat in on some great sessions on VMware NSX and VSAN. The NSX course was introductory but it's great to see the focus shifting away from designing for the network and towards designing for the application. NSX is going to offer a lot of opportunity for rapid network configuration and application deployment. This includes stuff like load balancing, firewalling, etc. Which has traditionally been a bit of a hurdle for application developers to get over when spinning up new instances. VSAN is also very cool, leveraging local host storage (SSD and Spinning Disk) to create an elastic datastore that can scale out or scale up. Really, looking forward to getting my hands deeper into these technologies.

On top of the technical sessions I sat in on some really good process oriented sessions. The first of which was a Mirage based session focused on where Mirage compliments competing technologies and where it competes head to head. The other session on this track that I attended was an EUC experts panel focused on View. The big takeaway here was that you need to take a strategic approach to EUC engagements and sometimes try to get the customer to do things that they may not want to do initially in order to deliver the best overall solution. Plan and Design sessions as well as Environmental Assessments are crucial to a successful VDI deployment because there are so many factors that go into the end user experience. Aside from properly sizing the environment from a compute, network, and storage perspective, we have to ensure that the proper applications installed and working, that there is no extra bloat in the base disk, and that we are designing both for the administrator and for the end user. I have pages of notes on this stuff that I won't bore you with, but it's a hot topic and I really enjoyed the session.


On top of all the great speakers and sessions VMware offers up the opportunity to take a discounted exam at PEX so I figured I would take a go at the VCAP5-DCD. I am in a Master's program focused on IT management, have a good amount of vSphere experience including my VCAP5-DCA, had spent a bit of time watching Scott Lowe's course on the DCD, as well as watched a few of the #vBrownBag podcasts on the topic but really hadn't put any real time into studying or preparing. Well, imagine my surprise when I actually passed the thing, and what a bear it was. This exam is not particularly fun like the DCA exam. It's 100 questions focused around translating business requirements into VMware solutions. If you are going to take this exam you will definitely want to tap some of the resources I mentioned prior, as well as possibly attending one of the VMware design workshops if you are able. Stuff like RTO, RPO, Constraints, Risks, Requirements, Assumptions, Resource Pool sizing, LAN and SAN architectures, CPU and Memory sizing should all be second nature by the time you take this exam if you want any chance at passing it. Also be sure to watch the VCAP-DCD Exam Demo on myLearn ahead of time because the design tool can be pretty confusing at first glance.

What's Next?

I found that I was asking myself this question a lot after getting the DCD, after all that was my next goal and I wasn't really mentally prepared for actually passing it this time around, I was planning on getting a feel for the exam then retaking it back home in a few weeks. Given the progress and momentum I have in the VMware Data Center cert track right now, the next logical step is VCDX. Just typing at this point seems surreal, Derek Seaman said it best in his post describing his 180 day VCDX journey, "...I mean, those people are book authors, world renowned bloggers, and levitate at will, right?" In all seriousness, it's a very intimidating prospect, but I think I am ready. Right now I am searching for a design opportunity as I do not have a past design that I feel will meet the submission requirements. Once I find a good fit, I will begin the design process, and hopefully defend in October. I have watched the vBrownBag bootcamp series, picked up the required reading materials, and to be frank, I am pretty pumped. Lets see where this roller coaster goes...