VMware VCAP-DCD 4 Exam Prep Guide

vSphere 5

So I completed my VMware vSphere: Design Workshop [V4.x] last August, but just a week after that my second daughter was born. 6 months (and many dirty nappies) later, I have finally gotten around to looking at taking the exam! I did consider simply waiting for the vSphere 5 DCD exams to be released, but considering how long the v4 exams took to be released, I don’t think it’s worth the wait just now.

I plan to take the exam in late March, giving me 8 weeks to prepare, so much like I did with my VCP5 Exam Prep Guide, I will post an expanding list of my VCAP4-DCD exam prep materials below, in the hopes that it may be of some help to others.

Prep Courses / Materials

  • VMware vSphere: Design Workshop [V4.x]
    Well worth the time (and money – paid for by my employer, advantages of being a permie!) in my opinion. It is basically an opportunity to sit down for three days and go through a fictional design, end to end, using all the VMware best practices and guides, whilst shooting the breeze with like minded individuals. The manual provided with this course is very good, and a few days prior to my exam I plan to read it again cover to cover.
  • DRBC Design – Disaster Recovery and Business Continuity Fundamentals
    Online “virtual” training course from VMware. Pretty steep price for only 4 hours training IMHO, especially when they only give you 3 months access… For $240 (£152) I would expect permanent access to it! Fortunately, again I didn’t actually have to pay for this myself. Were I contracting, I would seriously think twice about skipping this! I believe some people can access this for free, depending on your VMware Partner level.
  • VMware vSphere Design by Forbes Guthrie, Scott Lowe and, Maish Saidel-Keesing
    If there is one resource which I can recommend above all other’s it would be this book. Buy it on Kindle for less than £20! Its the best £30 you’ll ever spend!
  • VMware vSphere 4.1 HA and DRS Technical Deepdive by Duncan Epping and Frank Denneman
    A superb and easy read. This is a short book concentrating on the nitty gritty of vSphere clustering. You will need to know this if you want to pass the exam! Again, spread out your reading, and don’t try to take it all in in one go!
  • Official Exam Blueprint
    The official exam blueprint/guide. As much of a pain in the ar*e as it is, I suggest at least scanning through every document referenced in this guide. If you know it all (and have practiced it lots) then you *should* be ok in the exam!
  • Exam Blueprint PDF Files and Objectives Discussion
    Sean Crookston has very kindly packaged all the required PDFs up in an executable zip (based on 1.3 blueprint but its basically identical), thanks Sean! I wont have time to go through them all, but I’ll post a few highlights shortly. Also make sure that you go through his discussion on Objectives 1.1 / 1.2 / 1.3 / 2.1 / 2.2. I believe Sean would have done more but time constraints stopped him at that point, but what he has done is really useful and worth a read!
  • VCAP4-DCD Exam UI Demo
    A useful resource as this gives first-timers a chance to get used to the “Visio”-style exam interface and get an idea of the types of activities required in the exam. This requires registration, and only lasts 3 months from reg. Its disappointing that they do not give you sample exam questions for practice as you normally get with the VCP exams.
  • VCAP-DCD4 Exam UI Tutorial
    This one does not require registration and repeats the above without your interaction.
  • VCAP-DCD Community Forums
    I read through virtually every post on here (there aren’t that many). If you don’t want to read through them all (might take you an hour once you follow the links etc) I did take a note of some key comments which I felt were worth investigating later, which you can download here: VMware VCAP-DCD Community Forums Tips
  • The Saffa Geek VCAP-DCA-DCD Guide
    Gregg has a raft of links to prep materials, of which I plan to go through as many as possible.
  • Private Cloud Architecture v1.4 by Iwan Rahabok
    A superb resource with highlights for every area of design of what you should be considering.
  • VCAP Brown Bags by Alastair Cooke et al. This is based on the VCAP-DCD5 (not yet out) but should still be applicable to VCAP-DCD4. Update: Having watched these, I can confirm that there are very few areas which are specific to vSphere 5, so I highly recommend you save these up and watch them as part of your final exam prep / review. You shouldknow most of it already if you have covered enough in studying, so with luck this should be a great way to do final revision.
    1. Overview, Methodology and Business Requirements
      Excellent session where Alastair Cooke goes over the VMware VIM (Virtual Infrastructure Methodology). This is all just as relevant to vSphere 4 as it is to 5.
    2. Storage Design
      A great reminder of the key things you need to remember when designing storage. Sometimes a bit hard to hear due to the VoIP method, but still a great presentation. Watch this when you are doing your final revision.
    3. Network Design
      Much like the above. A good reminder session which very quickly goes through each key design choice and highlights pros and cons for each with a number of discussions based on live questions. Ran out of time after 75 mins so to be continued below.
    4. Availability and DR Design
      Gladly, Alastair teaches this session himself, which is great as he is obviously a very good trainer. One great tip I gained was when defining your replication strategy for your RPO, don’t forget that the time to replicate must be within the RPO timescale, especially when using periodic replication.  For example if your RPO is an hour, then your replication must complete within that hour. A 2 hour replication on a 1 hour RPO doesn’t meet requirements!!!
      The closer your RPO gets to zero, the more likely you will need continuous replication. When under an hour, start to look into asynchronous replication. Once you’re getting into RPO times under 5 mins, you will probably start needing to look at synchronous replication, which obviously causes latency, and may dictate distance to your DR site etc.
    5. Security Design
      Direct link from Vimeo as the main link page on demitasse.co.nz seems to be missing it. The detailed slide decks can be found here and here. One wee golden nugget was to use folders in the datastore view to lockdown permissions. A really simple use of this is to put all the local VMFS volumes into one directory and secure it, that way admins wont have to sift through them when creating VMDKs as they will not appear in their views, so this reduces risk of putting VMDKs in the wrong place.
    6. Network Design (Continued)
      A simple continuation of the previous session. Only lasts 45 mins or so.
    7. Exam Registration and Environment
      Skip the first 16 mins as its mainly about VCAP5 track. The next section (10 mins or so) can be summarised as:

      • Multi Choice Questions
        These make up over half exam
        Small # of points per answer
        No partial points – all or nothing!
      • Drag and Drop Style Questions
        Quite a few questions
        Single digit points per answer
        Partial points given, based on being correct with 2-4 key ideas.
      • Visio-Style Design Tool
        Might be 3-5 questions
        Worth a lot of points per answer, e.g. 20-40 pts!
        Partial points given, based on up to 20 checks against your design.
      • Time Management Suggestion
        Not sure if i’ll try this or not, I normally do exams straight through and dont look back!:
        – Do all multi choice questions first.
        – Second time through, do drag and drop questions.
        – Third time through do design questions, which means you know how much time you have left.
    8. Host Design
      Another great session run by Alastair Cooke. Quote of the day:
      “Always document WHY you make a decision.”
    9. Cluster Design
      Scheduled for 29 March 2012. Irrespective of my exam being over this week, I will be tuning in (though maybe not live as I think these run at about 6am for us in the UK)!
  • Other Brown Bags – DO NOT MISS THESE!
    1. VCAP-DCD Objective 1 (Jason Boche) Absolutely SUPERB brown bag, do NOT miss this! This goes through the VMware design process, the info you need to gather, who from, and why. He then goes into how to identify Requirements, Constraints, Assumptions and Risks, and has a quick game of identifying each from some example cases. I cannot recommend this enough…
    2. vSphere Design with Harley Stagner
      A great preparation tool to use closer to the time of your exam. This goes through a couple of design scenarios and discusses the different options you could consider. Definitely watch this!
  • VMworld Community Sessions (2010)
    Now free to watch if you sign up for a free account. I recommend you go through as many of the TA and BCtracks as you have time for (there are about 50 odd of them at about an hour each!!!) but if you only have time for a few, concentrate on the following in priority / technology order depending on what areas you are weakest on:

    1. TA8133    Best Practices to Increase Availability and Throughput for VMware
      Superb presentation pitched at an appropriate level. Lots of good storage design tips here. If you don’t watch anything else, watch this!
    2. TA8018    Architecting for Performance
      Only 40 minutes long. More of a refresher of things you should be remembering anyway, plus a couple of information nuggets. Watch it in your lunch hour.
    3. TA7171    Performance Best Practices for vSphere
      Very good session led by Scott Drummonds, formerly of VMware, now EMC. Absolutely worth a watch! Covers ESX(i), Storage, Memory, NetIOC/SIOC, and a quick bit about troubleshooting.
    4. TA8065    Storage Best Practices, Performance Tuning and Troubleshooting
      Detailed review of best practices by Duane Fafard from IBM. He goes through his whole design process from Fabric, to arrays, queue depths, pathing, and much more. The design stuff is based on IBM HW, but applicable on any vendor setup. A great presentation and some really useful tuning and troubleshooting tips.
    5. TA8452    Designing Resilient Networks for vSphere and NFS
      This is audio only, but you can download the slide decks so no biggie. This is a good reminder session if you read Scott Lowe’s book, if not, it’s essential! The first ~25 mins are the most important, after which it all becomes very NetApp specific.
    6. TA8595    Virtual Networking Concepts and Best Practices
      First of all, skip the first 20 mins which is very basic. Second, if you have already read Scott Lowe’s design book, the rest of this presentation should really just be a refresher. Nothing much new here.
    7. TA6841    Cisco Nexus 1000v: Architecture, Deployment, and Management
      Run by Jason Nash of TrainSignal vSphere Security course fame, this presentation is an excellent into to Cisco Nexus 1000v. Doesn’t go into masses of detail (he only has 50 mins to be fair!), but still highly recommended. If you want more detail, try the TrainSignal course (at a cost!), or read the VMware white paper Guidelines for Implementing VMware vSphere 4 with the Cisco Nexus 1000V Virtual Switch.
    8. TA7121    Next Generation VM Storage Solutions with vStorage API for Array Integration (VAAI)
      Just watch the first 20 mins for a quick overview of VAAI by the guy who wrote it! The rest talks about features which have basically come out in vSphere 5, though jumping to > 38 mins or so lets you hear the Q&A session which is quite interesting too.
    9. TA8440    10Gb & FCoE Real World Design Considerations
      Some great best practice recommendations, along with some great info on NetIOC and recommendations for shares, etc. My only complaint is that the speaker is speaks VERY fast, which he does apologies for at the start, but its quite distracting. Definitely a good session though.
    10. TA7743    ESX iSCSI News, Configuration, and Best Practices
      Some useful solutions for iSCSI multipathing, though the presentation is not that well done and jumps about a bit. You may be better just reading the iSCSI SAN Configuration Guide (vsp_41_iscsi_san_cfg.pdf), page 36 onwards.
    11. BC7803    Planning and Designing an HA Cluster that Maximizes VM Uptime
      A great session part presented by the ever-knowledgeable Duncan Epping. If you haven’t read his HA book, don’t miss this! Be warned: some muppet who edited the video has left the muzak running in the background for the entire video! Just turn the volume down a lot until you can mainly only hear the presenters, and as little music as possible. Very annoying!
    12. MA7528    VMware vCenter Server: Operational Best Practices in the Datacenter
      Covers a lot that you should already know if you read Scott Lowe’s book, but a decent presentation and some good reminders for the kind of questions to ask yourself in section 1 of the VMware “design framework”.
    13. BC8274    VMware Fault Tolerance – Best Practices, Usage Scenarios and Performance
      Ok session, but most of this info you should already know. Skip the first and last 15 mins as they are very basic, and the Q&A session is poor as they don’t repeat the questions for the mic!
    14. SE8206    Security Hardening Guidelines for vSphere
      This is not a guide to security, it’s a guide to the security guides!!! They do highlight some of the most important recommendations, from 21.5 mins onwards if you want to watch it, otherwise, just read the actual vSphere 4.0 Security Hardening Guide pdf, referenced in the 1.6 blueprint!
    15. BC8283    Backing up VMware – Benchmarked and Best Practices
      Review TBA
    16. BC7773    VMware Site Recovery Manager: Misconceptions and Misconfigurations
      An excellent presentation on SRM from the inimitable Mike Laverick of RTFM-ED. First 40 mins for the best DCD related content.
    17. BC6703    How to be Successful with SRM Implementations
      An excellent technical and architectural presentation by Michael White of VMware. Dives into multiple areas of SRM and many best practice tips. Dont miss it if you want to learn more on SRM!
    18. BC9017    Customer Use Cases: Lone Star College and Weyerhaeuser
      A quick 30 minute run through a couple of use cases. The Weyerhaeuser was far better in terms of actually going into detail on the SRM implementation, and lessons learned. Jump to 11:30 for this.
    19. EA7849    Design, Deploy, and Optimize Microsoft Exchange Server 2010 on vSphere
      The blueprint is for 2007 but I think this presentation is still worth mainly seeing for the first half. Most of the stuff up until he starts discussing DAGs is relevant to 2007, plus you should be reading the Best Practices Guide: Microsoft Exchange Solutions on VMware, the Exchange Getting Started Kit, and  Microsoft Exchange Server 2007 Performance on VMware vSphere™ 4 white papers anyway.
    20. EA7850    Design, Deploy, and Optimize Microsoft SQL 2008
      This applies to 2005 or 2008 so is appropriate. Its a great presentation (skip the basics at start). Main point to note is that MS SQL DB Mirroring is the best method for virtualising SQL, though you do double your disk reqs as compared to MSCS. FT is also good for single CPU VMs with small, but critical DBs. The price to pay for flexibility! Dont forget the Best Practices Guide: Microsoft SQL Server and VMware Virtual Infrastructure and Performance and Scalability of Microsoft SQL Server® on VMware vSphere 4 white papers too.
    21. EA7061    Creating an Internal Oracle Database Cloud Using vSphere
      Good presentation, but may not all be relevant. Key points are around licensing and suggesting that you have dedicated Oracle clusters if you have enough Oracle DBs. Dont forget the Oracle® Databases on VMware vSphere™ 4 and Virtualizing Performance-Critical Database Applications in VMware® vSphere™ white papers.
    22. EA8700 Oracle on vSphere: Re-Platforming Tier 1 Oracle Databases from UNIX to vSphere at Indiana University
      Very interesting case study, which gives a good insight into architectural choices and methods for a migration between two DCs whilst also virtualising Oracle onto a different OS!
    23. SE7813    vShield Edge & Application Protection – Architecture and Use Cases
      Interesting presentation, though the fist 15 mins or so are mainly marketing. Includes some use cases for things such as PCI compliance etc.
    24. TA2222    ESX implementation at Kroger Store Systems (from VMworld 2009)
      Interesting case study with >100 remote sites controlled via a centralised vCenter in the main DC. Jump to 52 mins for architectural considerations, or read ROBO – Managing Remote ESX Hosts Over WAN with VirtualCenter.
    25. TA8661    Deploying vSphere in a ROBO Environment
      Just read the pdf if you have watched TA2222. If you’re keen there’s an mp3 only presentation too with a few more tips and deep dive info.
    26. SE8421    Hypervisor-Based Antivirus and Endpoint Security
      Ok presentation if you don’t know much about the vShield product suite. I downloaded the MP3 and listened to this one in the car. If you don’t have time, don’t bother.
    27. SE8389    Architectural Overview of Virtualization Security for the Private Cloud
      This is basically a marketing presentation. Interesting, but basically not useful for study. I downloaded the mp3 and listed in the car to make my commute more exciting!
    28. TA6862    vDS Deep Dive: Managing and Troubleshooting
      Interesting first half of the presentation, though not a huge amount of design help. Low priority for watching.
    29. TA8158    Surviving VMware on Blades
      A little disappointing, and probably should have been in the partner presentations as half of it is a sales pitch! Useful only by examining the design decisions, and ignore the fluff. Skip the start and watch from 14 mins in.
    30. TA8270    Get the Best VM Density From Your Virtualization Platform
      Don’t waste your time. This should have been in the 101 section.
  • VMware Partner University Courses
    Useful courses, if you have both access, and time:

    • Infrastructure Virtualization Technical Post-Sales Accreditation: Assessment Fundamentals
      Not much new here but just a few good reminders on how to size up your source capacity / requirements and only takes 1-2 hrs to complete. Also counts towards the Infrastructure Virtualization competency.
  • More links to come…

Related posts:
VMware VCAP-DCD 4 Exam Review

VMware VCP-510 Exam Review

VMware VCP-510 Exam

So I took my exam today and passed with a reasonably respectable score of 428 (pass mark for VCP-510 is 300/500). So how was it?

The exam itself was reasonable, and not massively dissimilar to the VCP 4 in terms of difficulty and question style. The content was all pulled pretty much directly from the exam blueprint, so if you are confident you know the blueprint, then you should be ok with the exam. I would also STRONGLY suggest you take the official mock VCP-510 exam once you feel you are prepared enough, as it will give you a really good feel for the exam and if you pass it comfortably, you will almost certainly do fine in the real one.

The exam has a total of 85 questions to complete in 90 minutes, which sounds tight, but when some of the simpler questions have very short (e.g. 1 word) answers, you can get through those in just seconds, giving you more time to complete the more tricky ones. Just don’t panic about time, or even bother looking at the clock until you’re at least 60 questions into it. I completed mine in about an hour.

I used Scott Lowe’s Mastering VMware vSphere 5 as my main study aid, followed by building several test environments (thanks to the vSphere 60 day evaluation) and doing loads of practice questions etc. I would highlight the fact that his book does not cover much about the extras which are likely to come up, such as the VSA, vDR and even a basic knowledge of other VMware products (Workstation, Server, View etc). I would suggest a little time is dedicated to understanding the basic capabilities of these products too (perhaps a little unfair as the exam is on vSphere but hey?!).

For more info on the exam prep materials I used please see my previous blog post:
VCP5 Exam Prep Guide

Next task: VCAP-DCD 4 (backwards I know)!

Safely Shrinking VMware Server / Workstation .vmdk Files

If like me, you originally implemented some of your VMs in VMware Server (or Workstation) as thick provisioned, and have subsequently changed your mind, the process for converting them back to thin is very simple. In my case, the driver was the purchase of a couple of new SSDs, which obviously have a lot less space than my old 7200RPM SATA disks, but the performance is  significantly better.

Before shrinking your VM, be sure to zero out all of the unused space (left over from file deletes). This is especially important if you have been using the VM for some time, as deleted files do not actually zero the space (just remove the pointers). I recommend using SDelete from SysInternals. Simply run “sdelete -c” to zero out all the deleted file space (experiences may vary!!!).

Once you have cleaned up (and ideally backed up) your VM, The process of migrating to a new datastore and safely shrinking / converting the VMDK files to thin provisioned, is as follows:

  1. Create your new datastore directory on the new drive and specify the location in VMware Server (if required), e.g.
    D:\VMs
  2. Create a new directory for the VM to be migrated, e.g.
    D:\VMs\TestVM
  3. Run the following command:
    “<path-to-vmware-install>\vmware-vdiskmanager.exe” -r “<old-ds-path>\<VM-Name>.vmdk” -t 0 “<new-ds-path>\<VM-Name>.vmdk”
    e.g.
    “C:\Program Files (x86)\VMware\VMware Server\vmware-vdiskmanager.exe” -r “C:\VMs\TestVM\TestVM.vmdk” -t 0 “D:\VMs\TestVM\TestVM.vmdk”
  4. The VM will be converted and copied to the new location with no risk to the original file.
  5. Copy the remaining files from the original datastore location (minus the VMDK / vmdk-flat of course).
  6. Remove the old VM from your VMware Server/Workstation inventory (don’t delete the originals until you have tested the new VM!).
  7. Add the VM back into VMware Server / Workstation using the new datastore location, and start it up, specifying “I moved it” when prompted.
  8. Sit back and enjoy the extra space! 🙂

Note the same process will work for converting VMDK files between all file types, by simply replacing -t 0 with your preferred option from the list below:

0                   : single growable virtual disk
1                   : growable virtual disk split in 2GB files
2                   : preallocated virtual disk
3                   : preallocated virtual disk split in 2GB files
4                   : preallocated ESX-type virtual disk
5                   : compressed disk optimized for streaming

NOTE: You can also run “<path-to-vmware-install>\vmware-vdiskmanager.exe” -k “<ds-path>\<VM-Name>.vmdk” to shrink your vmdk in place, but you will need enough spare space on the same drive to do this (as much as the current vmdk file size if you don’t gain much), you lose the ability to roll back to your original file, and this wont work on thick provisioned disks.

VMware VCP5 Exam Prep Guide

So its that time of year again, when we VCPs have to bone up on the latest developments in the VCP world and get our exam done in time before we have to go cap in hand to our line management asking for them to pay for a course we never needed in the first place. In order to avoid this embarrassment, VMware kindly give us the opportunity (as existing VCPs) to pass the VCP-510 exam by 29th Feb 2012, bypassing the course attendance requirement (fair enough!).

As per usual, I have left this pretty much until as late as I feasibly can while still giving time for the (hopefully never required as yet) resit, meaning I am booked in to sit my exam on 1st Feb.

For the sake of others who are also planning to take this exam, I plan to post the links to all of my study aids below, along with any other hints/tips I come across for studying towards the VCP5 exam. If it only helps out one or two people it’ll be worth the effort.

One point worth highlighting is that reading books is all very well and good, but there’s no substitute for actually “doing it”. The best thing I would suggest is to create a home lab and use the vSphere 60 day evaluation to have a play with all the latest features. I have accomplished this in a couple of ways, but I found the most flexible to be running 2 x ESXi hosts and a copy of FreeNAS 7 inside VMware Workstation 8 (using NFS or iSCSI). I’ll try to create a post on this when I have time, but do a quick search on google for lots of other people with similar setups.

This should be considered a “living list” for now, and I will endeavour to update it as I find/use further resources.

  • Mastering VMware vSphere 5 by Scott Lowe (Kindle Edition)
    A superb resource. Even though I am already VCP3 and 4 certified, it is still worth a full read, in part as a refresher, and in part because it does highlight many of the updates with vSphere. Kindle edition is also cheaper, and lets be honest, as vSphere 5 will be out of date in another couple of years, do you really need 2 kgs of dead tree choking up your bookshelf, when you could just have an electronic copy, which you can share across all your devices?
    I have spent an hour or two a night reading and taking notes from this for a couple of weeks, which is a lot less painful than trying to get through it in one go, and hopefully should ensure slightly better retention!
  • VMware vSphere 5 Clustering Technical Deepdive by Duncan Epping and Frank Denneman (Kindle Edition)
    Having read the vSphere 4 version of this (first Kindle book I ever bought) in prep for my VCAP-DCD 4 (still to sit), I can confirm Duncan and Frank are very capable teachers! An excellent resource which goes above and beyond the VCP requirements, but will give you a much more in depth understanding of HA, DRS, DPM, SDRS, etc. This will be invaluable when the VCAP exams are out for vSphere 5!
  • VCP 5 Exam Blueprint
    If you know all this, then you cant fail!
  • What’s New in vSphere 5.0 Overview
    A quick reminder / highlight list of all the new features in vSphere 5
  • What’s New in vSphere 5.0 – Technical Whitepapers
    Platform
    Storage
    Networking
    Performance
    Availability
    Licensing, Pricing and Packaging
    Particularly useful for a quick reminder skim for all the new features, prior to the exam.
  • vSphere Private Cloud Service Definition
    Whitepaper covering key terms.
  • vSphere Storage Appliance
    Official VMware blog post with documentation links for VSA stuff. Not covered in Scott Lowe’s Mastering Vsphere 5, but you will almost certainly be asked some questions on VSA in the exam.
  • Official VMware Mock VCP510 Exam
    An excellent resource, especially if you have never taken a VCP exam before. HINT: If you can pass this, you’re probably good to go for the real exam.
  • VCP5 Practice Questions by Paul McSharry
    A great set of practice questions being regularly updated with extra questions… I actually met Paul when he taught my VMware vSphere Design [4.x] workshop. A very knowledgeable guy, and his website (www.elasticsky.co.uk) is well worth checking out and subscribing.
  • VCP Practice Exams by Simon Long
    A boat-load of questions here coving general knowledge and config maximums per feature.

Please feel free to send me any links to practice questions and I’ll vet them and add them to the above list.

UPDATE: Passed the exam. See here for my exam review:
VMware VCP-510 Exam Review

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