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VCAP5-DCD Exam Prep Resources

VCAP5-DCD

As promised previously, here is a list of the resources I used when studying for the VCAP5-DCD exam.

In terms of the resources I used for the VCAP this time, I see them now as being in two distinct categories, technical and holistic.

Technical resources (unsurprisingly!) are all about learning the ins and out of the vSphere product, the 1,000,000 different configurations, and settings which can be applied to meet a requirement. Its also important to learn a reasonable amount about the technologies which interact with the vSphere platform such as networking, storage, firewalls and a few typical business critical apps (Exchange, SQL etc). The majority of my technical study this time round was spent simply studying the notes I took during my VCAP4-DCD (see here and here).

Holistic resources are those which help you to look at the bigger picture; learning how the different vSphere and other technologies interact, which ones to use to meet a specific requirement and most importantly, what the impact of certain design decisions are on the rest of the design / other technologies / features.

A balanced mix of both resources should see you well prepared to take the VCAP-DCD.

Technical Understanding

The following is a list of all of the technical resources I used:

  • VMware vSphere Design by Forbes Guthrie, Scott Lowe & Kendrick Coleman
    This is the essential guide to vSphere Design and I recommend buying, reading, memorising and consuming it whether you’re doing the VCAP exam or not! I will remind everyone as I do every time, there’s no point filling your shelves up with dead trees if they will only remain current for a couple of years, so eBook where possible!
  • APAC VCAP-DCD Brownbag Video Series by Alastair Cooke et al.
    I used these first time round for my VCAP4-DCD but had another listen in the car this time. Well worth the time, do not miss these, especially the excellent video by Harley Stagner. I particularly like this as it really goes into the thought processes in comparing different solution options and their subsequent impacts.
  • VMworld Videos
    The full VMworld content is usually opened up for free 12 months after each conference. These are an amazing goldmine of information. I have listed out many of the videos I used in my VCAP4-DCD prep guide. I would recommend watching any videos with similar titles such as best practices for networking, storage, etc and any areas you feel a little weaker on. Again this is a great resource whether you choose to do the exam or not.
  • VMware vSphere 5.1 Clustering Deepdive by Duncan Epping & Frank Denneman
    The definitive technical guide to vSphere. Nuff said!
  • Technical resources from my VCAP4-DCD exam
    These resources are almost all just as relevant now as for the version 4 exam. I would only recommend perhaps updating slightly with the newer versions of books mentioned, and the newer VMworld 2012 videos.

Holistic Understanding

The following is a list of the more “holistic” resources I used:

  • Designing VMware Infrastructure by Scott Lowe
    Absolutely superb guide to architecture, which Scott maintains at a high level teaching you how to make design decisions, not plumbing the depths of the technical. Lots of good real life examples too and presented in Scott’s unique style which I always find holds my interest with ease. Well worth subscribing, even for a month. You can even get a free trial for up to 200 minutes to test it out.
  • The VCAP5-DCD Official Cert Guide (with DVD) by Paul McSharry
    A great resource to use in your final week of study. It ties together everything you have learned, gives you many practice design decision questions as well as including some practice exams. I will be publishing a review of this book shortly, along with a chance to get your hands on a signed copy, so stay tuned! You can also find some extra practice questions here on Paul’s blog.
  • Conceptual, Logical, Physical:  It is Simple by John A. Zachman
    This white paper describes the differences between a Conceptual Design, a Logical Design and a Physical Design and is meant to assist VCAP-DCD candidates in better understanding these concepts. I found it very useful, and would highly recommend to anyone still trying to get their heads around these concepts.
  • Cloud Infrastructure Architecture Case Study by Duncan Epping et al.
    This is a great example of a design document which shows some of the design decisions and documents the 4 key design factors: Requirements, Assumptions, Risks and Constraints in a realistic example design.
  • VCAP5-DCD Exam Blueprint
    Make sure you understand everything in this before you take the exam!
  • Plain old experience!
    If you have been designing vSphere environments for more than a year or so, frankly you almost certainly have the skills already top pass the exam with minimal study. As an engineer with minimal design experience I found the VCAP4-DCD very tricky. 18 months later having worked as an architect for 12 of those, it was a very different experience.

Other

  • The Saffa Geek VCAP-DCA-DCD Guide
    Worth mentioning on its own is THE definitive resource guide for VMware exams. I always stop by on Gregg’s blog  and utilise as many as possible!
  • Exam experiences
    I find these are great for picking up great tips for the exam. For these, Google is your friend, but FYI mine is here!

That’s about it for now, take care and best of luck!

VCAP5-DCD Exam Review and Experience

VCAP5-DCD

So I successfully sat the VCAP5-DCD exam yesterday and thought I would jot down a few thoughts on the exam, how it went and some of the resources I used. The first thing I would say is… what a difference a year makes! When I sat the VCAP4-DCD in March last year, I was working as a Technical Consultant / Engineer, focusing on Wintel and Storage management / implementation. I spent over 2 months studying 3+ hours per night for the exam. Hard work, but absolutely doable and very rewarding, both personally and career-wise.

For the past 12 months I have been working as a Solution Architect for a Service Provider, primarily designing solutions for many medium sized businesses. The biggest part of my role involves talking to customers to define business requirements, translating these into logical and physical designs, and completing impact analysis to ensure all the components will fit together without any issues. Quite useful things to do regularly if you then want to take the VCAP! I can definitely say that I found the exam significantly less stressful the second time round, and my prep time was about a quarter of the VCAP4. My final week before the exam was spent as follows:

7 days before the exam At this point I was beginning to run out of time until the exam so had to be more selective in my review material. This included reading select sections from Duncan Epping and Frank Denneman’s excellent VMware vSphere Clustering Deepdive book and watching the last few vBrownbag VCAP-DCD courses from the inimitable Alastair Cooke & the APAC team.
Re-read my copious notes gathered over the course of my VCAP4 and VCAP5-DCD study.
Went through the blueprint again to ensure I hadn’t missed any key areas.

2 Days Before the Exam Read Paul McSharry’s Official VCAP-DCD Cert book over the course of a couple of nights. This is a great resource and I will be publishing a review on the book later this week, along with a wee Xmas give-away for one lucky person to win a signed copy of the book, so stay tuned! In hindsight I would have ideally given myself 3 days to read this and implement all of the end-of-chapter design exercises. The questions were invaluable practice for the exam and helped me build confidence in my knowledge immediately preceding the exam (never a bad thing if you’re finding it a bit daunting!). At time of writing I believe Paul is also working on publishing some more practice questions on his blog, over at www.elasticsky.co.uk.

Day Before the Exam Finished Paul’s Cert guide, then watched the excellent vBrownbag video by Harley Stagner. I particularly like this as it really goes into the thought processes in comparing different solution options and their subsequent impacts. If you have attended the official VMware design workshop, I also suggest this is the day to go through the case study again (I only had the VCAP4 workbook).
Completed the interactive exam simulation from the VMware MyLearn site – this is HIGHLY recommended as it will save you time in the exam not having to work out how to use the tool.

Day of the Exam I would describe the VCAP exams as very much a marathon, more than a sprint. I think its therefore prudent to approach this 4 hour brain mashing session in much the same way as an athlete might approach a 10k race. Have yourself a decent breakfast of slow-burn foods (porridge, Weetabix etc). Then shortly before you go into the exam perhaps have a banana. It will stave off the hunger later whilst giving your brain a bit of energy over a decent period of time.

Following a great wee tip from my fellow #LonVMUG member Craig Kilborn, I took a couple of ibuprofen about an hour before I went into the exam. They’re not exactly performance enhancing drugs (for those recommendations please see Lance Armstrong’s blog), but it wouldn’t be much fun to get a headache half way through the 4 hour session, especially if your exam centre wont allow water in the exam room! Water is important for your brain but don’t guzzle a load as you will end up having to spend the last 2 hours crossing your legs as I did in my VCAP4 (not fun!)…

The Exam Obviously I cant go into any real detail, but I will summarise some of the info already in the public domain, which I think is key to the experience. The exam itself was very similar to the VCAP4, though there are some slight tweaks, in that you now do fewer total questions (100 in all) and more visio-style design questions, a total of 6. If you are upgrading your existing VCAP4 I suggest concentrating some of your technical study specifically on the newer feature set as you will definitely be tested on these. For example, Jon Hall mentioned several times on one of the vBrownbag podcasts about Datastore Clusters.

You are now no longer able to mark or go back to any questions. I actually don’t think this is a great loss. The time required is so tight, you generally don’t have time to go back, and if you think you may have made a mistake then there’s no point dwelling on an answer as you cant fix it anyway! Move on and get more points elsewhere. I personally finished the VCAP5 with only about 5 minutes to spare, and the VCAP4 with one second to go! The tips I used for the exam approach in the VCAP4 still definitely hold true, with a few minor tweaks:

  1. Don’t pay too much attention to the clock, except when doing the Visio design questions, and maybe for the final 60 minutes or so. You know you will have 6 Visio questions so write 1-6 at the top of the page, and mark the start and end times of each Visio question. VMware recommends 15 mins per Visio question which is about right. Several of mine were under ten minutes and a couple of them took 16-18 minutes each. Don’t stress if one takes you a bit more time, but don’t let it go much beyond the 20 minute mark. At that point you’re better to move on and get more points elsewhere as you can still get lots of points for a “nearly right” answer. Fortunately VMware also seem to have made some improvements to the performance of the Visio tool, so it no longer seems to lag when you add a large number of objects. Based on 90 minutes worth of Visio questions, this will leave you with around 2hrs 15mins left to do the remaining 94 questions, or just under a minute and a half per question on average.
  2. Some of the Visio questions weren’t as clear in terms of language as I think they could have been. There were also one or two of the object types which didn’t quite make sense in the context. If you experience the same, again I suggest just do your best and move on. You can still get significant partial points as long as you have most of the diagram right.
  3. For each question, read the actual question before you read the case study information / description as it will help you to more quickly identify what information you are looking for and will reduce the likelihood of having to re-read anything.
  4. Once you have entered an answer don’t second guess yourself. Chances are your gut reaction is probably right as long as you have read the question and answers properly. I believe VMware have removed “trick you by missing or adding one key word in a sentence” type of questions, which is great. I don’t feel questions like this add any value, and certainly don’t prove your knowledge or lack of, one way or the other.
  5. I don’t believe there is negative marking employed, so any answer is better than leaving blanks. This is especially true if you reach the last 5 mins and still have some questions left. Speed read and answer quickly…

Final Thoughts I still very strongly believe that VMware should provide some kind of feedback in terms of the weighted scores against different subject areas or question types, much like you get in Microsoft or Citrix exams. If you were to fail the exam, it would give some good ideas as to the areas you need to study up on for your next attempt. Assuming you do pass, its still useful to know as it indicates areas you need to work on to improve your knowledge for your day job (after all we don’t just do these exams for the sake of it… do we?!).

Irrespective of your current role, I believe its definitely a certification worth going for. As an Engineer it helped me learn a lot more about design, business requirements, RTOs, RPOs etc, and that knowledge gained played no small part in me being selected for the role I am in today. As an Architect it has definitely been easier as some of the skills tested in the exam are part of my day to day role, but it reminded me of little bits and bobs I should be including in my design process and it’s one key step on the way to a possible VCDX attempt at a later stage.

Finally, I think this post is becoming rather wordy, so I will post my list of actual resources in a separate post later this week. If you are preparing for your VCAP5-DCD I wish you the best of luck!

Free Training from VMware

It’s been a while since I last made a post as I have had a rather busy summer working on the Olympic and Paralympic Games. Now that they are coming to a close I finally get the opportunity to take my first bit of actual time off this year! Before that I thought I would post a wee reminder to all those currently studying for their VCP, VCAP-DCD or VCAP-DCA.

Now that VMworld 2012 has come to a close, VMware (very kindly) release all of the 2011 sessions for free on the VMworld.com website! As you can see from my VMware VCAP-DCD 4 Exam Prep Guide, the VMworld sessions are an invaluable training resource when studying for your advanced exams in particular.

To access the content, simply go to the VMworld website, sign up for a free account and access the 2011 content below:

http://www.vmworld.com/community/sessions/

The top 10 most popular sessions from this year are also available gratis:

http://www.vmworld.com/community/conference/us/learn/top10

I will soon be posting a guide for the VCAP5-DCD with reviews of many of the sessions when I begin studying for it, but first I need to get my last MCSE:Private Cloud exam out of the way… more info coming soon.

Related Posts:
VMware VCAP-DCD 4 Exam Prep Guide

VMware VCAP-DCD 4 Exam Review

Well I’m very pleased to say that as of 4pm yesterday I am now a VCAP having passed the VMware VCAP4-DCD exam! So how was it?

My final week was an interesting one as I was actually out of office all week attending the internal/partner version of our Sun Storage 7000 Unified Storage System Installation, Maintenance and Administration course. In some ways this was a blessing as this was away from work (and all the distractions thereof), but studying all day on one subject then coming home at night and hammering the books on another does tax the brain somewhat!

Anyway, my final week of prep looked something like this:

One week to go: Finished watching the last few VMworld 2010 videos listed in my Exam Prep post. Mainly concentrating on the Exchange, SQL & Oracle ones, plus anything to do with SRM. I also watched several of the customer case studies, which were really useful in helping to relate the theory to the practice.

4 days to go: Watched all of the VCAP Brown Bags by Alastair Cooke et al, and the other two by Jason Boche and Harley Stagner. I cannot recommend these highly enough, and would really like to thank them for all of their efforts in producing this excellent (and completely free!) content. I would suggest you save these for your final week or so, as they are a great recap of everything you should know, plus a few extra golden nuggets. The one by Harley Stagner was also really good as an exam prep as the way things are discussed, is exactly what you need to do in your own head during the trickier exam questions! Do NOT miss this brown bag!

3 days to go: Read through all of my copious notes (> 400 pages of A4!!!) taken over the past 8 weeks. My preferred study method is always to take lots of notes as I watch / read material, and the act of writing it down helps to cement it, and give you a summarised reference for later. It does mean I tend to take a lot longer to watch a video as I often have to pause to write up diagrams etc (+30-50% on the length of most videos!). Obviously this is just my preference, but try it, and see if it helps you too…

2 days to go: Read the official VMware vSphere: Design Workshop [V4.x] workbook from my course last year, cover to cover. This didn’t really come up with anything I didn’t already know but it was good to remind me of the VMware-specific terminology, which obviously carries through to the blueprint and hence exam. In much the same way as you do with an MS exam, you have to “think with your VMware hat on”, even if you would do something slightly differently in the real world.
Finished reading VMware vSphere 4.1 HA and DRS Technical Deepdive by Duncan Epping and Frank Denneman, which is an excellent resource. If you don’t have time to read it all before your exam, just jump to Appendix A, which lists all of the key best practices (or recommended practices as Scott Lowe calls them!). If you are studying for the VCAP 5, there is an updated version already out: VMware vSphere 5 Clustering Technical Deepdive

Day before the exam: Read through a handful of the white papers dealing with the “fringes” of my knowledge, e.g. vCenter Heartbeat, where I haven’t actually used the product before, and where none of my previous study materials had covered much detail.
Read through the case study at the end of VMware vSphere Design by Forbes Guthrie, Scott Lowe and, Maish Saidel-Keesing. I read the book weeks ago, but deliberately saved the case study until later. In hindsight it may have been interesting to write down some thoughts on it before and after the rest of my study, maybe highlighting the things I’d learned in between!
Did as much of the VMware workshop case study as I had time left to complete. Went to bed @ 2.30am ready for my midday exam the next day.

Night before the exam, 4.30am: Got called out for work!!! Aaaargh! Not only that but it turns out it was due to someone being unable to connect an box by IP and thinking it was down, when they simply had the wrong IP… we invented DNS 30 years ago, let’s try using it!!! *facepalm*

The Exam: So as for the exam itself, I managed to completed every one of the 113 questions in time, but by “in time” what I actually mean is that I literally submitted my last answer with one second to go! The timing on the exam really is that tight! It didn’t help that about half way through the exam I needed the loo, and held on to the end. Had I not done so I might not have managed to get to those last handful of questions… the “crossing of legs” best practice was implemented with no DR plan, which I admit was a high risk strategy!

One thing I would say if looking at the exam with a critical eye, is that VMware should consider taking a small leaf out of Microsoft’s book. At the end of an MS exam you get a breakdown of where you gained all of your points (just a bar chart with a relative %). I would love to have known how my points were broken down so it could identify any weaknesses in my skill set, both for future exams and my actual job! Similarly there could be a small breakdown of the “relative” scores for the three types of questions. It’s great to know I passed, but would be even better to know where I didn’t do so well. This would be even more useful for people who don’t pass on the first attempt.

Regarding the “Visio tool”; even though I did actually do the demo a couple of times, I still had some issues with it, including the fact that the more objects you add, the more lag you experience (sometimes several seconds to place an object), which wastes precious time. I hope this improves with the vSphere 5 exam (though I doubt it will).

Now, a few tips for the actual exam from my perspective (obviously being careful not to breach the NDA!). Watch this brownbag with Jon Hall (of the VMware cert team) for an in depth look at the way the points are allocated per question, or see my summary:

  1. Don’t pay too much attention to the clock, except when doing the Visio design questions, and maybe for the final 30 minutes or so. Whenever I had one of those (for which VMware recommends 15 mins each), I checked the clock and worked out roughly what time I should be done by. A couple of them took me 5+ mins longer than the recommended time, but the others took slightly less so I guess it probably averaged to 15 or just over. Dont stress if one takes you a bit more time, but don’t let it go much beyond the 20 minute mark. At that point you’re better to move on and get more points elsewhere as you can still get lots of points for a “nearly right” answer.
  2. There was one exam strategy I mentioned in my prep post which came from a VMware trainer; 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.
    I did not take this approach in my exam, and instead just went through the exam in a serial fashion. If I had taken the above approach I may have wasted time with the review process to get back and not had enough time to complete the questions.
  3. Read the question before you read the information as it will help you to more quickly identify what information you are looking for and will reduce the likelihood of having to re-read anything.
  4. Once you have entered an answer don’t second guess yourself. Chances are your gut reaction is probably right as long as you have read the question and answers properly.
  5. Mark any questions you haven’t been able to complete but always put an answer in and keep moving. There are 113 questions to get through! If you do actually make it to the end with time to spare you can come back, but concentrate on getting through the questions first.
  6. I don’t believe there is negative marking employed, so any answer is better than leaving blanks. This is especially true if you reach the last 5 mins and still have some questions left. Speed read and answer quickly…

One final point I would make is that as I understand it, the VCAP4-DCD and the VCAP5-DCD are not massively different, just the new improvements which will tweak your designs (especially HA!) and the way the new blueprint emphasizes the design method. Therefore a very large proportion of the exam prep materials in my VMware VCAP-DCD 4 Exam Prep Guide should be just as relevant as a VCAP-DCD 5 exam prep guide. I plan to upgrade my VCAP4 to a VCAP5 while the information is still fresh in my mind. Hopefully this will be soon as the beta completed over three weeks ago, meaning the final exam version shouldn’t be far off.

In the mean time, I have to learn Hyper V for an upcoming project!…

Related posts:
VMware VCAP-DCD 4 Exam Prep Guide

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