Tag Archive for VCAP5

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!

NanoLab – Running VMware vSphere on Intel NUC – Part 3

I have really been enjoying messing about with my NanoLab for the past few days and it has already proved invaluable in a couple of projects I’m dealing with  at work (mainly in testing some ideas I had for solutions).

These are just a couple of very quick tips for your NUC lab which I came across throughout the week. They will also apply to any other single NIC configuration for a vSphere cluster (e.g. HP Microserver with no extra PCI card), and for booting your cluster from a USB pen drive.

The tips are both simple fixes to remove the (slightly annoying) warning messages you get on each ESXi host in your cluster after you do your initial config.

The host currently has no management network redundancy. System logs on host <hostname> are stored on non-persistent storage.

Single Management NIC Causes Warning in vCenter

The host currently has no management network redundancy.

To get rid of this (assuming you dont plan to add further NICs), simply follow KB1004700, which is summarised as follows:

To suppress this message on ESXi/ESX hosts in the VMware High Availability (HA) cluster, or if the warning appears for a host already configured in a cluster, set the VMware HA advanced option das.ignoreRedundantNetWarning to true and reconfigure VMware HA on that host.

To set das.ignoreRedundantNetWarning to true:

  1. From the VMware Infrastructure Client, right-click on the cluster and click Edit Settings.
  2. Select vSphere HA and click Advanced Options.
  3. In the Options column, enter das.ignoreRedundantNetWarning
  4. In the Value column, enter true.
    Note: Steps 3 and 4 create a new option.
  5. Click OK.
  6. Right-click the host and click Reconfigure for vSphere HA. This reconfigures HA.

singlenetwork

Booting from USB Pen Drive Causes Warning

System logs on host <hostname> are stored on non-persistent storage

This is caused by booting from the USB device. It is very simple to remove by redirecting logs to a syslog server. A prime example for your home lab would be the syslog server which comes as standard with the vCenter Server Appliance, but commonly your home NAS may have this functionality, you could run a Linux VM to collect the logs, or alternatively you could use a great product to centralise logs called Splunk (free for up to 500mb of logs per day!).

To point your ESXi hosts to any syslog server, simply:

  1. From the VMware Infrastructure Client, select the host.
  2. Select the Configuration tab, then click Advanced Settings.
  3. In the left column expand Syslog, then click global.
  4. In the right panel, in the Syslog.global.logHost box, enter the IP or hostname of your syslog server.
  5. Click OK.
  6. Your host is now configured to forward all logs to your syslog server and the non-persistent storage error will be suppressed.

syslog

Once you have enabled the redirection you also need to open the outbound port on your ESXi hosts (thanks to Sam for the reminder).

  1. From the VMware Infrastructure Client, select the host.
  2. Select the Configuration tab, then select Security Profile.
  3. Next to Firewall, click Properties…
  4. Scroll down to syslog and tick the check box to open ports 514/1514.
  5. Click OK.

open syslog ports

If anyone else comes across any useful NUC related homelab tips, please feel free to comment or mail them to me and I’ll add them to the list.

UPDATE: Duncan Epping describes the das.ignoreRedundantNetWarning fix on his blog, using the vSphere Web Client here:
http://www.yellow-bricks.com/2015/05/21/this-host-currently-has-no-network-management-redundancy/

Other parts of this article may be found here:
NanoLab – Running VMware vSphere on Intel NUC – Part 1
NanoLab – Running VMware vSphere on Intel NUC – Part 2
VMware vSphere NanoLab – Part 4 – Network and Storage Choices

NanoLab – Running VMware vSphere on Intel NUC – Part 2

As I confirmed in my recent post, it is indeed possible (and I would now say highly recommended!) to install ESXi onto an Intel NUC DC3217IYE. This article will confirm the process for achieving this. The method I used is one of many possible, but that which I found to be the simplest, based on the tools I had to hand.

It’s also worth mentioning at this point that most ESXi features are supported on the platform, including FT. The key features not supported are VMDirectPath I/O, and DPM (due to the lack of iLO / IPMI). They do support WoL so you can manually bring nodes online as required, using any standard WoL tool.

I am currently investigating possible options for additional NICs, and it seems that most of the Mini-PCIe NICs are based on a Realtek chipset which is fully supported in ESXi, so happy days! I will post further updates on this subject should I go ahead and expand the NUCs with extra ports.

Requirements

  • A USB Stick. This should work on anything over 1-2GB but personally am using 8GB PNY Micro Sleek Attache Pendrives as they’re tiny, so less likely to catch on anything as they stick out the back of the NUC box, and they cost less than £5 each.
  • A copy of VMware Workstation 8 or newer.
  • ESXi-Customizer (created by Andreas Peetz)
    http://v-front.blogspot.com/p/esxi-customizer.html
  • The ESXi driver for and Intel® 82579V Gigabit Ethernet Controller (created by Chilly)
    http://dl.dropbox.com/u/27246203/E1001E.tgz

Process Overview

  • Install the RAM into your NUC (I maxed mine out with 2x8GB sticks).
  • Create a customised ISO with the additional Intel driver.
  • Install ESXi to your USB stick using VMware Workstation and the customised ISO.
  • Plug in your NUC, insert the USB stick, boot and go!

Detailed Steps
I wont go into the detail of installing the RAM, suffice to say you unscrew the four screws on the base of the unit, carefully take it apart, install the two SODIMM modules, ensuring they click firmly into place, then screw the unit back together… simples!

Part One – Create the Custom ISO

  1. Run the ESXi-Customizer-v2.7.1.exe (latest version at time of writing).
  2. This will extract the customer to the directory of your choosing.
  3. Navigate to the new directory.
  4. Run the ESXi-Customizer.cmd batch file. This will open up the GUI, where you can configure the following options:
  • Path to your ESXi Installer
  • Path to the Intel driver downloaded previously
  • Path where you want the new ISO to be saved
  1. Ensure you tick the Create (U)EFI-bootable ISO checkbox.

This will output a new custom ESXi installer ISO called ESXi-5.x-Custom.iso or similar, in the path defined above.

Part Two – Install bootable ESXi to the USB stick.
I stress that this is my preferred way of doing this as an alternative is simply to burn your customised ISO to a CD/DVD and boot using a USB DVD-ROM. That would however be a whole lot slower, and waste a blank CD!

  1. Plug your chosen USB stick into your PC.
  2. Open VMware Workstation (8 or above), VMware Fusion, or whatever you use, ideally supporting the Virtualize Intel VT-x/EPT or AMD-V/RVI option (allowing you to nest 64-bit VMs).
  3. Create a new VM, you can use any spec you like really, as ESXi always checks on boot, but I created one with the same specs as my intended host, i.e. 16GB RAM, single socket, 2vCPU cores. This does not require a virtual hard disk.
  4. Once the VM is created, and before you boot it, edit the CPU settings and tick the Virtualize Intel VT-x/EPT or AMD-V/RVI checkbox. This will reduce errors when installing ESXi (which checks to ensure it can virtualise 64-bit operating systems).

  1. Set the CD/DVD (IDE) configuration to Use ISO image file, and point this to the customised ISO created earlier.
  2. Once the above settings have been configured, power on the VM.
  3. As soon as the VM is powered on, in the bottom right of the screen, right click on the flash disk icon, and click Connect (Disconnect from Host).

  1. This will mount the USB stick inside the VM, and allow you to do a standard ESXi installation onto the stick. At the end of the installation, disconnect the stick, un-mount and unplug it.

Part Three – Boot and go!
This is the easy bit, assuming you don’t have any of the HDMI issues I mentioned in the previous post!

  1. Plug your newly installed USB stick into the back of the NUC.
  2. Don’t forget to plug in a network cable (duh!) and keyboard for the initial configuration. If you wish to modify any bios settings (optional), you will also need a mouse as the NUC runs Visual BIOS.
  3. Power on the NUC…
  4. Have fun!

That pretty much covers it. If anyone has any questions on the process, please don’t hesitate to ask!

References
Thanks to Ivo Beerens who originally detailed the ISO customisation process here:
http://www.ivobeerens.nl/2011/12/13/vmware-esxi-5-whitebox-nic-support/

Other parts of this article may be found here:
NanoLab – Running VMware vSphere on Intel NUC – Part 1
NanoLab – Running VMware vSphere on Intel NUC – Part 3
VMware vSphere NanoLab – Part 4 – Network and Storage Choices

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