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VCAP5-DCD Official Cert Guide – Book Review

The VCAP5-DCD Official Cert Guide (with DVD) by Paul McSharry

Written by Consultant, VMware Certified Trainer and vExpert Paul McSharry, the VCAP5-DCD Official Cert Guide is an excellent resource for solidifying and testing your knowledge in advance of sitting the actual exam, as well as a useful reminder guide for your day to day role in design.

As I mentioned in my VCAP5-DCD Exam Prep Resources article, I saw my study as being split into two distinct areas, Holistic Design and Technical Design. For me, this book falls very much into the former category, mainly covering the process and methodology for producing a design.

The main chapters are:

  1. Introduction to Technical Design
  2. Creating a Design
  3. Thoughts on Good Choices for Virtualization and Design
  4. Developing a Design on Paper and Delivering It Physically
  5. Virtual Machine Design
  6. Project Execution
  7. Tips for Passing the Exam

I was fortunate enough to attend the official VMware Design workshop (for v4) run by Paul a couple of years ago and his personality and teaching style really come through in the book. For me the strongest positives in the book are:

  • Great use of real life examples and case studies throughout the book
  • Plenty of great practice questions at the start and end of each chapter as well as the included practice exams. For me this was one of the most valuable features of the book as it helped me build confidence in my knowledge and highlighted areas for improvement.
  • Many tips / suggestions of processes and activities to use in your real design engagements, my favourite or which is to spin up an internal wordpress site or similar and use that to disseminate project information to stakeholders and users.

The only minor tweak I would like to have seen would be in the practice questions, where there are some questions which require multiple answers. In the real exam, VMware generally specify the number of answers to select [e.g. Select three of five answers]. This would have been good in Paul’s test questions too.

The print version of the book also comes with a DVD that includes test exams, another great resource, especially when genuine (not brain dump!) tests are not common and can be quite expensive. I did not have time to go through these tests prior to my exam, so cannot reasonably comment on their quality, but based on the sample questions in the book I would suggest they should be of a good standard.

The book is available from all the usual outlets including in both hardback (with DVD) and Kindle formats.

To summarise, I can whole heartedly recommend this book, not only as a key component in your VCAP5-DCD study, but as an excellent reference resource for designing vSphere infrastructures out “in the wild”.

Finally, keep an eye on my blog later HERE I will be providing an opportunity for one lucky person to win a signed copy of this book!

Disclaimer: I was kindly provided a copy of the book by Paul, however there was no expectation or requirement to review or publicise the book.

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!

Citrix CCAA 1Y0-A22 XenApp 6.5 Advanced Admin Exam Review and Study Guide

CCAA

I originally said I wasn’t going to bother with the CCAA exam, but sometimes a whim just takes you and you have to give it a go (especially after reading this post by Hersey Cartwright)! 2 Days after my CCA exam I had a spare evening so crammed a bit, and took the exam the next lunch time. To be honest I found it no harder than the CCA and more enjoyable as you actually did some lab sims.

As a native English speaker you get 210 minutes (and an extra 30 if English is not your first language). This seemed more than generous to me when actually implementing the exam. As per the official guide, the passing score is a fairly standard 65% and the exams consist of 46 questions including 4 simulations. Obviously I can’t go into any more detail than is published by Citrix, but I will try to give a couple of suggestions as to how to approach the exam.

For the simulations I suggest you write the numbers 1,2,3,4 at the top of the page, then once you complete each sim, mark it off. This will ensure you can manage your time effectively and keep track of where you are. Ensure you give yourself at least 10-15 mins per sim question and if it takes you more than 20, move on to the next question to avoid wasting time when you could pick up points easier later on. You can always come back and partial points can be awarded as long as you complete the critical elements! The simulator environment is explained in detail in the official exam prep guide listed below. Unfortunately the sim demo in the official guide (http://citrixtraining.com/456_demo2/) does not appear to exist any more. I assume to encourage you to do the XD7 exams instead! 🙂

AppCenter
My biggest tip for the sims is to read the questions very carefully (even several times over – you have enough time!) and make sure you only do exactly what the question asks. It is possible to do more than required, but this may end up penalising you.

One thing that is a bit annoying about the sim is that the clock is not displayed (other than that of the virtual server) because the sim takes up the screen. Considering Pearson Vue make you remove your watch before entering the exam, I think this is a tad mean!… you can still alt-tab to the main window to see your remaining time though, so bear this in mind.

There really aren’t many additional resources over those I have already mentioned in my CCA 1Y0-A20 XenApp 6.5 Exam Review and Study Guide as it goes above and beyond the CCA requirements, however I did come across one or two additional resources worth checking out:

  • Official Exam Prep Guide – A gold mine of information here. I wish I had noticed the CCA version too before I took that exam! I suggest you go through each of the items listed in the exam requirements and ensure you know how to implement them. Test them in your lab to make sure you have it down!
  • Instant EdgeSight for XenApp – You need to have at least a basic understanding of the EdgeSight product for the exam. Interesting as it isnt covered in any of the typical XenApp courses. PacktPub to the rescue! Don’t forget to use your voucher code (if it is still working) for 40% off any PacktPub books. – bawdanu
    At time of writing you also get 50% of any second book purchase, so why not check out and see if you can find anything else of use, such as the books mentioned in my previous post on the CCA.

If you’ve already successfully passed the CCA, then I suggest don’t even think about it… book the CCAA and just get it done. You already have the skills!

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