Side Note: I run all this stuff by her. If I can keep her attention, I should be able to keep yours. 🙂
Side Note: I run all this stuff by her. If I can keep her attention, I should be able to keep yours. 🙂
A little over three years ago my wife introduced me to the wonderful world of 5 year plans. At first I was skeptical. I may have even thought of it was a little lame (Don’t tell her that though). Even still, I humored her and created one. We actually did 1, 3 and 5 years plans based on our personal, professional and family goals. I’m not going to go into all of the details of my plan but there is one section that I am going to touch on. Under my professional goals, I had a an education section. This section was mostly based around IT Certifications. I had a 1 year goal of re-certifying my VCP5-DCV (Achieved!), a 3 year goal of achieving a VCP5-DT (Achieved!), and a 5 year goal of achieving a VCAP5-DCA. As you can see I completed 2 out of 3. Technically, I still have 2 years left to achieve my goal but the universe had different plans for me.
I’ve actually paid for the majority of my training and certs out of pocket. So the cost of exams is a factor on when I can actually take them. The VCAP is not cheap. Last time I checked it was around $400. This is an advanced level exam so this isn’t surprising but it’s still a lot of money especially for those of us with families. VMware does provide beta exams though and they come at a fraction of the cost. In this case the VCAP6-DCV Deploy exam was only $100. The only problem was that I didn’t have a lot of time to study. I figured I’d give it a shot though. Even if I failed, at least it would be money well spent, I could experience the exam first hand and see where I stood. There was another outcome though, I could pass, WHICH I DID! I achieved my goal, well ahead of time and saved some money to buy my little guy more Thomas The Tank Engine trains. 🙂
This post is going to document my experience and any tips that I may have to help others achieve their goals of becoming VMware Certified Advanced Professionals. Here’s how I did it.
You can find all the information that you’ll need regarding the topics covered, how to register, exam fees, recommended training and other helpful hints directly from VMware on their exam blueprint page.
This one is perhaps the most important item that I’m going to talk about not just for this or other exams but for any issue you run into at work or in life. One of the greatest venues to talk to your peers is the VMUG. I’m lucky enough to be part of one of the best chapters around in NYC. These guys and gals love what they do, are extremely talented and have diverse backgrounds from every industry that you can think of. If you have a goal in mind, chances are there is someone else in your group that has the same idea in mind or has already achieved it. My VMUG leaders are always willing to help out or give guidance where they can. I highly recommend joining or starting a study group nearby or online. There are plenty of LinkedIn & Google+ groups filled with individuals just like you that want to pass this and other exams. I’m always here to help where I can as well. You can find me on Twitter at @NScuola.
VMware Hands On Lab
Those of you that have never heard of VMware’s Hands On Labs are really missing out. Not only are they really in depth but the material is coming straight from the horse’s mouth. The interface is nearly identical to what you’ll use on the actual exam as well. The material is extremely helpful not just for the exam but it may help you at the office as well. It’s also much cheaper than standing up a home lab. Here are some of the specific labs that I went through.
HOL-SDC-1627 – VVol, Virtual SAN & Storage Policy-Based Management
HOL-CHG-1695 – vSphere 6 Challenge Lab
HOL-SDC-1402 – vSphere Distributed Switch from A to Z
HOL-SDC-1602 – vSphere with Operations Management 6: Advanced Topics
HOL-SDC-1607 – From Beginner to Advanced Features with PowerCLI
HOL-SDC-1604 – vSphere Performance Optimization
One of the tools that I use in my certification endeavors is a paid PluralSight account. PluralSight is a great resource for video training on a variety of subjects. The courses that I went through included but weren’t limited to the following:
VMware vSphere 6 Foundations Series by David Davis @davidmdavis
VMware vSphere 6 Data Center Virtualization (VCP6-DCV) Series by Greg Shields @concentratdgreg
VMware vSphere Optimize and Scale (VCAP-DCA) Series by Jason Nash @TheJasonNash
These courses go into great detail and all real world examples of how to install, configure and troubleshoot the different components involved with vSphere.
Just do a search for VCAP exam experience and you’ll find endless experiences from people that were successful and others that weren’t. Each experience should provide you with helpful information that will help you in your attempt.
In closing, this exam is tough. There are no shortcuts. You’re going to need to do the work. There is a time crunch that will get you if you let it. I’d recommend taking notes on each item and knocking out the questions that you know and returning to the ones that you don’t at a later time. I actually missed 2 questions entirely because I ran out of time. The interface is very similar to the hands on labs that VMware provides and you can actually see exactly what it looks like here. There is access to documentation as well but it will chew up a lot of time searching so try leaving the questions that you’re stuck on for the end.
Keep in mind this is a 3 hour exam. Make sure that you’re hydrated and have used the restroom prior to going into the exam room. When you’re sitting down for this long, you’re going to want to be comfortable. It’s pretty tough to concentrate if you’re not.
At the end of the day though, if you study to the best of your abilities and can successfully complete all of the objectives on the blueprint, there is no reason you can’t pass this exam too. Good luck!
After a ton of positive feedback on my last post (thank you all for that), people wanted to know more. Specifically, how did I come to the decision on what product was right for my environment? Hopefully, this post will help guide you in the right direction and maybe point something out that you didn’t think of previously. I’m going to do my best to generalize this so you can compare and contrast vendors on your own. Every environment is different so you’ll have to cater these guidelines to your situation. No one is going to know what you need better than YOU! This actually leads me into my first point
Identify Your Needs
This step is the most important in my opinion but it is often the most overlooked. Why are you looking at new storage in the first place? Are you experiencing a performance problem that you (and/or your current vendor) cannot resolve? Are there limitations with your current setup that are preventing you from providing the necessary services that your customers require? Is there a new project or initiative at your firm that is presenting you with a new set of requirements altogether? An example of this is when your clients request storage replication for DR/BCP purposes where there was no need prior. Or is it a situation where your array was installed while Saved By The Bell was still on the air and it’s just time for you to find out what the latest and greatest product is and how fast you can get it installed in your environment? Also, do you need Fibre Channel, iSCSI, direct attached or something else entirely? Once you have a clear and concise understanding of what you are looking for and why, the rest of the search is much simpler.
Unless your name is Tony Stark, Bruce Wayne or Richie Rich cost is a major factor in any IT purchase. You’re going to have a budget that you need to stick to and you also need to get the most bang for the buck. This is a step that can get very tricky if you don’t have a clear picture of your environment. Obviously, the cost of the array itself and the associated support & maintenance are huge factors in what your overall spend will be. There are other things to consider as well.
These are some of the things that you need to consider when calculating what your total spend will be. I’ve never met a CxO that likes to be surprised by large increases in their monthly or yearly budget that they didn’t plan for. It usually means a nice conversation with the CFO which never ends well for the CxO and ultimately it doesn’t end well for the person responsible for the increase.
Now that you know what your needs are and how much you can spend on your shiny new array, it’s time to get down to business. It has to live up to the hype. You’re going to step in front of your boss in a conference room with a fancy PowerPoint presentation that took you 6 weeks to prepare since you’re a technical person not a PowerPoint guru. You need to justify this exorbitant expense that you are throwing in front of them. The array HAS TO perform. If you are looking at a new array to resolve a performance issue it DEFINITELY needs to perform. You’re going to be looking at All-Flash Architectures, Hybrid arrays, solutions that leverage tiering, server-side solutions, you name it, and I’m sure it will pop up during your search in one way, shape, or form. Once again, the only one who can tell you what is right for you, is you. Make sure you perform baselines before you start looking at solutions so you know what your IOPS, Latency and Bandwidth requirements are. It will help narrow down the possible solutions that suit your needs.
Along with performance, question 1A is usually “How much space do I need?”. Seems like a pretty obvious question as well. Along with how much space you need, you should be asking yourself, why so much space? Are you just looking for a performance enhancement but the capacity that you have is more than sufficient? You have 100TB now so you’ll get 100TB on my new array? Are you taking growth into consideration? Is what you’re buying now sufficient to hold you over for the next 3-5 years and beyond? How difficult is it to add new capacity to the array you want to purchase a year from now, 3 years from now or 5 years from now? Can capacity be added non-disruptively? (HUGE POINT in my opinion) What type of storage are you looking at? Are you looking at tiers, all-flash, SAS, SATA? How much of a concern is speed? What type of data will be stored on the array (VMs, Databases, Email, Archive, File)? This is an area you need to be relatively sure of prior to purchase or make management aware that additional capacity may be needed in the future. You don’t want to walk in to your CxO’s office 18 months after you buy an array asking for more money because you didn’t buy enough disk. Depending on your CxO, that can turn into a resume generating event.
Now that you know how fast your disk needs to be and how much of it you need, it’s time to look at the other factors that you should consider. For me, the first was simplicity. I’ve worked with at least a dozen different arrays. The bottom line is storage is not the easiest area to deal with if you are not a seasoned storage vet. Especially when you get into the hundreds of terabytes and petabytes. Smaller shops usually feel the pain of this a little more than enterprises do. They may have really good Windows & VMware admins but most of the jack-of-all-trades guys learn storage last. Enterprises usually have dedicated storage teams that only do storage day in and day out. Having an array that is easy to configure and more importantly easy to manage should definitely be on your checklist if you are a novice or even if you’re a top tier storage admin. You’ll need your time to manage the legacy environments that are still lingering. The top of your list should also contain Non-Disruptive Upgrades (NDU). We all know what a pain having to schedule downtime for an array can be. You basically have to bring down EVERYTHING and hope it comes back up normally. Wouldn’t it be nice if that went away and you could upgrade your array as easily as you upgrade an app on your iPhone? There are other features that you should look for like Deduplication, Snapshots, Replication and hypervisor compatibility for virtualized shops. VAAI support makes a huge difference in vCenter environments. You’ll also need to figure out how easy it will be to migrate your data. If you’re a VMware user, it should be as simple as a Storage vMotion. Physical hosts can be a little trickier but most vendors will provide guidance and assistance when necessary. A lot of the features that you’ll need will be extremely apparent just from dealing with your current situation. You know what you like and what you don’t, now is your time to fix all of those issues that you’ve hated for years.
Meet with vendors, lots of them. See what you like and dislike from all of them. Try to gauge which solution meets your needs. You should have the knowledge at this point of what you need, what is most important to you and how much you can spend. Try to get the most bang for your buck. One thing to remember is that you are the customer and you have to do what is right for YOUR company. Making a sales person happy is not your job, making your end users and your management happy is. When all is said and done, if you’re still not sure, make like you’re buying a new car. Take it for a test drive. Most vendors can set up Proof of Concept (POC) boxes for you and you can test the array with your own data. Nothing will show you if a solution will work better than slapping a copy of your VMs on the box and going to town on them. Run the reports you normally run, try your backup jobs, run all of your applications at as close to a production load as you can. What you put into your testing will show tenfold when the production array shows up. You’ll now have a familiarity with the array and you’ll have reasonable expectation on how it will perform. If you took baselines like I suggested earlier, you’ll even have data to compare to. Also, speak to your peers and read up as much as you can. There are plenty of engineers and admins that have gone through this process before you. Don’t try to reinvent the wheel. Use all the help that you can find around you. Hopefully you have done your homework and you’ll be on the right track to storage happiness.
For those of you who are curious, here’s a simple breakdown of what my evalutation looked like. Obvious I went into much more detail during my search but this proves that you can figure out your needs with just a few bullet points.
Identify Your Needs – Fast performing, small footprint, low power consumption, cut down on FC ports if possible since we’re nearing capacity on our SAN.
Cost – Had to stay within my budget (numbers withheld for confidentiality reasons)
Performance – Must be able to run Tier 1 apps without affecting other apps and servers running on the array.
Capacity – Expected growth was 150% over three years. Looked for double the usable capacity of current system. Must be able to add additional shelves as need arises.
Features – Simplicity, NDU, Deduplication, Snapshots, Replication,
Next Steps – Met with 10-12 vendors, performed 3 POC’s. Found an array that met the majority of my needs and the remaining needs were on their roadmap. We have Loved Our Storage ever since.
Hopefully this guide will help you in your search. I remember the pain that I went through during this process. I’d love to save you from going through the same. The thing to remember is that this is the tip of the iceberg. You still need to install the array and migrate your data. The quicker you can settle on what works for you, the quicker you can get down to the fun stuff. Feel free to reach out with any questions and please leave feedback if you can. Good luck in your search.