VMware #VCDX Boot camp review 13/10/13

I was lucky enough to attend the VMware Certified Design Expert (VCDX) boot camp the Sunday before VMworld started at Hotel Melia, Barcelona.

I would highly recommend it to anyone at advanced certification stage getting ready to launch into the VCDX process, and especially for those getting ready to defend their VCDX submissions. It’s open to Advanced Certified VMware practitioners (VCAP) only, in normal circumstances. I wanted to put my thoughts out there, regarding what I got from the boot camp.

Just to provide some context, I am about to sit VCAP-DCD again (and hopefully this time pass) in the next 4-6 weeks. I described my DCD experience in this blog post here: http://bit.ly/19X979Z. When I pass, I will hold DCA and DCD and will thereafter submit my application and design which I hope will be accepted. So I’m just starting my formal design now, but heard about the boot camp and thought it was a great opportunity to understand the end state requirements, up front. Thanks to the guys for letting me in.

The VCDX has been described as a PhD in VMware. There are just over 120 in the world, since the launch of VMware in 1998 – significantly more people have climbed Everest. I liken it to being a “made man” in Martin Scorsese’s film Goodfellas. It’s a long, tough, multi-stage process that tests your ability to stand in front of a customer and not only understand VMware products to a striking level of detail, but also to follow a documented, structured design methodology that brings the customer on a journey, from thoughts/ideas/customer requirements, to a conceptual, then logical, then physical design.

You must always consider the Infrastructure qualities in your questioning and decisions – Availability, Manageability, Performance, Recoverability and Security. In many ways VCDX is about using all of your experience to always question, never accept anything at face value, assess the impact of every decision, understand the dependencies within customer environments and then go back again…the goal…to always ensure the customers requirements are delivered. At least that’s my understanding of what is required – others will have their own views – especially existing VCDX.

Anyway….I got into Barcelona to Hotel Melia on Sunday morning. The boot camp was run by John Yani Arrasjid and Mostafa Khallil, officially VCDX001 and VCDX002 as well as VCDX Program Lead, Mark Brunstad. You can’t get more experienced, than these guys.

But we also had other VCDXs in the guise of Michael Webster, Alexander, Tom Fojta (double VCDX), Fabio, Andrew Mauro, Alexander, Nate etc. In total, 11 guest VCDX either helping out or observing.

The workshop runs for 4 hours. We spent the first 2 hours discussing the format of the defence session, content of the design, areas of focus in the defence – do’s and don’ts – practical tips regarding what you should and shouldn’t put in your design and common mistakes to avoid when presenting to the panel of three VCDX.

To recap….the format for DataCenter Virtualisation VCDX-DV actual defence is:

  • 75 Minutes for Design Defence
  • 30 Minutes for Design Scenario
  • 15 minutes for Troubleshooting scenario

The Cloud and Desktop programmes have different time structures which aren’t covered here.

We discussed how creating a design based on real experience is the best approach, and has led to the best outcomes. How can you remember every fictitious detail and justification for a fictitious design ? I’m not sure you can !.

I suggest, maybe to combine, and improve a design by adding/subtracting/improving certain elements, and maybe use the bad parts from a real design and “fix” them in your submitted design, is one approach you can take. Then you have a solid base to work off and reasons for decisions based on real experience.

Here I am listing out my observations from this hugely enjoyable and positive session into bullets. I could go on all day but we all have to work for a living….

I’m calling these observations “rules” but they’re not really rules. Just suggestions that the moderators made at the camp. This is what I took out of it but others will have maybe a different perspective and I would really welcome further feedback from comrades and other VCDX to assist the community.

Rule #1: VCDX defence is all about scoring opportunities – every word and action should be designed to demonstrate knowledge and score points.

Rule #2: Build your design and make sure to include *ALL* components from the blueprint and discuss them all – if you don’t – you lose the ability to score points.

Rule #3: The panel is trying to help you achieve VCDX – not blow you out of the water.

Rule #4: If you include items not required specifically for the VCDX track i.e. if you include a View design on a VCDX-DV defence, you better know View as you *Will* be asked about it, even though it’s not strictly necessary.

Rule #5: Do not think that cluster size, number of sites, scale are most important. Meeting the requirements and demonstrating justifications for your decisions are key. Why Why Why !!, and don’t forget the blueprint !

Rule #6: Thinking / Blathering out loud is your friend. Speak and write down ALL ideas. Every idea that demonstrates knowledge can score a point – and did I mention – scoring points is what it’s all about.

Rule #7: the VCDX boils down to a practical demonstration of your knowledge – you are already a DCA & DCD which in itself is a big achievement. So the panel understands the commitment you have made and want you to pass – if you can. They want your to get over the hurdle – not trip over it.

Rule #8: For the troubleshooting scenario…. getting the right answer straight off is the “wrong” answer. You need to show the process you follow to triage/diagnose/uncover the root cause. They’re looking for a reproducible repeatable process that shows your experience. I see this as not trying to be too clever…just do what you do in your day job, or typically fixing your lab.

Rule #9: Same thing for Design Scenario – don’t go straight to rocket science. Ask simple questions – “Does the SAN have any space ?”……. Not…..”What speed is that backplane ?”. Start as you would in the real world, and build out the picture one step at a time. It’s amazing when we were in the room – you forget to ask basic questions by trying to be too clever. What would you ask a “real” customer ??.

Rule #10: Diagram / Draw / jot / scribble / put it on the board. Otherwise it’s difficult to remember all the feedback the panel might provide as part of either the design and troubleshooting scenarios.

Rule #11: During Design and Troubleshooting scenarios, panellists take on the personae of customers with sometimes a lack of knowledge re: where a requirement came from – so you need to ask the right questions to get the right information.

Rule #12: Don’t forget you can ensure your design fixes as many potential problems as you want or have seen. Just be sure you can justify those decisions.

Rule #13: Plan how might layout your use of the whiteboard to diagram, write down information, in advance. Then you can use the available space to it’s maximum to ultimately inform your decision making.

Rule #14: VMware wants many more VCDX out there and wants this program to expand, so be positive and don’t be afraid of it.

There’s lots more tips that I’m sure comrades will chime in with.

For me, I left feeling this process is less intimidating and scary than I expected. However, use of common sense and staying cool are critical. In the design presentations remember you will be questioned on all aspects so treat that as peer review. And you need to understand all facets of VMware technology, inside out.

The other 2 scenarios will be like dealing with a customer. Don’t expect them to know everything – you’re a VCDX in waiting – that’s your job….So get on with it and become one……

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