After much procrastination, I decided to pursue my VCDX4 certification. As most of you know, this means completing the VCAP-DCD and VCAP-DCA exams first. I have been working with VMware for over 7 years and have my VCP on v3 and v4, so am familiar with the VMware certification path. I moved from the end user community to a VAR as a consultant and engineer a few years ago, and have been architecting solutions for customers for several years now. While I enjoy keeping up with the latest and greatest technology available, maintaining the base certifications for work has made it difficult to pursue my personal goals of advanced certifications such as the VCAPs and VCDX. With the announcement of a final VCDX4 defense in Frankfurt in February, I realized that I needed to get myself in gear to have a chance at v4, or else throw everything into getting up to speed on v5 and lose my advantage working with v4.x at this point.
With this in mind, the first step was to get my VCAPs out of the way first. I decided on the VCAP-DCD first, as my focus these days tends to be more on designing new environments or upgrading existing installations of vSphere. My administration skills are good, but without a functioning production environment to maintain on a daily basis, I can only beat up on my test lab so much. I figured that leading with my strong suit would give me an advantage.
The first step after scheduling my exam was to ask my good friend Google if he had any references out there that have been through the DCD before. Forewarned is forearmed. Some good sources come from Eiad Al-Aqqad, Sean Crookson, and Gregg Robertson to name a few. And, of course, the VCAP-DCD Blueprint! While the NDA prohibits us from discussing the actual information on the exam, I can pass along some of the info regarding the setup and organization. Most of this info is out there either in blogs or on the official VMware websites, so I believe I can speak freely.
To begin with, this exam is NOT to be taken lightly. Most of the recommended study information is the same being offered for the VCP exams. While this information is important, it is not really what this exam is about. Where the VCP was very technically detailed, focusing on numbers such as maximum memory, hosts, CPUs, and other bits of esoteric knowledge, the VCAP-DCD had very little to do with it. Rightly so, the powers-that-be assume that since the VCP is a requirement you’ve already memorized it and they want to test your brain in a different way. The VCAP-DCD is all about is design. They want to know how you think when you are putting all of the pieces together. It is good to know the maximum number of hosts in a HA/DRS cluster, but more importantly, given a set of customer requirements… How would you design an environment? What kind of decisions would you make, and why would you choose A over B? Man on second with no outs in the 8th… do you sacrifice him to third, and why? Carolina whole pig BBQ or Texas beef ribs? Those kinds of decisions are what you will be faced with during the –DCD, only about virtual environments and how to build/create them.
With several years under my belt designing customer environments, I was comfortable with the questions and my answers as the test went along. Technically, my hands-on experience carried me through the exam. If you are looking for a class or book to give you the answers you seek, you are looking in the wrong place. Course work and memorization will get you only so far with the VCAP–DCD. Without a good working knowledge of vSphere and experience with design decisions, you will be at a disadvantage.
The actual questions and answers were not the difficult part of the exam. The time limit was the greatest challenge. This exam is 113 questions long, with 5 design questions in the mix. Those 5 questions are a huge hurdle. If you haven’t done it yet, make sure you use the VMware VCAP4-DCD Design Tool Simulator before you take the exam. These questions have a Visio-type interface, and without prior experience with the tool, you will waste valuable time familiarizing yourself. These design questions take 10-15 minutes each, and with only 225 minutes for the whole exam, you are down to a little over a minute per question for the rest of the exam. There are several ‘drag and drop’ questions that can be time sinks as well if you are not careful. In a nutshell, you need to stay on task and mind your time during the exam. Don’t get hung up on a difficult question, flag it for review and move along. If you get through in time, go back during the review period and make your decisions. If you don’t make it to the end, at least you will get through more questions. I can’t state this enough… you need to make quick decisions. I have a sneaking suspicion that one of the factors you are being judged on is not only your knowledge, but you quick you think on your feet (so to speak). You either know it or don’t, and putting you in a pressure situation such as not having enough time to think things out will weed out some folks that don’t have the base design experience. I was able to make it through with 9 minutes to spare, and didn’t run into any overly difficult time-sink type questions. There is about a minute or so after the exam where I stared at the blue background screen… and then the window pops up congratulating me for passing the VCAP-DCD. I got a 321, with a 300 being a passing mark. I took a deep breath, not realizing until after that I had been holding my breath in anticipation. With the VCAP-DCD behind me, I am now studying for the VCAP-DCA. With any luck, I will get through it and begin my design submission for a VCDX defense in February.