There is an old joke that starts out “What do you call the guy that finishes last in his class at Medical School?” The answer is “Doctor”.
As bad as that joke is, it is kind of how I feel about my VCAP-DCA result. In a previous post, I wrote about my VCAP-DCD testing experience. I was pretty confident going into that test because I have been designing customer virtualization solutions for the past three years. Design is a daily function of my job, and the DCD was a natural extension this. However, since leaving Bowdoin College and joining Mosaic Technology, I have been removed from the day to day grind of administration of said virtual infrastructure. And like most things in life, there is a bit of “use it or lose it” when it comes to the DCA side of things. I have my test labs, both at home and at the office, but without daily reinforcement, things can slip.
With that in mind, passing the DCD was validation, but I approached the DCA in a different light. I studied the VCAP-DCA blueprint, which I recommend highly. More importantly, take a look at Sean Crookson’s VCAP-DCA index. This not only follows the blueprint, but gives a great outline of not just the topics, but where to find the subject matter. Read it, study it, practice it, and then do it all over again. Take some time to review the BrownBag sessions that Cody Bunch hosts on http://professionalvmware.com/. They were of immense help as well. I took all of this into consideration, prepared for the exam, but went into it with low expectations. I didn’t expect to pass, but instead get a good feel for where my weak spots were, and where I would need to improve. Try my best, but prepare for the worst.
As to the actual exam… While I can’t divulge the questions or content, I can discuss the nature of what you will need to know in order to prepare yourself. The exam is only 34 questions long, as opposed to the 113 questions in the VCAP-DCD, but it is a completely different format. You are presented with a virtual lab environment, and from question 1 all the way to question 34, you are building upon that same vCenter datacenter. Tasks you perform early are built upon as you progress through, and early mistakes can multiply quickly and spin out of control. Some tasks are simple, such as creating a cluster, performing basic storage and VM configuration tasks, setting up switches and such. However, the tasks become more difficult as the exam rolls along. You will be asked to perform some operations that you may have never done before, or in a specific manner you are not accustomed to do them. Be aware of what you are doing, and make sure that you FOLLOW ALL DIRECTIONS! If it says to perform via vMA, don’t do it via the vSphere Client GUI! You will notice that you can move forward and back between the questions without switching into the lab environment. I discovered this about 10 questions in, when I needed to go back and fix something that I missed in an earlier question. Once I did this, I quickly moved forward through the questions and wrote on my dry erase board things such as 15-performance, 16-network, 17-storage… (not real, but you get the picture). I broke down what was needed, then went back and tackled the infrastructure pieces in order. It was important to do this in order to ensure that I had enough time to finish the exam. I then went back and performed the tasks that were ancillary, such as generating reports, logging, making specific changes, etc. Core infrastructure first, data and tweaks later was my mantra. I don’t know if it was a weighted score, but if it all works at the end, you must have done something right. As it was, I did not complete all of the tasks. I hoped that my jumping around would count for something.
As far as what to expect, all I can say is know everything on the blueprint. More importantly, if there is a task on the blueprint, make sure you know how to do it not only from the GUI, but via command line, vMA, and if possible…PowerCLI. Don’t underestimate your ability to perform operations via command line. Know how to do it without a GUI, and you will drastically improve your chances to pass the VCAP-DCA.
And in reference to the joke at the top of this post… I passed my VCAP-DCA exam on the first try. With a passing score of…300! Exactly what was needed to pass. Therefore, as with number 100 out of a class of 100 at medical school, all that matters is that we both passed. I am now certified as a VCAP-DCA to go with my VCAP-DCD. Next on board is preparing a VCDX design submission, and hopefully defending in Frankfurt in February, 2012.