My VCP-NV Experience


As most VMware Pros will have heard the VCP-NV (Network Virtualisation) exam is out and is primarily all about NSX. Since the announcement I’ve been doing some reading up on it and took a hands on lab to get a better understanding about how it all works. Today I sat the exam and thankfully had done enough to pass.

While I will admit to being a bit of a VMware cert junkie, the recent VCP-NV coincided with my day to day job where I’ve been also recently evaluating various virtual routing products such as the Brocade 5400/5600 vRouters, the Cisco 1000v + ASA Cloud Gateway and currently NSX. This was from a starting point of the the incumbent VCNS & vShield Edge devices underpinning the private cloud I use daily. This gave me a bit of an advantage in the exam as I am well aware of the vShield edge capabilities and how VXLAN works.

Anyway onto the exam itself… This is not an exam for the networking novice and certainly it helps if you’re up to a CCNA level of knowledge. The 120 questions you face are all based on the exam blueprint but not all directly relate to NSX itself. There’s plenty of ‘low hanging fruit’ by knowing:

  • …the differences between a vSS and vDS
  • …what a VTEP is
  • …what a ‘mtu’ has to do with networking
  • …what multicast is and its limitations
  • …the upgrade path to NSX 6
  • …what the difference is between traditional edge networking and the new world of distributed routers and firewalls
  • …that you don’t need vSphere to use NSX. You can happily run it over KVM and/or XEN and get the same network abstraction

Getting through the study in the two weeks meant getting very familiar with the NSX design guide, the admin guide and the installation guide. I also found the VMware lab, HOL-SDC-1303,  to be an invaluable resource.

As final preparation for the exam I went through Paul McSharry’s excellent VCP-NV sample exams and the VMware supplied sample exam.

Also I should add, as an excellent foundation for vSphere networking you really should check out Chris Wahl and Stephen Pantol’s book Networking for VMware Administrators.

Best of luck in going for the VCP-NV, it’s a nice challenge and I really know NSX a lot better than I did. It’s just a shame that the closest you can get to play with the product is in a HOL and not in your home lab. Maybe someday soon…

My VCAP-CIA Experiance

I’ve been spending the last two months getting my certifications up to date as my old VCP 3 fell out of date when formal support finished for it earlier in the year. I’ve been working with VMWare’s ESX/vSphere stack since 2007 so my motivation was to make sure I wasn’t going to miss out on future contracts. Since August I’ve got the 3 VCA exams completed, the VCP-Cloud and the VCP5-DCV. My next step are to get a couple of VCAP certifications and maybe spread my wings towards Desktop Virtualization with the VCP5-DT.

This morning I sat my VMWare Certified Advanced Professional – Cloud Infrastructure Administration (VCAP-CIA) exam at Sure Skills in Dublin. I felt punch drunk at the end of it after concentrating hard for the full three and a half hours and just about completing all the questions. I think that out of the 32 questions I completed 24 correctly, another 3 were probably ok, 5 partially completed and one I didn’t attempt due to time management.Crossing fingers I’ll have passed however it will be 10 business days before I get the result and with VMWorld running discounted exams this week in Barcelona I’m fully expecting 3-4 weeks of a wait.


Time Management is the crucial element to the exam. Being brutal with your ego is a must. If you’re battling with a task and you’ve spent 10 minutes on it and there’s probably another 10mins to go just stop and move on if at all possible. Some of the questions later on might be only a minutes work so I personally believe it’s better to bank a a few questions later on than try to figure out a lengthy question with no guarantee of a solution. I’ve been told partial solutions to a questions will gain you marks too, bear that in mind. If one task is running away in the background, move onto the next question and come back to the original question later. Take a peak of the next couple of questions coming up, it’ll jog your brain into thinking about what needs to be done when you get to them. This is all regular exam technique stuff, just as brutal as a lengthy university exam.

Content: I can’t tell you the content as the exams is covered under an NDA (never mind the fact I  loath the idea of helping someone brain dump!) but as many other bloggers have said the Blueprint for the exam is the be all and end all! Expect everything on the blueprint to be asked as a question. Of the 32 questions I sat there can be between 1 and 8 different tasks per questions so everything gets covered. There is no place to hide, you might be great at being an Org Admin deploying and templating vApps but you’ll be badly exposed in your lack of knowledge of installation and Sys Admin configuration.

Patience: My lab connection was very laggy to the point I even lost access to it during the exam which meant a phone call to be made by the invigilator to Pearson Vue. If you get a lab in which swapping tabs takes ages refreshing then time management is even more vital. You can mention it to the invigilator but from the discussions on the VMWare communities it’s a common problem so just remember you’re in the same boat as all the successful VCAP-CIA candidates.

Lab & Real Word Experience Required: To ace the exam you really need to be working with the product in anger on a day to day basis. Building a lab at home and playing with it might just get you to the pass mark but it’s the real life use cases that are questioned and they are a varied! If you’ve done the vCloud Director: Installation, Configuration & Manage course then go through all the labs in the manual again on your home lab and that will help somewhat.

Links: The best site I found for a breakdown of the blueprint has to be on VirtualizationExpress.


My take on the VCAP-CIA is that if you have one then you are someone that knows how to do the job. Brain dumpers will have difficulty as a lot of it is familiarity with the product and which sub-sub-sub menu contains the setting that needs changing. The lab is superbly set up (laggy connections aside) and it is misconfigured/broken in various ways that can happen in the real world. Crossing fingers for the result,

Next on my list… VCAP5-DCA…

My VCAP5-DCA Experiance

Last month I sat the VCAP-CIA exam which I previously blogged about. This month it was the Datacenter track which took centre stage with the VMWare Certified Advanced Professional 5 – DataCenter Administration exam. Again I took the exam in the only exam centre in Dublin, Sure Skills and spent the next 3.5hrs in a fierce battle against time and a laggy interface! I ‘think’ I answered 18-19 correctly, 4 partly answered and 3 skipped due to time pressure. I should have gotten over the 300 pass mark, I’m hoping I squeezed 400 though for personal pride although I know I didn’t spend half enough time studying (the story of my college career!)!

The exam itself (as per the blueprint details) is 26 varied questions touching pretty much the whole vSphere environment. As a veteran of 6 years of vCentre and ESX(i) in enterprise environments the majority of the exam was pretty much second nature but the questions involving PowerCLI or the VMA were ones that definitely required study prior to the exam. My home lab was heavily utilised and reconfigured multiple times in order to keep me as sharp as possible in knowing where to go first time to change a setting. When I changed my Synology from being loaded with SATA disks to SSDs it introduced me to claim rules and the tagging of SSD LUNs. Swapping between vSS and vDS for my networking and setting up iSCSI bindings kept me familiar with the various vDS settings. While these may or may not have been topics on the exam (I ain’t giving a brain dump to anyone!) it is on the blueprint and it also helped make short work of a few questions due to familiarity in those areas. To be fair my day-to-day job is pretty technical and I’m working on vSphere everyday but some settings I can’t touch readily (due to something silly called Change Control!) so everyone should have a small lab so they can break and fix stuff on a regular basis. Indeed my next lab change is to move from my Windows based 5.5 vCentre to the 5.5 vCentre Server Appliance… That’s what I do for fun after hours!

Recommendations for study

  • Obviously the official Blueprint is the number one document to read and to understand the boundaries of the exam (there isn’t much it doesn’t cover…)
  • I highly recommend the VMware vSphere Optimize & Scale videos from Pluralsight (formerly known as TrainSignal). You need to set aside a good week of evenings to go through them all but if you’re alert and remember what Jason Nash tells you then you’ll be in great shape for the exam
  • The Unofficial Official VCAP5-DCA Study Guide by Jason Langer is an excellent breakdown of the exam content. Download the PDF to your iPad/Kindle as your number one blueprint breakdown!
  • The official VMWare courses are usually a safe bet (if a tad expensive). The recommended course is the vSphere: Optimize and Scale course. Bear in mind the VCAP5-DCA exam is based on vSphere 5.0 (for the moment) so there’s no SSO or web-client. AutoDeploy is Stateless only (i.e. no Stateless caching or Stateless Install options). No vRAM tax to worry about. If you take the vSphere: O&S 5.1 or the (beta) 5.5 courses you’re likely to cover many things not on the exam, just be aware of that. I understand the VCP5-DCV exam may be bringing in 5.5 questions come the new year so the VCAP exams may go the same way, doing the 5.5 course will be a better plan if they do alter the blueprint next year and that’s when you plan on sitting the exam.
  • Since we’re talking about vSphere 5.0 (circa 2011) we’re also talking of the days where Windows 2003 was still King! Bear that in mind and ‘reacquaint’ yourself! Don’t expect Windows 2012 to be popping up in the environment…

Exam Technique

  • Re-read my VCAP-CIA blog entry as most of the suggestions are still valid
  • This time I kept track of the how many minutes had elapsed after answering each question. For the first half of the exam I took 1hr 40mins so I knew I was going to be running right up to the 3hrs 30mins allowed. It helped pace myself with the exam questions and allowed me to set aside time to dip into the PDFs to attempt some questions which were outside my comfort zone. The PDFs really are a luxury you can’t afford to rely on except if you have time to spare (lucky you!).
  • Another laggy RDP session slowed me down. Don’t maximise your windows (VIClient, putty, etc) unless you really have to, the less of the bitmap that has to be transmitted over the RDP session the better and the faster the response in the interface. I really hope VMWare have a few labs setup closer to Dublin next time I have to do a DCA or CIA exam.
  • Have a Brownie and a cola before you go into the exam room! No food or drink allowed and you’ll need energy to keep your brain running throughout! (The tasty Brownie was made by my wife, thumbs up to her!)



My take on the VCAP5-DCA is that it wasn’t as scary as some sites made out with the constant mentions of esxtop performance monitoring and CLI work around every question. Good old VIClient can still do the majority of the donkey work. I’ve nothing against the PowerCLI and VMA future but sometimes with the requirement to get a job done quickly the old ways sometimes are the easiest! Again, like the VCAP-CIA, if you can handle the DCA exam then thumbs up, you genuinely know how to manage and maintain a vSphere environment! Now the wait for the result…

Next on my list… VCAP-CID…

VMware vCloud Hybrid Service – My Impressions

VCHS LogoOver the last 6 weeks I’ve had a unique opportunity  to try out the European implementation of VCHS (multi-tenant Organisation, not the DC version). It was part of a client exploration of public Cloud  and of course there was a particular use case that needed to be satisfied. I’m not going to comment on that use case but only from my personal point of view of the service. During the Beta period it was a VCD 5.1 installation however it recently changed to a VCD 5.5 interface and now allows for the newer features such as the versioning of templates in the catalog.

Firstly there is the interface. Instead of logging in via the regular VCD interface there’s a clean dashboard view which I would suggest is aimed at managers to view consumption of the service and also for novice users who don’t need complicated vApp designs (think fenced networks and multi-tiered vApps) and just want a VM to play with. Frankly as an experienced vCloud techie I just skipped past it and went straight into the VCD interface. As you would expect you’re presented with a regular Organisational view and all the trappings there of. Authentication into VCD is done via the initial VCHS portal which is a bit of a shame as you have to pass through the initial dashboard interface first.

The speed of instantiating a VM seemed snappy and quite usable. There was no way to tell if Fast Provisioning was on for our Org vDC however the test deployments I conducted of one of the VMWare supplied CentOS 6 templates seemed to be on a par with a full clone having been conducted on the back end, taking around 30 seconds before it was ready to be powered on.

From a networking point of view it was simply an implementation of a VCD Edge (in Private Cloud) connecting to another VCD Edge (in VCHS) via an SSL VPN. Very straight forward and quick to implement. The challenge then is to make sure your core network routing tables are setup so that all traffic destined for the VMs in VCHS is relayed back and forth without issue. Not a small task but fairly straightforward for the network guys involved.

From the testing I conducted it was pretty quick to deploy 50 VMs to the point of login within 15mins however it should be noted that the when I deployed all the VMs in one go the backend system seemed to stagger the deployments and not do it all in parallel. This is pretty typical of the behaviour of vCenter when asked to clone multiple VMs at the same time. It implies that the limitations in our private vSphere stacks seem to be the same as in VCHS, i.e. VMWare may not have tuned the cloning process to conduct more clones in parallel. This might have changed when they upgraded to 5.5 at launch so I’m reserving judgement on that one!

From an API point of view you still can use orchestrate via VCO your deployments as the vCloud plugin was as usable in our Private cloud as it was in VCHS. I was executing using the 5.1 schema and there was no obvious issues that caused deployments to fail. Not surprising of course but the box has been ticked on that one. Using vFabric Application Director (vFAD) and setting the endpoint as VCHS caused no discernible difference in deployments other than our private cloud deployments being around 10% faster than VCHS.

My only wish for VCHS was that it was as open to the public to use just as easily as AWS. From what I could see on the VCHS site you must have a member of VMWare’s sales team contact you for access to VCHS. While the service is being obviously targeted to the enterprise user there are guys like myself who would like to hook up their personal private clouds to an external provider on a PAYG basis. I’d happily hand over a credit card and pay a small subscription cost for an Org vDC and then PAYG for any deployed VMs. I can only hope that this will be the logical progression as I think VMWare may miss a trick with Startups and with Dev teams who need to burst into cloud for a Sprint. I’ve seen how small dev teams who, armed with the bosses credit card, can just deploy a bunch of VMs in AWS on a Monday morning and be developing their latest app by lunchtime.

To sum up, I wrote on Twitter (@RossWynne) yesterday:

VCHS is a means to an end, frankly it’s JUST compute. It’s what you do with it that matters 😉

VCHS adds the flexibility of deployment of IaaS components so you can just get on with the job in hand… Running your applications, it just happens to be in the Cloud!