VCAP-DCD

Well, it happened on Friday. I passed the VCAP4-DCD exam. So now I have two VCAP credentials to drop behind my name.

I was rather surprised by the exam. It was definitely challenging, and asked many questions that I didn’t feel I completely understood. I guess knew better 🙂 There are times when you’re out building these designs that you just don’t understand what the customer is asking, so it’s not so far-fetched, except that, in the field, you can clarify things with the customer. Not so much with a proctored exam.

As I did with the DCA exam, here’s my instructor’s take on the DCD. If you didn’t read my DCA post, I talk about the exam from this perspective because there are many resources already written about how to prep for the exam, but I don’t see many that discuss the overall mapping of VMware Education’s offerings to the exam. That is in part because VMware doesn’t tend to develop courses toward certification, but toward a job role. There is definitely some overlap there, however, as the certifications are also developed toward a job role.

Unlike the VCAP-DCA, the VCAP-DCD only has one instructor-led course offering support for the exam: vSphere: Design Workshop. vDW is a 3-day course designed to teach, not how to design, per se, but how to approach design. We all want to have a nice design checklist or if-then flowchart to take into all of our design engagements, but we all know how different each of those engagements will be. We can’t always follow leading practices for one reason or another, but that’s ultimately OK, because we can justify our deviations. And, really, that’s the key. How does a deviation map to a business requirement? That’s what the vDW is geared toward teaching. It’s really more an exercise in critical thinking, which is of paramount importance when putting together a design for a customer.

This critical thinking is absolutely validated in the VCAP-DCD exam. While absolutely not required, I would suggest, without reservation, the vDW course for anyone approaching the DCD.

As a couple of points of disclosure, though. I feel like I’ve been clear so far, but I will repeat that I am employed directly by VMware Education, and I would also like to note that the vDW is probably my favorite class to deliver right now. It’s also a partner competency requirement. So I may seem biased, and in many ways, I am, but I’ve been a big proponent of good instructor-led training for far longer than I’ve been an instructor.

Anyway, it’s off to the vCloud with me. I’m ramping up on the vCloud Director classes, so I hope to see you in one somewhere along the line!

-jk


How do you approach your virtual networking?

I ask silly questions sometimes, but I do it for a reason. As a teacher, I i try to inspire you to think. So I ask questions that may seem a little goofy, but I also try to gently guide you down a new path.

I’ve been using this for a while in my vSphere classes (everything I teach that discusses networking, at least) and thought it was worth sharing. I lead off the discussion with a simple question: do you treat an ESXi host any differently than any other physical server while planning to attach it to the network? Sure, an ESXi host likely has more interfaces to cable, but that’s not all you need to think about. A fundamental shift in thought process should occur when thinking about your vSphere hosts and your network.

If you look at the vSphere network architecture long enough, it’s clear that you’re not just connecting a host to your network. You’re actually connecting more infrastructure to your network. You’re connecting physical switches to virtual switches, not connecting hosts to physical switches. Your vmnic devices aren’t really NICs at all – they’re bridging physical Ethernet to virtual Ethernet. Once that realization is made, everything’s different.

I’ll admit, I didn’t come to this realization all on my own – a friend of mine actually introduced me to the idea. We were discussing something about a class, and he drew on the whiteboard something that could easily be described as a cabinet in the context of a physical data center, and then began to explain that it could just as easily represent an ESX host (this was a couple of years ago). And the epiphany struck.

It’s easy for us systems guys (and gals) to avoid this thought process. We were never programmed that way. But the times, they are a changin’, and we need to remember to change with them.

If you think about your networking like any old host, let me suggest, kindly, that you’re doing it wrong. Start thinking about adding a cabinet to your raised floor, and then you’ll be right on track.


Is scripting an important skill?

So, yesterday, a colleague posed an interesting question. “Is scripting an important skill for a system administrator”?

I’d like to answer that question with a very resounding “YES!” Frankly, I have to question whether one is truly a system administrator without the skill to write a script (even if it’s simply a quick hack involving shell redirection). This is not about any particular scripting language. bash, ksh, Powershell, it doesn’t matter. Scripting is scripting. They’re all just different roads that lead to the same place: automation.

Perhaps my strong feeling about this come from my days as a Unix administrator (Solaris, primarily, but I have run Linux systems and dabbled in HP-UX). As an old-ish Unix jockey, my mentors always reinforced a common theme: if you have to do it more than once, script it! This mantra is not just because we can do more with less by way of a script, but is also for one’s sanity, really.

Let me share an example. A number of years ago, I was hired as a Unix admin for a rather large telecommunications organization. I joined their managed hosting group, and was expecting a reasonably boring life of MACs (Moves, Adds, Changes, for those unfamiliar with the acronym) – shuffling user accounts and data, adding users, groups, software, changing things on a request basis. But upon walking in the door on Day 1, they sat me down with the existing backup guy. 3 months later, this guy was no longer there, and it was just me running the backup system (we ran the backup infrastructure entirely on Solaris at that point). What’s worse, I was a rookie backup guy, and now I had 12 data centers to deal with, and I was running solo. Sure, I could have pointed and clicked my way through the X-Windows interface to the backup software, gotten RSI on my mousing arm, and gone absolutely mad knowing I wasn’t going to get any real help. But I’m all about working to live, rather than living to work. So I spent a little time learning the CLI underpinnings of my backup software, and everything that could be done (quite a bit more than via the GUI, mind you). Sure, my daily care and feeding fell behind for a little bit, but it was oh, so worth it in the end.

So I started building scripts. Reporting scripts, maintenance scripts, add a backup job scripts. If there was something that had to be done daily, I scripted something out. Weekly? Script. Monthly? Script. You get the idea. And then I loaded up my crontab in each datacenter, and I realized how much time I had to actually learn about backups and tape. All of a sudden, I had time to work with my counterparts in our engineering team to help shape the backup infrastructure. I could share pain points with them, and have data to back them up rather than anecdotes. We could dive into the real problems while I have nicely automated everything behind me. I also took the opportunity to start working much more closely with our FC SAN guys, which is a move that shaped my career for years after. Now, 6 months after I did all that work, I managed to start getting a team built up under me. Was the work all for naught? No way. Their lives were also made a bit easier as well. Were I better about my own personal data backups, I’d still have those scripts today 🙂

The moral of the story: Automation is a good thing. Not because we’re letting “the man” win and doing more with less. That’s just a side-effect. The real win for automation is that it frees us up from repetitive tasks so we can spend time doing more valuable things. And value is still what it’s all about. When your manager asks, in your annual review, “What value have you brought to the company this past year?”

Your answer could be “I worked long hard hours pointing and clicking my way through to make sure the bases got covered.” But wouldn’t you rather say “I automated the daily care and feeding of these 4 infrastructure applications my team owns, and have been working with {other team} to help them increase their efficiency by automating applications X, Y, and Z”?

I know which I’d choose.


How to Attend a Live Online Class

So, I teach a lot of online classes for VMware. Many of you may know this, for those that don’t, well, here ya go 🙂 Probably 60% of my classes are delivered online, the rest are in a live classroom.

The Live Online classes are great. All the same material, all the same labs, nearly the same experience, but no travel is involved. But not everyone knows how to attend a Live Online class. We already know all of the stuff in this post, but I think it bears repeating, if only to bring it back to the forefront of our minds. Bear with me here.

Take an online class with the same discipline and habits you have developed in the opportunities you may have had to work remotely. This may sound like common sense, really, but I think it needs to be said. In order to get the most out of these classes, I beg of you, don’t take the class while you’re in the office. This provides far too many distractions to actually get anything out of an information-packed class like ours.

Before you choose to sign up for an online class, check your home office workspace (whether a dedicated office or just a workspace that you can use at home). Let’s think about the basics.

  • Do you have broadband connectivity? You’ll probably want this for the presentation and the labs.
  • Do you have a telephone, or are you going to use a headset on your computer? Ideally, you will have a land-line telephone with a speaker (or even better, a headset) for the voice component of the class. This will provide the cleanest overall audio experience. Our online Training Center provides VOIP services for the session, and that tends to work rather well, but you will definitely need decent broadband and a computer headset so that the audio doesn’t turn into a terrible echo-tastic mess!
  • Do you have more than one monitor you can work with (one for your documents, one for the class and lab sessions)? Multiple monitors is a serious benefit. For those that don’t have many displays just hanging around, most laptops can drive a secondary monitor while the laptop screen is open.
  • Do you have a reasonably comfortable chair? You’ll be in it for most of the day – good to have.
  • Stuff to make lunch in the kitchen? While heading down the street to grab a bite is probably ok, traffic can be a little unpredictable.
  • Is there a TV (or any other possible distraction) nearby? These are the biggest concentration killers in any online class. It’s awful easy to mute your line and kick on a DVD that you’ve been meaning to watch, but then you’ll miss out on all the entertainment your instructor can provide!

I think it’s really best to treat an online class much like you treat a classroom-based class. You need to remove yourself from the office, from the troubles of work. When you take a class and travel to the classroom, you can focus on the education aspect of your job. In most organizations, training time is precious and rare. Take advantage of it.

In the office, you can sit and listen, but how many people just pop by your cubicle during a day? How often are you pulled away from your desk for an impromptu design meeting or troubleshooting session? How dedicated can you really be to the training?

When you don’t give the class your full attention, you’re not only providing a disservice to the instructor, in many cases, you’re providing a disruption to the class. In our classes, for example, the lab exercises are progressive – almost every lab depends on the successful completion of the prior labs. But more important to that, later in the class, when we start talking about distributed and clustered services, each attendee will be teamed up with another so that clusters can be built. If you haven’t been able to keep up with the lab exercises, then you’re not only hurting yourself, but also your lab partner.

So Live Online classes definitely mean we need to look at the bigger picture, as we’re potentially bombarded with constant distractions. Put yourself in a position to focus on the class. Even if you’ve been working with our products for a while, I promise that we’ll both learn something about the product during one of my classes. But only if you’re paying attention.

-jk


VCAP-DCA (updated)

**Updated with some new comments about the Manage and Design for Security and Automation with PowerCLI classes**

Sure, lots have posted on this so far. What I don’t recall reading was the exam from the perspective of an instructor. So here goes 🙂

Unlike the multiple-choice VCP, the VCAP-DCA is 100% lab-based. You can’t learn this stuff from a book. You have to work with the product in order to pass this exam.

From a training perspective, though, there are classes that support this test. From my personal experience, they aren’t teaching what’s on the test, rather the general skills needed to pass the exam. VMware recommends a number of more advanced classes in support of the VCAP-DCA:

Now, I personally teach 2 of those 4 classes – Troubleshooting and Performance. I’ve never been much of a security guy, so I don’t teach that class (yet). My (rusted shut) scripting expertise dates back to my long gone days as a Solaris guy with BASH and KSH, meaning I need a little more time playing with PowerShell to teach the PowerCLI class.

Before we go any further, remember, I work for VMware Education, so my opinions may be just a touch biased, but I have also long had a chip on my shoulder toward those organizations who shun (or are quick to cut budget for) classroom training because “you can just read a book and learn it.” Instructor-led training (either online or in a classroom) have always proven invaluable in my eyes, because you not only get a jump start on the information/product/whatever, but you also get the networking with your fellow customers. Being able to hash our solutions with your peers, working with the ever-present “how does everyone else do it?” That is the value of instructor-led training that is so terribly often overlooked. But enough about that. Let’s talk about how these courses support the VCAP-DCA.

vSphere: Troubleshooting
This class really is the foundation to supporting the exam. That may sound a little odd, especially since I don’t recall seeing any questions like “This is broken, please fix it” in the exam. But there’s much more to the troubleshooting class than just troubleshooting. vSphere: Troubleshooting is a 4-day class that’s more lab than lecture (somewhere on the order of 30-35% lecture, 65-70% lab time). Of the lab time, it’s split about 60% troubleshooting, and 40% procedural.

The procedural labs are the big thing here. They help define how to do things with all kinds of commands and processes that aren’t covered in our other classes. The CLI becomes very important in this class.

The troubleshooting lab time is (at least, how I run it) also exceptionally valuable, as it’s minimally directed (we inject a problem into your environment, give you a “help desk report” with the symptoms, and from there, you get to use your wits and the standard vSphere tools to resolve it). This minimal direction gives you the time to work at your own pace, and learn what it is that you want or need to learn.

Bottom line, take the class if you can. It’s good online if you can’t travel, but it’s better in a classroom if you can get there. Either way, watch for me – this class is great! 😀

vSphere: Manage for Performance
Another solid performer. This is a slightly shorter class, clocking in at 3 days, but it’s really no less valuable. The Performance class focuses on individual host performance, which seems a little counter-intuitive if you look at the generalized vSphere message that the individual host doesn’t really matter. But from a performance perspective, the performance conflicts will come intra-host, rather than inter-host (generally). This class most certainly accounts for that.

The Performance class supports the DCA a little less directly, but is still rather valuable.

The remaining two classes, vSphere: Manage and Design for Security and vSphere: Automation with vSphere PowerCLI, I don’t (yet) teach. As such, I’m unfamiliar with their contents, aside from very high level, and can’t honestly say how much they can impact the exam. But I have to recommend the PowerCLI class after some of the questions I saw on the exam. It rather shocked me that there were PowerShell/PowerCLI-related scenarios on the exam. But that also goes to show the both the popularity and the push from VMware for management through PowerShell.

**Update**
After going back and skimming through some of the material in the Automation and MDS courses (after taking the exam), I can say with confidence that both of them do indeed provide some good supporting material for the VCAP-DCA exam. If you have the opportunity, take advantage of these classes as well as Troubleshooting and Performance!
**End Update**

Today will be 10 business days since I sat the VCAP-DCA, and I should get my passing results today (well, that’s my story until they show up and tell me otherwise). After that, I’ll be diving into the VCAP-DCD, partially for my own edification, but partially because I think it will also become an instructor requirement to deliver the vSphere: Design Workshop course (and I’d really like to continue teaching that class).

Stay tuned for more ramblings, I’m going to try to keep up on it this year!

-jk


iPad App must-have – Flipboard

I’m not the first to mention this, I know, but if you have an iPad, check out Flipboard! This is truly a new, fun, and interesting way to keep up on your connected online life. The app tagline is “Your social magazine.” Definitely worthy of the App of the Year award.

What’s so neat about this app is not the mounds of preconfigured RSS-based content, but the ability to add your own Facebook, Twitter, Flick, and Google Reader feeds. Once added, you can flip through the pages of content, making it easy to skim or dive deeper into various posts in which you may be interested.

What I really like about the app is the automatic collection of linked URLs in posts, allowing me to decide if I want to read an actual article posted (especially handy with URL shorteners), or if I just want to walk right by.

You can set up sections for your primary Google Reader, Twitter or Facebook feeds, or you can set up sections for individual feeds or lists you have in those services, allowing you to quickly follow the specific stuff you want. I’ve found this most useful for some of my FaceBook Groups that I’ve been bad about following because they’re not more visible in my feed. As with many other content aggregators I’ve found on the iPad, there is an inbuilt web browser that allows you to load articles inside the app.

I’m using this app all day, every day.

That said, I don’t think it’s quite perfect. I have a Google Reader account, for example, that I follow about 200 distinct feed (some are obviously more important to me than others – I can’t keep up with all of them all the time. I really need to do some cleanup there). The content flow at that number of feeds is a bit on the overwhelming side if you simply look through the Google Reader section. Once I’m logged into Google Reader in the app, I can add individual feeds or folders, but they show up in the main interface right along side the primary Google Reader section.

But if that’s the worst I have to say about the app, I think they guys at Flipboard are doing something right. They’ve definitely taken advantage of the iPad and the possibilities of Apple’s tablet platform. Go get the app now – it’s free!