For those of you who follow me on twitter you’ll know that I recently sat the VMware VCAP5-DCA (VMware Certified Advanced Professional – Datacenter Administration) exam. I learned a few valuable things along the way that I think could help others prepare, and suffered a few glitches as well. So I thought I’d share this with you all. Hopefully this will help you successfully prepare for and pass the VCAP5-DCA Exam. For those of you who want to pursue VCDX this is one of the exams you will have to pass in addition to VCAP5-DCD (Datacenter Design) before you can submit a design for a defence.
Some would say I left doing the VCAP5-DCA quite late and that I should have sat it earlier. There are a couple of good reasons why I sat it when I sat it. Firstly I missed out on the beta exam as there were no slots available in my country (New Zealand). Then we found out that none of our local testing centers were accredited to the standards required to provide the VCAP-DCA exams. Also as an architect I’m not hands on the tools every day, so I figured I’d need to study at least some things required for the exam prior to taking it. Anyway to cut this part of the story short, in addition to being incredibly busy with my international travel and customer commitments, this was the only time that worked. I only got it done because I booked the exam and forced myself to do it. Else it could well have dragged on.
As I mentioned above the VCAP5-DCA is an advanced level VMware administration exam based on vSphere 5.0. It consists of a number of live lab questions, 26 in fact. This means you have to actually perform the actions in a live lab environment that produce the outcomes put forward in the exam question. This is very different to most computer based exams, and very closely resembles the real world. VMware describes it as follows on the VCAP5-DCA Exam Page – “The VCAP5-DCA exam is a unique, lab-based exam where you will perform tasks using actual equipment to verify your skill at installing, configuring, and administering large and complex virtualized environments. Earning this certification demonstrates your expertise with VMware vSphere 5, as well as your ability to use automation tools and implement virtualized environments.” I really think this is a great test of an administrators advanced skills and the ability to take customer requirements and objectives and implement them in a real environment. I’ll cover this more later on. The scores are scaled from 100 – 500 with the passing score of 300. This means that if you sit a different version of the test its still an accurate reflection. You have 210 minutes to complete the exam if you’re doing it in an english speaking country. In a non-english speaking country there is an additional 30 minutes of time given. I could have done with the extra 30 minutes, you’ll find out why later.
Preparing for VCAP5-DCA
The first thing I do when looking at any of the VMware exams is to study the exam blueprint. I evaluate all the requirements and do an assessment of what my strongest and weakest areas are in respect to the blueprint. During my prep I will focus on improving my weak areas, and that’s where I focus any study. In addition to the blueprint I recommend looking at the exam simulation. For me personally I had very little time to prepare (not recommended) so I read through the blueprint, found my weak areas, and then set about going through the APAC vBrownBag Podcasts that covered those areas. TrainSignal also has some great training material that can help you prepare for the exam. The US and EMEA vBrownBag teams provide great content and study advice for those markets and they can be located at professionalvmware.com.
I want to specifically call out and thank Alastair Cooke for his APAC vBrownBag Podcast on VCAP5-DCA What’s New in vSphere 5 Storage. It can be downloaded from iTunes and it certainly helped me a lot for my preparations. I found that as an Architect I didn’t have as much time with the esxcli and other command line tools, so this podcast helped jog my memory, which really helped during the exam. As part of your preparations it would be of great benefit to have a lab environment you can experiment with. Alastair Cooke and others including Nick Marshall have put together AutoLab to assist with the lab requirements. It is probably one gems of the virtualization world when it comes to running home labs. I strongly recommend you check it out.
Strategies for Taking the Exam
First strategy, which I wasn’t able to follow, is get plenty of rest the night before the exam. At some point you’ll reach saturation point and there is nothing more you can take in. I usually do, and recommend you to get plenty of rest the night before the exam. Myself I was up until 1am dealing with a customer escalation and was pretty tired the following day, this is not recommended.
Next as with all VCAP exams time management is absolutely critical. It is very likely that you won’t complete all of the exam questions. If you aren’t able to complete an entire question you will get partial marks for any parts of the question you were able to complete. Being a live lab exam you do have access to the help functions and also the product documentation. But if you need to refer to it you really should just move on. You really need to know what you’re doing and where to go to implement an exam objective off the top of your head. Trying to find something in the online help or product documentation will just slow you down and if you don’t know the answer straight away you might as well move onto a question that you can successfully complete. As time is so critical making mistakes will also slow you down, so you need to try and take care with your activities so you don’t have to repeat things multiple times.
There is a big gotcha with not completing questions or skipping questions. If you fail to complete a pre-requisite activity in a previous question you may not be able to complete a subsequent activity in another question. This is just like in the real world. So you have to be vary careful about your activities and how you attack each question.
Don’t expect the environment to be perfect. You will notice in the instructions at the start of the exam that the environment is broken in certain areas and this is intentional. You will be required to troubleshoot and correct these problems as part of the exam objectives. Again this really shows the realism of the environment.
One amazing gem of advice I wish I had known about and had followed, which would have saved me a lot of time, comes from a brief blog post by Alastair Cooke on the vBrownBag Site. Use the vSphere Client from the Launcher and not from an RDP session to the vCenter Server itself. Alastair thinks this would have saved him about half an hour. By my estimates it definitely would have too and I think I would have been able to complete all the questions in that time.
My VCAP5-DCA Exam Experience
I found the exam questions to be excellent and a very valid test of real world administration skill. I really liked the way the questions gave you an objective you had to meet, the related requirements, constraints, and then it was up to you how you implemented them. The outcome of the question is what is measured, not how you got to the answer, assuming you implemented the objectives correctly. I found I was quite rushed through the entire exam, and I ended up running out of time and not completing all the questions completely, some questions I skipped entirely. One of the major reasons I was rushed is due to the latency between the testing center and the test lab kit.
The access is completely remote, via terminal services and RDP, and it’s very slow if you live on the other side of the world (as I do in New Zealand). The latency and distance also resulted in some periods of the lab environment access freezing up and getting disconnected a few times. The screen refresh at times resulted in grey snow all over the screen that made it very difficult to read, so I had to guess where to click or type. This added a lot of time to performing each action and this cost me many minutes of productive exam time. I found all of this very frustrating as you can imagine. I raised these concerns with VMware Education and the people who are responsible for the exams and they have confirmed they are taking urgent action to address these problems. I understand that the fixes are known and implementing them at the testing centers are underway. So it’s only a matter of time before the end user experience of taking the exams is greatly improved, which is great news.
I’m really glad that I went through the blueprint and reviewed the vBrownBag session as it directly contributed to me being able to answer correctly questions in the exam. It really jogged my memory about some aspects I hadn’t touched in a while.
My Exam Result
Upon completion of the exam you will be informed that it can take up to 15 business days for the exam results to be notified to you. I was very fortunate that it didn’t take this long and VMware Education were able to inform me of my results a lot sooner, but this is the longest you should expect to wait for results. So in spite of the latency, disconnections, lock ups, glitches, skipped or partially answered questions, I was able to successfully pass the exam. I don’t know what my score was yet, that will come through in due time. But I’m very pleased that I got the pass. I think this proves that if you have a good exam strategy, know what you’re doing, even though there might be a few glitches (which is real world after all right?), then you can still be successful with VCAP5-DCA.
I’m very pleased to have gotten the VCAP5-DCA out of the way after having not been able to do the beta exam. I’m also very pleased with the new process of scoring (which is partially automated), and the quality of the exam questions. VMware took my feedback on the exam seriously and are taking action to improve the experience for everyone else. I definitely think this was a worthwhile exam to take and it really demonstrates administrative skill. It would be very difficult to pass if you didn’t know what you were doing and were unfamiliar with real environments and unable to translate objectives, requirements and constraints into an implemented solution.
In other certification news there is a lot going on. VMware has just announced a whole new range of certifications that will allow people to become familiar with different areas of the VMware technology and ecosystem. For those who haven’t heard, this is the new certification titled VMware Certified Associate. The goal of this certification is to validate a candidates understanding of the technology areas of Data Center Virtualization, Cloud, and Workforce Mobility. The VCA has free training through eLearning courses. Currently there is a 50% discount off the exam. Details on the VCA program and certification discount can be found at: https://blogs.vmware.com/education/2013/08/stand-out-from-the-crowd-vca.html This is a great type of certification for those who want to validate their knowledge in new areas beyond their core skills, without having to go into the deep dive areas such as installation and configuration.
There is a VCAP Bootcamp being developed by John Arrasjid (VCDX-001) and it’s expected to be available in Q1 2014. This will help a lot of people who want to progress through the ranks and will be similar to what is provided in the format of a VCDX Bootcamp, i.e. covering the blueprint, requirements, example questions, scenarios and discussions. Speaking of the VCDX Bootcamp, I will be helping with the VCDX Bootcamp at VMworld Barcelona. So I hope to see plenty of you there. There is also a new series of VCDX Video’s available at http://vmwarecertificationvideos.com/vcdx_prep/. VMware is looking to encourage more people to pursue the advanced exams and also VCDX. So look out for further announcements around this on the VMware Certification sites, in the VMware Communities and on twitter (Follow @VMwareEducation and @MarkBrunstad – VCDX Program Manager)
This post first appeared on the Long White Virtual Clouds blog at longwhiteclouds.com, by Michael Webster +. Copyright © 2013 – IT Solutions 2000 Ltd and Michael Webster +. All rights reserved. Not to be reproduced for commercial purposes without written permission.