The week before the Nutanix .Next inaugural user conference got underway I was joined in Miami by a number of the most talented industry veterans I have had the pleasure to work with to work 12 hour days (including the weekend) to bootstrap the Nutanix Platform Expert Certification. This event is the kick start to a certification program that we at Nutanix hope will set a unique benchmark for enterprise architecture expertise in the hybrid cloud / multi-hypervisor / multi-application runtime world. The NPX Design Review (NDR) is a multi phase in person peer defence comprising a design reivew / defence (90 minutes), a troubleshooting scenario (30 minutes) and a design scenario (60 minutes) with 10 minute breaks in between. The NDR examination panel is comprised of 3 or more experienced NPX certified examiners and a moderator. In my case my examiners include no less than 2 x Double VCDX and all others had at least VCDX, in addition to a lot of experience with Nutanix and traditional enterprise architecture. The process was very tough, but at the same time very worthwhile, and it is really just the start of the journey. This article will cover some of the background and some of the goals of the program, my journey, and how we plan to help partners and customers achieve the certification so they can more effectively simplify their environment and migrate into a more web scale / hybrid cloud / multi-hypervisor / multi-runtime world.
Where it all began…
The journey to NPX started in January 2015 when a group of top Nutanix engineers, educators, architects, and field facing experts got together with a PhD psychometrician, that is an expert in creating expert level certifications, to create a certification we wanted to address the needs of a changing IT environment. This new environment is not just multi-hypervisor, but multi-cloud, multi application runtime environment, and things like containers and devops may be part of the mix (i.e. a firm grounding in the present with an eye on the near and medium term future). The NPX program was built from the ground up and with the aim of certifying world class enterprise architects who could work in diversified data center environments for global 2000 organizations. Keeping the interests and requirements of customers at the forefront was the most important criteria for us while laying the groundwork for the program.
If you’re wondering to yourself ‘Nutanix is so simple, why does anyone even need NPX?’ then you should read the article by Mark Brunstad (@MarkBrunstad) on this exact topic. While you’re at it I’d recommend you check out the initial NPX announcement, check out the NPX Community Site and the NPP Community Site (NPP is the only hard pre-req).
As Mark Brunstad says “Infrastructure design at the X-level is an incredibly demanding art. It requires a superbly skilled technologist who can capture the essence of a business enterprise and create the foundation for its success. If you aspire to be NPX this should be your primary goal.”
At the time we created NPX I didn’t know much at all about KVM or Hyper-V, I knew about containers, but didn’t know much about Docker, Rocket or any of the related tech. Without knowing at least one of these alternative hypervisors to at least the same level required of VMware vSphere for VCDX-DCV I was not going to be successful at passing NPX. So I was set on a path to learn an alternative hypervisor and come up with a NPX level design in 5 months, like my fellow bootstrap candidates, while having a grueling schedule including travel already planned.
I decided to develop a design on a new hypervisor and cover off the troubleshooting and design scenarios on VMware vSphere. For my design I could have gone either way with Hyper-V or Acropolis/KVM, but given the equipment I had available, and being on the alpha for Nutanix Community Edition, I thought KVM would be a better shot (I plan to also learn Hyper-V in more depth having only used it as part of the Nutanix Support Specialist training). I used Nutanix CE to test components of my design, which was useful as I could run it on a desktop (Dell Precision 5810 Tower in my case) without changing my performance lab. At the time it wasn’t supported to be nested on ESXi, but that has now changed. Instrumental in my preparations was sitting through a Linux Foundation course on KVM and internal training on Acropolis, in addition to sitting on the Nutanix Support Specialist (NSS) training beta. This also made me realize how hard KVM is without having a distributed and simplified management platform such as Acropolis.
Wholly fictitious designs are not permitted in the NPX program, so it was fortunate I had a real world design that I could use as the basis of my new design. The even better news is that it was for a web scale application and was in a mission critical environment. This allowed me to demonstrate a lot of skills, especially as it was a migration from traditional Unix to Linux. This is where knowing the ins and outs in detail of a traditional architecture and how to build a rock solid low risk migration plan comes in handy. Current state assessments, operational readiness and solid migration planning are all key elements of a successful NPX and the NDR itself.
If your documentation is not up to standard you will not be invited to the NDR, it’s just that simple. So you need to have a world class design package submitted that covers all of the key blueprint areas. To get hold of the blueprint register on the NPX page here, it’s free, and the certification NDR is free (apart from you having to fund travel).
Working in a team is allowed (as is the case with other expert level certifications). But you must all defend the entire design package as if it was your own, and you must know the back story to do that. The back story is the behind the scenes information that went into creating the design, such as the meetings, the conversations with customers etc, that helped justify the design. Most of these are hopefully documented in the design package itself, including the design decisions.
I created a design with a team so that we could divide the effort among our group and get all of the work done on time (we were all very busy with our day jobs as well). We all got together to review the documents and cover the key decisions in detail that supported the design. If you are working in a team make sure all the members are committed and can put in the necessary effort, if not, identify and deal with that as early as possible. The last thing you want is one member of the team pulling the rest down.
Time for the NPX Design Review with the examiners..
The actual Design Review or Design Defence part of the NDR is very thorough and very tough. This is because you not only have to justify and defend all of the decisions and configurations, knowing all the components of the Nutanix platform, but hardware choice (including hardware supplier), hypervisor choice, and what the impact is of the chosen hypervisor vs the alternative hypervisor that was selected in your NPX application. As with other expert level certifications the blueprint is what you’re being measured against, so read it and understand all of the requirements. You will be defending every component of the blueprint, and you need to cover each one. The examiners will probe to ensure you really understand all aspects of the design and the impacts of various components on other components.
Preparation of your NDR presentation is a key aspect of success during the NDR, as is being able to troubleshoot using a methodical logical process, and start a design on the fly. For the presentation itself I suggest you design it in such a way as you can cover all of the blueprint areas and have appendix slides for all key diagrams and additional information. You need to be as comfortable as possible presenting while under pressure. Even experienced architects can get nervous during the NDR.
As with other well known expert level certifications time goes very quickly and time is your ultimate enemy during the review. Your ability to control time while answering the examiners questions in sufficient detail will be a key to success. You also need to be able to talk through your thought process and show it by drawing on the whiteboard as you go through the scenarios.
Once your design review if over you need to switch gears and troubleshoot and design based on the scenarios provided by the panel on your chosen alternative hypervisor. Your examiners are you customers during the scenario and you are the architect that has to address their requirements. The examiners can provide background details if you ask the right questions. They can also perform any required calculations. There will be one or more slides with information provided for the scenario at the start. Be sure that you understand what is being asked to ensure you make the most of your time.
Upon completion of my time I was asked to leave the room while the examiners completed the assessment and submitted it to the moderator. As this was the bootstrap we would find out the results almost straight away. Even though this was a rather quick process it can still be nerve racking.
The Result: May I have the envelope please…
It was rather fitting that after this process last week, at the FontaineBleau Hotel Miami Beach (Hotel history here), I was awarded NPX #007, as this is the hotel made famous by the James Bond movie Goldfinger, among others. Even though I found out I had passed right after my NDR, we didn’t have numbers assigned until after everyone had completed their reviews. It is an absolute honour to be among the first group of newly minted NPX, especially to have the number of one of my favorite movie characters. I celebrated in true Bond fashion by having a few Vodka Martinis, shaken not stirred.
How we will enable Partners and Customers to be successful with NPX…
Ok, so now we have the program started and we have certified the first group of examiners. The program is now officially GA and there are review dates scheduled for 2015. The next question is how can you, Nutanix Partners and Customers, get involved and be successful? First thing is get NPP, then get the NPX Application (if you haven’t already). In addition to articles like this one we are fully committed to helping Customers and Partners with the journey to NPX, many have already shown an interest. Assistance may include preparation workshops, or mentoring for candidates that have the necessary background to have a good chance of success. Once you have read and understood the NPX application and the requirements make sure you email npx at Nutanix and let us know which NDR you think you’d like to target. We will then look to align the assistance to your requirements.
If you are experienced with VMware vSphere I strongly recommend you go through VCDX. VCDX is a great program and is a good preparation for the in person panel style review of NPX. Many other technology professionals may not have the experience for VCDX and it may not be relevant as they are more familiar with Microsoft Hyper-V or KVM and may include some of the top Citrix or RedHat certified architects. For those cases there are some recommended guidelines in the NPX certification blueprint. You can still go through the program and we absolutely acknowledge prior experience.
Further reading and preparation…
I recommend that you review the other articles by the NPX bootstrap group:
Josh Odgers (@josh_odgers) – Double VCDX #90 / NPX #001 – My NPX Journey
Samir Roshan (@kooltechies) – VCDX #124 / NPX #004 – My NPX story and why one should pursue !!
Magnus Andersson (@magander3) – Double VCDX #56 / NPX #005 – My Nutanix Platform Expert NPX Journey
The learning never stops. There is still much I need to learn, especially when it comes to Microsoft Hyper-V. The process is definitely worth it. I’m looking forward to helping many more qualified candidates achieve NPX in the months and years ahead.
Here is a photo that we took just after we have all go out numbers. Unfortunately Bas didn’t make the picture. From left to right Lane Leverett – NPX#002 (@wolfbrthr), Samir Roshan – NPX#004 (@kooltechies), Jon Kohler – NPX#003 (@JonKohler), Josh Odgers – NPX#001 (@josh_odgers), Magnus Andersson – NPX#005 (@magander3), Myself – NPX#007 (@vcdxnz001 and @WebScale007). Missing in this pic Bas Raayman – NPX#006 (@basraayman).
After this I felt I should probably pimp my ride with the following:
This post first appeared on the Long White Virtual Clouds blog at longwhiteclouds.com. By Michael Webster +. Copyright © 2012 – 2015 – IT Solutions 2000 Ltd and Michael Webster +. All rights reserved. Not to be reproduced for commercial purposes without written permission.