Journey to VCDX - Not complete - YET!

10 days ago I completed my VCDX defense in front of a Panel of some the top professionals and technical people in VMware. This  has been the completion of a journey, a path and quest to achieve the VCDX certification.

But let us roll back a bit - approximately a year back.

VMware announced that there would be a new certification path that would be a level above the current VCP certification.

There was a great amount of buzz around this when it launched and people were all gung-ho to start and get this new cert.

Until.. They saw what was involved. And then a large number of people dropped it.

VMware Certified Design Expert - that is the abbreviation. 4 letters but oh it is so much more.

So let's start why I decided to pursue this certification.

Let's face it. There are approximately 56,000 VCP certification holders. That number becomes less for those who hold both VCP3 and VCP4, and even less for those who hold VCP2, VCP3 and VCP4. I am not a certification chaser, not by a long shot, usually I only update my Certs if I have to or find additional benefit, it was the same with MCSE 2000, and MCSE 2003. I have not pursued the 2008 certifications, because I did not need to, but more so - I do not see the benefit of doing so at this time. Being one of 56,000 individuals in a population of almost 7 billion is an amazing achievement.

But I aspired for something more. Doing the regular day-to-day admin work was not enough. So you start to look for more interests, you go into new subjects, you continuously learn new things.

Now this certification was something that caught my eye. This was not you average Admin work. The most interesting thing that I saw, was that you could not study from a book for the exams. the Exam blueprint was based on experience and in-depth knowledge of VI3 products and the surrounding infrastructure. There were no braindumps, no cheat sheets. This is either something that you know or you do not, based primarily on you own experience and knowledge.

I made a decision, that I would try to pass the Enterprise Admin Exam, and see further. I passed

And then I decided that I would try and pass the Design exam thereafter. And I passed

I was now at a crossroads. The last two parts was submitting a design, and defending it in front of a panel of architects. Now I kid you not. No matter how confident you think you are (I have still some work to do on this), no matter how clever you think you are, no matter how good you think you are, this is not an experience to take lightly. I knew that I would have to travel overseas for this part, and that would entail securing the correct funds and time to complete this. I managed to secure both.

The application is one of the hardest things I have ever done. In my life.

When designing an infrastructure, it is more than just consolidation ratios. It is more than how much RAM each ESX host should have. It is more about than how many IOPs you will need to support you environment. It is more about than how many ESX clusters you will have, what level of DRS, what will the failover settings be. I kid you not, each and every one of these above are extremely important and should be a fundamental piece of your design. But the whole idea of being an architect (which is what VMware is looking for - IMHO) is all of the above, but also to understand how the your business works, what are needs, what are their requirements, how you plan to fill those needs/requirements. And how every decision you make can/will affect some other part of the environment.

You need to be able to see the big picture. You need to cater to the needs of the customer. And even more so, be able to justify to mainly to yourself, and in turn to the customer, why this option is better than the other? What will happen if you choose one over the other?

The application is brutal - seriously. It is not a clear document saying:

  • Explain in 10 words or more what you design is.
  • Present a diagram of your virtual machine layout.

It is open to interpretation. There are a decent amount of deliverables you have to provide - but there are no instructions exactly what has to be in these deliverables. I personally find it extremely difficult to provide an answer to something without knowing the what is expected of me. But in essence here is the good thing.

Let me give an example.

You are asked to build a tower out of cards that will be 7 levels. The end result is that it will have to stand on its own without support for 10 minutes.

So you might ask - what I am allowed to use? How many cards, any geometrical shape? will there be wind that will blow these cards down? Am I allowed to use anything else besides cards? All of these are legitimate questions which will help you in your planning and design of your tower. Some of the answers you receive and some of the answers you do not. Now of course there is more than one way to accomplish this. But in the end what you will have to to I make sure that you tower stands and you will have to explain why you chose what you did, and what were the implications of choosing A over B.

So for example you might start to research what is the most steady geometrical form, create a schematic on how to build it, measure to the millimeter, what card has to go where. Then you build, document, test etc.

On the other hand you might just start and see what works for you. stick the cards with Cello tape to one another, staple the bottom level to piece of wood and build. You then document the process and reproduce it.

Which solution was correct you may ask? I think both, each in their own way. Both provided the end result. Both were documented, both are reproducible.

Sometimes, giving you a detailed spec of exactly what is required - suppresses creativity. We all work with both sides of our brain, the right for creativity and the left for analytical thinking. Some use one side more than the other. There is usually more than one way to solve a problem.

For the VCDX - I think that the journey is the most important part. How you got to decide that you will have 24 VM's per LUN? Why you use VMFS and not NFS. And if you were to change that decision to something else - what would the implications be. I have learned a lot from this journey, it has helped me grow intellectually, technically, professionally and personally. And for that I am extremely grateful.

Today I received my answer from the panel, and unfortunately the answer was no. There were a few points that were noted that needed improvement.

I would like to thank the Panel members for their time and effort put into each and every defense. I gather I will be seeing you all when I re-submit for a defense.

I do not remember where I once heard this but it is so true. "If you do not have the courage to fail, then you will not have the courage to succeed."

I see this as a setback, and as a learning experience. Perhaps I took too much on my plate. Too much going on at the same time. And not enough time to concentrate on each thing properly. Or then again, maybe not.

When I finished the defense I felt immense relief. I felt that I had given my best in the process. I felt the interaction was good between the panel and myself.

I think that I am the first (or one of the first) public figure(s) in the virtualization world that has not passed the defense. Nothing at all to be ashamed of. The success rate is not high, not at all.

I have decided not to re-submit for a defense for the VCDX 3 track. The time left to submit a design is not something that I can complete (at least to my satisfaction) before November 22nd.

I am going to give myself a rest for a few months and start out anew for the VCDX 4 track. I need to complete some other projects that I am currently busy with. Yes I know that it will mean that I need to complete the exams again, but again that I see as part of the learning experience.

So back to the blogging, back to the technical troubleshooting, back to answering questions on the forums.

And that was the first part of my VCDX journey..