It was just about 8 years ago I really fell in love with virtualization, thanks actually to Microsoft releasing Virtual Server, but there was really only one product I wanted to get my hands on and that was VMware ESX (or GSX – I wasn’t going to be picky). At the time my company was a subsidiary of a larger company and we were starting to integrate IT departments, in other words eliminate the one I was part of, however it finally allowed me to get my first taste of VMware ESX – vMotioning a running Lotus Domino server between two physical hosts – I knew right there this was the technology I wanted to be part of. This is my (abriviated) story on how I got to my VCP5-DV certification.
Having taken the VCP5-DV test (twice), a key element to passing the exam is hands on experience. Though I wasn’t able to do my first deployment of VMware on ESX 3.5i when it launched in 2007, I had pushed virtulization efforts quite heavily at two companies I was working for. One didn’t get their feet wet with virtualization until I left despite building several labs based on Virtual Server and the second I had to go the free route, leveraging Virtual Iron to build the internal infrastructure on and VMware Server to setup our QA engineers with a testing environment (they later went full VMware). While I wasn’t using VMware products, the experience in learning how to build a virtual infrastructure was quite beneficial in building my first ESX 3.5i environment – an internal POC for my company – a company that was opposed to virtualization all the way up to the CEO. Using my previous experience in building virtual labs, I learned many of the “gotchas” that can kill a virtual environment very quickly and found that my predecessors fell victim to those gotchas. Since then I have deployed multiple 3.5i, 4, 4.1 and 5 production environments. The point here, don’t skimp on taking time to build your environments, even if they are small – the experience is very much worth while.
There are also several great practice tests out there. These are a great gauge of your ability to interpret questions and find the right answer. The two I found most useful were the actual VMware practice tests at http://goo.gl/MI52l and Simon Long’s test at http://goo.gl/jjsgU . Take these early, gauge where you are and leverage them as a tool to understand where you need to focus your preparation and study as well as an ongoing assessment of how you are progressing.
Before starting formally studying – reading books, taking classes, or setting up your home lab; engage yourself in the VMware community. There are a lot of great people on Twitter, LinkedIn and the VMware Community forums. Meeting these people, being able to learn from something as simple as a 140 character tweet was invaluable to me. Next, don’t forget to review the exam blueprint. You can download this from VMware at http://goo.gl/0IffB which is good, but there have been several people who have taken the time to provide study materials based on the blueprint. My personal favorite version of this was by Mike Preston and can be found at http://goo.gl/wJS3M , however another great version from Josh Cohen and Jason Langer can be found at http://goo.gl/4XVU9. Josh and Jason’s version I found very useful when setting up my lab as it had a lot of step by step information where as Mike’s was in more of a narrative form. On the more formal reading I read the bible – Scott Lowe’s Mastering vSphere 5, the VMware Press Official VCP5 study guide and Brian Atkinson’s Study Guide, all can be found on Amazon.
For a class perspective, there is obviously a cost concern between the Install & Configure class versus the Fast Track, but if you are making the investment I would highly recommend the Fast Track. Keep an eye out, I have seen the class offered from VMware for about the same cost if there are openings in the class just a few weeks prior to its start so you can get the benefits of the Fast Track for the cost of the Install & Configure. The Fast Track class also gives you a voucher to take the exam for free, also a VMUG membership offers a free re-take voucher if you take the Fast Track course through Global Knowledge in case you do not pass the first time (like I did).
When scheduling your class, my advice would be to schedule it early on a Monday. From my perspective this gave me two days to study and prepare and I was able to avoid distractions that may come up during the week. As I mentioned previously, I took the exam twice, and have two “weekend before” scenarios. The fist time I took the exam I focused heaving on reviewing technical documents/white papers from VMware (a list of what I reviewed can be found here http://goo.gl/9hkop). I missed passing the exam the first time by 2 questions. Bad luck? Over saturated my brain? I think maybe a little bit of both. I re-scheduled my exam as soon as possible, VMware requires waiting at least 7 days, the center I took the test at didn’t have any availability so I had to wait an extra day. This time, I went a little easier on myself. I focused just on the two blueprint study guides I mentioned earlier and reviewed some of the areas I knew I did not do well on from my previous exam. Since I had an extra day (I took the exam on Tuesday) I added some cram notes to my reading on Monday night from Vidad Cosonok which you can find here http://goo.gl/1NHqk to re-enforce some of the basics. I showed up Tuesday morning, drove into the same parking lot, in the same spot and had to empty my pockets into the same locker I had done 8 days before (I was a little worried at this point that I was having a deja vu). I passed my test by a few questions for a buffer. I think I can safely say I passed because of everything I mentioned above – experience, reading, study guides, class, practice test etc…
I hope my experience will help others who are looking to go for their VCP… okay so maybe this wasn’t as abbreviated as I first though, as Christopher Kusek has mentioned to me before I am a bit “verbose”