The New High Bar: Nutanix NPX Certification

NPX logoToday Nutanix is proud to announce their Nutanix Platform Expert (NPX) certification. You can read the official press release here. The goal of this certification is to become the most rigorous technical computing qualification in the IT industry. That’s saying a lot, given other live performance based certifications that people are going through today, such as Cisco CCAr and VMware VCDX. They are very rigorous and anyone getting through those live defense processes should be VERY proud of their accomplishments.

Offered at *no charge* this live-defense based certification aims to set the bar even higher, by testing a wider variety of knowledge. For example, you must have “X”-level knowledge of at least two hypervisors of your choice (vSphere, Hyper-V or KVM), “X”-level knowledge of the Nutanix platform, familiar with web-scale concepts, plus the world-class architect and soft consulting skills required for successful global enterprise deployments.

I was lucky enough to be involved in the creation of the NPX program, along with more than a dozen other Nutanix consulting architects, solutions/performance engineers, SEs, and other staff. The bar we set for the minimally qualified candidate is high, comprehensive, and will be a challenge ready for conquering by the brightest minds in the IT industry.

The NPX process consists of two parts: Developing a Nutanix-based enterprise-ready design consisting of a number of documents (see the handbook for more details but this includes a CV, references, emerging technology essay, current state review, migration plan, architecture guide, etc.), submitting that design for review, and then if minimal scoring is met, being invited to defend in front of a live panel. The actual defense will consist of three parts: solution design presentation (90 minutes), hands-on troubleshooting exercise (40 minutes), and quizzing of a 3-tier-to-web-scale migration and second hypervisor solution stack (60 minutes).

During this defense the following skills will be assessed:

Consultation skills

  • Discovery of business requirements
  • Identification of risks and risk elimination or remediation
  • Identification of assumptions and constraints and removal or accommodation in the solution design
  • Incorporation of Web-scale technologies and operational models
  • Evaluation of organizational/operational readiness
  • Migration and transition planning

Conceptual/Logical Design Elements

  • Scalability
  • Resiliency
  • Performance
  • Manageability and Control Plane Architecture
  • Data Protection and Recoverability
  • Compliance and Security
  • Virtual Machine Logical Design
  • Virtual Networking Design
  • Third-party Solution Integration

Physical Design Elements

  • Resource Sizing
  • Storage Infrastructure
  • Platform Selection
  • Networking Infrastructure
  • Virtual Machine Physical Design
  • Management Component Design
  • Datacenter Infrastructure (Environmental and Power)

I was very impressed with the PhD from Alpine Testing that guided us through the rubric creation process, and feel that the result is very fair, relevant, yet obtainable by the right candidate. While there are a set of recommended third-party certifications that the NPX suggests you have passed, there is not a hard requirement to have passed any other third-party certification exam. You must have passed the Nutanix NPP, though.

Click on the graphic below to expand it, and take a look at the recommended primary and secondary certifications. For example, if you wanted to defend on vSphere and Hyper-V, then you should have the skills of a MCSE-Private cloud and VCDX (DCV, DT or Cloud). Again, this is a self-assessment and there is not a hard requirement to have passed these certifications to apply for NPX. But be assured the screening process will weed out those falling short, so don’t think you can fudge it and get NPX certified. Be brutally honest in your self-assessment. 2015-03-13_8-35-27 The screening process for the NPX applications will be comprehensive, and only those meeting a minimum score will be asked to defend. If you don’t meet the documentation bar, or fail the live defense, there are program guidelines for resubmission rules that you can read further about in the NPX documentation. Bottom line, is if you are a Nutanix customer, partner, or work for Nutanix and want to achieve a world class architecture-level certification then download the handbook and read up on exactly what is involved to see if you qualify. If you don’t yet qualify, then get cracking on the requirements, such as “X”-level knowledge of dual hypervisors of your choice.

Personally, I would recommend you actually take and pass the recommended third-party certifications. For example, I found going through the VCDX program to be invaluable on many levels. But Nutanix realizes for various reasons sometimes people can’t sit for those exams (or find little value in multiple choice tests), and we didn’t want that to be a barrier but that in no way lowers the bar since our screening process is very rigorous. Our minimally qualified candidate standard is very high so don’t just throw a 50 page design together and think it can pass.

Other performance based “X” level certification enterprise documentation packages can take months to prepare and run in excess of 200 pages and the NPX certification will be no different. This certification is NOT about showing off your technical prowess, and throwing every possible solution into your design. You shouldn’t include every Nutanix platform in your design, nor should you throw the entire ecosystem of hypervisor products into it either. It’s all about meeting business requirements in an efficient, simple, and easy to manage methodology using a web-scale approach.

To get started on your NPX certification just go to the registration page here. By registering you can download the free NPX Design Review Preparation Guide and the NPX Program Application. You can also contact Mark Brunstad, the NPX Program manager, at npx@Nutanix.com.

If you are aspiring to be an NPX, be sure to check out Rene Van Den Bedem’s NPX Link-o-Rama.

Good luck!

PEX 2015 VCDX Mock Defense Room

For the past several VMware VCDX defenses Nutanix has been excited to sponsor a mock defense hotel room for the candidates to practice their art. I know when I was going through the defense program having the Nutanix sponsored room in San Francisco at PEX 2014 was a truly invaluable experience and greatly contributed to my first time success through the program. This year Thomas Brown from Varrow has been the study group ring leader, and has done a great job of organizing people.

Since PEX 2014 we’ve also sponsored rooms at VMworld 2014, and for the 2014 Palo Alto defenses in October. This just really shows how much Nutanix stands behind the VCDX program, and believes in the quality of people in turns out. In fact, Nutanix now has 11 VCDXs on staff and looks forward to adding even more world-class talent. Outside of VMware we have more VCDXs than several of our biggest competitors combined. Wow!

This coming weekend is crunch time for candidates across the globe. Candidates from several countries will be defending at PEX 2015 in San Francisco. Nutanix has committed to do something special for the candidates coming to PEX 2015!

Nutanix is sponsoring a room this weekend (Saturday and Sunday) at the Hotel Nikko, 222 Mason Street, for mock defenses, troubleshooting, design scenarios, and general preparation. I am working with Mark Brunstad, of VCDX program fame, to get the message out to the local VCDXs, so candidates can benefit from their experience as they prepare for the big day. I hope to have some surprises guests on Sunday for our candidates. I’ll be there the whole weekend helping the candidates prepare.

If you are a VCDX candidate who is flying in this weekend OR an existing VCDX in the Bay Area and you’d like to contribute, you should plan to spend some time at the VCDX mock defense room this weekend! Please Tweet me (@vDereks) to RSVP, and get the details about the schedule. I’m sure you will benefit greatly from the VCDXs’ guidance and experience, as they help prepare you for your defense next week.

Very best of luck to all candidates next week, and I hope to see your names in the VCDX Directory shortly. I’ll also be at PEX 2015 all week, so if you spot me please don’t be shy and come up and say HI! Always fun to meet my readers and get feedback about the blog.

Sample VCDX-DCV Architecture Outline

This post covers my approach to writing my VCDX-DCV Architecture Guide. I’ve been debating in my mind for a while whether I should write this post or not. I hesitated for a few reasons. First, I’m just a regular guy that happened to jump through the VCDX hoops and have no “insider” information on how they score. Those that do know the scoring rubric can’t disclose it anyway. Second, there are 1000 different ways to write your VCDX-DCV architecture document. Third, there’s no “magic template” or “sure fire” outline that ensures your design gets accepted. Do not view this post as shortcut or cheat sheet.

What matters is your content, how it aligns to the VCDX blueprint, and that you convey expert level knowledge to the reader. It’s NOT about speeds and feeds, but rather the full traceability of customer requirements, constraints,  assumptions and risks throughout your design. Who cares if you’ve thrown every VMware product and feature at a solution if you haven’t met the business requirements? #Fail

So why did I publish this article? I know when I started the VCDX process it was a bit daunting to read the DCV blueprint and try to come up with an architecture guide that hit all the areas in a logical manner. I’ve heard from other candidates they experienced the same “VCDX writer’s block.” In fact several of us have scrapped our first attempts, and started over. Bottom line is you need to do what feels right to YOU, and what works for YOUR design while covering all the blueprint areas. You may not like my methodology or outline, which is perfectly fine and a valid way to feel.

I’ve also heard comments from VMware customers (like myself when I went through the process) that think since they aren’t a partner and don’t have access to the VMware SET templates that they are at a disadvantage. That’s not true,  IMHO. Yes the VMware SET docs are structured and may help you, but they aren’t directly aligned to the VCDX blueprint and need augmentation.

With all those caveats, I wanted to share my DCV architecture guide outline. Maybe it will help someone with writer’s block, or enable you to see some the areas that a VCDX design could cover. Your design may need additional areas, or less coverage. This is certainly not all inclusive, and it’s guaranteed your outline will be different. It is your responsibility to ensure your documents cover all blueprint areas, makes sense for your design, and something you feel comfortable with. Own your documentation.

Before I go any further, let me state that how I chose to incorporate the specific VCDX bootcamp book recommendations is somewhat unique to my style. Of the submissions I’ve seen none did it exactly this way, which proves that there is no “magic” template or style for VCDX submissions. I just felt it gave a better overall flow to the document.

You will see some common sub-sections in all design areas (e.g. cluster, storage, compute, etc.). For example, in most areas I had specific conceptual, logical and physical sections. This helped me show the traceability of customer input through the entire design process. Each major section also concludes with a Design Justification which is a summary of how I met the customer requirements and sites all of the applicable requirements, assumptions, constraints, and risks.

At the end of the Design Justification section I had two tables to help distill down the critical information. First, I had a summary table, shown below. All of the design quality items (e.g. C02) were referenced elsewhere in that section as applicable. Possibly overkill, but I liked the compact summary.

2014-10-06_17-38-00

The second table was that of the applicable design decisions, each with the decision, impact, decision risks (after all, nearly every decision has a risk), and risk mitigation. A sample design decision is below.

2014-10-06_17-49-53

WordPress was not cooperating with me for a clean outline format, so I’ve inserted a series of screen captures to maintain formatting.

Sample VCDX-DCV Architecture Outline

2014-10-06_16-48-18

2014-10-06_16-50-08  2014-10-06_16-52-34

2014-10-06_16-53-59

2014-10-08_8-39-36
2014-10-06_16-59-52

VMworld 2014: SDDC VCDX Panel

Session: INF1736

Jon Kohler (Nutanix), Josh Odgers (Nutanix), Matt Cowger (EMC), Scott Lowe (VMware), Jason Nash (Varrow)

This was a very lively session with a panel of five VCDXs from  a variety of companies. I was taking real time notes, so I didn’t capture all of comments and some of the grammar and wording may be a bit awkward. If you attended VMworld, then you can listen to the sessions and get all of the comments and friendly banter among the panelists.

Q: If you are converging multiple datacenters (and multiple vCenters) with NSX in the future, how would you design your datacenter today? What do I do to avoid problems?

A: Scott – NSX manager has a one to one relationship with vCenter today. VMware is actively engaged in fixing this problem. The plans for converging multiple NSX domains into one hasn’t been finalized yet, so can’t answer it. It would be ideal to not having overlapping VDIs.

Q: It used to be with DVS that you couldn’t migrate between vCenters. What is the story with NSX?

A: Scott – If I have a set of logical constructs how do you take that grouping and pick it up and put it into another domain? The answer is that you don’t right now. Not a product feature. There is no solution today. Too early to tell what the real solution will be. Stay tuned for future NSX enhancements.

Q: What are the panel’s thoughts on the datacenter in 5 years? What is the next challenge?

A: Jon – There are always customers that can’t overcome today’s challenges. Maybe extensibility? Federation?

Matt – I’m not confident that’s is the right question to ask. I would hope in 5 years we aren’t talking about hypervisors or storage platforms. We should be talking about how to deploy applications. “I’m over the infrastructure”. I don’t care about OpenStack. I don’t want a VM from OpenStack, I want a VM that is used for my application.

Josh – We focus a lot on infrastructure. We should look towards the application layer. Storage, networking all enable apps. Infrastructure solves challenges that shouldn’t be there. Maybe we won’t need SRM or stretched clusters, with smart apps. The further we get away from infrastructure, the less constrained we will be.

Jason – What we are seeing is a big shift towards software as a service. We have a challenge coming ahead to simplify our ways. Shrinking the datacenters that my customers have today. We have fights ahead about software migrations (e.g. EPIC to something else if hosted in the cloud). It’s about where you host applications. Can you get your data out of the cloud?

Scott – I think we are going to see increasingy a wide adoption of cloud services and hosted application. The ability to migrate data between providers is a big problem. While the tools we use to provide the infrastructure will fade away, the reality is that someone somewhere will have to manage it. If you own some level of infrastructure, we will  need tools that will do mapping and identification across the layers of applications abstraction. Those points will  be relevant regardless of the underlying infrastructure. We will have a large distribution of micro applications, and understanding the dependencies is a huge piece that the industry has not yet come to terms with.

Q: What’s the impact you are seeing about containers? A year ago people didn’t know about containers. People are talking a lot about containers today.

A: Scott – Great question. Right now we still have challenges managing a VM. It is a collection of services (e.g. SSH, web server, DB, etc.). In the Docker world that would be three different containers. Now you have hundreds of VMs. With containers you will mushroom to thousands. We have no tools today to manage them at this scale. Until you can do service discovery, you can’t wire in the app to the rest of the business. How do you tell the containers where to go and who to talk to? If you do DNS, then that uses a lot of IP address. This is a challenge is that the vast majority of companies won’t be using containers. Only large web scale companies like twitter will be using it. Today the maturity is not there today.

Jason – Customers are thinking about containers, but aren’t changing their app model today.

Jon – People dive in head first to containers, but they still haven’t gotten down pat managing VMs.

Josh – Don’t use technology just for the sake of technology. If what you are using today is working, then don’t change what you are doing.

Matt – Docker is not a container. Docker is an orchestration method for various kinds of containers. The reason why Docker matters is that they figured out how to solve prolems like service binding, etc. Docker fixed a lot of that. I want to make that distinction. Containers are only now relevant because the tools to manage them at scale are now relevant.

Q: You shouldn’t jump into something new just because it sounds good. I have several IT managers that do just that. We get overruled every day. How can I prevent that?

A: Scott – We can all agree layer 8 has a lot of problems that need to be addressed. We as architects need to make sure business requirements map to technology. IT exists to serve the business. Are we decreasing time to market, increasing revenue, etc. If we aren’t doing that then why are here.

Matt – Names a product that is stupidly cool but super expensive (Xsigo). Matt then tries to quantify the amount of time saved, and ho much money it would save. They then bought the tool (which was later bought by Oracle). As a VCDX you need to match business requirements to technology, not the other way around.

Jason – I’m doing a lot of roadshows for NSX and all flash arrays because they are cool new widgets. But you find way higher attach success by defining requirements and doing ROI analysis.

Q: As you look at the IT landscape, will the 20% of people running Solaris, HP-UX, AS/400. Is this going to be a hurdle and what’s the way forward?

A: Josh – This is the same process of virtualization 10 years ago where tier-1 apps would not be virtualized. VMware can do more than 80% of the task. Today it’s more a political challenge then technical. Michael Webster gets on stage – The most issues are not technical in nature. You can virtualize VAX and Alpha today.

Scott – It’s all about a business requirement.. If these new technologies don’t apply to your technology, then it’s not worth trying to fit a round peg in a square hole.

Matt – SDDC is not all about vSphere. You can implement SDDC without using vSphere.

Jon – If your biz requirement is people are 150 years old and you are using LPARS….ok that’s not funny.

Jason – Or do it for the 80% that VMware can do, and leave those other technologies alone.

Michael Webster – Many Unix platforms can be easily migrated to vSphere, even DB2 running from a mainframe.

Q: I lead a performance and management team. I’m afraid people will be pointing finger at me. What do you think is an approach that might work? App discovery, performance baselines, etc.

A: Matt – You job should be identifying performance issues and pushing that down to the app owners. You should make sure the environment is up and meets SLAs. Give the data to the app owners to manage.

Scott – I agree. Mange the expectations by SLAs. Did we violate the SLAs? The app owner can then drill down into the problems.

Matt – Manage SLAs around latency, bandwidth, CPU utilization, etc. Josh  – the goal is to find the problem.

Scott – I agree. The app folks will say TPS are running low, and they are asking you why. You do need to write the SLAs over what you have control with and a clear boundary. You need application metrics. Mutually agree at these SLAs.

Matt – Baselining is hugely important.

Jon – Baseline is super important. Get it in writing.

Josh – Manage the expectation so they don’t try and railroad you.

Q: I work in Federal. While we don’t have a public cloud that is approved. What can I do today when in the future the public cloud is approved?

A: Jason – Why do you want a hybrid cloud model? Will you be saving money, cloud bursting, etc?

Josh – There’s a perception that hybrid cloud is good. But the grass is not always greener on the otherwise. It’s about delivering a business requirement.

Matt – It’s not uncommon to say one thing because they think that’s what will get them what they want. But it could be because they want to go around IT.

Jason – Some people see shadow IT as an opportunity to improve. I get asked all the time what do you need to do to move to a hybrid cloud platform. Often the answer is better serving the customers you have now, better. This is better than just swiping your AWS credit card.

Jon – What can help when collecting business requirements that look good, is asking do you really need it super fast? Maybe they are unhappy with your existing service catalog.

Matt – Make sure you run the numbers. One of them will be cheaper, but you need to find out which it is.

Jason – Choose your internal platforms carefully, so you can better move to a hybrid platform in the future.

Jon – Ask the customer what they expect from a hybrid cloud. ROI of build vs buy.

A: There’s a lot of change in how we manage datacenters. What do you guys see as the changing role of an administrator in this new role?

Q: Scott – We were talking about networking at OpeningActs on Sunday. One of the comments was that you have three tiers of people IT. One tier that racks and stacks. Then the middle tier is like middle management, where the sysadmins fall. The third tier are architects. The middle layer will get eliminated. To add value you have to look beyond managing the widgets in your silo. You will need to be aware of business costs, how to manage, etc. and that will keep you relevant much longer. Don’t focus on specific technologies.

Matt – if you are retiring in 5 years, do nothing you are fine unless you want to. In 10 years you need to figure out things like hypererconverged, containers and NSX. For the next 10-20 years, you need to learn to write code. Through automation.

Scott – Not everyone will be a programmer. But you need to be able to use infrastructure as a code tool.

Matt – I am not a networking guy. I can’t route myself out of a paper bag. But I can pull up wireshark and know what’s happening. But I do know enough to poke and prod a little bit.

Jason – Trying to get people out of the mindest of just delivering their own widgets. Projects that use to take a month now take two weeks, with solutions like Nutanix or other systems that are easy to deploy. Integration with other systems is important.

Jon – It’s not about if you can read wireshark. It’s about how you can apply technology to solve a problem. I can solve a business problem with ‘that’. Until people break out of the silos, then they won’t understand what’s happening in the datacenter. You will need to look at the macro picture.

Josh – Break out of the silos.

Aspiring VCDX Study Guide Link-O-Rama

VCDX5-DCVWith all of the recent newly minted VCDXs I thought I would start compiling a list of resources for those aspiring to become a VMware VCDX. This will be a living page, which hopefully will have links added as people make me aware of new content on the web.

There’s always a flurry of activity after defenses when newly minted VCDXs blog about their experiences. I was no exception to that rule, when I was minted VCDX #125. If you know of VCDX content that I don’t have links to here, please leave a comment to this post and I’ll add the links as I have time. Many of the pages below have additional links on them, so there’s a wealth of information here at your fingertips.

You can easily bookmark this permalink: vExpert.me/vcdx (all lower case). The mentorship program is brand new, and a huge value add. Be sure to take advantage of it if you will be defending. If you are working your way towards a VCDX, you must get on Twitter. Great way to find people, get answers, learn about study groups, etc. Use the hashtag #VCDX.

The biggest piece of advice I can give to aspiring VCDXs is to join a study group in your area as soon as you decide to go for your VCDX. From brainstorming about your documentation taxonomy, to doing peer reviews, mock defenses, etc. this experience is invaluable. Don’t wait until the last minute before your defense to find a study group.

Books

VCDX Boot Camp: Preparing for the VCDX Panel Defense
Storage Implementation in vSphere 5.0
Networking for VMware Administrators
vSphere 5.1 Clustering Deepdive
VMware vSphere 5 Clustering Technical Deepdive
Mastering VMware vSphere 5.5 
VMware vSphere Design
Essential VSAN
Disaster Recovery using VMware vSphere Replication and SRM
VMware vSphere 5.x Datacenter Design Cookbook
Virtualizing SQL Server with VMware
VCAP5-DCD Official Cert Guide

Official Certification Home Pages

VCDX-Datacenter Virtualization
VCDX-Cloud
VCDX-Desktop
VCDX-Network Virtualization

Training

VMware vSphere Design Workshop

Videos

7 VMware VCDX Prep Videos
Few dozen VMware Certification Pro Videos
How to become a VCDX
VCDX Program, John Arrasjid
VMworld 2013: Software Defined Storage the VCDX Way
YouTube Videos
Artur Krzywdzinski, VCDX #77: VCDX Video and Presentation Online

VCDX Journey Stories

Derek Seaman, VCDX #125: VCDX in 180 Days
Josh Coen, VCDX #129: My VCDX Journey
Joe Silvagi, VCDX #175 My VCDX Journey <<New
Rob Nolan, VCDX #178: My VCDX Journey <<New
Hersey Cartwright VCDX #128: VCDX CXXVIII (#128)
Harsha Hosur, VCDX #135: My VCDX Journey (and stumbles along the way)
Joe Clarke, VCDX #138: How the path to VCDX will change you 
Niran Even-Chen, VCDX #142: To VCDX with a fictitious design
James Charter, VCDX #106: A VCDX Journey
Josh Odgers, VCDX #83: My VCDX Journey
Ray Heffer, VCDX #122: Achievement Unlocked: The tale of Double VCDX Certifications
Craig Kilborn: VCDX Defense – A Reality
Brad Christian: Running a VCDX Study Group and some lessons learned
Chris Kranz, VCDX #47: VCDX Journey
Simon Long, VCDX #105: Double VCDX
Samir Roshan, VCDX #124: The Path Less Traveled: My VCDX Experience
Tom Fojta, VCDX #99: My Journey to VCDX-Cloud
Jason Nash, VCDX #49: My VCDX Defense..or how I flew to San Francisco to Choke
Jason Nash, VCDX #49: Double VCDX and the new VCDX-NV
Frank Denneman, VCDX #029: VCDX Number 029
Joep Piscaer, VCDX #101: VCDX 101
Hugo Phan, VCDX: My VCDX Journey
Chris Wahl, VCDX #104: Go Go Gadget VCDX
Chris Wahl, VCDX #104: Double VCDX – What does it all mean?
Gregg Robertson: Extra VCDX Experience Achievement Unlocked
Magnus Andersson, VCDX #56: VCDX
Sunny Dua: Part 1 : VCDX – The Saga Of The Lost Title : The Design 
Andrew Brydon, VCDX #139: VCDX Presentation
Safouh Kharrat, VCDX #136: My VCDX Journey

VCDX Study Content

Derek Seaman, VCDX #125: VCDX-DCV Architecture Guide Outline
Joe Silvagi, VCDX #175, So you want to be a VCDX? Complete series
Rene Van Den Bedem, VCDX #133:  VCDX Prep Series (must read)
Josh Odgers, VCDX #83: Architecture Decisions
Michael Webster, VCDX #66: VCDX Application built on a foundation of beta software not good strategy for success 
Michael Webster, VCDX #66: VCDX Candidate Tips from Down Under Part 1
Michael Webster, VCDX #66: My Recommendations for VCDX Candidates
Paul Meehan, VCDX Constraint: LBT
Duncan Epping, VCDX #007: VCDX Tips from VCDX001 John Arrasjid
PlanetVM: VCDX Advice from VCDX001
Chris Colotti, VCDX #37: VCDX Defense Tips
Chris Wahl, VCDX #104: Using Sphere Elimination for Troubleshooting
Frank Denneman, VCDX #029: VCDX Tip: The Application Form
Duncan Epping, VCDX #007: 5 Tips for preparing for your VCDX Defense
Duncan Epping, VCDX #007: Cloud Infrastructure Case Study (Excellent)
Craig Kilborn: VCDX Paying it Forward
Tim Antonowicz, VCDX#112: VCDX Preparation Q&A
Matt Vandenbeld VCDX#107: VCDX Presentation Advice
VMware Cloud Architecture ToolKit (vCAT)
VCDX vBrownBag series
Gregg Robertson: VCDX Prep Round 2 (massive list of links)
Rectify your VCDX Design Issues in Defense Presentation
Handling sub-optimal design decisions before the VCDX Defense
Incorporating Business Requirements into your VCDX Presentation
Artur Krzywdzinski, VCDX #77:  Most Common Errors in VCDX Applications
Sunny Dua, VCDX – The Design and Defense Preparation
Frank Buechsel, Three Troubleshooting Scenarios

Other Resources

VCDX By the Numbers
vBrownBag EMEA VCDX Prep Special
vBrownBag Brian Suhr VCDX Journey
VCDX Spotlight Series
VMware VCDX Community
Google+ VCAP/VCDX Forum
Common VMware Certification Questions Answered
VCDX Timer
Meet the VMware Certified Design Experts (Official Directory)
What is the value of a VCDX to the VMware Ecosystem Partner?
FAQ for Unsuccessful VCDX Candidates
It takes a village to achieve VCDX Certification
Applying VCDX Principles for a better VMware Architecture and Operations
How Long does it take to become a VCDX?
VMware Certification Links
2014 VCDX Defense Schedule
How to Plan a VMware VCDX Mock Defense Panel
Infrastructure Architect and VCDX Enablement
Presenting the VCDX Value to your boss (Chris Colotti)  <<New

VCP5 to VMware VCDX #125 in 180 Days Pt. 2

In Part 1 of this two part VMware VCDX journey series I accounted for the first 120 days of my VCP5 to VCDX #125 journey. This post will cover the final 60 days, which were just as important, if not more so, than the first 120. In my last post we left off with my completed design package, application form, and a sacrificial payment of $300 was submitted to the VMware Gods. Would my application be chopped in half and sent back in pieces, or spared to live another day?

Accept or Reject?

2-17-2014 8-40-16 PMOn December 23rd my application was ‘administratively accepted’ meaning I passed the basic sanity check of filling out the application form and attaching documents. Given the fried status of my brain, I took a couple of weeks mental break from looking at my design documents. I also didn’t want to jinx my acceptance by starting to work on my presentation slide deck. A birthday also came and went without too much fanfare during the waiting.

Fast forward a couple of weeks to January 10th, 2014, and I got a short email stating the technical review was completed and that I was invited to defend my design at PEX 2014 in San Francisco. Yippee! Major goal accomplished, and another payment of $900 to VMware. Twitter went a little crazy that day, and also got a large spike in LinkedIn profile views. Ok time to update LinkedIn profile, check. A couple of days later I got my timeslot booked. The fateful day would be Monday February 10th, 2014 at 0900. Reality set in, tempered with a little panic and excitement. This is real.

Oil Thy Slide Deck

For those of you not familiar with the VCDX defense format, it is in three parts. The first is the 75 minute defense, where you give a short presentation that covers your design. The panel generally interrupts the presentation, and starts asking you questions. You also have a 30 minute simulated design session, and finally a 15 minute simulated troubleshooting session. 2-17-2014 7-39-45 PM

Thanks to Chris McCain (VCDX #79), I got some great pointers on how to create a well oiled PowerPoint presentation with a plethora of internal hotlinks and hot spots. The panelists can ask you questions in any order on any topic, so you must be able to flip between slides in literally just seconds. The clock does not pause for slow slide flippers. I spent the better part of a week, dragging my fried fingers across the keyboard trying to assemble my deck. Concentration was difficult…after four months of living my design I just wanted this to be over…like the 70s Calgon commercials, “Just take me away.” Oh how I wished was in Middle Earth instead of staring at PowerPoint.

My basic presentation was just 12 slides, covering key drivers, compute, network, VMs, BC/DR, and other areas. In my over achieving appendix I had 99 slides, with content all pulled from my architecture guide. All 99 slides were organized by category, each slide with its own hotlink on the appendix page. I also had buttons in the lower right on all slides, for easy navigation to my table of contents, appendix, forward, backward, and last slide. Within a couple of clicks I could jump anywhere in the deck, and back. Apply oil liberally. VCDX candidates need a short class on mastering PowerPoint. Oh yes, I should not fail to mention that Josh Coen and I were working closely bouncing ideas off each other, and help each other formulate our deck. Again, don’t work on your VCDX in a vacuum. Misery loves company.

You Mock Me, I Mock You

2-17-2014 8-15-20 PMSomewhere around this time I also saw on Twitter that this guy named Brad Christian was invited to defend. He appeared to be a VCDX candidate wrangler (and Dallas VMUG Leader), and started corralling all of us anointed to defend at PEX. The clock was now ticking, and we were about three weeks away from our defenses. Due to his strong leadership and immense motivation, he helped us organize nightly mock defenses. One lucky victim, I mean candidate, presented their slides and the group ripped them to shreds (gently) with questions.

Many of us looked like Humpty Dumpty after 75 minutes, and had to put ourselves and slide deck back together again. But it was all for a good cause, right? All of us revised our slides, took note of questions others got asked that we (I) didn’t know the answer to. One of my favorite moments, was when we were really beating up a candidate and someone asked him to describe how Load Based NIC teaming worked. By this time Thelma (name and gender changed to protect the innocent) had really been slammed and was a wee bit agitated. So her snippy response was, “Well let me go grab the source code for that and then I’ll tell you.” Ok now…let’s all settle down a bit.

I bet the WebEx server was getting tired of the nightly beatings. The last couple of days during that three week period I was once again deep fried, and actually ditched the sessions. I just couldn’t take it any more. We are now at February 7th, three days before my defense.

WebEx wasn’t enough..let’s do it in Person Too

As if three weeks of beating on each other virtually was not enough, Brad reached out to the VMware community to see if anyone would sponsor a2-17-2014 8-33-49 PM boxing ring for the weekend prior to our defenses so we could beat each other up in person. Nutanix came through and rented a boxing ring, which suspiciously looked like a conference room at the W hotel. All weekend long nearly all candidates were packed into the room taking turns doing mocks.

Some new faces appeared whom had not been in our WebEx sessions, which were fresh and angelic like, but partially resembled Humpty Dumpty after we got done with them. But it was all for the common good, right? Seated along side the boxing ring were VCDXs like James Charter, Tim Antonowicz, and Mark Gabryjelski giving pointers and wiping up the blood.

Oh yes, and let’s not forget the insanely evil troubleshooting scenarios that [redacted] dreamed up from real life. Or how about the customer design scenario where a service provider had both adult streaming media and conservative non-profit tenants? Workload isolation? If it was *EVER* needed, this was the time! XL vShield to the rescue. Or a VDI scenario using linked clones where the master VM was 62.9TB? Yes, we were ruthless..and perhaps got a little carried away. Let’s not forget James Charter frantically waving “Why?” on a napkin, like he was a stranded survivor trying to flag down a rescue mission, during our troubleshooting scenarios.

Dooms Day

2-17-2014 8-46-53 PMNow that all the prep was done, February 10th at 0900 was just hours away. I got a good night’s sleep, had breakfast at the hotel, and made my way over to the Hilton. As you can see from my selfie to the left, I was very relaxed and carefree. Actually I was pretty relaxed, and was confident that I knew my design and slide deck very well. Promptly at 0900 I was led like a sheep by Mark Brunstad into the defense room. No ‘death squad’ members were present, so I relaxed and started off the 75 minute presentation. A worm hole opened up, and before I knew it the 75 minutes were up. I felt like I did really well in that section. Of my 99 backup slides I used possibly three.

Next up was either the design or troubleshooting session, I don’t recall. Either way, the design session was a bit more rocky than I had wanted…and reverse-wormhole formed and the 30 minutes seemed to take forever. Troubleshooting went OK. Overall I felt good about my performance, and the experience was actually quite pleasant and not scary. The panel is there to help you score higher, not pick you apart or make you feel like a dummy. Mark escorted me out, and said the official results SLA was 10 days.

And the Results are in…

Past performance is not an indication of future performance. That was certainly true in this case, but in a good way. For prior defenses VMware released the results a few days after everyone had completed, which was still much quicker than the stated 10 day SLA. However, Mark pulled a fast one on us and in less than a couple of hours after the last defense on Thursday he sent everyone the results. I was so not expecting them, that I wasn’t looking at my phone every time I got an email. There was just no way results would come in that fast. Impossible!VCDX5-DCV

But I was on my computer, happened to have OWA open and heard the ding. The sender of the email was Mark, and my heart practically stopped mid beat. Tunnel vision set in. The results were in a PDF which I had to open. This may sound easy, but it’s not when your heart has stopped. Tunnel vision gets even narrower. Acrobat takes forever to launch..I had never wanted Acrobat to open so fast in my entire life, and it never seemed so slow.

Upon opening I see a number…no text..just a number. 125. I’ve never been happier to be called a number in my life. I now see the words “congratulations.” Yes, I’m now VCDX #125. Shortly thereafter Twitter practically explodes. Yes, Josh tweets his number, Garrett, Kalen, Hersey, Sean……eight of us tweet three digit numbers. The numbers 125 through 132 have new owners. 175 days after my VCAP5-DCD exam mission is accomplished.

Thank you!

I want to give a huge shout out to Brad Christian, Josh Coen, and other VCDXs that participated in mock defenses like Josh Odgers and Romain Decker. Brad did a stellar job at organizing the mock panels. The full weekend of in-person mock defenses was also critical, and want to thank Nutanix for sponsoring the room. I’ve been told this is the first time in VCDX history where nearly all candidates did mocks for so many weeks, and in person, prior to the defenses. That credit goes to Brad! I also really want to thank all my Twitter followers, friends, family and co-workers that were supportive during the whole six month process. There’s no way I could have done this alone.

Aspiring VCDX Resources

If you are still with me at this point, you get an award. No fancy stickers like Chris Wahl, just a pat on the back. Beyond knowing your design inside and out, here are a few must-have resources that you need to start your VCDX journey.

VCDX bootcamp1. Don’t even think about starting the VCDX without reading every word in the VMware VCDX Boot Camp book. Buy it here from Amazon. Read. Every. Word. Read. Again. Read. Again. This your beacon on the VCDX road.

2. Buy the Storage Implementation in vSphere 5.0 by Mostafa Khalil here from Amazon. Think you know a lot about storage? You won’t after you get done reading this book. Excellent reference book, and a must-read prior to a defense.

3. Buy the relevant version of Clustering Deepdive by Duncan Epping and Frank Denneman. 5.1 version is here.

4. Buy the VMware vSphere Design book by Scott Lowe (and others) from Amazon here.

5. Attend in-person the VCAP and VCDX workshops. These are normally held at large events like VMworld and PEX, but they are also ramping up at other locations and times as well. I’m pretty sure that everyone that passed this time attended one or more in-person boot camps.

6. Watch the VMware VCDX prep videos with John Arrasjid and Rawlinson Rivera here.

7. Check out the blog post by Brad Christian about his experience, and more tips here.

8. Check out the @vSential VCDX Study Group form here.

9. Although not out yet, Chris Wahl is publishing a vSphere networking book that I know will be killer and a must read.

My #1 tip is to join a study group as soon as you know you want to get on the VCDX bandwagon. Share often, share early! Get on Twitter and find other VCDX candidates, and use the group sign up form link above. Yes, you too can become a VCDX with enough experience, dedication, and a study group.

My new Journey

I was so looking forward to my life returning to ‘normal’ post-VCDX. Every weekend and practically every waking hour for the last 180 days was VCDX. Well, there’s a new normal starting in less than two weeks.

I’m very honored and very excited to announce that starting in March I’ll be joining Nutanix as a Sr. Solutions and Performance engineer. This is the same team thatNutanix Josh Odgers (VCDX #90) and Michael Webster (VCDX #66) are on. Last year The Register wrote an article about Nutanix assembling an elite squad of ‘crack VMware designers’. Michael was the fourth VCDX to join Nutanix, and I will be the fifth. I’m sure I won’t be the last to join. Nutanix has a great blog post about the value of VCDXs to the VMware ecosystem, which you can read here.

I don’t see obtaining a VCDX as the end of a journey, but rather the start of a whole new adventure. I know I can learn a tremendous amount from Josh, Michael, the other VCDXs and the extraordinary bright Nutanix staff. This will be my first startup, and I’m relocating to the Nutanix HQ in San Jose. Storage has always been a passion of mine, and love a good Fibre Channel SAN or tier-1 array. But enterprises need something that now linearly scales out, vastly easier to use, much higher performance, and more dense. That is Nutanix.

Very important to me is being able to blog about my passions, and Nutanix is the perfect fit. I can continue to write about VMware, Microsoft, Citrix, and expand my knowledge base to other products. I will have a lot more opportunity to blog about new passions, and give back even more to the community and Nutanix customers. I’m excited to start this brand new adventure, so expect my blogging to ramp back up to pre-VCDX levels with even better content.

VCP5 to VMware VCDX #125 in 180 Days Pt. 1

This is Part 1 of my tale of the last 180 days of my life, my adventure from VCP5 to becoming …drum roll… VMware VCDX5-DCVVCDX #125. Yes, I successfully defended my design at VMware PEX 2014 in San Francisco this past week, which was for VCDX5-Datacenter Virtualization (DCV)! It was a fun, educational, and a surprisingly pleasant experience. I’m blogging about this experience because I know if I can become a VCDX, then anyone can do it with enough experience and dedication. Do keep in mind that prior to starting my 180 day adventure, I had approximately 4 years of VMware architecture experience for Government and commercial enterprise systems. Years of architecture-level experience is key, however VMware does not require a specific number of years or job title to apply for the VCDX certification.

This was my first attempt at the VCDX certification, and was a great learning process. Nearly all candidates and those who have passed either work for VMware or a VMware partner. At PEX 2014 Josh Coen (VCDX #129) and I were the only customers that I know of defending out of the ~14 candidates. According to the latest unofficial stats Josh and I doubled the customer VCDX count from two to four out of the 132 VCDXs.

VCAP5-DCD Journey

vcap5-dcdBack in the spring of 2013 I was talking to my boss about goals for my next six month review period. He mentioned something about a big VMware certification and I said “VCDX”. He was like ya…”Why don’t you go for that?” I looked at him like a third eye appeared on his forehead and thought no way in hell can I do that. I mean, those people are book authors, world renowned bloggers, and levitate at will, right? But after a little thought I settled on trying the VCAP5-DCD (VMware Certified Advanced Professional – Datacenter Design) exam…that seemed reasonable. I love architecture/design, and was fairly proficient with VMware virtualization.

Time passed on, and VMworld 2013 SF was just a couple of weeks away. The review period was nearly over, so I had to take the test, pass or fail. Due to lack of time, I didn’t even look at the blueprint and pretty much went in cold (NOT recommended, BTW). I did a little Googling just to see what others experienced, and learned time, or lack thereof, was a big factor. I put down the $400 exam fee, and sat the exam. By some miracle I passed, on August 23rd, the day before I left for VMworld 2013. Review goal accomplished.

The Turning Point

Happy that I passed the VCAP5-DCD, I eagerly packed my bags for SF for a week of learning and adventure. While I had been a beta tester for vSphere 5.5 thanks to my vExpert status, I was eager to get the scoop on the GA features. I was able to get into VMworld TAM Day (Technical Account Manager) on Sunday, which is basically a preview for specific customers of what VMware would unveil the coming week.

As a quick aside, the prior year VMware had released vSphere 5.1, which we all know had a few rough edges around the SSO service and trusted SSL certificates. I lead the way in trying to figure out how to make that work, and my 15-part vSphere 5.1 install series skyrocketed my daily webpage views. But those were just numbers.

Back to TAM day, I was sitting in the front row of a panel session getting ready to blog about the content. One of the panelists, which was also a top rated blogger, came over to me. He had some very nice comments about my blog, and I was floored that someone like him would be a regular reader. I hardly knew what to say. I also attended a few VMworld parties, where strangers recognized me and came up to introduce themselves. This was a completely foreign experience to me, but felt great that my content was helping people. By the end of the conference several people were calling me “The SSL Guy” due to my vSphere 5.1 SSL work. My blog page view count was now growing real faces.

One of the very last sessions at VMworld that I attended was Software Defined Storage the VCDX Way by Wade Holmes and Rawlinson Rivera. It was a kickass session, and by the end I was thinking…you know I should shoot for VCDX. I can do it! I checked the VCDX defense schedule, and figured I would shoot for Partner Exchange 2014, which was in February. I thought submissions would be due early January 2014, based on last year’s schedule. I would later find out that was a bad assumption, and presented a risk to my success.

VCAP5-DCA Journey

VCAP 5 DCA LogoNext up on the VCDX trip was taking and passing the VCAP5-DCA (Datacenter Administration exam). I wrote a blog article about there here. To summarize, I knew I’d have my bacon cooked if I didn’t study. I was not as adept at vSphere command line or PowerCLI as I wanted to be, and knew that time was also a huge factor. So for the first three weeks in September I spent several hours with Jason Nash’s (VCDX #49) excellent TrainSignal (now Pluralsight) DCA prep series. Due to my vExpert status, TrainSignal gave us one year free of unlimited training. I also read every page of Josh Coen (VCDX #129) 250 page unofficial DCA study guide. I went through numerous exercises in my home lab using my Haswell ESXi hosts. I took the exam on September 20th, and got my results back a couple of business days later. I passed! Huge relief. Little did I know that I’d cross paths with Josh a few weeks later.

Time To Blog

By this time it was September 22, and vSphere 5.5 went GA. Clustering the vCenter SQL server was now officially supported, so of course I wanted to blog about how to setup a SQL 2012 failover cluster on vSphere 5.5. The last week of September I published a 12-part SQL clustering guide that of course used SSL and new vSphere 5.5 Microsoft clustering features. Ok, now we were ready for a vSphere 5.5 install guide. Since my vSphere 5.1 install series was popular, I wanted to outdo myself and really ramp it up for vSphere 5.5. Long story short I knocked out Parts 1 – 15 of the series in October, and wrote the first versions of the my vSphere 5.5 Toolkit script. Somewhere around this time the official VCDX defense schedule was published, and the submission deadline was moved up to just before Christmas. I had a mini heart attack, since I knew this would be a lot of work and would likely need the time over Christmas.

The VCDX Design

Picking your design for a VCDX defense is critical. Too complex, and you open up your attack surface area and may have a higher chance of failure (or need more prep time). Too simple, and you risk rejection. Plus VMware stipulates you must have played the role of an architect in the design (although need not be the sole architect.) Thankfully the new VDI refresh project I was the architect for fit the bill, was complex enough to make it interesting, yet not so complex that I couldn’t fully understand all the areas called out in the VCDX-DCV blueprint. Literally the only documentation that existed for the project was a warmed over vCenter install guide. No architecture guide, operations guide, or test plans existed. I had A LOT of work ahead of me. VCDX submission packages typically run into the hundreds of pages, although size is not what counts and less can actually be better.

Time to Write

2-14-2014 5-11-12 PMHaving settled on my design, I started writing day and night and weekends. Since I was documenting a production system, and making tweaks based on additional research, I was able to put time into the project during work hours. During this time I also found out that Josh Coen (@JoshCoen), of DCA Guide fame, and Bobby Stampfle (@BobbyFantast1c) were also working on their VCDX submissions. So we formed a study group (extremely important), and reviewed each others documents. It’s very enlightening to see other approaches, and we each ended up melding in changes and suggestions from each other. Working on this in a vacuum is a recipe for a headache and an uphill battle.

All told, the architecture guide topped nearly 200 pages, 60,000 words, 42 Visio figures, and 137 tables. Yes, it was comprehensive. All twelve major sections in my architecture guide followed a strict taxonomy of conceptual design, logical design, physical design, and design justifications. Customer requirements, constraints, assumptions, and risks guided the whole flow of the document. I based some of the flow and content on Duncan Epping’s (VCDX #007) excellent VMware Cloud Infrastructure Architecture Case Study. The installation guide, operations guide and test plans were all much shorter, but still important.

Time to Review

An extremely important facet of a VCDX design is peer review from your study group and ‘real life’ VCDXs. You should aim to finish your complete architecture guide at least 3-4 week prior to the submission deadline. I’m now a Twitter addict, so I was able to find VCDXs that graciously gave up some of their spare time to provide feedback on my design. The level of detail and different viewpoints is very interesting, and provided a good 360 degree view. Chris Wahl (#104), Romain Decker (#120), Jon Kohler (#113) and Chris McCain (#79) possibly others I’m not recalling, all gave great feedback and I really appreciate their time. I made several changes based on input. Josh and Bobby were also great supporters. We also did webex design reviews, each going over our docs and making suggestions for changes or areas to clarify.

As a side note, by this time I had also published four more vSphere 5.5 installation guide posts (now up to 19) and made major updates to the Toolkit script to support more SSL scenarios and added VCSA/ESXi support as well. Talk about busy…I had no life. I heard one VCDX say that “Behind every VCDX is a spouse that hates VMware.” And I can believe it. All told I probably spent 400 hours on the documentation package, since I had to build nearly all of it from scratch and I’m a bit of a perfectionist. I also like pretty diagrams, which are a big time suck.

VCDX Submission Time

December 20th rolls around, the submission deadline for PEX 2014 in February. All the reviews are done, and I finish up a couple of days early. I did one final proof reading, let it simmer over night, zipped up the contents, and sent it off to VMware for review. A nice little payment of $300 was included for them to review my design. We are now 120 days after from passing the VCAP5-DCD exam, 32+ blog posts and one script later. Whew! Talk about my brain being fried. It was burnt to a crisp. Also during this time I rescheduled a New Zealand trip from early January to late April, in the hopes I would get accepted and need the prep time in January.

Next up in Part 2, will be the final installment where I’ll cover how I prepared for the actual defense, my defense experience, and tips for those wanting to pursue your VCDX. Plus…my new and exciting job.

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