Thursday, February 23, 2012

VCP5 Certification Journey (Part 1)

Late last year I decided to pursue my VMware Certified Professional certification.  While I have been administering VMware environments since 2007, I felt that the formal certification process would help fill in the blanks and offer insight into areas yet to be explored.  Overall I am very satisfied with having made the endeavor.  This entry is going to be written primarily for the benefit of those new to the VCP program, but those who are seeking renewal may find some useful information as well.

The first step to obtaining VCP certification is taking a mandatory class.  This posses a significant barrier to entry to most, but I do believe that it promotes a certain level of quality for candidates as they are all subject to the same minimum requirements.  You should absolutely approach your employer about paying for the class.  A production virtualization environment is a complex and expensive undertaking; getting the proper ROI requires having properly trained personnel.

If you are not already a VCP, you will be required to take one of two courses: "VMware vSphere: Install, Configure, Manage [V5.0]" or "VMware vSphere: Fast Track [V5.0]."  Both courses last 5 days and cover the same basic material, but the "Fast Track" class goes into more depth with topics including running vCenter in Linked Mode, commands utilizing the vSphere Management Assistant (vMA), and the new Auto Deploy feature.

You register for the course at the myLearn training portal.  This page uses separate login credentials from the rest of VMware site, so you will most likely have to register for a new account.  You'll want to bookmark the myLearn login site as you will be visiting it in the future.  Once you have accessed the portal you can search and register for classes.  Fortunately for me, there was an "Install, Configure, Manage" course being offered less than 5 miles from my house!  Given my existing everyday use of the product, I would have preferred the "Fast Track" course, but with the convenience of not having to travel the decision was easy to make.

I didn't know what to expect showing up to class the first day.  The classroom was top notch with spacious work spaces and most importantly, free food and drink!  Our instructor for the course was James Corder, who has been working in the IT industry for over 30 years and as a VMware Certified Instructor (VCI) for the better part of a decade.  His real-world experience was very beneficial and a welcome addition to the formal class material.

Materials distributed for the class included three spiral bound books: a two part Student Manual and a Lab Exercise book.  The Student Manuals include the entire slide deck for the course along with corresponding material.  I found these books very helpful for review prior to the exam.  The Lab Exercise book contains great scenarios that demonstrate the various features of vSphere.

The class time is split between lecture and hands on labs.  The lab environment is accessed via Remote Desktop from your classroom computer.  It allows you to access your own ESXi host and a vCenter Virtual Appliance (vCVA) that is shared with your partner.  Chose wisely whom you sit next to as you will be working with them the rest of the week!  I was fortunate to have a great partner and we were able to complete the labs efficiently.

Much of the material was review for me as I had already been working with versions of the product for several years.  What I found the most helpful was the theory behind WHY it works.  Sure, I knew how to implement HA (High Availability) and DRS (Distributed Resource Scheduler), but learning the how they function is very useful for troubleshooting.  You may also encounter some features that you do not use in your environment.  My company almost exclusively uses Fiber Channel for SAN connectivity, so the exercises configuring iSCSI and NFS storage options were entirely new to me.

At the end of the five day class I definitely felt like my existing knowledge of vSphere had been significantly reinforced.  A word of caution though, as your instructor will likely tell you-- you still will not be ready for the VCP exam.  Taking the warning to heart, I headed home and prepared to hit the books.

Stay tuned for Part 2 in the next few days where I detail the rest of the study material I used and my thoughts on the actual exam.

Swag!  Nice VMware messenger bag flanked by the course books.