VCP6-DCV Study Resources

Last month, I was up against the deadline to renew my VCP certification. I went ahead and bit the bullet and studied up to pass the VCP6-DCV exam. These exams are far from easy and require a depth of knowledge in areas we typically don’t work with on a daily basis (for example Auto Deploy). All in all, it’s still a fair exam and in my mind and preserves the integrity of the VCP by setting the bar high for any VMware Professional.

I was eligible to take the Delta exam (2v0-621D), but ended up taking the regular, full blown 85 question exam (2v0-621). Since the cost was the same, I decided my chances might be better with this exam under the impression that this would have more questions on items I was already super familiar with and less on the differences.

That said, I studied hard the month leading up to the exam. I came across a number of great resources, some are listed below:

Pluralsight’s vSphere 6 Data Center course – Greg Shields

The Unofficial Official VCP6-DCV Study Guide – Josh Coen and Jason Langer

VCP6-DCV Study Guide – Vladan Seget

VCP6-DCV Study Guide – Hersey Cartwright

VCP6-DCV Study Guide – Javier Rodriguez

Mastering VMware vSphere 6 – Nick Marshall, Grant Orchard, Josh Atwell

vBrownBag VCP6-DCV Study Track – various

Tremendous resources. Everyone involved in putting these together are rock stars. Incredible applause for them and the content they’ve pulled together!

That said, through my pursuit of several VCP certifications, I’ve determined that the following resources are absolute requirements:

Exam Blueprint

Study the exam blueprint and get really good at everything on the list. To keep track of your progress, make a spreadsheet or a checklist with each topic listed out. Check them off once you’ve studied them, practiced them, restudied them and practiced again. VMware exam blueprints are the best I’ve worked with among all vendor certifications. Take full advantage of this ultimate “guide” for studying.

Lab Time

The exam will reveal how familiar you are with the product. If you have not had sufficient stick time, all book knowledge will likely land you short of the goal. The only way to fully internalize much of the content is through solid face to face time with vSphere in your own lab.

One great additional resource that falls in this category are VMware’s Hands on Labs. These are pre-built lab environments, with each one touching on a specific solution in VMware’s product lines. Here’s a secret – you don’t have to follow the lab guide. You can pull up a lab and just start playing with some other features available in that lab environment. They are fully functional, almost as if you were in your own lab. The huge caveat here is the limitation on time. You only get a very limited amount of time to play before the time is up and the lab expires and is destroyed. This means, you can’t walk away and come back the next day to pick up where you left off. But, if you need a quick practice run of VSAN, for example, launch the VSAN lab. I used this particular one since I had little experience with this feature before taking the exam. Great resource for learning this newer product.

Another outstanding resource for labs is Ravello’s Smart Labs. Recently, news broke that they are getting acquired by Oracle. I share the sentiment of many in the community that we shudder at the potential impact this will have on the service. But for now, the service is top notch, the support of the company to VMware users is awesome, and the rallying support from the VMware community has been nothing short of gracious. Quite a number of vExperts have written about their experiences using Ravello. It’s definitely a great resource to try out.

VMware Documentation

I believe the ultimate resource for “book knowledge” is VMware’s Documentation Center. That’s right, all the thousands of pages of VMware’s product documentation. Through my previous VCP exam studies, I’ve learned that all (or mostly all) of the test answers are in the documentation. I have had great results from pouring through the docs, with my lab in hand, following the official VMware steps for accomplishing all the various tasks required of a VMware admin. For me, nothing was more extensive and exhaustive then this resource. And yet, therein lies the problem. The product documentation is too extensive. Thus, leveraging the Exam Blueprint is the only way to know what parts of the documentation to focus on.

That said, I’ve decided to put together a copy of the Blueprint with links to each section of the documentation where you can find the relevant information. This might be helpful for some. If not, it will at least provide a quick reference for some of the less intuitive admin tasks we might come up against in our daily work.

To keep this post short, I’ll created a separate page with the main topics of the blueprint and associated links.  I’ll add content over the next few weeks as quickly as I can. Hope some will find this helpful!

Winding down…

OK, so the year has almost come to a close and I think I had a whopping six posts this year, and most of them came out near the beginning of the year.  Definitely didn’t meet my blogging goals for the year, nor many of my goals for that matter.  The tyranny of the urgent has a way of redirecting one down an unintended path.  Very ironic since I had a great post about goal setting back in January.  Maybe this year, I will follow my own advice.

That said, this has still been a great year, though nothing major to brag about. In all honesty, as far as work goals and achievements if feels a bit lackluster.  I had some good moments – vExpert again, speaking moments at VMworld and my local VMUG, a couple certifications knocked out, and a few long running and cool projects for our customers.  Personal goals were good too.  I finally got my weight back to a normal level after a scary 2014 when my weight plummeted due to a mysterious digestive issue.  I also had great periods of downtime with my family, saw my 5 year old start reading voraciously, and my wife continue a dream job at our daughter’s school. We continued our acclimation to the Carolina culture after transplanting here from the DC area in 2013 – best decision we ever made.  House, neighborhood, work, school, church, friendships… we’re still amazed at how everything just fell into place for us.  We celebrated joyously with our neighbors as they welcomed their first child. We thanked God for the successful treatments of both my parents who each faced incredible health issues this year.  I survived getting struck by a car as a pedestrian with nothing more than a sprained hand.  And I met some awesome folks and deepened existing friendships.  I guess not a bad year when I put things in perspective.  Perhaps the way to look at this year: Not everything I had set out to accomplish, but I was blessed and protected and am enriched because of it.

So as I ponder work-life balance and consider all the conversations I’ve had with others this year about this topic since I’ve struggled through this, one thing keeps coming to the surface.  The things that are most important to me – my family, relationships, and health – are all still very much intact and abundant.  In all my work and goal setting and worldly pursuits, I must always remember the best achievements are those completed with and for the people closest to us.

Hopefully, I’ll keep this close to my heart and mind as I reset my goals in the new year.

 

VMware vExpert Class of 2015

I am honored to be named vExpert for a second year!  Congratulations to all who made the list!  How exciting to once again be included in this esteemed group of talented folks, so willing to share of their time, knowledge and experience.  I am quite humbled to be counted among them, most of whom I will forever look up to. The numbers have increased year after year, which I’d like to assume is because the passion in this field is contagious and more people are answering the call to stand up, volunteer, and give back to the community.  Kudos to all the guys and gals who have paved the way for the rest of us.  And a special thanks to Corey Romero and the entire VMware Community Team!

I also give great thanks to John Troyer who started this years ago and who probably had the best tweet of all in the wake of the announcement:

Thanks for the inspiring call to action, Mr. Troyer!

Goal Setting 2015 (Planning to Plan)

Here we are several weeks into January 2015, and this is typically the time when New Years resolutions start to taper off.  As most goal setting experts share, the gyms are crowded the first week of January as resolutions are set, but by the end of the month, the gyms are empty again.  Why?  Because we don’t set our goals properly, commitments are not made to last and quite frankly, life gets in the way and we drift back to our comfort zones.  The changes are not lasting.

I am a goal setting fan – and yes, I do my own little resolution exercise each year.  I write out my reflections of the past year and projections for the upcoming year.  I love the possibilities of what I can attain and the New Year provides the clean slate.  It’s the excitement of the possibilities that fuel this yearly exercise of dreaming big.  Ah, the possibilities – the opportunity!  I list out my big dreams for the year, look over my list with pride and then… well… I go about my business while trying to keep in mind these goals that I must start working on.  Last year, I came up with some major goals and I hit less than 25% of them.  OK, that’s 25% further than where I was at the beginning of the year, but why didn’t I see a bigger hit rate?  This post will delve into the lessons I’ve learned about goal setting and lay out an approach that will hopefully enable my success rate to be much higher this year.

Some goal setting advice seems like common knowledge.  We all know the need to write down our goals.  Experts have said that when we write them down, we have a significantly greater chance of completing them.  We also know we need to be specific and set a time line.  The acronym SMART has been listed by many as sound criteria for our goals: Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Realistic, and Time-bound.  And the goals should be broken down into the major areas of our lives: Health, Career, Financial, Family, Spiritual, Personal Development and Recreation.  There are so many goal setting books, articles and courses that delve into each of these guidelines that I won’t elaborate on them further.  What I will share is the different approach I’m taking this year.

With all the ambition and confidence I start each year with, I fail to do two major things:  Keep my target list in front of me and break down each goal into smaller steps.  So… the strategy listed below outlines a very logical way of resolving both shortcomings.

1. One year goals

First, list out all your wildly ambitious goals for the entire year and review them regularly.  Unlike last year when I typed my goals out, I hardly looked at them throughout the year.  One of my goals was to read 10 books.  It was mid-way through the year when I realized I had forgotten about this goal and I had only then read my first book.  Not the way to stay on track.  The next three steps will help to keep these goals visible.

2. 90 day goals

After you make your list of goals for the year, break them down into 90-day goals.  For each of your major goals, determine how much progress you need to make in the next three months to stay on track to complete the goals in one year.  If my goal is to read 20 books, I determine I need to read 5 books within the first quarter of the year.  If a goal is an achievement, such as a certification, I calculate a measurable amount of the overall achievement I need to complete within that time frame.  If my goal is to achieve a CCNP certification, I will make two of the four required exams my goal for that 90 day period.

3. Weekly goals

With the 90-day goals listed out, then break them down into weekly goals.  Each 90-day period has roughly 13 weeks.  Estimate how much you need to complete each week in order to achieve the 90-day goals.  For example, reading 5 books in 90 days means reading over a third of a book each week.  For a certification goal, I’ll determine how many chapters in a book to read or how many points on the exam blue print I need to knock out.

Then, for each week, schedule time the day before the start of the week to write out the goals for the upcoming week.  I’ve set my target week to begin on Mondays since that easily coincides with the beginning of the work week.  That means I set aside time on Sunday nights to review how I did the previous week and then lay out my plans for the upcoming week.  That way, when Monday morning comes, I hit the ground running.

4. Daily goals

The list making doesn’t stop there!  Once you know your weekly goals, determine what you need to accomplish each day in order to make progress throughout the week toward those goals.  Write up your daily task list.  This of course can be incorporated into any To-Do system you might use.  I personally use Todoist, but there are so many resources out there.  Whatever system works for you will suffice as long as you use it.  Key principle:  If you don’t use it, it doesn’t work.  When you do use it, you typically stay on task because the action items are in front of you AND you receive the thrill of checking items off.  Yes, we all love that feeling, so why not experience that thrill every day and be more productive in the process?!

So there it is… My four point system for manifesting all my dreams this year!

I give credit to Peter Winiarsky for providing this seemingly obvious approach.  I recently read his book, Act Now!, which lays out the above strategy for achieving goals within 90 days.  He provides far more detail in his book along with many other recommendations to keep one on track.  I highly recommend picking up a copy of his book and employing some or all of his approach.  Winiarsky’s book is only one of hundreds of goal setting books on the market.  Any of them will have good advice, but the key principle with any program is to put the ideas into action.

Additional Resources

I will call out one more helpful book that I’ve recently read – The Miracle Morning, by Hal Elrod. The point of his book is to lay out a morning strategy that empowers one to have the focus, energy, confidence (and time!) to achieve one’s goals throughout each day.  There’s nothing new written here, but Hal packages it in an inspiring and memorable way to motivate one to get up early each morning ready to hit the ground running.  I personally love my mornings, not just because it gives me a jump on my day, but because it’s sacred time – when the rest of my family is still asleep and the time is truly mine.

Other resources I’ve found to help me stay on track are podcasts.  I am a podcast listening nut.  I love my drive to and from work since that’s learning time for me.  I have my iTunes favorites set to a number of productivity and business success podcasts. It’s truly amazing how much material is freely available.  Some of the ones I’ve recently discovered are Achieve your Goals (Hal Elrod), This is Your Life (Michael Hyatt), The Portfolio Life (Jeff Goins), and Beyond the To-Do List (Erik Fisher).  Of course I have all my Tech related podcasts to keep me up to date on the latest in the industry (In Tech We Trust, Speaking in Tech, Geek Whisperers, vBrownBag, VUPaaS, VMware Communities Roundtable,… and so many others).  And that’s another way I leverage my time; I use my drive time to learn and keep my brain active.

Another great tool I’ve used for daily productivity is the “Pomodoro Technique”.  It’s essentially a technique for maintaining focus when working on projects.  It simply uses a timer set for 25 minutes during which time you work on a task with no distractions.  Once the 25 minutes are up, you take a break for 5 minutes to relax the brain.  Get up from your desk, grab a coffee, walk around, stretch, surf the web, or do whatever you want as long as you disengage. Then rinse and repeat. Studies show when you work with regular breaks, you actually work more efficiently and thus get more accomplished.  For me, it helps me stay focused.

So there it is… a strategy and some additional tools and techniques for making this a powerhouse year!  If you have additional thoughts, suggestions or resources, feel free to share!

vExpert Class of 2014

The vExpert 2014 Q3 Announcement of inductees was made today.  Congratulations to all who were added to the number!

I am super excited to share that I made the vExpert list for 2014!  It truly is an honor to join the family of experts, leaders, and evangelists that I’ve looked up to over the years.  What an amazing group of individuals who have each given so much to the community.  So many of us in this industry are where we are today, much in part to the efforts and contributions of these talented folks.  I can’t imagine what the community would be like without their efforts.  I personally have benefited tremendously from the knowledge, the guidance, the troubleshooting tips, the study guides, the product updates and announcements, and certainly the personal experiences and opinions these folks have shared.  They are leaders and giants.

And thankfully, giving begets giving.  Their generosity has encouraged many others to share and offer their own slice of expertise to build what we have today – a vastly mixed community covering all areas of the software defined spectrum.  The enthusiasm for this technology is contagious and continues to spread.  The number of vExperts continues to grow year after year.  And it’s exciting to be part of this!

Again, congratulations to all who joined the family this quarter!  I’m honored and humbled to be counted among you.

A special thanks go out to VMware, Corey Romero and the vExpert team, and of course the man who started it all and passed on the torch, John Troyer.  Bravo to you guys for YOUR efforts!

Quick change of course – OK to quit?

In listening to the latest VUPaas podcast, “GS is Quitting”, I had an epiphany.  GS Khalsa was sharing his decision to drop his pursuit of VCDX to focus on other priorities in his career.  He and Chris Wahl discussed the rationale and benefit of pulling back on goals when they no longer make sense at a particular time.  This discussion was well timed for me as I’ve been putting heavy pressure on myself to knock out certain goals that are not necessarily the wildly important goals for me right now.  I actually felt like someone was giving me permission to set aside these goals to focus on the bigger picture and certainly some more pressing targets.  This was my epiphany – that it’s OK to put a looming goal on hold for awhile if it doesn’t make sense to pursue it at the moment.  So, I’m about to make a quick course change to adapt to my current situation.

In my last post I shared my goal of completing my CCNA R&S in the next few weeks and then preparing my pursuit of the CCNA Data Center track.  I’ve been talking up this year as “The Year of the Network”.  I had in mind some lofty certification goals for this year that included the CCNA certs, along with others such as my NCDA and VCAP-DCD.  The only way to stay on track with these goals was to keep knocking them out in quick succession.  The CCNA certs were especially important with my increased exposure and focus on data center networking.  However, at this point I’m going to put all of that on hold for just a little while.  I realize I have other priorities to focus on that are primarily centered on the fact that VMworld 2014 is just around the corner.  Let me explain.

VMworld is all about virtualization and the VMware ecosystem.  Sure, software defined networking and NSX were all the buzz last year and looks to be this year as well, so my bolstered  network stance will be a huge help.  But in a desire to keep up with the quickly changing landscape of virtualization and VMware’s product line, I feel the need to focus on several other specific areas over the next couple months:

  • VMware’s new products – Did you hear the latest vSphere Beta is available to the general public?  I have not had the luxury of test driving the beta of previous versions so this will be exciting.  I’m hoping to dig into it and share my own thoughts about it once VMware makes public announcements of it (maybe at VMworld?).  I also would like to make sure I’m well versed in the fundamentals of some of their other products like VSAN, vCAC and NSX to get the most out of information presented around these products.
  • VMware ecosystem – I’ve been spending a lot of time lately speaking with VMware Technology Partners.  Working for a consulting organization and VMware partner, we are always looking for ways to provide more value to our customers.  There are some excellent tools and products offered by third party companies that are truly impressive and assist in the performance and management of the virtual infrastructure.  The more I’m exposed to these offerings, the more I can bring these to the table for our customers.  This will also be a huge help as I will meet most of these companies again on the Solutions Exchange floor at VMworld.  As a partner, I am mindful that my purpose for being at VMworld is gathering information that can be translated into solutions for our customers.  The more in tune I am with the players and products in the ecosystem, the better the conversations and thus, the better information gathered.
  • vBrownbag Techtalks – I’m super excited about this.  I submitted a session topic for the vBrownbag TechTalks and hope to be selected this year.  I know competition is probably fierce since mass numbers of folks had their VMworld session submissions denied and they are likely looking at other outlets to share.  I am a quiet voice in the community so I might not make the cut amidst these much more well known names, but I at least am going to be ready to go.  I have what I believe is a neat topic integrating vCOps with vCO.  I love these products and I want to make sure I have a strong presentation ready to go if selected.

These goals along with some other bigger picture priorities around family and health have helped me reconsider and refocus my energies.  In life, we often need to make these directional changes based on our priorities and current circumstances, whether they be life events, workload, changing environment, feedback from our current direction, or simply new information.  Life moves too quickly so the faster we can make these course alterations and adapt to new circumstances, the better we can keep up and still enjoy a more balanced life.

The Year of the Network

I’ve shared a couple times in previous weeks how much I’m impressed with the Cisco Learning Network.  It was just recently that I started my own journey to beef up my networking skill set and also validate what I already knew.  I’ve been working in data center environments for over fifteen years but I’ve been primarily a “systems guy”.  Networking was in a separate silo and thus handled by network engineers.  I’ve long had two of the three classic pillars of IT infrastructure covered: compute and storage.  I just needed to complete the foundation by tackling the third pillar, the network.  So, earlier this year, I decided to dub this year, “The Year of the Network” and thus, I set out to work on my Cisco certifications.  I thought it especially important since I work for an IT consulting organization and just about every customer engagement I’ve been on has required a strong understanding of networking.  And with my company being a strong Cisco partner, it made no sense to not have the foundational skills or certifications in place.

I believe my situation is fairly similar to many others in the industry.  Even with virtualization helping to break down many of the silos in our data centers, we still find that the silos still persist and are ever prevalent.  It seems that many VMware admins know networking as far as the Standard and Distributed vSwitch in vSphere.  Sure, we’ve had to learn about VLANs and load distribution across physical NICs, but what goes on internally on the physical switch and/or router has remained behind the curtain.  We might know the OSI layers and basic TCP/IP addressing; heck we had to know that to get Microsoft certified.  But how does one configure a VLAN, troubleshoot Spanning Tree Protocol, or even provision an EtherChannel?  It seems that this understanding might be lacking, but is ever so important for today’s virtual data center engineer to grasp.  That might explain why we see industry experts helping to fill that gap.  Take for example the recent book by Chris Wahl and Steven Pantol, “Networking for VMware Administrators” or the vBrownBag crew running through the Cisco certification track on their weekly podcast.  There is a reason these resources have been popping up and have been so popular.

So, I personally have been pursing the CCNA Routing and Switching certification.  I’m just a few weeks from achieving that milestone (yes, this late in my career), at which point I’ll set a schedule to pursue the CCNA Data Center track.  I’ve actually been more involved in UCS and Nexus engagements, but I wanted to make sure I had the routing and switching fundamentals down cold before trekking down the data center path.  I’ve been primarily studying Todd Lammle’s book, “CCNA Routing and Switching Study Guide“, supplemented with the great networking courses from Pluralsight.com.  However, I also just recently came across the Cisco Learning Network and am blown away by the sheer volume of content on this site as well as access to a huge community of folks on the same path.  What an amazing site for anyone pursuing a Cisco certification or even just looking to learn some new concepts.  I’ll be doing a separate post on this, but I just wanted to give a quick shout out to these folks.  Well done!

I’ll continue to share my thoughts as I work down this path.

Because it’s there

“Because it’s there.” These were the immortal words of George Mallory made famous before his ill-fated attempt up Mt. Everest during the 1920’s. As a self-described armchair mountaineer, I’ve followed many of the Himalayan mountain expeditions, especially the more contemporary folks like Ed Viesturs, Conrad Anker and Jimmy Chin. While I am no real mountaineer myself, I have a deep love for the mountains – the fresh air, the vistas, the escape, the adventure and yes, even the victory of reaching the summit! And I have the great blessing of sharing this love with my wife. Here we are enjoying a celebratory moment on the top of Mt. Washington many years ago on our honeymoon! What a high point on an already exhilarating time of our lives!

Image

As it turns out, this morning as I type this, I’m on vacation with my family up in the Great Smoky Mountains. I’m looking out over the lower peaks full of lush hemlocks, oak and rhododendron. Feeling the cool morning mountain air, taking in the majesty of God’s creation, and enjoying the escape of the hustle and bustle of our hectic lives – Ah, it’s so good to be up here!

So why share all of this on my blog? I just recently launched a revamped version of my old blog site, briantrainor.wordpress.com. Deciding I needed a catchier title and a site where I would be excited about posting regular content, I dubbed this one MountVirtual.com. I want this to be a site where I can document my own journey and experiences as I climb the peaks of my own profession as a data center engineer/architect. This field is changing fast. I’ve been in IT for over 16 years and to attempt to describe how the data center landscape has changed during this time would be sorely insufficient. I latched onto server virtualization almost seven years ago, a technology which single-handedly changed how we design and operate data centers these days. Information Technology has always been by nature, a realm of fast advances and progress. So with it come the challenges of keeping up and staying current with these latest advances, which makes it all the more exciting and rewarding!

In the coming weeks and months, I will be sharing my own experiences as I tackle infrastructure technology such as VMware optimization and operations, storage, UCS and Cisco networking. These are just a few of the areas that I’ve been spending a lot of my time. My goal is to get out at least one post per week to share these experiences. I’ll see how long I can keep this up.

I invite you to come along for the journey!

Back again…

Wow, the black hole has been unrelenting.  The last several months have been exciting in my new role, but I’ve shared nothing!  Time to change that.  Between engagements that have forced me to dive deeper into virtual infrastructure, to UCS deployments, to VMworld 2013, to my current pursuit of VCAP5-DCA, there has been so much to write about.  That and the fact that I just recently closed on a home in Apex, NC, and am excited to finally settle in after my relocation from the DC area.  The last four months have been a whirlwind, but I must get better about sharing the fun.

So, with that… I’ll throw together some comments about my VCAP5 pursuit (next post).

Welcome back!

Wow… I’m back from the blogging black hole.  Nothing posted since last October, but so much has happened.  It’s probably fitting for me to start afresh.  I recently relocated to Cary, NC from the DC metropolitan area and started working for consulting company in Raleigh, NC.  I was hired as a Sr. VMware Engineer, giving me the opportunity to hone my skills in the exciting world of data center virtualization.  For the last 15 years of my IT career, I’ve had the opportunity to work my way up through the ranks, spending the last six years managing a data center.  I’ve designed and implemented physical and virtual infrastructures, storage, backup and DR solutions, Windows and Linux environments, Active Directory, Exchange, Citrix,… I’ve worked closely with the network and security teams to provide the right solutions for the increasing demands of our customers.  I even had to learn the lingo and philosophy of ITIL in my attempt to better manage the day to day network operations.  I’ve touched all parts of the infrastructure stack, but have had little time or resources to dive really deep.  In this position I hope to change that.  New home, new job, new opportunities for growth, all make for an exciting adventure.  I’m ready to go!