Speaking at VMworld!

Last week,  I was ecstatic to receive the confirmation that I will be speaking at VMworld this year – that is on the vBrownBag TechTalk stage.  If you’re not familiar, the TechTalks are 10-15 minute “lightening” talks given by anyone in the virtualization community who has a technology or tech-related strategy to share.  These are completely coordinated by the folks at vBrownBag (huge applause to them!!) with the blessing and help by the VMworld conference crew (again, huge applause!!) and driven by the community at large (yep, here’s to the community!).  These guys are so committed to community and sharing the knowledge and this is a perfect extension of their weekly webcasts.  Two years ago I saw the kickoff of the TechTalks and the enthusiastic reception that followed.  I’ve since watched its popularity grow as the platform has been taken to other conferences (OpenStack Summit) and to the regional VMUG’s (most recently, the Indy VMUG User Conference).

The TechTalk schedule for VMworld 2014 is now online and there are some really neat topics by some amazing folks in the community.  I encourage anyone to check out some of these sessions.  Come support your fellow peers, see the enthusiasm and the passion within the community and learn some cool things.  It’ll all be happening in the VMworld Hang Space.

This year, I will be stepping way out of my comfort zone and stepping up to the plate to offer what I believe is a very exciting topic.  I’ve been delving into vCenter Operations Manager a lot lately, impressed with its rich features offering deep visibility into the VMware infrastructure, monitoring and reporting features, intuitive dashboard displays, capacity planning tools, efficiency and risk analysis, and predictive analytics.  It really is an amazing product.  However, it is only a monitoring and reporting tool – no changes to the environment can be made from vC Ops.  Which means that when it discovers a fault, no action is taken.  This is where vCenter Orchestrator comes into play.

vCenter Orchestrator is a rich automation tool, capable of executing complex workflows.  These workflows could be configured to remediate faults that show up in vC Ops, however there is no native integration between the two.  Not to worry as VMware has come to the rescue and created the vCO Remediation Workflow Package for vC Ops.  This is a plug-in that integrates the two products together.  This allows vCenter Orchestrator to kick off workflows when prompted by SNMP traps initiated by events detected in vC Ops.  Very powerful.  What I will be sharing in my TechTalk is a demo of a use case of this integration.  Of course, squeezing a demo of this remarkable tool into a 10 minute talk will be terribly difficult, but I’m up for the challenge.

Look forward to sharing!

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Tour of VMware’s vCenter Operations Manager

As a former network operations guy, I came to depend on the ability to monitor systems, view capacity and performance metrics and have all relevant information at my fingertips when troubleshooting. As a VMware administrator, it was ideal to have all this information in one place. That’s why I came to love VMware vCenter Operations Manager (vCOps) – the one monitoring solution built by the engineers who built the cornerstone virtualization platform in most enterprise environments today.

Sure there are other monitoring solutions out there for vSphere – some much simpler than vCOps – but the depth of visibility, gathered metrics, capacity planning and reporting gained by vCOps make it a hard-to-beat solution. Of course with the exhaustive array of graphs, tables and dashboards, it can be a bit intimidating and might even send some folks off to those simpler solutions. For this reason, I decided to provide an online tour of the features and capabilities of VMware’s robust solution and show how to maximize its usage. This will be a series of posts published over the next few weeks, the first of which will be a quick start guide to installing vCOps and getting it up and running. Before I publish that post, however, here is an extensive list of official VMware resources as well as some other fantastic resources provided by folks in the community to get anyone started. Hope you find this useful.

Downloads

Product and Support

VMware Training

Third-Party Resources

 

Lessons Learned from the Halls of VMworld

Last week, Session Builder for VMworld 2014 went live. This is always an exciting time of year and seems to mark the beginning of the highly anticipated ramp-up to the conference. This is when I start to ponder what each day will look like, what I’ll be focusing and how I’ll utilize my time. There is so much crammed into this conference: general sessions, breakout sessions, hands-on-labs, Solutions Exchange, Hang Space, Tech Talks, media events, conference events, customer appreciation events… the list goes on. Many attendees will run non-stop from early morning to… early morning. This will be my fifth VMworld this year (wow – five years!) and I must admit, I’m still trying to figure out how to squeeze everything I want to accomplish into five very fast days. But I have learned a few things that I can share to get the most out of this event.

Put off today what you can do tomorrow

This is the biggest lesson I’ve learned.  And no, I’m not promoting procrastination. What I am promoting is prioritizing one’s time based on what is available after the show and what is not. The breakout sessions and hands-on-labs make up the biggest draw for conference attendees and obviously create the central focus of training at the event. But the recordings of most of the sessions and even the labs will be available online after the event. We’ll have the opportunity to take them at our leisure at any time. These are absolutely incredible training resources, but if we’re spending all of our time focusing on them during the show, we’re missing out on other activities that will not be available once the show is over, such as all the incredible networking opportunities (see below).

Just an added personal note – I’ve spent year after year trying to figure out my breakout session schedule, and it never fails that I end up switching around my sessions at the last second. I often end up in one session and then I spend part of that session second guessing my choice for the next session and thus missing out on some of the content in the session I’m currently in. This year, I plan to minimize that.  I will still make it to a select number of these sessions, but it will primarily be to hear a particular speaker or pick up information on a critical topic. Otherwise, I will be spending more time in the Hang Space or on the Solutions Exchange floor meeting up with other folks and chatting with product experts. I’ve discovered that some of the best education takes place one-on-one. And those opportunities cannot be put off until tomorrow.

Speak up

As I said, some of the best ideas will come from our conversations with our peers and experts in the industry.  Advice to anyone: Spend time in the Hang Space, talk to your neighbor while dining or in the breakout sessions, attend the customer appreciation events… It really pays to strike up the conversation. It’s so much more enjoyable when we connect with others and there is so much to learn from our peers’ experience in the trenches. But we need to open our mouths. For introverts like me, this can be uncomfortable, but there are so many attending that would welcome a conversation and would love to share what they’re doing in the data center. Feel free to approach a speaker after a session. They love to share what they’re doing and what has worked for them. And take full advantage of the industry experts in the Solutions Exchange. That’s why they’re there!

Tweet up

I joined Twitter prior to VMworld several years ago and quickly discovered the real value of this social media outlet.  I realized that so many announcements and insights come across the Twitter feeds. It’s also a great way to connect with other folks at the event. So many folks have conversed on Twitter and then come to meet each other in real life at the conference. “Tweetups” for example, are informal gatherings where those active on Twitter meet up and enjoy the real face to face interaction. You can find a list of folks here who will be tweeting from the event. Or you can simply follow hash tags such as #VMworld or the hash tag for a particular session. These hash tags are usually listed with the description of the session in the Content Catalog. There is so much to be discovered by simply following the constant feed during the show.

Get comfy

Wear comfortable shoes. I hear this over and over again, but it’s solid advice. You’ll be on the move for 16-18+ hours each day. Wear what’s most comfortable while still being professional.

Travel lightly

This goes with dressing comfortably.  Leave the bulky laptop in the hotel.  I know we’re IT pros and need to stay connected.  There are no user workstations these days at the conference so if we want to get online to solve a problem back at the office, we need our laptop to connect.  I get it and I’ve been there.  However, if you have a light-weight laptop like a MacBook Air, make that your companion or even a simple tablet.  There’s nothing like lugging the extra weight of a huge laptop when you’re on the go from 7AM-7PM.  And there’s not as much room for all the trinkets.  Of course, if your hotel room is a block away, that helps if you need to run back and hop online.

Keep home base close by

This has been another huge lesson for me. This will be the third year I’ll be staying at the Mosser Hotel, just a block from Moscone West. I love the convenience of the super short walking distance from my hotel to the event. I will warn anyone though, the rooms are tiny and if you go with the economy class, you will be sharing a bathroom with your hall mates. But if you need to drop off an overloaded bag of swag or retrieve something during the day, it pays to have your room just two minutes away.

By the way, I find it interesting that this hotel is never on the list of recommended hotels with the reduced conference rate. However, here’s a secret tip: Year after year, I’ve been able to get a cheaper rate at the Mosser than the conference rates for the other nearby hotels. Granted there are a couple more convenient options like the Mariott right across the street, but the cost is at least 2-3x the nightly rate. The lower rate at the Mosser helps me get the budget approval for this trip each year. Another trick I use is booking my room early in the year (Jan-Feb) before the rates start going up. I know that if I end up not going, I can always cancel with no penalty. I just wish I could do that with airfare too!

Party on

There is something going on every night of the conference (besides Thursday) – the official list of community gatherings and events can be found here. Take part and register for these events early as some of the more popular events will get sold out (like the hugely popular VMunderground event, traditionally held on Sunday night before the conference gets under full swing). These are additional great networking events and of course allow us to unwind after a day of hard training and “drinking from the fire hose”. A couple big notes of caution: be professional and exercise moderation. Believe me, you will need the physical and mental stamina the following day.

Roam around

Finally, making the most out of this trip means getting out on the town.  I always try to venture out to explore after the show is over.  What a great way to wind down.  San Francisco is a neat city.  It’s a little shabby in spots but so rich in character and history. The Wharf, Alcatraz, Embarcadero, Coit Tower, Golden Gate Bridge, trolley rides… there are so many sites to see and things to do.  It’s not a complete trip to San Fran without hitting some of these spots.  And for the family, Crystal Lowe has organized Spousetivities each year — exciting activities around town for spouses, family and friends of conference attendees.  This has been a tremendous success each year and has really gained quite the following.

So there it is.  Just a few lessons I’ve learned over the years to get the most out of every minute at VMworld. Although, in the end, you really can’t go wrong with whatever you do. There is so much to take in and there’s no way to leave at the end of the week without a gathering a massive amount of knowledge to take back to your team at the office. It’s just an awesome event and it keeps getting bigger and better each year.  Can’t wait!

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!

VCAP5-DCA Results!

Wow! Results came in seven days from the day I wrote this exam.  I expected my wait to be the normal 14+ days so I was stunned when I woke up this morning to see the email from VMware with my VCAP5-DCA Exam Report.  And it arrived in my mailbox last night!!  How could I have missed that?!  I was naturally very hesitant to open the report especially after feeling the way I described in my last post.  However, my hesitancy quickly turned to elation as I opened the report and saw those four golden letters:  P A S S !!!  What a way to start off my day!  And what a way to kick off the year!!  Technically this was accomplished in 2013, but I’m also putting this up as my first accomplished goal of 2014 since I didn’t get the results until today.  Hey… whatever works to get you pumped for the new year, right?!  It’s just awesome!

I listed off my study resources in my VCAP5-DCA Preparation post and I listed off some recommendations in my VCAP5-DCA Experience post, so I won’t go into those again.  I do want to offer a big thanks to the vCommunity as a whole for providing the resources, encouragement and support for tackling a daunting goal like this.  And I also must thank my employer, UNICOM Systems and my team at the office for giving me the opportunity and support needed to pursue and ultimately knock this goal out.  It is a huge win for my team at the office and my organization as a whole.

Now on to the next goal!  I would quickly start working on my VCAP5-DCD certification, but it looks like my next target recommended by the boss is my NetApp NCDA certification.  My organization, UNICOM Systems, is a commercial IT consulting arm for UNICOM Global, and we just recently strengthened our partnership with NetApp. To have a strong VMware and NetApp engineer on staff will be a big asset for our Raleigh office.  And yes, VCAP5-DCD is most certainly still on the hit list for later this year!

VCAP5-DCA Experience

So I took the VMware VCAP5-DCA exam last week.  I studied rigorously for this one, especially in the final weeks leading up the exam.  I had to reschedule a couple times due to scheduling conflicts with work projects, but I managed to get this in before the end of the year (and thus still be able to use the promo code I had from VMworld).  I used all the great study resources that most people have referenced and added another resource to the list I shared in my previous post.  Mike Preston’s, “8 Weeks of #VCAP” offered some great overviews on the those more obscure skills that many of us don’t use every day, like vSphere AutoDeploy and Image Builder. That helped to fill in some of the gaps.

My experience was somewhat similar to many others in that I ran out of time.  I knew going into this exam it would be unlike any other that I had taken.  The sheer magnitude of material was enormous, and the ability to readily pull from that knowledge to quickly execute tasks would really be tested.  What I did not realize was how quickly that time would fly by when engaged in these tasks.  That 3.5 hours was the fastest 3.5 hours ever!  Oh, how I wish I could have extended the time just another 15 minutes to squeeze in a couple more questions.  I believe I hurt myself early in the exam by not hitting the ground running from the start.  I started with an approach that Tim Antonowicz shared on his post about testing strategy during the exam.  I won’t go into the details here, but essentially, this amounted to reviewing each question in order to create a good outline of the exam and then using that outline to take a strategic approach in answering the questions.  It seems like a great approach and apparently has worked for him and others.  I, however, ended up spending too much time on this review, time that could very easily have been spent completing one or two more questions.  Now… that said, one great benefit I got from applying this approach was that it did put me at ease early in the exam.  I was confident I knew how to complete all of the scenarios that I just reviewed.  There was nothing that I saw that was beyond what I had prepared.

So… after reviewing the exam I settled into my first question and was surprised when I saw that almost 30 minutes had ticked off the clock after completing that first question.  I knew I had to work faster, but I really didn’t find my groove until the second half of the exam.  In the end, I left a number of questions on the table unanswered.  I finally understood what everyone means when they say that time is not your friend on this exam.  I truly believe it takes first hand experience to fully understand what is required on an exam like this.  This included getting good at maneuvering between the testing window, the various Remote Desktop windows, the Putty session window, and the vSphere Client windows, all on one screen.  And of course dealing with the notorious lag that everyone mentions.  Although thankfully, this wasn’t quite as bad for me as many have shared nor did I have any lockups that some have experienced.

I can share my recommendations, but it will be like most others – practice, practice, practice until you know the skills on the DCA blueprint cold.  I would add to that, attempt all skills on one screen.  During the test, I would recommend scribbling key configuration details from the exam scenarios on the dry erase pad to avoid having to switch back and forth between the testing window and the lab environment.  I believe that alone consumed too much of my time.  Another huge recommendation that has been shared numerous time is to not wait for certain processes like an installation to complete.  Any waiting time should be spent working on the next question or task.  Of course, keeping track of what questions have been completed and which ones have not becomes critical.

In the end, I agree that the exam is very fair regarding the content.  There are no surprises if you know the blueprint.  The only surprise that came for me was the time element.  If you get good at that, you’ll be good at the exam.  I don’t know yet if I passed, but if I did not, at least I will be armed with the understanding and full appreciation of the level of time management and sheer focus and adeptness that is required to successfully knock this one off.

Update (Jan 7, 2013):  I passed!!! My exam results came one day after posting this piece.

VCAP5-DCA Prep

I can proudly say that after a year or so of poking at the content of the VCAP5 exams, I’ve finally gotten myself into gear and have been faithfully in hot pursuit of the esteemed VCAP5-DCA cert.  And the pursuit has already been very rewarding.  Like any exam, this one takes huge amounts of study, which equates to discipline and sacrifice.  It truly requires a sacrifice of time as this really amounts to about an eight week commitment for many.  That’s a commitment of evening and weekend hours and whatever work hours one can ethically squeeze out of the boss.  In my case, I’ve had the fortune of having some good time each day to tinker away in the lab.  Of course, everyone needs a lab.  A few weeks into my study and I thought I’d share some of the methodology that has been working well for me.

Make the Commitment

For any worthwhile pursuit or goal, a deadline is critical.  The old quote “A goal is a dream with a deadline” (Napolean Hill) is very true. Over the last year without any type of deadline, the idea of pursuing this certification remained just that – an idea.  It never gained any traction until one day not too long ago (and with the additional push of a discount promo code), I scheduled my exam date.  It is now on the calendar which makes it all the more real.  The clock is ticking, I hear it and I know I have to hustle each day to work through another portion of the exam blueprint.  Step one, make the commitment by getting the exam date on the calendar.  Then…

Define the plan

A variation of the old quote by Napolean Hill is by Harvey Mackey, “…A goal is a dream with a plan and a deadline.”  This is fairly elementary but what is the plan?  Of course time needs to be carved out as mentioned above, but what do we do with that time?  The first stop here is indisputable VCAP5-DCA Exam Blueprint.  This is a must have and this advice is Numero Uno from everyone who has walked this road before.  Know everything on that blueprint so well that you can perform each item quickly without having to reference the online docs. Since that is a massive amount of material to learn, there have to be some shortcuts to learning this.  Well… there are no shortcuts, but there are some great study guides available.  These serve the purpose of being good refreshers and concisely honing in on what some consider the most important points to know.  These are not official, but are still phenomenal guides, put together by some of the best contributors in the community.  The ones I am currently using are:

  • The vBrownBag VCAP5-DCA series.  Great videos by some awesome folks in the community.  Nick Marshall has easy links to each video aligned with the VCAP Exam Blueprint objectives here.
  • VCAP5-DCA Study notes, by one of the regulars in the vBrownbag circle, Shane Williford.  One additional valuable item he brings to the table is the CLI Study notes.  This is a one-stop quick reference to the many CLI commands needed for the exam.  Great addition!
  • The Pluralsight (formerly TrainSignal) VMware vSphere Optimize and Scale video training, by Jason Nash.  Jason is well known and rock solid in his teaching and his training series covers the entire exam blueprint.  I might add a quick plug for Pluralsight training here… If you haven’t done so already, I highly recommend a monthly subscription.  For as low as $30/month, you have access to the most incredible library of training materials, from programming to career development to infrastructure training.  I use this library almost everyday on the job, to brush up on VMware, Citrix and Cisco concepts.  Highly, highly recommended!
  • And to keep track of it all, which is part of any organized plan, I’ve been using Chris Wahl’s VCAP5-DCA Study Sheet.  Checking items off when accomplished always feels good so this gives the sense of little victories on the road toward the ultimate objective.

So that’s a lot of training and study material to work through.  How does one manage to absorb all of this in a relatively short period of time?

Exercise Superb Time Management

This is probably my weakest skill.  With all the distractions of our world, it is so easy to get lulled away from even the most well devised plans.  One of the best and surprisingly simplest tools I’ve used to keep myself on track is the Pomodoro Technique.  This is a little technique that is based on the finding that we are most effective and focused when we work in 25 minutes chunks of time.  The brain then needs a break, so a five minute break is sufficient before tackling another 25 minute focused chunk of time.  After several of these “chunks,” it’s recommended to take a 15-30 minute break.  It’s well known that taking breaks during intense times of work or focus helps the mind stay productive.  For me, the added benefit of this timed period is knowing that my one and only objective during the 25 minutes is studying. This does wonders to keep me from getting distracted.  The Pomodoro technique simply uses a clock that measures these alternating times of focus and breaks.  The tool is free for download for any device and there are many variations available.  They all use the same concept.

Another focus enabling tool I use is binaural beats.  Just do a YouTube search and dozens of these recordings will come up.  I don’t quite understand the science behind it, but apparently these are tones with out-of-sync wavelengths that are sent to opposite audio channels. When listening with headphones, these create a pulsating sound that is believed to help induce a higher state of concentration by “tuning” the brain. Whether this is true or not, the reality for me is that it helps me to tune out the distractions around me and and stay focused on the task at hand.  One can just as easily do that with any kind of ambient music… or your favorite metal band.

So there it is, a list of the tools and techniques I’m using to help me as I work toward the goal.  I will follow up with another post once I successfully pass the exam.

All the best to everyone else in pursuit of these certifications!

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).