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.


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!

File Lock on Full VMFS Volume

We just recently had a VMFS volume become full due to over-provisioning which caused the VMs on the datastore to stop responding.  Typically the solution is easy – free up space on the volume by migrating VMs off the datastore or increase the space on the underlying volume and expand the datastore.  Since this was just a development environment, we did not have an enterprise-grade array that provided features such as volume autogrow, nor did we even have the luxury of additional space to add to the volume.  We realized we would have to move files off the datastore to free up space to allow the VMs to “breathe” again.  We quickly discovered however, that we could not migrate VMs nor delete any files off the volume.

We were prompted with an error when attempting a VM migration or a file deletion from the vSphere client.  We also tried removing files via the service console which returned the following error:

rm: cannot remove <filename>: Input/output error

It appeared that the files were locked.  Thankfully, we discovered a quick solution.  One of the servers in the cluster had a lock on a file on the full volume but had no space to release the lock.  The only way to manually force this release was to attempt to remove any one file from from this volume from each of the hosts in the cluster.  This command would be successful on whichever host in the cluster was holding the lock.

VMware wrote this KB article stating exactly this solution:

Thankfully, this worked for us and allowed us to free up enough space to perform normal operations on the VMFS volume and get the stopped VMs running once again.

VMworld 2012, Day 1 – Sessions

After the opening keynote session, I immediately headed over to the Hang Space.  This is such a cool concept for the conference.  Great place to kick back, take a break, catch up with folks, meet new ones, watch the events on the big screen or catch the Cube and Community interviews and Tech Talks.  The Tech Talks are a fantastic idea.  The #vBrownBag crew (Cody Bunch, Josh Atwell, Alastair Cooke, Nick Marshall and Damian Karlson) have organized and powered the Tech Talks, part of which consist of the Lightening Talks.  This is an opportunity for anyone to take the stage to present their rejected VMworld session (or any VMware topic) in 15 minutes or less.  What a great idea!  I was able to catch a couple of these today and thought this was such a valuable addition to the whole VMworld experience this year.  Of course I grabbed my required #vBrownBag brown bag filled with all kinds of goodies including the coveted “USB Stick of Awesomeness”.  Sure to be one of the better pieces of swag this year.

I also managed to squeeze in a number of sessions today:

  • Architecting a Cloud Infrastructure (#INF-VSP1168)Chris Colotti, David Hill, Aidan Dalgleish, Rawlinson Rivera, Duncan Epping

We’re new to the cloud computing space so this was a good session to get exposed to the design and architecture of a solid cloud infrastructure.  Much of this went over my head but great to hear advice straight from some of the giants of cloud infrastructure design.

  • How to Achieve Optimized and Virtualized Business  Critical Applications (#SPO3339)Vaughn Stewart, David Korsunsky, Bart Falzarano

Being a NetApp customer, this was good for an overview on NetApp’s data efficiency solutions, along with its integration with VMware and a customer case study thrown in for good validation.

  • Ask the Expert vBloggers (#INF-VSP1504)Rick Scherer, Chad Sakac, Frank Denneman, Duncan Epping and Scott Lowe

This was a fun session.  These guys are all well-known on the blogging scene – all but Rick have blogs in the top 5 according to Eric Siebert’s  They were all very candid in their responses regarding the technical (even troubleshooting issues) as well as the non-technical (how has being a super blogger changed your life/career?).  Very informative and ever so entertaining.

  • Become a Rock Star with PowerCLI and vCenter Orchestrator (#INF-VSP1856)Josh Atwell

Another informative and entertaining session with first-time VMworld speaker Josh Atwell.  He is incredibly active in the VMware and Cisco communities and is one of the driving forces behind the #vBrownBag community.  This session was great as it was a purely vendor neutral how-to session around automation using PowerCLI and vCenter Orchestrator.  Great tips with a bit of fun thrown in, including a proud Dad moment – taping the audience wishing his three year old son Happy Birthday.  How great is that!

  • vSphere 5 Storage Best Practices (#INF-STO2980)Vaughn Stewart and Chad Sakac

Vaughn and Chad have been doing this session for the past several years and is a VMworld favorite.  Two great personalities from opposing vendors on one stage to discuss storage best practices in as vendor neutral manner as they can.  It’s always entertaining watching them tap dance and sometimes slip in their jabs at each other, but it’s all in good fun as the two highly respect each other . Very informative with such great information for me to carry back.  Will definitely review the session notes on this one!

After the sessions, I managed to make it to a couple vendor after-hours events and then back to the hotel for an early night.  I was feeling a little under the weather so this was a nice relief.  Back up early again tomorrow.

VMworld 2012, Day 1 – Keynote

The opening act for VMworld was the usual keynote by Paul Maritz and Steve Herrod.  This being Paul Maritz’ last week as CEO of VMware, he took the opportunity to introduce the incoming CEO, Pat Gelsinger and officially hand the torch over to him.  Maritz is a man of incredible vision mixed with the business acumen to drive a multi-billion dollar company through some of wildest changes across the IT landscape.  Over the last five years as CEO, he gauged the direction of the industry, foresaw and articulated what most people couldn’t comprehend, and leveraged VMware’s existing solutions to  capitalize on this new paradigm.  VMware through their solutions has revolutionized cloud and we have Paul Maritz to thank for his incredible leadership.  And now a new leader is coming in – Pat Gelsinger.  Paul handed the torch to him with command, “Take good care of her.”

Pat Gelsinger then articulated the vision of the expanding cloud infrastructure.  He defined the Software-Defined Datacenter – “All infrastructure is virtualized and delivered as a service, and the control of the datacenter is entirely automated by software.” He outlined the need to abstract, pool and automate all aspects of the data center and deliver the entire data center as a set of services.  This has already been done with Compute and Storage/Availability, but still needs to be done with Network/Security and Management.  The goal of the SDDC is to bring together one common platform to manage all aspects.  With this he introduced the vCloud Suite, one of the major announcements coming out of VMworld.

The vCloud Suite is the complete integrated solution to IT infrastructure management for the cloud.  It is built on the solid core foundation of vSphere and extends its reach with the following components:  vCloud Director, vCloud Connector, vCloud Networking and Security, vCenter Site Recovery Manager, vCenter Operations Management Suite and vFabric Application Director.

Along with this announcement came the release of vSphere 5.1, the newest version of the highest performing and most reliable hypervisor in the industry.  And with this release came the greater announcement, the music to everyone’s ears:  the abolishment of vRAM entitlements.  This reversal in their pricing was in direct response to the negative feedback from the community.  Future pricing would be one easy model – per CPU, per socket.  Hooray.

Steve Herrod then came to the stage and further explained the value of the vCloud Suite.  He dived down into each of the layers to show how we can now provision the entire virtualized data center just like we have been provisioning virtual machines.  So much has already been accomplished on the compute layer, but max capacity levels have increased.  Moster VMs have gone from max of 32 vCPUs to 64 vCPUs with up to 1 million IOPS per VM (up from 1 million per host).  On the storage layer, advances have been made to better integrate components such as storage pools, storage DRS and SRM into the management tools.  One big announcement around this layer is the introduction of Enhanced vMotion.  The software-defined data center should have no physical constructs with which to move around so the limitation of shared storage has been removed!  Finally on the network layer, great progress has been made to abstract the physical network.  So IDS, traffic management, firewalls, subnets and VLANS can now be abstracted and worked into the virtualized data center, allowing much faster and easier provisioning.  VXLAN technology has been expanded and we can now extend Layer 2 networks across the cloud.  We can burst a VM into a vCloud provider’s cloud without changing the IP or MAC address, seamlessly and easily.  Cool stuff.  All of these layers are pulled together into one management tool.  VMware has designed a more elegant user browser-based interface to manage everything from one place.  This UI seamlessly ties into other tools that customers are already working with and provides vCloud APIs to allow partners to build UIs on top of this to further extend the capabilities.

Steve showed off this technology using several cool demos.  Tomorrow he plans to continue his journey up the stack by outlining the advances around mobile access.  Looking forward to it!

#vBrownBag Wednesdays

I’m super excited about VMworld!  Fueling that excitement has been taking part in the Wednesday night vBrownBags hosted by Cody Bunch and team over at  The guys are currently running through the VCAP5-DCA Exam Blueprint, which is motivating me to start studying for my first VCAP!  The community around these vBrownBags is awesome to say the least.  So much that I’m a little intimidated to jump in, but these guys have a blast, they spur and encourage each other, and they know their stuff!  Obviously, a great community to jump into!

Tonight’s presentation was VCAP5-DCA Blueprint Objectives 1.2 and 1.3, presented by Hersey Cartwright.  I was overwhelmed by how much was still so new to me.  Great job by Hersey and this followed last week’s awesome session by Josh Atwell running through the VCAP5-DCA Objective 8.1.  Good stuff and some fun announcements about VMworld.

Hersey gave some great links to VCAP study aids.  I’m going to list them off here since I’ll need an easy point of reference when I start studying for my VCAP5-DCA.

VCAP5-DCA Study Checklist – @chriswahl
vExperienced – @egrigson
The SaffaGeek – @greggrobertson5
VirtualLanger – @jaslanger
VALCO Labs – @joshcoen

Some great links by some very solid and well respected contributors in the community.  Thanks guys.

Ok, time to study!!

ESX or vSphere Host Not Responding

We just discovered one of our older host servers was in a non-responsive state in vCenter.  After successfully confirming network connectivity of the host server and virtual machines, we determined that the problem must be the host management service was hung.

The issue was resolved by running the following command after logging into the service console:

# service mgmt-vmware restart

About a minute after successfully restarting the host agent service, the host regained connected state and full mangement of the host resumed.

Great VMware KB articles to reference:

Diagnosing an ESX/ESXi host that is disconnected or not responding in vCenter Server:

Restarting the Management agents on an ESX or ESXi Server:

Additional note:

Ray Heffer noted in his blog that if the restart hangs, then the process causing the issue must be killed.  We did not need to take this step, but if this situation occurs, Ray has some great notes for killing the conflicting process.


Installing Dell OpenManage on ESXi 4.1

I know this topic has been written about in the past, but I figured this would be a good topic for my first technical post.  Just yesterday I had to remind myself how to install Dell OpenManage Server Administrator on a VMware ESXi 4.1 host server.  Since ESXi does not include the Service Console (such old news isn’t this?!) there is no ability to install the OMSA client on the host.  Instead, one simply installs the OpenManage Offline Bundle and VIB on the host, enables the CIM providers and then connects to the host using a locally installed OMSA client.  Dell’s documentation can be found here:

Here are the quick and dirty steps using the vSphere CLI.

1.  Download and install the latest version of vSphere CLI:  (Requires a MyVMware account.)

2.  Download the latest Dell OpenManage Offline Bundle and VIB for ESXi from  So far the latest I’ve found for ESXi 4.1 is

3.  Shut down all VMs on the host and place the host in maintenance mode.

4.  Navigate to the working directory of the vSphere CLI.  C:\Program Files (x86)\VMware\VMware vSphere CLI\bin.

5.  Install the OpenManage Bundle to the ESXi host server using the following syntax: –server <IP address of ESXi host> -i -b <path to Dell OpenManage file>

6.  Restart the ESXi host server after confirmation of successful installation.

Not quite done yet… In order for the newly installed Server Administrator Web Server to communicate with the CIM providers, these providers must be enabled.  To do this through the vSphere Client, follow these next steps:

1.  Logon to the ESXi host using the vSphere Client.

2.  Go to the Configuration tab of the respective host.

3.  Under the Software section, click on Advanced Settings.

4.  In the Advanced Settings, find UserVars.  Then change the value of CIMOEMProviderEnabled field to 1.  Click OKNote: The Dell documentation points out the wrong variable to change.  This should be CIMOEMProviderEnabled (singular).

5.  Execute the Restart Management Agents on the Direct Console User Interface (DCUI) of the ESXi host.  This will hopefully allow the CIM providers to be enabled without rebooting the host.  If it does not, a reboot will have to be initiated.

Bonus:  The above setting can also be modifed using the vSphere CLI.  Use the following command: –server <ip_address of ESXi host> –username <user_name> –password <password> –set 1 UserVars.CIMOEMProviderEnabled

In order to pull up OpenManage, the OMSA client must be installed on a local desktop or server.

1.  From, download and install the latest OpenManage Server Administrator Managed Node for your version of OS.

2.  Type the Hostname/IP Address, Username and Password for the selected host server.  Be sure to check the “Ignore certificate warnings” checkbox.

That’s it!  A little more involved than the old way of installing the Server Administrator on the old ESX servers with the Service Console.  This still allows for full functionality with the smaller footprint afforded by ESXi.

VCP5 in the Bag!

Whew!  It was a close one, but I managed to pass VCP-510 to earn my latest VCP certification.  And this was a tough one, especially since all my hands-on experience was 100% lab.  I created a lab environment on my laptop and just went to town.  Thankfully, my laptop is robust enough to handle 3 host servers, a couple nested VMs, another VM as a domain controller and an OpenFiler iSCSI virtual storage array.

When I studied for my VCP4 exam back in Nov-Dec 2009, I was already using vSphere 4 in a production environment at the office.  We had just recently upgraded from ESX 3.5.  I couldn’t quite try concepts out and break things as in a real lab, but I at least had real world experience which came in handy on exam day.  I also read through all of VMware documentation, and used many of the common study aids at the time posted by popular bloggers.  This time, I tried the same approach and was a little overwhelmed by the sheer volume of documentation to work through.  Of course, I targeted the Exam Blueprint but it was still a massive amount of ground to cover.  Good thing there was some overlap with vSphere 4.

I pulled guides from many of the great bloggers out there, all of which have been listed by others out there so there’s nothing new on this list.  This just gives me a good reference point to come back to when I start studying for the VCAP exams!

VCP Exam Blueprint

Forbes Guthrie’s vReference notes – Amazing!

Andrea Mauro’s VCP5 notes – Great stuff!

Even picked up TrainSignal’s vSphere 5 Training DVD

And of course, all of VMware’s vSphere 5 documentation!

Lot of study, but if paid off.  Here on the last day that the class requirement was waived, I squeaked by with a modest passing score!  Hooray!  Feels good to add VCP5 to my collection of certifications!

Brian Trainor, VCP 3/4/5