One of my challenges for 2013 was to acquire the VMware Certified Design Expert (VCDX) certification. VCDX is a high level VMware certification which awarded to individuals that are highly skilled in VMware enterprise deployments. The VCDX certification is available for datacenter virtualization, cloud and desktop. I applied for the VCDX-DCV (datacenter virtualization) certification and submitted a vSphere design which was accepted by the VCDX defense panel. During VMworld Europe 2013 I had to defend my design and last week I received the results: Passed – Your VCDX number is 121!
Note: The information provided here is based on my personal experience during the process to acquire VCDX. Always check with VMware for the most up-to-date information and full details on the requirements etc.
- Achieve VCP-DCV certification;
- Achieve VCAP-DCA certification;
- Archieve VCAP-DCD certification;
- Submit a design;
- Defend your design!
For VCDX-DT and VCDX-CLOUD a similar process is in place, although you have to pass VCAP DT or CLOUD exams before you submit your design.
The first three steps are pretty straight forward, just register for an exam at a PearsonVue testing center and pass the exam. If you’re not already a VCP and there’s a training requirement to get this certification: you have to attend an official VMware training such as Install, Configure & Manage, Fast Track or Optimize & Scale. Full training options are available here. Verify you’re attending the training at a VMware Authorized Training Center (VATC). A list of VATCs is available on the VMware website.
For the VCAP exams there’s no training requirement, although attending a training will be beneficial for you:
- For VCAP-DCA VMware recommends the Optimize & Scale training. The VCAP-DCA is about Datacenter Administration. Expect live labs here: you will perform tasks using actual equipment to verify your skill at installing, configuring, and administering large and complex virtualized environments..
- For VCAP-DCD VMware recommends the VMware vSphere Design Workshop and the Business Continuity and Disaster Recovery Design trainings. VCAP-DCD is about Datacenter Design; the exam includes different questions but also actual design scenarios. The Design Workshop training is specifically recommended here, because the training deals with some of design concepts which are also required (or at least recommended) to use in your VCDX design.
Note that’s possible to apply for VCDX 4 or VCDX 5. For VCDX 4 you’ll need VCP4, VCAP-DCA4 and VCAP-DCD4. For VCDX5 you will need the version 5 version of the these certifications. When you’re applying for VCDX4 and you’re also holding VCAP-DCD5 you will automatically acquire VCDX5 as well.
After you’ve achieved VCP and both VCAP certifications you’re ready to apply for VCDX.
The VCDX Application
Acquiring the required certifications is a first step, submitting your VCDX application is a BIG second step. The VCDX-DCV application requires a set of documents such as:
- Architecture design – The design of your vSphere enviroment;
- Installation guide – Installation steps to implement your design;
- Implementation plan – Is about roles, responsibilities, timelines etc;
- Testing plan – Test & acceptance document;
- Standard operating procedures – About how to operate the design.
On top of this the actual application (a separate document) should be filled out. Of course you can add additional materials here, for example (and if applicable) installation scripts or capacity planner results. Note that general vendor documents/whitepapers should not be included in the application, although appointing them in your design is a good idea. If you have specific questions on this, please ask Mark Brunstad who is the VCDX Program Manager (mbrunstad at vmware dot com).
How much time do you need to complete the VCDX application? This (of course) depends on your case and design. John Arrasjid (VCDX001) explains in the VCDX bootcamp (more about this later) that complex designs might cost 300+ hours for the design, and 30-40 hours for supporting documents. My personal experience is that this is a realistic estimation.
Note that VCDX defenses are organized several times per year; for example during VMworld and VMware Partner Exchange. New VCDX defense options are announced on the VCDX community page. VMware will ask you to show your interest through a VMware MyLearn webpage, this ensures your on VMware’s radar for the defense.
How to prepare?
- Read the book “VCDX Boot Camp : Preparing for the VCDX Panel Defense“. This books contains very valuable information on the VCDX process, application, actual design and the defense. By reading the book you get a good insight in what to expect, and what is expected by the VCDX panel.
- Watch all the VCDX Prepartion videos available available on vmwarecertificationvideos.com.
- Download the VCDX bootcamp slides here.
- Attend the VCDX bootcamp, the bootcamp is a very valuable training offered by VMware for free (qualifications for attendance include completion of VCP, and prerequisite VCAP certifications). VCDX bootcamps are announced on the VCDX Community Forum website. I’ve attended the bootcamp twice: at VMworld SFO 2012 and VMware Europe 2013.
- Read the official VCDX documentation such as the Handbook & Application and Design Defense Blueprint. This documentation is available through the VCDX website.
- If you’re working for a partner you might have access to the Solution Enablement Kits (SET), there on partner portal. The VMware vSphere Plan and Design Service Delivery Kit contains some valuable documents, but be very careful with just ctrl+c and ctrl+v content. Make it your own design and don’t just fill out the template here.
- Read the book “VCDX Boot Camp : Preparing for the VCDX Panel Defense” a second time :).
The VCDX defense consist of three parts:
- The interview process (75 minutes) in which the panelists will ask you questions on your design;
- The design scenario (30 minutes for VCDX-DCV) in which you have to create a logical design based on a customer case;
- The troubleshooting scenario (15 minutes for VCDX-DCV) which is about troubleshooting a case based on information provided on a powerpoint slide.
To get some experience in presenting and answering questions it’s a very good idea to run a mock defense. Find at least three people (colleagues, peers, industry experts) that will act as panelists. These will people will review your design and ask you questions about your design. Try to create an environment that is similar to the real defense, including a projector, whiteboard and timing. Practice the defense of your design, but also practice the design and troubleshooting part. There are some practice scenarios in the bootcamp presentation. A thank you to Peter van den Bosch, Herco van Brug, Steven Habes and Joep Piscaer for reviewing my design and being a member of my mock defense panel.
For me the mock defense was a very important part of the whole process. The mock defense will let you look into the mirror and will give an indication on the completeness, difficulty and level of your design. The mock defense will also test you on answering questions on your design and your ability to cope with the design and troubleshooting scenario. Although you might be an experienced architect and presenter, it is still a good idea to run a mock defense (maybe more than only once). You will learn how others think about your design and which gaps might are in your design (and yes, there will be gaps :-). Also don’t forget that panelist may, can and will ask you everything about what’s in your design…so the most important tip: Know your design!
The design is a very (the most?) important part of your application. You can choose for an actual design, a partially fictitious design or a wholly fictitious design. An actual design is generated as part of an actual design and implementation project, a fictitious design is based on work done as part of a design-and-implementation project but is modified to demonstrate vSphere knowledge, the wholly fictitious design is just…yes…fictitious. I think creating a wholly fictitious design is the most challenging option, because you have to act as a customer and consultant at the same time. Maybe somebody else can play the customer role; but still you have to think very carefully about requirements, constraints, assumptions and risks.
In the case of an actual or partially fictitious design your dealing with real customer requirements, constraints, assumptions and risks. This is a good starting point for your design and supporting documentation. In my case I choose to base my design on an actual customer case while adding some fictitious elements to show my expertise. Include elements in your design where you’re an expert on. Although the size of the vSphere infrastructure is not that important to create a good design, one can imagine that a design containing only 2 hosts might be a bit small. Same counts for the vSphere edition your designing: vSphere Enterprise Plus license is the most advanced license and includes all the vSphere features, which will give you the ability to show your knowledge!
It’s ok to add elements to your design which are not strictly vSphere, for example a 3rd party backup solution. Adding such a solution means that panelist can ask questions about this solution, again…know your design!
I hope this article helps you in your journey to VCDX. It’s a long process which requires considerable effort, but when the final result drops in your mailbox…that’s a great feeling.
Good luck with all your preparations! Also read Joep Piscaer’s (VCDX 101) blog on his experience.