VCDX: Preparing for VMware's Exclusive Certification

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It's not often you get a chance to join an elite club of only 105 people in the world. But that's how exclusive it is to become a VMware Certified Design Expert (VCDX). It is the pinnacle of VMware certifications and is on par with Cisco Certified Internetwork Expert (CCIE).

I just received an email stating my VCDX design submission made it through the first stage of the application process, and I am now going to attempt the defense. I have received this email before, yet it still makes me excited and nervous at the same time. I have attempted, unsuccessfully, to obtain my VCDX already. I'm familiar with the process now, but I'm not sure how much of an edge that gives me. It's a fantastic accomplishment just to get this far. For anyone out there considering it, I wanted to share how the process works up to this point. It's not easy and failure is common, but it's absolutely worth it.

So how do you become one? The absolutely first step you need to do is to achieve your VMware Certified Professional (VCP); this puts you on the track to the next challenge: VMware Certified Advanced Professional certifications (VCAPs). Both the DCA (Datacenter Admin) and DCD (Datacenter Design) are requirements to apply to be a VCDX. Just getting to this point involves months of work and an advanced knowledge in virtualization. I've known a few extremely smart people that have not succeeded on VCAPs exams. Do not let this deter you! The challenge will enable you to learn things you probably won't in your daily work. It has enhanced my skillset and helped to differentiate me in the market.

When I achieved my VCAPs, I figured-let's go for it all! You apply on the VMware site and after they confirm you are eligible, they send you an email stating you are able to submit a design. The email includes a due date and access to the VCDX blueprint and application form. You downloaded the blueprint, which is quite a bit smaller in size than other blueprints but so much bigger in scope.  The deadline is usually a couple months prior to the actual defense date to give VMware time to review your design. VMware only runs a few defenses a year in different locations around the world (this year, it's in Las Vegas, Tokyo, Sydney, San Francisco and Barcelona), so depending on timing you might have to wait awhile for one close to home.

A VCDX design submission includes everything required to architect, implement and operate an enterprise environment. I believe most submissions are between 200-400 pages, and mine was near the higher side of that. It should include a number of different documents and must be complex enough to demonstrate your abilities. No one really knows what this means, to be honest, but the recommendation from VMware is to have at least two datacenters. The days of four host designs getting VCDXs are gone. Thankfully, I work as a virtualization consultant and have access to enterprise level clientele. I selected the design I was going to use and began modifying it. You are allowed to use real designs, partially fictitious designs or entirely fictitious designs. Mine is partially fictitious; it's based on a real customer but spruced up a bit.

I always underestimate the amount of time this takes. I already had a design but it still took 40-60 additional hours to be VCDX ready, or at least as close as I could get it. I was also lucky to have some very smart people around to run ideas by and vet some design decisions. The day the VCDX was due, I converted everything to PDF and fired it in.

Then you wait and hope for the email I received. Now I've schedule a defense time during Partner Exchange in Las Vegas in late February. I will have a 75-minute defense that will involve three current VCDXs grilling me over my design decisions, followed by a 30-minute design scenario, and a 15-minute troubleshooting scenario.

I'm currently preparing now by doing mock panels with some people I know. I'll re-read my design a few hundred times to know everything back to front. I've worked very hard on this, but it's all been valuable time spent regardless of the outcome. My skills as a virtualization architect have increased immensely, and I've met some very smart people in the industry. I really think anyone who wants to be a VMware architect should at least attempt the VCDX. Even if you don't pass, it's really worth it. Now here's hoping I get my VCDX number this time!

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Matt Vandenbeld

Matt Vandenbeld is VCDX-DCV #107 and a vExpert, currently employed at Long View Systems in Calgary, Alberta, Canada as a Technical Architect specializing in virtual infrastructures. He holds numerous industry certs, RHCSA, MCSE, VCP, VTSP, VCAP-DCA/DCD, and many others. He's been in the IT industry for over 10 years, specializing in virtualization for the last six. Cloud and virtualization is my passion. I know, Im a geek. Or is it a vGeek?

I love to learn and talk about any topic, especially virtualization!