vExpert David Davis: My VCAP-DCA Exam Experience
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Recently, I posted specifically about section 6 of the VCAP-DCA blueprint that covers vSphere Troubleshooting. In that post I talked about how I spent the last 3 months focusing on vSphere Troubleshooting as part of my vSphere Troubleshooting video training. As it turns out, this was excellent preparation for the VMware VCAP-DCA (VMware Certified Advanced Professional - DataCenter Administration) exam that I took at the end of December 2010. You'll see how in just a minute, but first let me back up and review the VCAP exam, in general.
What is the VMware VCAP?
The VMware VCAP certification is a new mid-level certification from VMware. The VCAP is more advanced than the VCP (in fact, having a VCP is required to take the VCAP exam) and it is a prerequisite for the VCDX4 (VMware Certified Design Expert).
The VCAP certification comes in two flavors:
- DCA (DataCenter Administration)
- DCD (DataCenter Design)
The DCA became available around the middle of 2010 and the DCD just recently became available to take at the start of 2011.
As the VCAP-DCA was the exam I took, I will spend most of the time in this article covering it.
What makes the VCAP-DCA unique?
The VCAP-DCA exam is different than almost every other certification exam you'll find because the DCA has you working on real servers, over a long 4 hour exam window, to perform the correct configurations for 40 exam questions. Besides the long 4 hour time window, the two most important things in that description were:
- Yes, you are working on REAL SERVERS and
- You aren't just answering multiple-choice questions, you are actually configuring what is required to fulfill the question requirements.
How does the VCAP-DCA compare to other exams?
I talked about what makes the DCA unique but we can still compare it to a few other exams (although none is really a great match). You could compare the VCAP-DCA to two other exams:
- RHCE (Red Hat Certified Engineer) -- 2 two hour hands-on exam that may be similar in test design but that covers a completely different topic.
- Cisco CCIE (Cisco Certitied Internetwork Expert) -- having taken this test more than once, the VCAP-DCA is similar in the sense that they are both hands-on exams, however the CCIE exam is a full-day and much trickier that the VCAP, at least in my opinion.
Besides the RHCE and CCIE, I haven't seen any other certification exam that even compares to the VCAP.
Many people wonder if the VCAP-DCA is similar to the VCDX (VMware Certified Design Expert) and the answer is no. The VCDX is VMware's highest, and most difficult certification to obtain. It is an in-person defense of your vSphere Design in front of a live panel of experts (and you won't be configuring any servers). The VCDX covers all the skills necessary to be a large-scale enterprise designer and consultant, including the ability to present and explain your design to a group of super-smart experts.
If you're interested in learning more about the VCDX certification then check out my interviews with Jason Boche and John Arrasjid from VMworld 2010 about their experiences with preparing for and obtaining the VCDX certification.
How to Register for the VCAP-DCA
To register for the VCAP-DCA exam you must first have your VCP4 certification. With that in hand (know your VCP number) go to the VMware VCAP website and Request Authorization to take the VCAP-DCA exam. Likely, it will take a few days (it isn't immediate) and you will receive email confirmation that you can now register for the VCAP-DCA on the Pearson VUE VMware website.
The exam is $400 and you'll find that you can only take it at an official VUE location authorized by VMware. For me, that meant driving for about 45 minutes (one way) to get to the nearest authorized testing center. That isn't too bad but for others the trip may be much longer as there are a limited number of testing centers available. You can't take the exam at any VUE testing center, it has to be an official center that offers "VMware Advanced" exams. You can search for VMware Advanced testing centers here.
Also note that when registering, there can be some confusion on the VUE side of things because you will have one ID number for "VMware Advanced" and other ID numbers for other types of exams (like VCP). VUE has to be alerted that you are authorized to register for the exam by VMware's Certification group. It took me a couple of weeks going back and forth, both on the phone and via email, between these two groups to get registered. I had a problem where VUE said that I wasn't authorized to register for the exam but VMware said that I was. Hopefully, in time, this will all get worked out.
My VCAP-DCA Exam Experience
I prepared for the VCAP-DCA exam, indirectly, through creating my new vSphere Troubleshooting training course. As much of the VCAP-DCA exam is related to troubleshooting and by learning about troubleshooting you have to learn how things work, it was a great way to prepare without actually trying to study for a specific exam. In a minute we'll get to the actual VCAP-DCA study resources that I used and recommend.
The morning of the exam, I had to get up early as my exam was at 8am (they have tests scheduled usually at 8am or 1pm). I got to the testing center early and there was a line outside. Once the doors opened (about 10 minutes before my 8am exam), I was surprised at the strictness of the VUE staff. The TSA airport security is friendlier and more fun to go through than the VUE testing center staff was (maybe the VUE staff needs to work at the airport and look for terrorists). They looked behind my ears, under my pant legs, and up my sleeves. They made me leave my baseball hat in a locker. Even though I had a bad cough, they wouldn't let me bring in my cough drops for the 4 hour exam. They also wouldn't let me bring in anything to drink. At this point, I was wondering if being without coffee for a 4 hour period between 8am-12pm would be the most challenging part of this exam.
However, the hardest part was yet to come...
At the start of the VCAP-DCA exam, you are given a tour of the real virtual infrastructure you will work with during the exam and how you will access it (cool! very similar to working on my home lab). Each of the questions seemed like a reasonable task or task list that you had to configure; I looked for tricks but didn't notice anything like that. I liked the real-world and practical focus of the exam. If I were hiring a new VMware Admin, the VCAP-DCA exam questions might be the type of thing I would ask if they had configured or if they could demonstrate that they could configure before I offer them the job. You even have access to look at the official VMware documentation during the exam -- excellent!
TIME CRUNCH! After about 15 of the 40 questions, that was when it started to set in -- the time crunch. The real challenge of the exam isn't how hard it is to configure these vSphere tasks (or that you have to do it in the morning without coffee), it's that you have A LOT to do and only 4 hours to do it! In my home lab, I might typically perform one of these tasks per hour, taking my time, reading how-to posts on the web or playing around with the various config options. In the VCAP-DCA exam, it's like you need to configure 10 of those things per hour, or a 10x increase in the rate that I normally configure something in vSphere.
Thus, if there is one tip I could give someone who wants to take the VCAP-DCA exam, it is to PRACTICE configuring vSphere at ROCKET SPEED. For example, can you configure a new NFS LUN and connect it to two hosts in under 3 minutes? What about from the CLI, not from the GUI? And yes, still in under 3 minutes. You should be able to do it if you're preparing for the VCAP-DCA exam!
If you want to see exactly what I'm talking about, watch this official VMware VCAP-DCA Exam simulation and user interface demo.
When I completed the exam, I felt pretty good about what I had done and felt that I should have passed but didn't have a ton of confidence that I actually did. I mean, there were SO many things to configure, SO many opportunities to make mistakes, and you are configuring things SO fast; I don't see how anyone could walk out of there saying "oh yeah, I am 100% sure I passed".
And, that's another thing, unlike other certification exams, you don't know if you passed when you leave the testing center. In the case of the VCAP-DCA, I waited 2+ weeks until I received an email from VMware saying that I had passed. WooHoo!
Recommended VCAP-DCA Exam Resources
As far as what to use to prepare, I will definitely recommend my vSphere Troubleshooting course and our other VCAP-DCA courses that we will soon be releasing. I have also put together a full list of VCAP-DCA resources over on my blog: VMwareVideos.com/VCAP. The list includes links to resources from VMware as well as many vExperts who also passed the VCAP-DCA exam and have shared their tips and resources.
VMware does offer four courses to help you prepare for the VCAP-DCA exam however, unlike with the VCP certification these courses are not required for you to take the DCA exam. More information on VMware's official VCAP-DCA courses here.
Stay tuned to Train Signal Training as I will be posting more VCAP-DCA articles and tips here. I will also be posting updates on my upcoming VCAP-DCD exam.