VMware's new VCA: fab or flop?
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The new certification track, announced at VMworld 2013, has no course requirement and comes as an un-proctored online exam. You have three different tracks to choose from: Data Center Virtualization (VCA-DCV), Workforce Mobility (VCA-WM) and Cloud (VCA-Cloud).
Before the VCA came about, if you wanted to begin your VMware-certified career, you would have started at the VMware Certified Professional (VCP) level. VCPs are in great demand and low supply, because it's a highly in-depth and technical credential. But it's not really entry-level. VCPs are required to attend an extensive course that involves a great deal of lab work to prepare them for the daily work of a vSphere admin.
VMware has often been criticized for the VCP course requirement because of its hefty price tag. Some people think it's an unfair way to profit off of prospective virtualization admins. Although I disagree with this perspective, it's not easy to convince your employer to send you to a class that can cost thousands of dollars. If your work doesn't cover the cost, it's even harder for you to justify the expense out of your own pocket.
Because of this, many SMBs and admins working in small environments would adopt other virtualization technologies, which has hurt VMware's market share. So, you would think the introduction of these new entry-level certifications, which don't require an expensive course, would be a boon to both VMware and admins. In reality, that might not be the case.
So the VCA doesn't require attending a course?
There is no training requirement for the VCA, however there are recommended free, self-paced e-learning classes that can help you prepare. A friend of mine recently attended the VMware Data Center Virtualization Fundamentals course, and he describes it as very short and simple.
The nearly three-hours-long course revolves around three main objectives:
- Introducing concepts of a particular technology (data center virtualization, workforce mobility and cloud computing) and highlighting some common IT challenges faced by organizations.
- Demonstrating the VMware offering in the particular area and explaining its various components and features, and how it can help resolve business and technical challenges.
- And finally, the course draws connections between the products demonstrated and the challenges they are intended to resolve.
The new VCA certificates are far from technical and are not designed to help you administer, troubleshoot or install any VMware products. A VCA candidate is only required to know about the products and what they are used for.
But the VCA is not new, is it?
As a matter of fact, the VCA was introduced many years ago. At the time, only the VMware Certified Associate Desktop (VCA4-DT) was available, and like the current VCA, it had no course requirement.
In contrast with the current VCA though, the old VCA had the administrator in mind. The VCA4-DT blueprint expected the candidate to be an experienced administrator who knew the interface inside and out, and the e-learning course for it took six hours vs. three.
The older VCA was limited to desktop virtualization and was only available for View 4.x. It wasn't updated for version 5 and never expanded to other areas, like data center virtualization or cloud computing.
The last major difference between the new VCA and other VMware exams is that it is an un-proctored online exam, while even the older VCA was a proctored exam that was not as easy to pass.
Does the VCA really have any value?
To be honest, I feel the new VCA serves little value in filing the gap at the entry level. Microsoft and Cisco's beginner certs (the MCSA and CCNA, respectively) require a candidate to have a great deal of administration and troubleshooting experience, not just general knowledge about the products.
I also think having three very easy, entry-level certifications is overkill. Since the goal (as it seems) is to arm potential admins with knowledge about VMware products and services, why not make one certification that covers all VMware products and the challenges they address? After all, VMware marketing messages these days are all about breaking silos and stronger integration between the different technologies that make up our IT infrastructures.
There is still a huge knowledge gap between the new VCA and the VCP. What would have been preferable is if VMware had introduced the VCA as a more intermediate cert, comparable to the VCA4-DT level, and gave these new certs a more introductory name.
The VCA may be worth something to VMware partners' sales people, who can now have a shiny new logo on their business cards. But, I don't think it will have much value for administrators looking to advance their careers in IT, and shouldn't that be what certifications are all about?
Ashraf Al-Dabbas is a vExpert, VCP, 3xMCSE, MCITP, CCNP and ITIL v3 certified. He has 10+ years of diverse experience working in a large organizations in systems infrastructure support and leading corporate-wide IT initiatives.