I have recently taken the VCP4 examination, and luckily, passed. Being with EMC for only 6 months, I wanted to get some insight on how other people had prepared for this momentous event. Talking with some very experienced colleagues in VMware vSphere ESX4 environments, I had realized that approaches ranged from brain cramming, deep hands-on experience all the way to 'understanding the concepts'.
Personally, I took a hybrid approach to learning, supplementing concept understanding with a 'how would one do the following?' questioning approach to make the material a little more interesting This combined with reading a huge list of VMware whitepapers Seemed to have worked for my style of learning.
I actually have many exams under my belt mainly in the academic and Microsoft fields of study. It was interesting for me personally to compare the various approaches used in Microsoft exams - because they have been around and evolving for a long time. Now, don't get me wrong here, this is comparing apples to pears, but the basic rationale behind doing the examination and how that gets one ready for the job was the key focus.
The Microsoft exams I used as reference were the Windows 2008 MCITP:EA/EMS series (Microsoft Certified IT Professional: Enterprise Administrator, and Enterprise Messaging Administrator with Exchange 2007). These exams used a combination of scenarios (somewhat long winded in many cases - but suprisingly accurate in the field), technical focused questioning, and my favorite the simulation of the actual product screens together with a scenario.
I am actually an infrastructure architect for Microsoft Windows 2008 environments and Citrix/VMware/Microsoft Virtual Infrastructures within large scale datacenter environments ranging from 50,000+ users. It is essential therefore that one knows the boundaries for designing for each environment together with a holistic approach taking into account processes and people aspects.
After simply passing the VCP4 exam, I realized that this exam is really only an introduction to the topic of vSphere and virtualization. Perhaps I had set my expectations a little too high in terms of what one would learn, with a design/architect background in mind. Now what was interesting was that the VCP4 is suprisingly 'fit-for-purpose'. However, that purpose, as I see it, needed to be put into a better mental frame.
The VCP4 gives you the nuts and bolts understanding to be able to run a reasonable sized ESX Cluster environment using vCenter. There is some minor discussion about networking, storage, hardware and administrative processes, but this is vastly different to the indepth grilling one gets doing the Microsoft exams (there are focused exams on each of the major topics e.g. An exam for networking and one for Active Directory Services.)
Looking at this with my consultant hat on, I would say the VCP4 does exactly what it aims to do. Whether that is enough to 'get you fit-for-the-job' is another question. Meeting many different clients on a regular basis gives a great insight into how the knowlegde gleaned from this exam is used. I would go further and say that this is probably the first step in realising what virtualization can do for an organisation and get energised around those capabilities. Further, this may well be the first step on the journey to the cloud, in that the first internal discussions about where virtualization is heading are initiated.
This plays out at many different levels in organisations. Administrators have a newfound confidence in their VMware vSphere activities. They are able to make those critical suggestions allowing an organisation to gather more latent value from a virtual infrastructure and even technically 'spar' with consultants However, they tend to fall short when a consultant asks them to abstract their knowledge to larger scale operations.
Design authorities in organisations tend to be more focused on the 'limits+parameters' of the vSphere environment. This helps guide decisions on what can, and should not be done when bringing in new applications/virtual machines into service. There is certainly more awareness of the IT ecosystem at this level, but still difficulty in structuring this knowledge to scale to large service environments.
What interests me is that looking at the service managers, there tends to be a good awareness that things that were difficult to do before, can now be done rather quickly and easily. This is the level where one starts to hear about the ability to manage at scale, support line of business on an operational basis and indeed questions related to the IT Services Value Chain. In other words, some of the key value promises of the cloud.
Working further up the chain of command, major themes such as business IT strategy alignment, overall security of services, compliance, governance and investment value extraction strategies start to be elicited. These are the true values of being able to leverage cloud-based ICT services supporting the basic rationale and business strategy of an organisation.
All the traditional themes of service management design, service oriented architectures and full-scale virtualization at any and every level tends to drive through value at all layers. In some cases, the virtual solution has intrinsic value that is necessary to extract and highlight for service consumers. For example, a virtual desktop, whilst being of high interest to IT shops, requires some explanation for end users such that the additional value and features can be highlighted and appreciated.
To that end, it appears that there is a rather large gap between the nuts-and-bolts information of the VCP4 and the VCXD Designer oriented examinations. A series of smaller more topic-focused examinations in between would ensure that the level of awareness to be 'fit-for-the-job' are addressed. For example, having a VCP4 does not mean that you are well versed in the dark arts of networking. A network engineer is better able to answer those types of questions, but does not necessarily know anything about a vSphere Virtual Distrubuted Switch environment. The same can also be said for vCenter as a powerful console to the virtual estate and operations management disciplines in general.
These specific levels of topic-focused examinations also help to stimulate creative discussions around some of the practical issues of scaling cloud infrastructures, particularly if one is also a cloud provider for other organisations.
There is a lot to be said for experience of course, however the need to manage and structure knowledge of virtual service operations will allow organisations to be able to extract far more value and be more nimble in service delivery.
I understand from colleagues and some of the recent blogs here that VMware has indeed released certifications partially addressing the gap between administrators and designers, and that is certainly welcome news for all!
I would be interested to get some feedback on some of the areas that other fellow VCP4'ers feel would warrant a specific examination/certification.