My VCDX Journey

In 2006 I had no idea what VMware was, let alone what virtualization was. At the time I was an active duty member in the United States Air Force working in communications doing AD migrations and file server consolidations onto CX700s. Fast forward to February 2014 and I’m VCDX #129.

I first learned about virtualization through a member of the unit I was in who was talking about VMware and virtualization and all the neat things that could be done with it. I didn’t pay much attention. My unit bought some equipment (Dell 6850?) along with some VMware licensing. I didn’t pay much attention. Someone needed to be training on how to use VMware so that we could start using our newly purchased hardware and software. I was selected and was scheduled for a class in San Diego for “Installing VMware on VI3”. I thought ‘Hey, I got a nice trip to San Diego coming up!’ However, the class, this VMware thing, virtualization? I didn’t pay much attention. I got to the class the first day and sat next to a guy named JP (not sure what he’s up to these days) and had an instructor who was WAY too excited about Windows Vista coming out. The class started out and I started learning about what virtualization was, as well as what VMware was. As the day went on the more I wanted to learn. We got to a point where we started talking about vMotion. As soon as I heard the concept I thought to myself, no way. Then we got to see vMotion in action… NOW I was paying attention.

From that day forward I slowly started getting more familiar with VMware and virtualization. I obtained my VCP3 certification roughly a year after taking the VI3 course. I wasn’t focused on any advanced certifications at that point. In fact, it wasn’t until I obtained my VCP5 that I started thinking about stepping up my VMware game.

I hear a lot of questions from people asking how long it took to achieve VCDX. Here is my VCDX timeline (click View in Dipity to view the entire timeline):

VCDX Timeline on Dipity.


Putting together all the documentation for the VCDX application is intimidating. I am a customer and don’t do many formal designs. I had never done one to the depth of what was required for the VCDX application. There were times when I would just sit and stare at my monitor, unsure of how to start. Unsure of the format, content, or flow. I started off with different pages in OneNote, but then decided that wasn’t the tool I wanted to use. I looked at the Solutions Enablement Kit (SET) for vSphere 5 provided by VMware to partners. This gave me an idea of what a design document would look like, but I was still lost. After ~2 weeks of trying different things, I settled on a format to use.

My advice for the VCDX application:

  • Choose a format
    • There are 10+ sections in the VCDX blueprint that you must address in the design document. Decide on a format for on section and then use that format for ALL sections. This is how I was finally able to move past my ‘VCDX block’
  • Take breaks
    • If you are having issues picking a format or feel overwhelmed with all the sections, take a break. Staring at the screen for 6 hours doesn’t help
  • Cover all blueprint items
    • To make it past the application submission phase you MUST cover all sections called out in the VCDX blueprint. If you don’t cover all items in the blueprint your application will be rejected. Either cover all sections or save your $300 and don’t submit
  • Review
    • Once you complete a section of the blueprint, make sure you revisit the section and review it. You want to review for completeness as well as spelling and grammar
    • Have your peers and, if you can, a current VCDX review your design and provide feedback. I did this and it benefited me greatly. (Thanks CTO Nash)
  • Ensure technical consistency
    • You need to make sure the technical details within your design document are consistent across all sections. For instance, you don’t want to state in the Virtual Machine section that the environment has 800 virtual machines and then in the storage section show capacity planning for 500 virtual machines.
  • Justify your design decisions
    • In my design I called out every single configuration listed in the design document. I showed the different options for that particular configuration, listed the chosen configuration and then justify why I chose that configuration,
    • If you don’t listen to anything in this post, listen to this. Show WHY you made the choices you made
Once I found out my application was accepted I was relieved, and then instantly intimated again. I now had to prepare for the design defense. I’ve never had to stand in front of a panel and answer questions and didn’t know what to expect. There are numerous blog posts on preparing for the VCDX design defense (just google it) and some videos created by VMware Education here.
My advice for the VCDX design defense:
    • This should be the first thing you do. Find other VCDX candidates that have had their design submissions accepted
  • Mock Defenses
    • I joined a group that was started by Brad Christian (twitter). Brad also posted some notes on starting a VCDX study group here that I highly recommend you read
    • Do mock defenses with the study group you recently joined. We did mock sessions every night for three weeks. Each night a different member presented their defense while at least 3 or more people asked them questions about their design
    • This was the BIGGEST eye opener for me. Had my design defense been the same design defense I did during my first mock, I truly believe I would have failed. DO MOCK DEFENSES!
  • Mock Scenarions
    • Do mock troubleshooting and design scenarios. It’s pretty easy to mock the troubleshooting scenario, but a bit harder for the design scenario. The VCDX Boot Camp book has a few design scenarios that you can use
    • I did one mock troubleshooting scenario myself and participated in two or three the weekend before the defense. It was helpful. I also did an adhoc design scenario the day before my defense. That was a tremendous help as it allowed me to figure out the methodology I was going to use
  • VCDX Bootcamp
    • There may be a live VCDX boot camp going on depending on when you are defending. If there is one and you can attend, I highly recommend that you go. You’ll get a lot of tips and tricks for preparing for the defense from this boot camp. Most of the material is covered in the VCDX Boot Camp book and on slide decks publicly available, but at the boot camp there are VCDXs there and willing to answer your questions.

At the end of the day it’s on you. Don’t rely on others or be passive when asking for design review or doing mock defense panels. If people you’ve asked to assist you haven’t responded, follow-up. If they still don’t respond, find other resources. If there isn’t a study group, start one. There are A LOT of resource out there and VMware is devoting a lot of their resources to expanding the VCDX program and helping candidates be successful.

If you have questions, feel free to leave a comment or contact me on twitter. I will help where I can. I am willing to do design reviews (can’t review everyone’s) and attend mock defense sessions, time permitting. Whether you are preparing to submit your VCDX application or getting ready to take your first VCP certification exam; good luck.

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