Last year I prepared for and passed the VCAP4-DCD (it was just prior to the VCAP5-DCD being released). To continue my journey towards a VCDX certification, I sat for the VCAP5-DCA on June 24th. Since I need a VCAP5-DCD to apply for the VCDX 5 defense, passing the DCA would allow me to take the new VCAP5-DCD and submit a design for the VCDX 5 defense.
All content covered in the VCAP-DCA test is based on the blueprint listed on VMware’s certification web page. Since this is a live lab test, there are no questions, everything is a task. You must read through the scenarios, understand the requirements, and perform the tasks. The test consists of 26 scenarios. Each scenario has a different amount of tasks. To understand how many tasks could be on the test, if each scenario had 3 tasks, then that would be 78 total tasks. While some tasks may be straightforward, a lot of the tasks test your ability to understand vSphere, its feature set, and what those features can do in different situations. For example, if a requirement is to create a VM that is FT compatible, you need to know that FT requires VMs to be provisioned as Eager Thick Zero. If you create the VM and do not set it to ETZ, you will fail the task.
The tasks can be completed with any available tool (vSphere Client, CLI, etc) unless the requirements specify otherwise. Furthermore, you can skip a scenario or task and go back to if later.
My test experience
Almost every VCAP-DCA blog I read prior to the test pointed out that time is your biggest enemy. I would like to add myself to that blog list: Time is your biggest enemy. You have 4 hours to complete the tasks. Don’t underestimate how long it can take to complete the multiple tasks that go with each scenario.
While I was confident that I did well on the tasks that I completed, I ran out of time and was not able to complete enough of the tasks to be confident that I passed the test. Whether I passed or not, I did enjoy the troubleshooting aspect of the tests. It made me think outside the box and come up with solutions that I do not typically run across in the field.
TIP: When tasked with an “impossible” task, re-read the scenario, requirements, and tasks. If they don’t explicitly say you can’t do something and that something seems like the only way to accomplish the task, then you need to consider that option even if it not a task you would normally perform.
I used the following resources to prepare for the test:
- Followed Jason Langer and Josh Coen’s VCAP5-DCA study guide at: http://www.valcolabs.com/vcap5-dca/ . This blog does a good job of taking each blueprint objective and discussing details around the topic.
- Used Nick Marshall’s VCAP5-DCA guide which linked to the vBrownbag videos on Youtube. The vBrownbag videos have a video per blueprint topic featuring industry experts that help you visualize the topics.
- VMware training: The VMware vSphere: Optimize and Scale [V5.0] class best prepared me for the test. It covers a lot of the topics listed in the Blueprint. This class is hands on, complete with labs. So chances are you will get hands on experience with the tools/features/troubleshooting techniques covered in the exam. Luckily I was able to schedule the class for the week before my test.
- VMware Training: VMware vSphere: Automation with vSphere PowerCLI [V4.x]
- Hands on vSphere lab at work
Adobe Advanced Search
The VCAP-DCA is an open book test. The following PDFs are available to use during the test:
When you first start the test, open one of the PDFs and the go to Edit->Advance Search. Choose All PDF Documents in: and then click the Browse for Location... option. Navigate to the PDF folder containing the vSphere PDFs and click OK. Enter your search term and click the Search button. This will allow you to quickly search through the whole set of PDFs with a single search. That being said, you still need to know specific terms for your search or you will end up with a lot of useless results. For example if you want to search for the advanced HA Admission Control settings, knowing that the settings begin with das. will result in targeted search hits. You can practice this technique before the test by downloading the PDFs and using Adobe’s Advanced Search against them.
“esxcli esxcli command list”
The esxcli command list command will list out all esxcli namespaces and options. This makes it easier to find the command and option that you are looking for. However, this still produces a lot of output. If you know that you are looking for syslog related esxcli commands you can grep the output of the esxcli command list with syslog and produce a list of only syslog options:
Output from esxlcli esxli command list|grep syslog:
- Esxcli esxcli command list| grep syslog
Since the VCAP-DCA is a live lab test where you will be required to perform tasks in an actual vSphere environment, hands on lab time is important. If you have a lab environment at work, then use it. Otherwise these two suggestions may help:
Home lab using Nested vSphere in VMware Workstation
Setting up a home lab can be expensive in terms of: cost, space, and heating/cooling. A cheaper alternative would be to use either a desktop or laptop with enough CPU and memory. For example, my "Labtop" consists of: Core i7 Quad Core CPU with 8 threads, 32GB memory, and a 512GB SSD. The best part of a labtop solution is that it is portable. With my labtop I use the following virtual infrastructure config:
With the configuration you can create VMs inside of nested ESXi and use most vSphere features including:
- VCSA appliance running natively in VMware Workstation
- HP VSA Laptop Demo running natively in VMware Workstation
- 2 x ESXi nested VM
- High Availability
- Storage DRS
- Storage Profiles
- Distributed Switches
- Host Profiles
VMware Hands-On Labs (HOL)
Last year VMware released the Hands-On Labs to the public, for free! HOL is the same system used for the VMworld labs. There are alot of available labs that cover many topics, some of which are on the VCAP-DCA blueprint. Furthermore, the labs are a live environment, so you get hands on with a vSphere environment.
Some HOL labs that could assist with VCAP-DCA preparation:
- HOL-SDC-1302 - vSphere Distributed Switch from A to Z
- HOL-INF-04 - Deliver Optimal Performance with VMware vSphere 5.1
- HOL-SDC-1304 - vSphere Performance Optimization
- HOL-SDC-1307 - vCloud Automation Solutions (PowerCLI, Auto Deploy)
- HOL-INF-10 - Script your Cloud Solution with PowerCLI (PowerCLI)
Schedule exam for your peak time
Because the exam is so long and requires problem solving and efficiency, try to schedule the exam to start at a time that works for you. I ended up sitting for my exam at 2PM. If I had more flexibility in scheduling I would have chosen to take the test at 9 am as I tend to have more mental energy in the morning.
I stopped by the VMware certification lab at VMware Partner Exchange in Las Vegas this past February. I was having issues trying to get Pearson VUE to allow me to register for the VCAP-DCA. The staff onsite was able to get me setup to register for the test. While I was waiting to get registered, Josh Andrews (Twitter @SOSTech_WP) asked me if wanted to take a sample VCAP-DCA test running on a laptop using local a VMware Workstation lab. I am glad that I had a chance to take this sample test as it prepares you for the style of questions (not the actual questions) that you would experience in the exam.
To the best of my knowledge here is a question from that sample test that stuck with me:
Another admin stopped by stating that he needed to create a production Web VM, however, when trying to create the VM an error dialog box pops up stating that the VM cannot be created. He is not sure why, but the Web team needs this VM running ASAP so you need to do whatever it takes to get the VM running without removing existing virtual machines.
- New VM name: Web01
- Support vSphere Fault Tolerance option
- 10GB hard drive
- LUN: Prod1
- Server: VC01/ESX01
- Create the new VM, meeting the Web team’s requirements
I tried to redeploy the new VM and vSphere client informed me that I did not have enough disk space on Prod1 to create the LUN. So I viewed the properties of the datastore and confirmed that there was not enough disk. Since I had to create the VM on Prod1 and there wasn’t enough disk space, I decided to see if there was free space to extend Prod1. I confirmed that there was no unused partitions available to extend Prod1. Looking through the VMFS volumes I saw a VMFS volume labeled DEV1. I browsed the datastore and confirmed that it had no VMs. I deleted the volume and then extended Prod1 on to the former DEV1 partition using the vSphere Client. Once the Prod1 was extended I was able to deploy the Web01 VM using Eager Thick provisioning to satisfy the FT requirement.
While I thought that I did well on the questions that I answered, I did not complete the test in the allotted time and didn’t think that I answered enough questions to pass. After an obsessive compulsive month of checking the VMware education site to see if they added my results, I received an email from firstname.lastname@example.org on 7/23. I PASSED!
Labels: blueprint, certification, esxi lab, hands-on labs, hp vsa, laptop, mock exam, nested esxi, sample questions, study guide, tips, vBrownbag, vca--dca, vcap-dca, vcap5-dca, vcap5-dcd, vcdx, Vmware