VCAP-DCA – Experience

I couple of months ago I wouldn’t have seen myself writing up one of these blog posts which seems to be customary for any blogger who has taken a VCAP. Having only secured my VCP last October I wasn’t thinking about VCAPs until the lure of the 50% discount and realisation that I needed to push myself further. Four weeks before VMworld I decided to accept the challenge and booked the exam for the Sunday at 2pm. Another big driver for me to take the exam at VMworld was that I thought it was means to avoid the dreaded latency that seems to plague takers in Australia.

510 or 550?:

This was an interesting choice for me…it seemed that even with the 550 available most people where choosing the 510. To make up my mind I read through both blueprints and saw that certain sections where missing from the 510 (vMA, Autodeploy) while newer features like vSphere Replication and vFlash Read Cache where added along with vCO. That said when I booked my exam I decided to do the 510, however there where no slots at VMworld so I was forced to book the 550. End of the day I think that that was the right DCA and from what I understand the exam format has been better optimized for takers. I can see how the additional items on the blueprint could put people off, but in reality it shouldn’t be daunting for seasoned vSphere Admins. So end of the day I gave myself just over 3 weeks to prep.

Materials and Study:

Having the Blueprint by your side throughout the prep is critical…know it back to front and use resources out there like Chris Wahls Study Guide to work through the objectives and know what you know…and what you need working on…you really can’t afford to skip any section.

Having had a spare Amazon Voucher I had back ordered the VCAP-DCA Official Study Guide in February without any real intent of taking the DCA any time soon, however having this book allowed me to structure study based on it’s excellent chapter content which follows the 5.1 and 5.5 Blueprint objectives.

Pluralsights pay per the month for all training content is worth its weight in gold and Jason Nash’s Optimize and Scale Course is what I considered to be my most valuable study asset. The offline mode can be consumed anywhere and I spent most train rides and gym sessions working through chapters. I went through the content about 4-5 times in total stepping up the play speed each time…by the end of it I had Jason coming at me in 2x…

I also took the official VMware Optimize and Scale Course 5.1 in October of 2013. While I don’t think it ultimately helped me pass or fail the exam, its still worth a shot if the training expense can be justified.

The Lab:

For me, without a decent lab there is no chance of passing this exam…I am/was lucky in that I have a very decent lab at my disposal through ZettaGrid, but I still loaded up a mini lab on my Mac Book Pro to help me study and revise while on the plane ride over to VMworld. You need to go over and execute CLI commands because speed is the key in this exam…I would also learn up on 5.5 Web Client menu context and where to configure the new features listed in the Blueprint. A Lab with access to iSCSI/NFS shares is recommended and work through relevant blueprint items again and again…see how I am saying that repetition is key here? ☺

The Exam:

The format has changed fairly significantly from the 500 and 510 exams from my research and in asking others of their experience…You now get 23 questions over 180 minutes and the Exam Lab has five ESXi Hosts, 2 vCenters and a bunch of datastores…you also get a vSphere Replication Appliance and vCO Server instance.

Throughout the exam you are repeatedly warned to not change anything but what actions are stated in the question…Modding the Management Networking in error could end the exam. There seems to be a little more leeway on that and I found out the hard way when I completely misread one question and almost bricked a host..lucky it was a 5.5 host or else my dVS might not have come back.

As expected I didn’t have any issues with Latency and performance of the lab…this was a big thing and meant I could attack questions without the worry of screen refresh issues due to latency or sticky keys for CLI commands.

On that note, time management is absolutely key…I was working on 8 questions an hour, but quickly found the time coming down quick…some questions take longer than others, but I felt each question was roughly equal in terms of whats expected. Two questions stumped me initially and I left them for the end if I had time. I got to the end of question 23 with about 14 minutes left and attempted to go back and answer the 2 that caused me trouble…end of the day I had to leave those unanswered.

When time expired I got the message saying that your results would be sent out in 15-20 days. Overall I left the exam fairly positive I had done more than enough to pass.

The Result and Final Thoughts:

I got a Tweet from SOSTech_WP later in the evening while enjoying the Redwood Room at The Clift saying to check my email…when I got back to the hotel I was extremely surprised to see the results email waiting for me in my inbox. And while I didn’t smash it like I thought I was going to upon coming out…a pass is a pass is a pass! I was relieved and fairly happy that the plan had worked and all the hard work of the previous three weeks had paid off.

In reality it wasn’t just about the last three weeks and this VCAP-DCA exam is a true representation of an acquired skill level in administrating a complex vSphere platform and in that it was a validation of the work I do in and around vSphere. People commented to me prior to taking the exam that it was a fun exam to take…and I certainly understand that point of view… I had a great time taking it…but had a better time passing it!

Next for me is to decide on a more challenging path and journey…certainly one that may have me taking at least one more VCAP Administrator Exam and a Design Exam.

Good luck to all those taking the VCAP-DCA in the future.

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