VMware Partner Exchange (as well as VMworld) typically brings deep discounts to those willing to sit for a certification while on site for the event. With that said I decided to take the VCAP5 Datacenter Administration (VCAP5-DCA) exam on Monday, and figured if nothing else, for the $100 USD it would be a good learning experience to see what was on the (normally $400) exam. I say “if nothing else” because I didn’t spend time studying for it, between projects the week before and community “events” 😉 Sunday night there just wasn’t time. So, this is more of a “how to pass the exam with as little time investment as possible” post.
The rules allow candidates 3.5 hours to take the exam, which for me included 26 different tasks. I say tasks because, as you probably already know, this test isn’t multiple choice. Instead you are given a list of things that need to be accomplished for each task. For example a task might look like:
A junior administrator created some new virtual machines however he cannot get one of them to boot up, fix “virtual machine X” so that it boots and is able to install an OS. Also make sure that corporate storage policies are followed for production VM’s. Lastly make sure the “Web VM” is in the DMZ (which is vlan 100).
So with that task list in mind you would then need to go over to the lab environment and perform the tasks. However, once you start to think like Josh Andrews (http://www.sostechblog.com), you will quickly discover that your lab environment doesn’t have a port group for the DMZ (so you would need to create it making sure to tag it with the correct vlan settings); you would then also find crazy settings that prevent that mystery VM from booting (stuff you would never see in the real world, but it does make it fun to troubleshoot). Lastly do you know anything about storage profiles? Well for this task you would need to know how to not only apply them, but you might actually have to make sure they were their to start with. The point is that each task list will have multiple parts, and each part of each task is worth points.
Speaking of Josh, if you haven’t checked out his blog I encourage you to do so as he has posted his Test Track laptop online and is allowing people to access it along with his sample questions. Again, I would highly recommend it because if you can start to think in the mindset that his practice questions get you in, you will have a much greater chance of passing the DCA exam.
If you do some searching for vcap5-dca, you will also find that everyone mentions time management, and they are certainly not joking. In fact due to a lack of time I actually didn’t even attempt 5 of the 26 questions. My strategy (which I read on someones blog a while ago… unfortunately I can’t remember who’s… but if you do let me know so I can credit them) was to read the question and then determine if I knew how to do it, if I didn’t I wrote the number down on my note board and continued on to the next question.
This is a great strategy because you can go forward and backwards through the tasks as much as you want. The other cool part about the VCAP5-DCA test is that it is open book, meaning that you get all of the vSphere 5 documentation. The down side is that it takes time to look up answers, and since you only have one monitor you also have to flip back and forth between the lab environment and the PDF’s. This is where writing down the ones you skip comes in… after you complete all the tasks you can without looking things up in the docs, you can then circle back and start working on the ones you skipped.
My weakest subjects that I can remember were Auto Deploy and the ESXi Firewall, mainly because I don’t have to mess with them very often. But because I skipped over them initially, but then circled back after I knocked out the easier stuff, I could then spend time looking up the answers in the docs. With this method I would say that I was able to complete probably 13 of 26 without the documentation, then spent the rest of my time researching the remaining 8 that I was able to complete before time ran out.
Lastly, when you are studying I would recommend that you be honest with yourself… you are going to know what subjects are your weak points… even after studying them. So instead of beating yourself up, just memorize which of the vSphere Doc PDF’s contain the information. This will help you because there are about 20 vSphere 5 Doc PDF’s…. knowing which one to open will save you lots of time!