My VCAP5-DCD Exam Experience

I am not the first and will definitely not be last to share an “Exam Experience” story, and normally I wouldn’t do so. So why would I bother you with this one? Well, because I think, this kind of exam is different from the usual IT related exams, like VMware VCP, Microsoft MCP, or Linux LPI exams.

First of all, some background why would someone go for this exam? I have a strong background in System Administration and System engineering and I passed my first VCP exam almost 10 years ago! The VCAP-DCA (Data Center Administration) exam is a good opportunity to test your skills in a live environment. So, I took that exam in 2012.

However, since a couple of years I am regularly involved in vSphere design projects. So it was time to build a solid foundation in the field of design. The following months, I worked my way through a lot of material. Working as a Designer is different from Administration and it is important to get used to a “Design Methodology”. Experience gained during the “administration years” is invaluable for building your in-depth technical knowledge, which is also needed.
The long-term goal was to test my knowledge by taking the VCAP5-DCD exam. The VMware MyLearn portal provides useful information for your preparations, like blueprints, recommended courses and other training material.

My resources

  • Each objective in the VCAP5-DCD Blueprint contains a documentation “tools” section. Jason Langer at Virtual Langer did a good job, collected all documentation and made it available in a zip file that can be downloaded here.
  • I started my journey by watching the “Designing VMware Infrastructure” training course, presented by Scott Lowe. Scott is a well-known author of several VMware books.
    If you are new to design (or have forgotten), this course will take you through the process of Design Factors, defining Logical designs, building physical designs and finally Implementation and Testing. This course is now available at Pluralsight, you can watch the course content here.
  • Another useful training from VMware Education is the “Business Continuity and Disaster Recovery Design [v5.X]”. This free (4.5 hours) eLearning course covers the concept of disaster, recovery sites, disaster recovery or DR and business continuity or BC issues, and the planning process.
  • The VMware vSphere Design 2nd Edition by Forbes Guthrie, Scott Lowe and Kendrick Coleman is a kind of Bible for anyone into vSphere Design. This book contains a lot of technical information that will help you making the right design decisions. The biggest challenge being a designer is to question everything (related to your design) and to justify your design choices.
  • Also very useful is the VMware vSphere 5 Clustering technical deepdive, by Duncan Epping and Frank Denneman. A good knowledge of essential vSphere technology like HA, DRS and Storage DRS is indispensable for anyone on an advanced level. This book is an excellent resource on the subjects.
  • The Official VMware vSphere 5 documentation.
  • From the moment I started watching the “Designing VMware Infrastructure” training course, I also started working on a Design template. The template is a Word document, it contains chapters which make a complete design; from the Design factors till Implementation and Testing. Each chapter is filled with useful information, schemas, tables, lists and reminder that help me during the design process. I also like Mind Mapping tools to visualize aspects of the design process.
  • A home lab with a vCenter Server and a few (virtualized) ESXi hosts is always useful. Although the DCD exam is not based on a lab like the DCA exam, it can be very useful to practice the configuration of Clusters, Distributed Switches etc.
  • The VCAP5-DCD Official Cert Guide by Paul McSharry is very useful while working towards the exam. This book is definitely NOT an all-in-one guide for your exam preparation. This book is a guide to help you study other material, review key topics and practice and test your knowledge. This book comes with a Pearson IT Certification Practice Test. In my opinion, the questions presented are much easier than the real exam, but it can help you on a certain level.

Especially, these Whitepapers and blog posts helped me a lot in understanding specific topics:

Exam preparation

For my final exam preparations, I read the VCAP5-DCD Official Cert Guide and completed the practice questions. It is also a good time to check the Exam Blueprint for any updates.
To take the DCD exam, you have to be a VCP5-DCV and request Exam Authorization (go to the MyLearn portal). After approval, you can book your exam. Carefully plan the day you will take the exam, because the exam is demanding.
The exam contains 100 questions. Six questions are design items, which will take 10 – 15 minutes to complete. The other 94 questions are a mixture of multiple-choice and drag-and-drop items. You get 225 minutes (which is almost 4 hours!) and even some more time if English isn’t your primary language. That means roughly 4 hours without coffee, water, food and/or restrooms. Also during the exam, carefully watch your available time. If you don’t know a question, do a best guess and proceed to the next one.

Exam

In the month July, I took the exam for the first time and I didn’t pass (score 274). I was a bit overwhelmed by the Design Questions, had some problems using the Design tool. I also missed too many questions related to DR/BC. But after all, it was a very good experience.

In the weeks following my first attempt, I went on Holliday, wrote some blog posts, read a few novels and ran a couple of hundred kilometers. Then, I started re-reading a lot of material on the areas I did not feel very comfortable during my first attempt. On November 11th, it was the day for my second attempt. This time, I was more prepared and I felt more confident. Again, I closely watched the progress of the timer in the upper right side of the screen. And while answering question 99, I received a message that my time had elapsed, a few seconds later by a redemptive PASSED!

Passing the exam is not the end. On the contrary, you have learned the fundamentals how to craft a well-thought design. Now you must start applying your knowledge to become an even better designer.

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