Do you need to know Network Virtualization ?

Why NV?

20170304-01I recently took the VMware Certified Professional 6 Network Virtualization Exam. Preparation for a technical exam like one of the available VCP exams takes a lot of your free time, so why choose this one?
In recent years, I increasingly encountered the product NSX Manager, usually in VDI deployments with endpoint protection products like McAfee Move, Trend Micro Deep Security, to name a few. And while working on the upgrade of a VMware View environment, also comes the question, how to handle the endpoint protection part; How do we upgrade these components?
In the concept of the SDDC, besides the well known Compute and Memory providers, I consider Storage virtualization (like vSAN) and Network virtualization (NSX) as fundamental building blocks that should be part of your “basic” VMware knowledge.
I also noticed that VMware is doing a lot of promotion for the subject of micro-segmentation, and for a good reason.
So, I decided the time has come, to extend my knowledge. So where do you start? If you are on a VCP-DCV level, but cannot tell the difference between layer 2 and layer 3, I recommend start reading a book like “Networking for VMware Administrators” by Chris Wahl and Steve Pantol.
At that time, I was in between jobs with no budget, to attend regular VMware training courses like the “VMware NSX – Install, Configure and Manage” course.

Fortunately, Pluralsight offers two NSX courses, both by Jason Nash; “VMware NSX for vSphere, Introduction and installation” and “VMware NSX for vSphere, Network Services”. While watching those courses, I also do the following:

  • I take detailed notes. Most often by creating a screen-shot of a diagram and adding my own notes. Demo labs are also translated in step-by-step instructions. So by the end of the course, I have a document that saves as a reference and is also useful for learning purposes.
  • When I encounter topics that are more or less new to me (like BGP, Multi-cast), I pause the video and search for additional information. Wikipedia is a good starting point, but also posts from other bloggers. This information is added to my notes.
  • Re-arrange my home-lab, build a similar infrastructure and perform the demo-labs.
  • Download official VMware documentation.

You can imagine that a course with a run-time of 4 hours can easily take 8 to 12 hours to complete.

Why certification

In my opinion, studying and taking exams makes sense if it is a requirement for your current job or if you want to apply for another job with other requirements. You must also have the opportunity to apply your knowledge in your daily job. Otherwise it’s like taking a French language course and never speak or read French. I strongly believe in the combination of study and applying your knowledge in your job.
In IT, there are many, many products and updates and upgrades come in a steady flow. So it is important to stay up-to-date and exams and certifications are a way to show your current status; for instance in your resume or LinkedIn profile.
Before you decide to take an exam, there are a few important steps:

  • What are the exam requirements? For all exams, VMware provides that information. Sometimes, you must attend a training or complete other exams. For each exam VMware provides an on-line overview of the exam topics (in the past you could download an exam guide in .pdf format). I usually copy and past the on-line information into a text file as the base for the following step.
  • Perform a gap state analysis. The Current State is your current knowledge. The gap state analysis is the difference between the exam topics and your current state
  • Now spot the gaps and gather the missing information by reading documentation and other information, performing labs etc.

Exam preparation

When you decided to take the exam, it is time for preparation. Since many years, I follow this pattern:

  • Training, this means watching videos, attending courses, reading documentation. The VMware exam topics provide links to the official documentation, but also other white-papers, design guides etc.
  • Practice, build a lab environment, deploy NSX, build environments, break components, re-deploy, perform upgrades. I run a lab on a single physical host with 32 GB memory. In this environment; 3 ESXi hosts and 1 VCSA, I run Tiny Core Linux VMs on the nested ESXi hosts.
  • Learning; as training is receiving, learning is broadcasting. Do you really understand all the topics? Can you explain to somebody else the functionalities, are there any white spaces? At this point I found Rich Dowling’s blog about VCP-NV with a download-able Study Guide.
  • Exam preparation, VMware offers Practice exams like this one. With these practice exams, you will have an idea what to expect when you take the test. Furthermore, review and repeat until you are confident enough and sign up for the test.
  • Take the test!


Until now, I did not mention, I do not have a solid background in networking, I understand the concepts of switches, routers, firewalls and so on, but I feel more confident with hardware, Operating Systems, Storage etc. However, stepping out of your comfort zone and exploring the unknown is a good habit. By working my way through VMware Network Virtualization, I have gained a lot of new knowledge and understanding about topics like VXLAN, Distributed Routers and Firewalls, Micro-segmentation in real-life and many more. All this will provide me more confidence when I met the next NSX Manager.

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