Why I’m Pleased I Failed The VCDX

Before I start this blog post, I want to mention that I am of sound mind and that all my faculties are functioning.  With that cleared up, I want to start with some context.

Throughout my IT career, I have always built my knowledge based on what I believe is credible within the market place.  This hasn’t ever been from a technical perspective, rather a business point of view.  Don’t get me wrong technology can be cool, but being cool without a use case means you won’t have a very long shelf life.

The pace of change within IT is significant, to stay up to date and relevant requires dedication, discipline and perhaps most important of all time.  Time away from family and friends locked away in a quite room reading, watching online courses and spending hours building environments in your home lab.  With this in mind, when I focus on studying technology, I want to use my time efficiently on what I believe will yield the highest reward for the least investment.

It was back in 2014 when I defended the VCDX-DCV unsuccessfully,  you can read about the effort to prepare in ‘VCDX Submission – By The Numbers‘ and what went wrong in the post ‘VCDX – What Went Wrong?‘  This may sound counter intuitive, but the path to defending the VCDX is a journey that I would recommend anyone to take as it pushes you to the next level in terms of understanding business requirements and translating those into a technical solution. It sharpens your technical knowledge and hones your written and presentation skills, enabling you to quickly dissect and disseminate relevant information from customer meetings/workshops into proposals, high level and low level designs.

So why am I pleased that I failed the VCDX, if I enjoyed and would recommend the journey?  A number of reasons which I have highlighted below.

Market Demand

The requirement for traditional virtualisation skills are shrinking, customers are upgrading and expanding their clusters without needing to engage third party companies.  They are used to maintaining interopability matrix’s between vSphere components and have performed numerous inplace upgrades on their existing hardware.

At the point of infrastructure lifecycle refreshes, customers are often looking to consolidate and to achieve a greater return on investment.  The advent of hyper converged technologies to simplify the ‘hardware stack’ along with ongoing maintenance is something which makes sense both operationally and financially.

A customer might require some assistance to migrate to the target platform, but when they are consuming it, where does the next the next requirement come from?

Pigeon Hole

If I had passed the VCDX, I believe that I would have been labelled ‘the virtualisation guy’.  From your employers perspective, they may have invested in your VCDX journey then they want to use your skillset and will want to ‘tout’ your expertise in RFP responses, proposals and in front of customers to gain an ROI from their investment.

For some, I’m sure this makes perfect sense and they would relish being the ‘virtualisation guy’.  However I prefer being the ‘guy’ who makes things happen and can lead a project across every technology area rather than being an SME.

I believe that being ‘pigeon holed’ would have reduced my career opportunities and earning potential and I wouldn’t have been in the position I am today.

Treadmill

When you have invested time and effort in obtaining an elite certification it is natural to want to keep it up to date.  This then leads to the treadmill effect, renewing your certification by passing the ‘Advanced’ level exam every two years to maintain your ‘VCDX’ certificate.

I would have felt obliged to stay on this treadmill which would have meant continuing to focus on traditional virtualisation to maintain top percentile skill levels.

Perhaps this is unique to me, but after spending such a large amount of time learning the intricacies of ESXi, vCenter, SRM and vROPS, I had become an SME but if I was completely unenthused by vSphere.  I wasn’t able to summon the excitement or passion to continue learning, I needed something fresh to focus on.

Relevance

Over the past three years since I failed the VCDX, the customer landscape has changed.  Clients want to leverage the public cloud to enable them to expand their datacentre footprint around the globe without the cost of standing up their own environments.  They want to utilise IaaS, PaaS and SaaS technologies such as Office 365 to reduce the burden of maintaining hardware and infrastructure related items which bring little to no value to the business.  Customers are seeking alternatives to costly areas such as DR where they can leverage the public cloud to reduce their on-premises DR footprint whilst maintaining the same service levels.

The opportunities that I see from customers no longer have traditional virtualisation as the main piece of their requirements, it is now a small subsection of a transformation programme.

Belief

I used to believe in VMware as a business, the technology and innovation they used to drive was second to none.  However, I feel that they are struggling to stay relevant and have lost their way.  In the core virtualisation space, the feedback from customers is that ESXi is expensive and on the next infrastructure lifestyle refresh they will be investigating reducing their ESXi estate or replacing it entirely.

VMware tried hard with vCloud Air but basic offerings such as DRaaS fell short see blog post vCloud Air DRaaS – The Good, Bad & Ugly leading to customers seeking alternatives.  It was without great surprise that VMware decided they couldn’t compete with the likes of AWS and Azure so have partnered with AWS in a bid to maintain relevance and market share.  This small statement alone speaks volumes,  I believe this also links into vRA as well, how long until these businesses decide they no longer want to manage and maintain their bespoke workflows and seek to leverage SaaS or PaaS offerings?

I do however believe that VMware got Horizon View correct and is a viable alternative to Citrix in the VDI and application publishing market.  Again though I’m not sure for how long as recent customer demand has leaned towards leveraging the public cloud to create global ‘VDI’ pods (which I have designed and delivered using Citrix on Microsoft Azure).  Unless VMware have a suitable answer to this I can see Horizon View sales dwindling.

The announcement of VMware on AWS did spark my interest, I’m not entirely convinced this will be a game changer.  I will put together some thoughts on this on another blog post, as I’m really struggling to see the benefits apart from ‘legacy systems’ which could be the market share that VMware is after.  Again though, I’m sure that Storage Spaces Direct will soon become a PaaS offering on Microsoft Azure giving you the ability to run ‘legacy systems’ on public cloud.

Final Thought

For me, the journey to VCDX and also failing has been enlightening.  I was a fairly new starter with my employer when I embarked on the elite certification, this provided early visibility of my capabilities which enabled me to work on some great customer engagements.  Perhaps more importantly was the failure of the VCDX which meant that I wasn’t ‘pigeon holed’ but was seen as a person who makes things happen.  Which lead to the opportunity to work with customers across multiple technologies transforming them to utilise both on-premises and public cloud.

This may sound like it comes from a place of unicorns and rainbows, but I get out of bed everyday and look forward to work, this isn’t only due to my awesome colleagues but the sheer breadth and depth of the customer solutions I’m trusted to lead.  I thank my VCDX failure as the pivotal point in being able to achieve this.

Cheap(er) Microsoft Azure Exams

azure-skillPart of working in IT means keeping your skills relevant and up to date, which usually leads into taking exams on a regular basis.  Depending on your situation, exams maybe self or employer funded, so when a vendor has a certification offer, it’s worth taking note.

The usual cost of a Microsoft Azure exam with Pearson Vue is £135.60 inc. VAT (in the United Kingdom see Designing and Implementing Cloud Data Platform Solutions.

Later last year Microsoft launched ‘Advance your Azure skills‘ in a bid to get more individuals certified on their public cloud platform.  Using this URL will give access to the same exams but for £96.20 inc. VAT with a number of additional benefits which are:

  • Practice test for 30 days
  • One free retake
  • Access to Microsoft online Azure course catalogue

So what are you waiting for?  Now is the time to start cracking on with your Microsoft Azure exams!

VCP5-DCV Delta Passed

VCP-DCVAfter receiving a friendly reminder from VMware that my VCP5-DCV was due to expire in December, my first thoughts was to take the VCP6-DCV exam, but with less than two months to go and a busy schedule for the rest of the year, I decided to take the easy option and opt for the VCP550 delta exam.

Seeing that the closing date for the exam was 30th September and the fact that I had a spare hour, I sat the exam on 26th September.  A quick flick over the exam blue print and there was mention of VSAN and vCOPs.

I dusted off my Essential VSAN and VMware vCenter Operations Manager Essentials books and downloaded the Whats New in VMware vSphere 5.5 Platform pdf.  I was ready time to click proceed.

The exam itself was a lot tougher than I expected, but I guess that’s because it is focused towards administration and my daily job is around design.  After around forty five minutes I received a ‘congratulations’ you have passed.

VCP 550 Delta Pass

The purpose of this exam was simple, to give me some breathing space before I attempt the VCP6-DCV.

As with all things, the day after I pass the exam, VMware announce that the VCP550 delta exam is to be extended until 31st December 2015.  If I had known this then  might have taken some time out to prepare, but I guess a pass is a pass.

Reschedule Cloud or Desktop VCAP Exam Issue

Yesterday I received an email stating that the VDTD510 – VMware Certified Advanced Professional 5 – Desktop Design needed to be rescheduled as my exam was booked in for 14th March 2015.

No problem or so I thought, I contacted my local Pearson Vue test centre to reschedule the exam and they mentioned they couldn’t do it and to contact Pearson Vue customer services.   So I contacted Pearson Vue customer services and they mentioned the same problem, and suggested I contact VMware.

I have to say that VMware Education services have been the most helpful.  Even though they cannot schedule exams they did agree to conference in Pearson Vue to try and resolve the issue

Issue

The issue is that Pearson Vue have the last registration date as 2nd March 2015 which means they are unable to reschedule any of the VCAP exams that are ending.  This is an internal communication issue between VMware and Pearson Vue which is being escalated at VMware’s end.  This problem will effect anyone who is attempting to reschedule the following exams:

  • VCID510 – VMware Certified Advanced Professional 5 – Cloud Infrastructure Design
  • VCIA510 – VMware Certified Advanced Professional 5 – Cloud Infrastructure Administration
  • VDTA510 – VMware Certified Advanced Professional 5 – Desktop Administration
  • VDTD510 – VMware Certified Advanced Professional 5 – Desktop Design

I have a case open with VMware Education and will update this post once more information is known.

**Update**

The update I have received is my exam has been cancelled and I will receive a refund,  with no explanation.  This contravenes the details laid out by VMware Certification as part of the VCAP expiry notification.

It would be good to know why VMware decided to pull the VCAP certification before VCIX are released and why the exam could not be rescheduled?

My thoughts are that VMware and Pearson Vue clearly have internal communication issues which really needs to be resolved.  Clearly they have no concern for any individuals who have spent their personal time studying towards an exam.

Certification Hamster Wheel?

Disclaimer: This is a copy of the post that I made for TechTarget recently.

The first part of this blog post relates to some general thoughts about certification in general.  If you only want to know about VMware certification changes, I suggest you jump down to that section!

VCAP

Certification Thoughts

I have often thought that being in the IT industry is like being on hamster wheel, with continual momentum from vendors to obtain market share drives innovation in new products and offerings which in turn leads to us IT professionals needing to update our skills.

In most professions you have to learn new skills overtime, if we take the example of a car mechanic.  The cars they were servicing ten years ago had four wheels, an engine, a steering wheel and doors.  The cars today follow suit, however they are more complex with electronic braking systems, traction control and automatic windscreen wipers.

The same can be said for IT, you have an application that requires CPU, Memory and Disk.  How these are delivered to the application have changed with abstraction from the physical layer, hyperthreading and storage either local or remote.

However the biggest difference is certification, I don’t know of any industry which focuses on the collection and updating of certificates as we do.  I mean we are pretty obsessed by it (but with good reason).

Job Security

No longer is there such a thing as a job for life, companies get bought, sold, go bust, relocate…. the list goes on.  Most of us require an income to pay for our houses, cars and living expenses.  So how do we differentiate ourselves from the rest of the market?  This is when certifications and experience come into play.

Now I’m not and never have been a recruiter, but human nature dictates that we normally go for the least line of resistance.  Often a company will state a certain level of certification is required for a position, as a recruiter what are you going to do when performing searches on LinkedIn or reviewing CV’s?  Yep you are in the ‘review’ pile if you have the certification and in the ‘bin’ pile if you don’t.

Investment

Passing a certificate isn’t just about achieving a certain pass mark, it shows others that you are serious about your career.  To gain the qualification you will have either spent your own time and money (or if you are lucky enough the companies whom you work for) on the following:

  • Course
  • Books related to the subject
  • Exam fees
  • Home lab
  • Time of work to take exam
  • Personal time studying

For me, I will continue on the certification hamster wheel for the foreseeable future.

VMware Certification Changes

With the release of NSX and vSphere 6, VMware have made some changes to the certification track with the most noticeable being the replacement of VMware Certified Advanced Professional certification with VMware Certified Implementation Expert.

Information is a slightly vague at the moment, but this is what we know:

  • VCAP will be retired at some point
  • VCIX certification requires you pass both a design and administration exams
    • If you hold a single VCAP their will be an upgrade path to pass the remaining VCIX exam e.g. VCAP5-DCA pass the VCIX Design exam to gain VCIX-DCV
    • If you hold both VCAP’s in a certification track, an upgrade to VCIX will be available
  • Each VCIX exam will be the same length as VCAP exam
  • Each VCIX exam will be the same price as a VCAP exam

My view is that the exam length is slightly to long, having to focus for 3 hours plus is always a struggle.  On the flip side I can see a reduction in the number of people aiming for VCIX as you don’t obtain the qualification until you pass both exams.

A colleague of mine Toby Brown stated that this reminded him of the old Microsoft MSCA/MSCE track, which I have to agree with.