Nick Bowie, ViFX Solution Architect, discusses his VCDX experience and how he achieved such a prestigious certification.
"Congratulations! You passed! It gives me great pleasure to welcome you to the VMware Certified Design Expert community. Your VCDX number is 202", from VMware.
It's been a couple of weeks since receiving that email, so I thought it was time I carried on the tradition of describing my VCDX journey.
What is VCDX? Why does it matter?
Firstly a bit of background on the VCDX certification, what it is, and (equally) what it is isn't.
According to VMware (emphasis is mine):
VMware Certified Design Expert (VCDX) is the highest level of VMware certification. This elite group is comprised of design architects highly skilled in VMware enterprise deployments and the program is designed for veteran professionals who want to validate and demonstrate their expertise in VMware technology.
VCDX5-DCV certification is achieved through the unique design defence process, where all candidates must submit and succesfully defend a production-ready VMware Solution before a panel of veteran VCDX-DCV holders. This process ensures that those who achieve VCDX status are peer-vetted and ready to join an elite group of world-class consulting architects.
The VCDX process is not intended to teach infrastructure architecture, although it is fair to say that working to the framework outlined in the blueprint was beneficial.
It is intended as a way to validate capabilities in infrastructure architecture. This is more than a deep understanding of the technology, which is essential in our field of course, but also in understanding the business requirements and demonstrating the appropriate methodology to deliver to those requirements successfully, These are qualities that ViFX have shown for many years. We have exceptional people here, and this further proves our position at a global scale.
Why did I pursue it?
It really was, and had to be, a personal goal. After leaving the customer space for ViFX, I was motivated to improve and prove to myself that I was at the expert level demonstrated by my colleagues.
The team here have the perfect ethos and framework-based approach, which are complementary to achieving the very practical VCDX certification. It was a natural fit.
What was involved?
A lot of work. I’m not sure I really want to try and calculate exactly how long it took from the beginning.
First, one must obtain the VMware Certified Professional certification and this is really a validation of the foundation knowledge. Following this, two Advanced Professional certifications must be obtained – in Data Centre Administration (DCA) and Data Centre Design (DCD). Each of these require passing comprehensive exams – the DCA exam is entirely practical. There’s a semi-built environment and you have a number of tasks. Some aspects of the environment are broken and you need to figure out what it is in order to fix it, others are configuration tasks that build up the platform as the exam progresses. The DCD exam is partially practical, in that there are design diagram exercises, but also theoretical. Both of them are challenging in their own right and are not to be under-estimated! There are fantastic study-guides and training out there in these areas, but ultimately it was experience that got me through both of these.
That’s three exams, with their own significant study effort, to get (almost) to the half-way mark.
Then comes the design...
The design I selected for my VCDX submission was based on a real-life deliverable, which itself took serious time and effort – and pressure. Once this project was closed and I was confident it was the best it could be (given the constraints), I set to work on the VCDX application. This required many late nights spent dedicated to expanding the deliverable to meet all the criteria outlined within the blueprint. Not to mention all the additional supporting documentation.
Once the application was submitted, it is reviewed and if it passes that process you are then invited to defend.
When I received notification that I was through to the next round, myself and other candidates from APAC got together immediately, and frequently, to study via WebEx. Our schedule was three one-hour sessions during the week nights, focused on running through design and troubleshooting scenarios, and one or two two-hour sessions each weekend for us to work on our presentation. We had our defence dates delayed by two weeks due to scheduling conflicts which was both good and bad. It meant that we had extra time to prepare, but also found ourselves quite exhausted as the defence date approached.
It’s been said a lot by other candidates, but none of this would have been possible without the full support and understanding of family. For me, it meant significant additional work for my wife and precious time away from my two boys (currently 4 and 2 years of age – to provide context).
This is the first successful VCDX defence based on a Nutanix architecture - why was that selected?
This, for me, was equally about the technology's ability to meet the requirements as well as tied to the personal aspect of the goal. ViFX saw the potential of Nutanix early on in the New Zealand market and this resonated with me, and was one of the many reasons why I wanted to join ViFX. I couldn’t see the logic in approaching VDI solutions using immensely complex and costly traditional infrastructure solutions, when it could be solved with a cost-effective, modular, scale-out approach. I was the first Nutanix Platform Professional in New Zealand, and the solution we outlined for the customer was extremely exciting to me. It ended up being the largest implementation in the Southern Hemisphere for a time.
During the course of the real-life project we’d seen an incredible uptake of Hyper Converged Infrastructure (HCI) solutions – from the rapid adoption of Nutanix here and abroad as well as validation of this approach through other vendors, including VMware releasing their VSAN solution. VSAN itself was released as public beta and then finally GA during the project, so was not a consideration at the time. Having said that, had this process started now, I'm confident that Nutanix would have been selected as the right platform to meet the particular requirements of this project. vSphere on Nutanix is a very capable, and complementary technology stack.
How did this impact the defence?
It is very likely that more and more candidates in the future will have solutions based on one of the HCI architectures. I’d like to dispel any notion that in choosing this technology platform that it makes the process any easier – it certainly didn’t seem that way to me! To say the defence was tough is an understatement. Regardless of the platform, you still have to identify and understand all of the risks and constraints, and make the right decisions to meet the requirements. Had it been on a more traditional platform, my documentation would likely have had the same level of detail, but the particular project’s challenges definitely made it out-of-the-ordinary and helped balance out any perceived simplicity.
Any advice for others?
By the time I had the opportunity to submit and defend for the VCDX certification, I had gained a fair bit of customer-facing experience to lean on. Although not impossible - achievement is made that much harder without it.
If you can, find a mentor who can provide valuable feedback on your design and areas that need improvement, as you’ll be better off for it regardless of the outcome.
Carry out mock sessions with whoever is willing – either through WebEx or in-person if you’re fortunate enough.
Lastly, and this is a cliché because it’s true - make sure you’re not the smartest person in the room!
From ViFX Management: We are immensely proud of Nick for achieving this prestigious certification and believe that it continues to validate our 'trusted expertise' status in the market. Well done Nick!