VMware VCP5-DCV recertification success

So the other day I took and passed the VMware VCP5-DCV Delta exam (VCP550D) to renew my VCP5-DCV cert.  Originally I had no plan to blog about this since I took the exam on the very last day it was supposed to be available (and the same day of my cert expiration).  However, a day before the deadline VMware extended it another two months to May 8!  So since this exam is still available I’ll share my impressions and a few tips.

I have to admit I was worried about taking the delta exam.  For one thing, I hadn’t taken a VMware exam recently; I actually obtained the VCP5-DCV back in 2011 by passing the VCP510 beta exam!  Also, I was still mainly using vSphere 5.1, and I knew there were a lot of changes in vSphere 5.5, in particular SSO, VSAN, and the new web UI VMware want you to use (and which I had been mostly avoiding in favor of the old vSphere Client).  Lastly, at least in my eyes the stakes were very high since if my cert expired I would need to meet the (expensive) course requirement again.  Because of this I prepared extensively.

To study for a certification exam I suggest getting as much hands-on practice as possible.  Since I can’t risk messing around with an environment at work I set up a home lab to practice with for the VCP550D.  The hypervisor setup is pretty basic, consisting of three low-end Mini ITX desktops, but they did the job.  The network is an HP 1810-8G v2 switch, which supports VLANs, has a simple to use web-based management UI, and uses very little electricity.  For shared storage I set up an iSCSI target using Linux-IO on Fedora (see SCALE 13x Linux-IO Presentation Video for a relevant presentation I delivered recently).  This worked well for the VMFS datastores.  For NFS datastores I set up NFS exports on the same Linux VM.

Originally I planned to run nested ESXi VMs but I ran into trouble with them accessing the iSCSI storage.  Looking back I think it may have been due to the vSwitch settings, but I’m not sure.  I didn’t want to waste time dealing with that (and possibly having other issues later on) so I scratched the idea of using ESXi VMs.  One of my hosts was standalone and ran the infrastructure VMs (vCenter, SQL Server, Linux storage VM) while two were designated for the vSphere environment.

Another problem with my lab was that while one of the desktops is Intel-based with a Celeron CPU and Intel NIC, two of the desktops have an AMD APU and Realtek NICs.  This worked fine with ESXi 5.1, but unfortunately in 5.5 the Realtek driver was removed!  It’s possible to build a custom ESXi 5.5 installer with the right driver, but I actually just installed ESXi 5.1 and immediately upgraded it to ESXi 5.5 using esxcli and an image profile.  This upgrades everything necessary but leaves the Realtek driver installed.

Besides getting hands-on with a real environment I like to work through a study guide.  For initially learning vSphere I think the gold standard is Mastering VMware vSphere.  However in this case I wanted to focus more on the exam requirements and especially the changes from vSphere 5.0 and 5.1 to 5.5.  Over the years I’ve taken dozens of certification exams and I’ve never been disappointed by a Sybex study guide, so I bought their VCP5-DCV on vSphere 5.5 Study Guide by Brian Atkinson.

I went through the entire book and did almost every lab exercise my meager lab hardware could handle (only a few things, such as FT, would not work on it).  This study guide is well written and thoroughly covers almost everything on the VCP550D blueprint (PDF).  The one notable exception is VSAN.  The study guide only had a few mentions of VMware Virtual SAN and lacked any labs.  My meager home lab would be insufficient to do any VSAN-related lab exercises anyway, but I needed to get familiar with it so I read some documentation and blog articles and watched videos on YouTube.

After going through the study guide I was still a little nervous about taking the exam but I had to schedule it anyway since the deadline extension hadn’t yet been announced.  After scheduling the exam it must be taken it within 48 hours.  A few hours after I scheduled the exam, but before I sat down to take it, I received the email about the deadline extension.  I considered canceling the exam to study more and take it later, but I really wanted to get it over with.  Plus I hoped to get the discount on the VCP6 migration exam mentioned in the announcement.  So I went ahead and took the exam.

One of the interesting things about the delta exam is that it is not administered at a Pearson Vue exam center, rather it can be taken on any computer via web browser.  This is convenient and I thought the experience was still similar to an exam center, except that my PC is faster than the typical exam center PC.  Plus it was nice to sit in an ergonomic chair and use a high quality keyboard and mouse for an exam for once.  After starting the exam I went through a few questions and felt like I know this, so my nerves quickly subsided.  By the time I finished I felt confident about passing the exam.  Sure enough my efforts paid off and I passed by a comfortable margin!

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