2nd July 2018

VMware EMPOWER – VCDX War Stories

VMware EMPOWER – VCDX War Stories

Session presenters – Andrew Hald, Paul Meehan, Peter Oberacher, Nathan Raper, Johan van Amersfoort

VCDX is the highest level of certification offered by VMware and those that earn VCDX are partof an eliete group of architects leading implementations around the world. Moderated by Andrew Hald (VCDX#4) this panel of both VMware and partner VCDXs will share tips and tricks for achieving ths certification. They will also tell their personal stories of how investing in this certification elevated their careers. With time for questions, so you are prepared to start you own VCDX journey.

In a change to scheduled programming I decided to skip an SDDC session, and catchup with my first panel of EMPOWER, a moderated discussion focusing on the VCDX certification.

Again I’m writing this live, so apologies if it doesn’t flow very well.  This is also my first shot at blogging a panel conversation, which obviously has stretched my touch typing skills!  Apologies in advance to the panelists if I’ve incorrectly attributed comments.

Session starts with introductions of the panel.

  • Johan van Amersfot is a Technical Marketing Architect with ITQ he is VCDX #238, he is also an author of a DTM book based on VDI.
  • Paul Mehan, VCDX #250 with Hitachi Vantara
  • Peter Oberacher is VCDX #73 with VMware
  • Nate Raper, Senior Manager at VMware and VCDX #85
  • Luca Camarda, Solution Architect at VMware and VCDX #267
  • Andrew Hald, Principal Architect at VMware and VCDX #4

Apologies to the panel, I can’t type as quickly as you spoke!

The format is casual with questions and conversations allowed to go down any path that it might take.

First question is what was your first solution with VMware products and what problems did you solve?

Peter, answers with taking VMware technologies to a customer in Saudi Arabia, to run a migration stream with challenges based on security, governance and culture

Paul, got interested via a backup project, following up on his interest with VCB whilst researching a backup project.

Johan, was first engaged by VMware PSO from a technical background and decided that the technical side of things he had covered, however had architecture gaps based on requirements capture and keeping architecture to meet business requirements.

Andrew wraps up by saying that VCDX provides a framework that can be used across multiple disciplines and industries.  The difference between technology driven and leading from a business focus can be bridged via a VCDX.

The next questions focused on what the panel enjoyed most about their current roles?

Nate, Paul and Andrew spoke with passion about enabling customers, partners and technologists.  About helping change the way people think to move away from a focus on technology to a focus on business outcomes.

Johan added that he really enjoyed being involved with producing light board content to explain architectures.

What VCDX skills specifically come in handy with current roles?

Peter responded that the approach to design and architecture is the main benefit to his day to day role.  Nate spoke about being able to move out of the minutia and embrace the bigger picture.  Luca spoke about applying the methodology to expedite deployment

I asked –  if the panel had a method of how to create repeatable artifacts?

Paul spoke about following a document standards, breaking out requirements from the main conceptual design.

Johan, spoke about the sequence of events, requirements leading to risks to use cases, components within an overall design might be reusable, however that doesn’t invalidate the approach to getting there.

Peter drew attention to the VVD and how much that could be utilized to expedite the design phases, even if the VVD is not going to be followed for the final design.

With Desktop Mobility is it true that the VCDX is constrained to design based on version 6?

Johan, explained that at this moment in time you could design based on View 7, would be awarded the VCDX 6 and then VCDX 7 when the VCAP 7 exams have been passed.

How does the VVD compliment the VCDX?

The objective of the VCDX is to cover the things that the VVD doesn’t cover, it is designed to cover a technical implementation.  The VCDX focus is how to implement against that technical design.  The VVD provides a great reference architecture, VCDX helps to pull out and ensure alignment with business requirements

Is there a predefined VCDX framework?

Contained within the blueprint there are documents and diagrams that can be used to pull together a framework for VCDX.  Key to all of this is being able to trace requirements from the business to the physical.

Why did the panel pursue VCDX?

Luca spoke about the need to get a deep understanding of the VMware product and technologies.

Nate spoke about how the VCDX was an evolution of a job role, moving from a engineering role to a design role and how the VCDX helped to validate his job role.

Peter took the VCDX in order to become a consulting architect with VMware.

Johan spoke about using the VCDX to validate his skills, to show a customer that he was capable of talking about architecture.

Paul spoke about a start from a UNIX and storage background and decided to follow the VCDX in order to move out from that start.  Paul closed by saying if you don;t believe you are the best, then you will never be the best.

What surprised you the most on your journey to VCDX?

Paul – the fact that the panel was you and three guys in a room, they where helpful, not disruptive and with guys that the overall impression was that guys wanted to help you pass.  Do what you do in your day to day job and trust that you are doing the right thing.

Johan – the first design Johan used the Vmware design kit, and in a mock board got beaten up, so after 6 months had to come up with a new framework.  The fact that he felt he needed to create a design story line, to engage the reviewer.  He also noted that you need to have data center skills, and might be asked to draw physical components.

Peter – was surprised that he passed, and surprised about how nervous that he got.  Be sure that you remember that there is no one else in the room who knows your design better than you do.  Don’t be surprised how bored panelists can look.

Nate – was surprised that he passed, because you walk out of the room feeling dejected.

Luca – Found out that he understood the blueprint for VCDX and during the defense how that blueprint came to life for him.

How long did it take you to complete VCDX?

Johan – 16 months, Paul – 6 years, Peter – 6 months, Nate – 2/3 months focused on documentation.

What areas do I need to know, if I’m doing an NV implementation what other technologies do I need to know?

You should be prepared to answer questions about technology areas that your design touches.  For example if you are designing for NSX, then expect to have to answer questions about how that is hosted.  Don’t be scared to say that you don’t know and don’t be afraid to use panelists as a SME.  The VCDX is designed to find out your approach to architecture.

What was your approach for preparation?

Johan – I took a ton of mock defenses, these helped a lot, alongside a large number of white board examples related to your design.

Paul – If you don’t know the blueprint then you probably are not going to pass the exams.  The exam is an opportunity to do a literary review, analyse where you might be strong, but also look at where you might be weak.  Design review and community support is massive.

Peter – Follow the blueprint and the matrix, went straight to the exam, didn’t take any mock defenses.  Online sessions once per quarter to help prepare for the VCDX exam

Nate – reach out to the VCDX community. Don’t underestimate the importance of including high level business colleagues within a mock defense.

Luca – Identified and understood the gaps that he had, and used the VVD as a base point.

Can you use a design that’s part of an upgrade or a migration?

Luca – the blueprint is your reference, so do you call off those areas that are covered in the blueprint.

What goes into the selection of a good design?

Luca – How does it map to the blueprint.  The project that he selected was a real customer, and was able to use a design from his day job.  To take a customer story and present that within a fictitious implementation.

Andrew – If you have a fictitious design, you have to have a fictitious set of requirements, a design should have a clear narrative.

Nate – To make up a design is difficult, the best designs that take a real world scenario, something that relevant and fits a true to life business need.

Peter – Picked a design that went completely design against all best practice.  To provide a focal point for discussion, assuming of course that you can articulate and provide a business driver as to why a decision was taken.  Think of something that is not follow the best practice 100% “throw in some pepper”

Johan – It doesn’t necessarily follow that a think design is a good design.  Follow the blueprint and if that takes 60 pages so be it.

Paul – Primarily around a very complex high performance storage requirement, with a very complex business drivers.  Taking real world scenarios, don’t ignore the operational side of a design and how risks are to be mitigated.

Think of one thing you might have done differently?

Paul- When I left I focused on the bad things, can’t believe I blew it, but I passed.

Johan – came prepared with a slide deck, but used his strength for white boarding too.  Start with a mentor as soon as you have a VCDX goal. has a list of mentors.

Nate – Prepare more, mental preparedness.

Peter – Doing some mock defenses ahead of time. Do a mock defenses or 20…

Luca – If you get a mock defense question you can’t answer research it.  Take your time whilst speaking, don’t rush.

Within the scenario design within the defense board?

Nate – there is no expectation, that you need to create a design within 45 minutes.  it is not a beat the clock game, take it slow, be methodical and work through the problem.  Think about adding scenario questions to your mock defense.

Peter – It’s more about how you start your design, do you focus on requirements, do you focus of constraints.  Focus on technology areas where you are strong, start at the top down rather than bottom up.

Johan – at the VCDX boot-camp describes the scenario task and how they come together.  Practice drawing diagrams, practice in visio, practice in a notebook – practice drawing.

Paul – Keep it simple ask the normal questions, ask realistic questions and start where you expect.

What are the most common mistakes and how to avoid them?

Peter – VSAN!  Stay with the things you know, stay calm if you don’t know a topic then don’t put it in there.  The best advise is to have fun.  Remember that the panelists are there to help you.  If you don’t know an answer then say you don’t know but say where you might find it.

Nate – Don’t think you are going to outsmart the panelists, be truthful!

I asked – How many times have you heard saying “because the customer told me”?

Johan – pointed out the blog post from Simon Long saying that N+1 is not a requirement,

Peter – If the customer tells you that it has to be that way, build your own opinion and have alternatives prepared to present during the defense

Paul – be proactive, make sure that you can cover off any “the customer says”

Nate – The customer is not always right!  your job as a consultant is to educate!

Thanks to all the panelists for a great session!