VCP6-NV Network Virtualization Exam Prep And Results

Hard to believe that a mere 8 hours so, I sat for the VCP6-NV (2V0-642) exam. 77 questions and about 60 minutes later, I walked out as a newly minted VCP!

Truth be told, I have not needed to study like this for quite some time… likely while getting my undergrad many years ago. The type of learning I adapted to in the real world was more bursty, need driven, and broad. So, I really needed to get to clean the rust off those old studyin’ routines and get to work.

The Internets were massively helpful in not only helping identify what to study but, also, confirming what I thought would be the correct content. This post is my way of paying back for the help I got. If you’re here for the actual test questions and answers, you’re in the wrong place…

Please keep in mind that this is not meant to be prescriptive. Rather, this is what worked for the type of learner I am.

What did I use to study?!

There are some awesome content creators out there with amazing reviews and success stories (Pluralsight, vBrownbags, etc…). I did not use them. I felt like trying to focus on the information from VMware would be the most effective use of my time.

  • NSX: Install, Manage, and Configure [6.2] – On Demand
  • VMware Education NSX Practice Exam
  • NSX 6.2 – Admin Guide
  • NSX 6.2 – Design Guide
  • VMware Learning Zone – NSX Exam Prep
  • VCP6-NV Exam Blueprint
  • Hands on Labs

The ICM course’s On Demand structure worked really well. I was concerned about my usual preferred learning style conflicting with the presentation and lab format of the course. However, it was quite nice and I rather enjoyed it. I completed all of the course in about 1.5 weeks… and I have a crazy amount of notes to show for it. Note: if you decide to go through the On Demand course, there are some oddities about the delivery system that you can work 2V0-641 to your benefit. Not listening to the robo-voice reading each slide was a sanity saver.

The Design Guide was surprisingly enjoyable… It has been composed in a very thoughtful and logical manner. It needs to be read from cover to cover at least one time as the pages and sections build on top of each other. I found myself re-reading chapters 3 & 5 to help drive some concepts home. Any time spent with the Design Guide was time well spent.

The Learning Zone exam prep content was really nice. Each objective and sub-objective is presented is short 5-10 minute videos. They cover the content in ways that are explanatory, show correct logic in analysis, but don’t give you the answer. They guide you to the water… But, you need to drink it.

What didn’t I do?

  • Use external content providers – I felt like I had a good grasp on the concepts from the VMware materials. The external content providers would help explain and/or make sense of concepts that I was getting pretty well.
  • Did not focus on speeds and feeds – Yes… knowing easily referable information like the amount of RAM and vCPU for NSX Manager is within scope of the exam. I can look that up if I need to… And I accepted that I may miss those questions on the exam. My time was more important elsewhere.
  • Did not memorize details of UI paths – Again, knowing which tab or right-click option is within the scope of the exam and not worth my time. Accepted risk.

Test Day

  • Did not study at all. At this point, I knew what I was going to know and spending time on last minute things do not yield anything but uncertainty.
  • I felt good about the test… Like I did in college… The rust was off the gears! I was calm and accepted the current state of my study and learning as it was.

Tips/Tricks

  • Pay attention – very common concepts, themes, principles, rules, restrictions, limits, etc… show up over and over and over.
  • Write – our minds retain information better when we write. Writing engages an artistic portion of our brains… and information associated with artistic activities is retained better.
  • Schedule the exam – or else you will find a reason to start kicking the can and delaying the prep work
  • Exam structure is no surprise – single choice, multiple choice, sometimes answer options are super similar, sometimes answers are super obvious. There is nothing exotic here.
  • Question wording / Answer wording – NSX, traditional networking, and network virtualization have similar verbiage, differing implications, and concepts both shared and unique. Consider the context of the question and don’t make assumptions without considering the environment.
  • Have fun! – if you can enjoy the process and the test, you will be calmer, more confident, and have a clear thought process.
  • NSX is not just L2 overlay – be sure to understand the purpose, mechanics, workflows, and other concepts for the other functions of NSX.
  • Pay attention!!! – Did I mention that already. If I were only allowed to give one piece of advice, this would be it.

Bill’s Take

This was a really enjoyable process for me. I got to do something I have not done for quite a while. Plus, I ended up on the passing side of the exam, which does not hurt.

The exam felt appropriate to the level of studying required. It it’s very likely that I could have studied certain areas a little more and gotten a higher score. But, I felt like I had a solid hold on the subject matter, so no need to push it.

After going through the learning process for VCP6-NV, I feel like there is value in this certification process. Yes… I recognize that people have differing opinions on certification… and this is mine. Network Virtualization is not a commodity knowledge set like other technology topics may be. The range of NSX specific info, network architecture, and network concepts feel like a good evaluation of a necessary skill set versus a test on a specific product.

Good luck studying and don’t forget to PAY ATTENTION!!

Advertisements

VMware Hands On Labs–BETA–Live!

image

For a number of years, VMware has provided some amazing lab contents during the VMworld conferences. From year to year, the labs progressed from onsite delivered, to cloud bursting, to majority cloud, and, finally, to completely cloud provided. It was inevitable that one day… some day… the labs would be opened up to the general populace. So, it turns out that Tuesday, November 13th was that fateful day. At the Portland VMUG Conference, Mr. Pablo Roesch (@heyitspablo) and Mr. Andrew Hald (@vmwarehol) released the Hands On Labs (BETA) onto the world!

Pablo and Andrew were kind enough to help me get access just before the announcement. And, I must say, I have been so impressed with what VMware has produced.

It is important to remember that this is a BETA offering (not quite like a Google BETA (ex: Gmail)), so experiencing some bugs and bumps in the road should be expected. However, with that being said, the quality of the content, delivery mechanisms, and the UI are top notch.

UI Tour

Lets take a quick look at what the environment looks like:

Login

image

Upon logging into the HOL environment, you are greeted with a couple notable components:

  • Enrollments and Lab Navigation
    • This section, on the left, allows you to view the labs you have enrolled for, filter the lab types (currently Cloud Infrastructure, Cloud Operations, and End-User Computing), and viewing your transcript.
  • Standalone labs
    • The actual entry to the lab content. Enroll, begin, continue, etc… from here. This is where the magic happens.
  • Announcements
    • Includes important updates as to new lab content, product YouTube videos, Twitter stream, etc…

    All in all, the home page is very streamlined and efficient.

    Using a Lab

    Upon enrolling and beginning a lab, you are presented with:

image

In the background, vCloud Director is deploying your lab environment. Looks like VMware is truly eating its own dog food with this product. No more Lab Manager for this type of offering anymore.

The interface features some very well thought out design decisions that helps present the lab content, and VMs, in a very logical and convenient way. The HOL team heavily leveraged HTML5 to accomplish the magic:

Default View Lab Manual Consoles
image image image

The simple placement of tabs on the left and right sides allows for the console of the VM to consume the majority of the screen while minimizing the amount of times the user needs to switch between applications for information. All of the info is there. Plus, as the user scrolls down the screen, the tabs remain visible, always ready to be used.

Use the lab manual content to navigate through the labs at your leisure. Note, though, there is a time limit. This is shared infrastructure. So, if you are idle for too long, HOL Online will time you out and close up shop so others can use the same infrastructure. Don’t worry, though, the content will resume when you return later.

Bugs I Have Found

Yes… as mentioned above, this is a BETA. Did I mention this is a BETA, because it is a BETA. So, running into some bugs is expected. Don’t worry, though, I’ll participate in the forum to report them.

Thus far, I have found a couple funky bugs:

  • The mouse can disappear when a console is open
  • The mouse can disappear when multiple browsers are open and the HOL window is not active
  • Some lab manuals are not available
  • Occasionally, the HOL interface will hang at Checking Status. Force a cache refresh in your browser.

Getting Involved

If you want to get involved in testing the functionality and getting a taste of what the HOL Online is all about:

– Acknowledge that this is a BETA at this time. Don’t expect complete perfection right now.
– Sign up for the BETA at http://hol.vmware.com
– Notice that the signup site is a forum. You can check out the bugs and commentary from other beta testers to get a feel for what you’re going to experience
– Commit to participating in the beta community. Pablo and Andrew are not going to come to your house and take your vSphere licenses away for not participating. But, this is a unique opportunity to contribute to the success of a public product like this. Take advantage of it. Help the VMware community by contributing to it!

Well done, HOL team. I look forward to seeing what this turns into in the future!

Team vGlobo – v0dgeball – VMworld 2012

Come one! Come all! Watch the spectacle that is v0dgeball at VMworld 2012!

This year, a number awesome vPeople have come together for a brief time to create an amazing team of dodgeballers to dominate the tournament: Team vGlobo

Download

The team is comprised of:

  • Bill Hill
  • Arjan Timmerman
  • Brandon Riley
  • Gabrie van Zanten
  • Chris Emery
  • Josh Townsend
  • Jason Shiplett
  • Mike Ellis
  • Dwayne Lessner
  • Joseph Boryczka

If you’re interested in watching the awesomeness that is Team vGlobo, please come and check out the tournament:

SUNDAY, AUGUST 26 @ 4-6PM

SOMA REC CENTER – CORNER OF FOLSOM & 6TH ST

Links (for your clicking pleasure)

In all seriousness (if you made it this far), the v0dgeball tournament is something that I am very proud to be a part of. The proceeds for the dodgeball tournament go to the Wounded Warrior Project. 

The Wounded Warrior Project provides support for US service men and women injured while serving our country. They provide a ton of services and support, which includes:

  • Stress recovery
  • Family support
  • Career transition
  • Employment placement
  • Adaptive sporting events
  • Assistance with government/insurance claims
  • And so much more

At the time of this post, the v0dgeball 2012 project has raised $10,705.00 for the Wounded Warrior Project. How cool is that?! Really!? Just thinking about the impact that $10,000+ can have to thank and support servicemen/servicewomen for their amazing sacrifice is awe inspiring.

I cannot thank Chad Sakac, Fred Nix, and EMC enough for organizing such a fun and honorable activity for the VMworld participants… and for all of the participants of the tournament. 

Team vGlobo is honored to take the floor, throw some balls in faces of opponents (there’s a joke in there somewhere), and support such an amazing organization. 

Go Team vGlobo!!!

SAN and Compute All-In-One

Let’s be honest, x86-based compute in virtualization environments is pretty darn boring. A server has become the necessary evil required for enabling the coolness that is virtualization.

But, don’t let the boringness of servers fool you. VMware has enabled a new breed of hybrid servers that are both server AND storage all-in-one! This new paradigm adds some new methods and models for virtualization design and functionality.

Conceptually, the server boots into an ESXi environment and fires up a guest OS. This guest OS is the virtual storage appliance and provides the storage for the local server. The guest makes use of VMDirectPath functionality to take control of a locally installed storage controller connected to the local disks. The result of this is that the VM can access the local disks and ESXi will not. The local disk is now directly connected to the VM. How cool is that?!

Once the guest OS has the disks, the guest creates various storage options: block or file, object or RAID, etc…). The ESX host is, then, configured to connect to IP storage provided by the guest. The first, typical reaction may be to wonder about the reason to add this level of complexity. For a standalone host with local storage (think ROBO) this may be a little overkill. But, the advantage comes into play when you consider flexibility and new functionality.

By moving control of local storage into the VM, more advanced functions can be performed. Local storage use by ESXi is fairly limited. The VSA, though, can use the storage a little more liberally.

Take Pivot3, for example. Their VDI and surveillance solutions make use of this storage technique. The vSTAC OS (the Pivot3 VSA) creates a RAID across the local disks. Yawn, right?! Where the coolness is applied is when multiple nodes are "connected". vSTAC OS instances on other Pivot3 servers combine and RAID across multiple hosts. Suddenly, local storage is combined with local storage from other hosts and creates a big clustered pool of available storage! This cluster environment allows for added resiliency and performance as the data is no longer restricted to the local host and distributed to help against local storage issue.

Once the vSTAC OS nodes connect their storage together, data is spread across all of the other nodes to immediately protect the data and enhance performance. A new node can be added in the future. Once the new node is added, the data is automatically rebalanced across all hosts to ensure proper protection and efficient usage of the storage. Dynamic add of storage and compute is fantastic!

The VSA VM can perform additional functions if desired (and developed as such) like: deduplication, replication, compression, etc…

Bill’s Stance

I love this type of innovation. There are many use cases for solutions like this. The Pivot3 solution has a lot of potential for success in their target markets. I have concern about the selection of RAID versus object storage, though… but that is their decision. Traditional RAID5 systems suffer heavily from a disk failure and rebuild… the performance tanks until the failed disk has been replaced. In the event of a failure in the Pivot3 solution, the entire solution may suffer until the offending disk has been replace. But, with that said, I believe the benefits of the technique outweigh the potential performance hit.

This style architecture really bucks the trend of needing a separate SAN/NAS in addition to compute. Adding sophistication to the VSA component and introducing more SSD/Flash-based storage could create an interesting and valid competitor to traditional SAN/NAS solutions and breathes new life into boring servers.

Unmount VMFS Datastore

With all the wicked-cool new functions in vSphere 5, one of the most understated but highly functional lies with the ability to unmount an iSCSI share. Seemingly a simple function, this has not been available in non-vSphere 5 hosts until now.

The problem I have faced in the past is that there is a need to remove iSCSI stores from an ESXi host. In those rare instances, I have needed to migrate some VMs off of a SAN while keeping other VMs on the same SAN (ex: moving a development SAN to another site). svMotion handles the hard work of moving the VMs to the new datastores (easy-peasy, right?). However, unlike an NFS share, a VMFS share could not be unmounted. I ran into 2 options to remove the share:

1) Right-click the datastore and select “Delete”!

image

Uh… the point of this is to not delete these VMs!

2) Remove the initiator IP address, remove access to the ESXi host initiators via the SAN interface, vMotion VMs to other hosts (if you’re lucky), and reboot the host.

– Host downtime, SAN maintenance (which, yes, I know initiators not being used should be cleaned up… but not as a requirement to save my VMs), host downtime, etc… I can add a datastore live, why not remove it live?!

 

To my surprise this morning, while removing some iSCSI stores after some over-the-weekend SAN migration, I was presented with a new option via vSphere 5!

Unmount Datastore - vSphere 5

Following this new function leads me to a functional check to ensure that the unmount requirements are green and good to go:

image

Now, the downside to this procedure is that in my environment, I have a couple non-DRS clustered hosts (thank you Oracle VMware licensing) that I am unable to take offline to upgrade to ESXi 5.0 right now. So, the same iSCSI volumes are available on both ESXi 4.1 and 5.0 hosts. Thus, the unmount process is only partially useful. Due to those darn ESXi 4.1 hosts, I still need to delete the datastore to get rid of the iSCSI volume!

Unmount Datastore - vSphere 5 and 4.1

Thanks Oracle Licensing!

Lucky for me, I do not have any VMs to save on the datastore!

This was a great way to start a Monday morning! I look forward to being able to unmount VMFS volumes as necessary… once everything is up to vSphere 5.0!

ESXi 5.0–1.5 Hour Boot Time During Upgrade

I have to say, I am quite shocked that I am on the tail end of waiting 1.5 hours for an ESXi 5.0 upgrade to complete booting. Seriously… 1.5 hours.

I have been waiting for some time to get some ESXi 5.0 awesomeness going on in my environment. vCenter has been sitting on v5 for some time and I have been deploying ESXi 5 in a couple stand-alone situations without any issues. So, now that I have more compute capacity in the data center, it is time to start rolling the remaining hosts to ESXi 5… or so I thought!

I downloaded ESXi 5.0.0 Kernel 469512 a while back and have been using that on my deployments. So far, so good… until today. Update Manager configured with a baseline –> Attach –> Scan –> Remediate –> back to business. Surely, Update Manager processes should take more time than the actual upgrade. About 30 minutes after starting the process, vCenter was showing that the remediation progress was a mere 22% complete and the host was unavailable. I used my RSA (IBM’s version of HP ILO or Dell DRAC) to connect to the console. Sure enough, it was stuck at loading some kernel modules. About 20 minutes later IT WAS STILL THERE!

Restarting the host did not resolve the issue. During the ESXi 5 load screen, pressing Alt + F12 loads the kernel messages. It turns out that iSCSI was having issues loading the datastores in an acceptable amount of time. I was seeing messages similar to:

image

A little research turned me onto the following knowledgebase article in VMware’s KB: ESXi 5.x boot delays when configured for Software iSCSI (KB2007108)

To quote:

This issue occurs because ESXi 5.0 attempts to connect to all configured or known targets from all configured software iSCSI portals. If a connection fails, ESXi 5.0 retries the connection 9 times. This can lead to a lengthy iSCSI discovery process, which increases the amount of time it takes to boot an ESXi 5.0 host.

So, I have 13 iSCSI stores on that specific host and multiple iSCSI VMkernel Ports (5). So, calling the iSCSI lengthy is quite the understatement.

The knowledgebase states that the resolution is applying ESXi 5.0 Express Patch 01. Fine. I can do that. And… there is a work around described in the article that states you can reduce the number of targets and network portals. I guess that is a workaround… after you have already dealt with the issue and the ridiculously long boot.

Finally, to help mitigate the issue going forward, VMware has released a new .ISO to download that includes the patch. However, this is currently available in parallel with the buggy .ISO ON THE SAME PAGE! Seriously. Get this… the only way to determine which one to download is:

image

As a virtualization admin, I know that I am using the Software iSCSI initiator in ESXi. But, why should that even matter at all?! There is a serious flaw in the boot process in version 469512  and that should be taken offline. Just because someone is not using Software iSCSI at the current time does not mean they are not going to in the future. So, if they download the faulty .ISO, they are hosed in the future. Sounds pretty crummy to me!

My Reaction

I am quite shocked that this made it out of the Q/A process at VMware in the first place. My environment is far from complex and I expect that my usage of the ESXi 5.0 hypervisor would be within any standard testing procedure. I try to keep my environment as vanilla as possible and as close to best practices as possible. 1.5 hours for a boot definitely should have been caught before release to the general public.

Additionally, providing the option to download the faulty ISO and the fixed ISO is a complete FAIL! As mentioned on the download page, this is a special circumstance due to the nature of the issue. I would expect that if this issue is as serious as the download page makes it out to be, the faulty ISO should no longer be available. There has to be a better way!

Conclusion

I have since patched the faulty ESXi 5.0 host to the latest/safest version, 504890, and boot times are back to acceptable. I will proceed with the remainder of the upgrades using the new .ISO and have deleted all references to the old version from my environment.

I have never run into an issue like this with a VMware product in my environment and I still have all the confidence in the world that VMware products are excellent. In the scheme of things, this is a bump in the road.

VMware Virtual Datacenter

Sunday evening, many of the vExpert award recipients converged in the Casanova 503 room at the Venetian for the VMworld 2011 vExpert meeting. Mingling, meeting, and networking was fantastic.

However, there was one topic of significant discussion that really got my wheel spinning. While we were requested not to go into detail into what was said by VMware (proper), we all are familiar with the concept… the Virtual Datacenter.

It should be no surprise that VMware has been walking us down the path of virtualizing our datacenter components. Servers, storage, networking… the entire stack. All in an effort to create this nebulous “Virtual Datacenter”. But, what is the virtual datacenter and how do we get there? Well… if I had the answer, I would probably be working for VMware… right?!

Conceptually, the virtual datacenter is being comprised of increasingly more and more commoditized resources. x86 compute resources are readily available with minimal cost. Auto-tiering storage is becoming more and more prevalent to help mitigate IO performance. 10Gb networking, and other high-bandwidth connections, are providing the ever-so-necessary connection to networking and network-based storage. By abstracting these resources, the virtual administrator is no longer tasked with management of these resources.

The fact of the matter, though, is that in many environments, management of these resources still exists. We need the network guys to maintain the network, the storage guys to handle the storage, and the server guys to handle the server hardware and connections to systemic resources.

Fact of the matter is that the virtual datacenter still needs management from different facets of the IT house.

My view of the virtual datacenter is creation of a system where network, storage, and servers are all managed at a single point. We are seeing this come to fruition in the Cisco UCS, vBlock, and other single SKU solutions. That is a fantastic model. However, it targets a different market.

My dream virtual datacenter manages everything itself.

  • Need more storage, just add a hard drive. The datacenter handles data management and availability. Seriously, just walk over and add a hard drive or add another storage node to the rack.
  • Need more network bandwidth, hot-add more pNICs. The datacenter handles properly spreading the data across available links, NIC failures, etc…
  • Need more compute resources, add a new server to the rack. The datacenter handles joining the server to the available compute resources.
  • Need external resources, just point the datacenter towards a public provider and let the datacenter manage the resources.

Creating the foundation to make this work relies on all parties involved allowing the datacenter to configure and manage everything. Storage vendors need to allow the datacenter to handle array configurations and management. Network vendors need to allow the datacenter to configure trunks, link aggregation, bandwidth control, etc… Systems vendors need to allow the datacenter to jump into the boot process, grab the hardware, and auto configuration.

Pie in the sky, right? Existing technologies seem to elude to more elegant management that would lend itself kindly to such a model. VMware, as the datacenter enabler, would need to step up to the plate and take the initiative and ownership of managing those resources… from RAID configurations to VLAN Trunking on switches.

Seriously… walking up and adding new physical resources or extending to a public provider for more resources and they become magically available would be fantastic.

So… that is my vision for where I would like to see the virtual datacenter. VMware, let me know if you want to talk about this in more detail. I am sure we can work something out!