Professional certifications are part of an IT administrator's professional life. Some have criticized VMware's first certification, the VMware Certified Professional (VCP) exam , because of its steep $3,000 price tag. Even so, VMware Certified Professional (Exam Cram) author Elias Khnaser points out in this interview that it's the best VMware ESX course on the market. He wrote the book for two reasons; for people who learn better outside a classroom and for those who want a handy guide on the job.
What does VMware Certified Professional (Exam Cram) offer that the class doesn't?
Elias Khnaser: The book is a test-prep tool that I tried to keep as short and to the point as possible without sacrificing value. It's not geared towards people trying to pick up a book to learn VMware technology, more towards reinforcing knowledge that a person may have gained in the class. It highlights certain aspects of VMware technology which are more relevant to the certification than others. For example, the book highlights a lot of configuration maximums because they're important to ESX administration and also populate a larger portion of the exam.
Have you received feedback on the book?
E.K.: The book has been on the market since December 2008, and I've already been overwhelmed with feedback. Usually you don't hear from readers for six to 12 months, so that in itself is impressive. I get a lot of emails from people who have passed the exam. It's a great feeling knowing that I've really helped someone.
VCP (Exam Cram) was also recently highlighted as book of the week at CertCities.com.
The VCP course costs $3,000 and is a prerequisite for taking the exam. There's ongoing debate about whether a class replaces hands-on experience and whether people should be able to take the exam without taking the class. What are your thoughts?
E.K.: I think it's unfair that VMware forces somebody to take the class to gain the certification when a person may already know the subject matter presented in the class. It's a source of income for VMware. That being said, VMware's classes are probably the best ESX classes to take. But if you're employed by a company that won't pay for the class, it could be financially difficult for someone to become a VCP.
Is formal training necessary to learn VMware ESX, or can admins simply install ESX and learn from experience?
E.K.: A lot of tech people, myself included, hate to pick up a book and study for something. We'd much rather install it and learn it from hands-on experience. The disadvantage is that you won't learn the whole product and there will be features that may be important that you didn't know existed. The advantage of studying something in a formal way is that you master the product. On that note, I offer a VMware ESX training DVD program for $300 for those who want training but can't afford the class or benefit from a different kind of teaching.
Also, if you're studying to take the VCP exam, it's important to make sure you actually learn the information instead of simply parroting back what's presented in class. If you learn the information, when you earn the VMware Certified Professional certification and get hired for a job that requires the VCP credential, you'll have actual knowledge. This will help you because when you're on the job, you're on your own, so you really need to know what you're doing. A certification in itself isn't worth much; it's the working knowledge behind it.
What are your thoughts on the latest VMware certification, the VMware Certified Design Expert?
E.K.: I'm really hoping VMware models its certification hierarchy after Cisco so that certifications hold a lot of value [and] so an advanced virtualization certification is necessary.
The blueprint published on VMware's website for this exam, however, suggests that it's heavily focused on VMware networking, as opposed to VMware virtualization technology. Networking is important, but this VMware certification should focus on designing large-scale ESX farms, performance monitoring and configurations that will help boost performance, especially considering it earns you a certification titled the VMware Certified Design Expert.
One part of this exam requires a candidate to appear in front of a panel of judges and defend his Virtual Infrastructure 3 (VI3) plan. Do you think this process relies too heavily on who comprises the panel that day?
E.K.: It's like obtaining a master's degree. You have to defend your thesis in front of a panel; so yes, it is going to depend on the judging panel that day, and some judges may be stricter than others. But at the end of the day, if you know your stuff, you'll be OK. A solid case is a solid case. Even if the judges are nitpicky, if you qualify for the certification, ideally you'd know your plan and why you designed it that way, which involves knowing how the various components of a VMware infrastructure work together and configuring them to work together for optimal results.
I'm considering writing an exam guide for the VCDX exam, but it will be difficult to write a pocket-style guide that covers all aspects of what may be on the exam. If you're defending a case, your certification will rely more on how you defend the case and the case itself than what a book can teach you, despite whatever pointers a book may have.
The release of VMware Infrastructure 4 is slated for first half of this year. What will happen to the current VCP exam, which focuses on VI3?
E.K.: Typically, when an updated product is released, the older product will continue to be the focus of the exam for the greater part of a year. In this case, VMware would make the announcement that it's retiring the VI3-focused VCP exam in a year. The new exam usually won't become available for six to nine months after the product is released. Also, it takes a short while for people to shift platforms and upgrade to a new release.