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Navigating VMware certifications: VCP, VCDX, VCAP

While the VMware Certified Professional is still a necessary credential for VMware administrators, VMware has expanded its certifications and made them more difficult. Here, we discuss the various certifications and how to achieve them.

Certifications are the lifeblood of the IT industry; they are used to inform people that you have a certain level of knowledge and expertise in a specific area. Some are general in nature and do not cover specific products, instead covering specific technologies like the CompTIA A+, Security+ and Network+ certifications. There are also vendor-specific certifications that almost every major vendor has for the products that it sells like Cisco, Microsoft, Oracle and IBM. VMware has its own certifications for its data center virtualization products that it first introduced in 2003 as the VMware Certified Professional (VCP).

VCP: A brief history
Susan Gudenkauf, a VMware employee based in Minnesota, was the very first VCP back in 2003. At the time, the test a written test. It was part multiple choice, and part write-in answer, and based on ESX version 1.5. Today there are over 66,000 VCPs around the world. The VCP has changed over the years to keep up with product changes. The latest version is the VCP4, which covers VMware's latest release, vSphere.

The requirements to become a VCP are fairly basic; you must attend an approved classroom training course and take and pass a written test. The requirement to attend the classroom training is mandatory -- even veteran and experienced administrators must attend one of the basic classes to qualify for taking the VCP test. If you achieve a high enough score on the test, you become a VCP.

VCP certification never expires, but there are version numbers for VCPs as they are tied to product versions. Once a new major release comes out you should update your certification by taking a new test to prove that you have the required knowledge with the new version. For example, people that achieved the VCP on VMware Infrastructure 3 (VI3) were known as VCP3s, and to achieve certification for vSphere, they had to take and pass a test to become VCP4s.

The VCP4
The test to become a VCP4 consists of 85 questions which you have 90 minutes to complete. VMware has prepared an exam blueprint that will help people prepare for this test. The exam is scored on a scale of 100 to 500, and to achieve a passing grade you must score at least 300. If you do not pass the exam, you can take it as many times as you want but there is a 7 day waiting period between attempts.

The VCP is designed to prove that you have a basic level of knowledge with VMware products, and often times those with very little real-world experience pass the test after taking the class and become VCPs. Because of this, I've often felt the VCP is not a very accurate measurement of one's knowledge and experience. It does prove the person has a basic level of knowledge, but really says nothing about their experience.

For the experts: The VCDX
VMware realized this also and as a result came out with a new certification called the VMware Certified Design Expert (VCDX). This new certification was designed to recognize the very best of the VCP crop by making candidates go through a difficult and rigorous multi-part testing process of their VMware architecture design skills. The steps for becoming a VCDX are the following:

  1. Achieve VCP certification.
  2. Complete a qualification review>, which is basically a survey that questions your design skills in different areas. After you complete this survey, VMware will review it and determine if they feel you are qualified to continue.
  3. Next, you must pass an Enterprise Administration exam. This tests your knowledge and abilities in several different areas including networking, storage, security, High Availability and Distributed Resource Scheduler. This exam is part written and part hands-on lab work (soon to be all lab work). VMware has prepared a blueprint that will help you prepare for this exam.
  4. You must then pass an Enterprise Design exam. This tests your knowledge and abilities in several different areas including availability, manageability, scalability and virtual machine sizing. This exam is also part multiple choice questions and part design. VMware has a blueprint for this as well that will help you prepare for this exam.
  5. The final and most difficult part of becoming a VCDX is the last step. You must first submit a design and implementation plan for any type of scenario you want. This design document is typically 100+ pages long and consists of architecture diagrams and support documentation for a real or fictitious VMware infrastructure. Once your design has been approved you must schedule an interview and go before a review board where you must defend the design decisions that you made and explain your design in detail. This is the most grueling part of the whole process, and not everyone passes. VMware has recently published a VCDX Handbook and Application that covers this step in detail.

Once you successfully pass the design defense panel, you become a VCDX. John Arrasjid from VMware was awarded VCDX #001; Duncan Epping (VCDX #007) from VMware was also part of the first group that was awarded the VCDX certification.

VMware set the bar really high with this certification and not many people have obtained it. Where the VCP certification proves you have a basic level of knowledge of VMware products, the VCDX proves you have a high level of both knowledge and experience.

In the works: VCAP
Because of the great disparity in qualifications between the VCP and VCDX, VMware has come up with an in-between certification which it has not officially announced yet, called the VMware Certified Advanced Professional (VCAP). There are two levels of the VCAP certification and they are based on the Enterprise Administration (VCAP – Enterprise Admin) and Enterprise Design (VCAP – Design) exams that are part of the VCDX process. You can gain either one or both of these certifications and stop there, or continue on to the final step to gain the VCDX certification.

VMware has come a long way with certifications in the last year and has finally come up with a way to distinguish between different levels of expertise with its products. I used to criticize VMware's VCP certification because it was only a basic certification and there was varying levels of talent which the VCP did not distinguish and recognize. VMware now provides a series of certifications that allows those that want to go beyond the basic certification to distinguish themselves from the rest of the pack. You can find out more information on VMware certifications at VMware's certification website.


Eric Siebert is a 25-year IT veteran with experience in programming, networking, telecom and systems administration. He is a guru-status moderator on the VMware community VMTN forums and maintains, a VI3 information site.


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