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Familiarize yourself with the VCP blueprint to pass the exam

When studying for his own VCP test, instructor Bill Ferguson realized that a grasp of the VCP blueprint was critical to passing. Check out his advice.

To pass VMware's VCP test, it helps to firmly grasp the VCP blueprint that guides the questions. Instructor Bill Ferguson shares five key areas of focus and offers an expert's opinion on VMware certification areas.

Ferguson has been a VMware Certified Instructor (VCI5) since 2009, teaching more than 100 classes. Leading up to his VCI, Ferguson worked with VMware Workstation and other virtualization products such as Microsoft Virtual PC and Virtual Server, even using virtual machines (VMs) in his classroom environment. Ferguson holds many IT certifications, including VCP5, and has 20 years of experience as an IT instructor.

VCP candidates must figure out what the real question is before they try to answer it.

What motivated you to write a book on the VCP certification process?

Bill Ferguson: As I studied the required material to become a VMware Certified Professional (VCP) and VCI, a few important points emerged. The best material to study related directly to the VCP blueprint; VMware is very good about creating the test based on their published blueprint. The documents that follow the VCP test blueprint closest, such as the Administration Guide, are on the VMware Certification website, but they tend to be dry and purely informational. This inspired me to write a book on VCP, The Official VCP5 Certification Guide, a technical book that is different from most technical books. It had to be engaging while still following the VCP blueprint to the letter. As an instructor, I want to capture the student's attention, motivating them to take and pass the test. I had to get the reader excited to learn more.

What aspect of obtaining and retaining a VCP title is most confusing to your students?

Ferguson: The VCP test might seem easy to pass because you only need to score 300 out of 500 possible points, and you get 100 points just for showing up. It sounds like you need a "low D" to pass! The test is much harder [than it seems] because of how questions are phrased: a question couched within another question. VCP candidates must figure out what the real question is before they try to answer it.

I tell all VCP students to focus on five categories when they study, whether in books, websites or any other source:

1. Configuration maximums and minimums. You won't see questions on configuration limits in the VCP test, but knowing them will help you eliminate distractors (wrong answers in the multiple-choice test).

2. New to version. The VCP test will be filled with questions related to changes from the previous major revision of VMware's software. For example, on the VCP-510 test, students should focus on what has changed from vSphere 4 to vSphere 5.0, not on what has changed from vSphere 5.0 to 5.1.

3. Ports. Ports are essential to correct configuration and operation of systems. VMware is likely to ask questions that relate to a VCP candidate's knowledge of ports used for various vSphere features. Here, you may need to rely on good old-fashioned memorization.

4. Tables. Tables single out core points from the text, so pay attention to them in books, the official VCP curriculum, websites and other sources. Tables also are an easy source of test questions for VMware.

5. Dialog boxes. The VCP test does not include simulations, so you won't have the software in front of you when you're answering a question about configuration. This means that you have to see the dialog boxes in your mind's eye to get the answer. These questions just don't seem fair when the software isn't right in front of you, but that is entirely the point. How many IT professionals troubleshoot Windows 7 or Windows XP software over the phone, with no computer in front of them? VMware wants a VCP to know vSphere just as well!

How do you find the new specialized VMware certifications in cloud, cloud applications and end-user computing?

Ferguson: It's smart for VMware to diversify its certifications. Each individual and the company they represent can pursue the proper certification opportunity. The world of IT diversified much more in the last few years; VMware is just continuing a trend. I see the VCP-DV (Datacenter Virtualization) certification as foundational, comparable to Cisco Systems' CCNA. With a VCP-DV, individuals can go their own way, dictated by their interests and the needs of their organization.

How would you compare the VMware certification program to those from its competitors in terms of value to the student, relevance to what admins encounter in the real world and the certification process and choices?

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Ferguson: The VCP5 certification proves more than simply an understanding of vSphere. It indicates an understanding of networking concepts, storage concepts, resource utilization and even Fault Tolerance and disaster recovery. Many, many years ago when I taught Microsoft MCSE courses, the students were challenged to learn all about Microsoft ... and not much else. When I began to teach Cisco classes, I noticed that I was really teaching networking in general, then adding the Cisco flavor. It was more real-world and useful information for most organizations than just learning a supplier's way of doing things.

VMware takes it a step further. The training provided in the VMware Install, Configure, Manage and/or FastTrack classes (which are required for the VCP5-DV certification) covers a broad range of topics including virtualized networking and storage, resource management and monitoring, scalability concepts and disaster avoidance and recovery. The VCP title means that a person understands how all of these concepts apply in a virtual infrastructure as well as how they connect to the physical data center. This is why the VCP5 certification should be held in the highest regard.

Do you recommend that VCPs pursue a VCAP? What factors would lead you to recommend VCAP certification?

Ferguson: VMware Certified Advanced Professional (VCAP) is an intermediate certification, whereas the VCP is a foundational certification. There are VCAP certifications for design and administration.

Obtaining one or more VCAP titles might separate an IT pro from the pack in ways that a VCP5-DV does not, but only if their organization recognizes the difference. Those individuals who work for large enterprise businesses, government or large utilities -- where these differences are recognized and measured -- might benefit from intermediate certifications. VCAP exams require a candidate to do actual configuration in a simulated test environment. Of course, these certifications might also be a stepping stone to the most prestigious title: VMware Certified Design Expert (VCDX).

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