Over the weekend I participated in the VMware VCAP4-DCA beta exam, which is set to release later this year. My exam consisted of 41 live labs and I completed the exam in a little under 4.5 hours. Due to the NDA restriction, I will not be able to go into the specifics of the exam but I can share with you my experience while taking the exam.
The biggest issue I had while taking the exam was the user experience, which for me personally sucked! After 30 minutes or so into the exam, I noticed the display started to overlay multiple images on top of each other and not refreshing properly. Not only did I have interlaced images, certain parts of the screen were blank white and required multiple minimizations to force a redraw of the screen, which did not always work. This was very frustrating to deal with throughout the exam and at one point I had to call the proctor in since I was not able to figure out what I was clicking on as it actually was selecting something else. I ended up moving forward with the exam since I was already half way into the exam and there was nothing more the testing facility could have done. I did have the staff create an incident report which will be submitted to VMware for feedback on the display and connectivity issue.
After the exam ended, I spoke to the proctors and they had mentioned they had a similar issue earlier in the week with another candidate taking a VMware certification. They did not say if it was for VCAP-DCA but did say it was not an issue with Pearson but with the actual labs at VMware where these environments were hosted. If a user paid $400 for this exam and you received the type of experience I had, you would not be a happy camper. VMware still has some work to do in this area before the exam is ready to roll out later this year.
Other than a few minor issues/typos with some of the questions and pristineness of the environment, I was very impressed overall with the exam. I thought that the questions and tasks were very fair, some definitely took much longer to complete than others, so be cautious of your time. I thought I would be able to go back and check on some of the questions I had marked to come back to but ended up running out of time at the end. Luckily, I was able to provide comments on every question, though not in the detail as I would have liked. Looking back at the VCAP-DCA blueprint, I think the certification team did a pretty good job of providing an outline of topics to study for. Though it can be daunting at first glimpse, it definitely will be your best source of reference material. Unfortunately most of the beta invitees had less than 2 weeks if not less to prepare for this exam.
I also concur with Chris Dearden's observations with the blueprint, another beta participant of the VCAP-DCA exam. I felt that the exam was geared more towards consultants and/or outsourcing backgrounds than just VMware administrators. The topics on the blueprint ranged from the core vSphere components such as vCenter, ESX and ESXi but also additional auxiliary components that may not be used in all vSphere environments (e.g. Orchestrator, vSheild Zones, Heartbeat, etc). I have to agree with Chris' comment, it is probably rare that you will find all of VMware's enterprise products implemented in a single production vSphere environment other than maybe a test or development lab. For me, this was the first time I have implemented some of these systems in my lab while studying for the exam.This was definitely a challenge with unfamiliar technology and a limited amount of time to to prepare for the exam.
Speaking of a lab, I would highty recommend that you setup a test lab as mentioned by Chris. You will probably need a minimum of two hosts to test and setup the various configuration laid out in the blueprint. I was fortunate enough to have access to two physical hosts and deployed 4 vESX(i) (virtual ESX & ESXi) hosts while studying for the exam.
In terms of advice, I would say to make sure you go through the blueprint thoroughly and make sure you can perform all the skills and abilities listed in each of the objectives. It is also very important to be able to perform the tasks using both the CLI and the GUI, making sure you are comfortable with both.
All in all, I was pretty happy with the exam minus the user experience. I will probably be a wreck until the results are announced (4-6 weeks maybe?) and hopefully I will pass. In the meantime, I will be able to get back to some of the scripts that I have put on hold while studying for this exam!
Good luck to anyone that may be taking the exam on the last day of the beta program which ends on Monday June 21st, 2010. I think the VMware community will be very happy with the new VCAP-DCA certification when it is released!
Update 10/14 - I just received an email that I passed VCAP4-DCA beta exam! I'm glad the wait finally over
Update 12/15 - I just received an email on my VCAP4-DCA number, I am VCAP4-DCA #6