VCAP-DTA Exam Experience

Yesterday I sat for the VMware Certified Advanced Professional in Desktop Administration exam. While I would love to tell you that I passed, sadly it seems I will be sitting for the exam again soon.

For some reason I thought it would be a good idea to take the exam at 8AM on a Monday morning, and then not study. Add in staying up late on Sunday night to watch World War Z on Netflix and you’ve got a receipe for a rough morning.

But enough excuses…

I did read the exam blueprint, as with every certfification exam this is the best starting place to find out what will be covered. In order to save myself some time I’m going to plagerize what I wrote a few months ago after taking the VCAP-DCA exam to help explain the format for the test.

For the uninitiated, the test is unlike any other exam in the VMware portfolio, and unlike any other exam I’ve taken for any other certification. It is 100% lab based. You have remote access to a VMware vSphere 5.0 environment, with a vCenter, two hosts, a collection of virtual machines, and pre-provisoned storage.

In other VMware exams, you’re given 60–70 multiple choice questions to regurgitate anwsers to. In the VCAP, you are given 26 different “projects” you have work your way though. I say projects because each of the 26 will vary in length and have multiple component problems to solve. Some may be straight foward, some far less so.

In the case of this exam, the environment has more hosts and a newer version of vSphere. There are also 23 projects instead of 26. The rest of it still stands.

You start with 180 minutes, and half way through I thought I was making great progress, but then I ran out of time. I did feel like I was spinning my wheels a bit with lag back to the enviornment from the testing center, and there was a lack of clear direction about the environment and in some of the questions.

The last time I totaled up the number of View deployments I’ve either deployed soup to nuts, or done significant upgrades and management of since 2009, it was somewhere around a couple dozen. Even with that experiance, there were a couple of things on the exam that I’ve never had to do in my work and then plenty of things I was expecting to have to do that never came up. Overall though, it ran a pretty good swath of knowledge.

I’ve rescheduled for Saturday, August 2 at 10:30AM, not because I wanted to wait this long to retry but because that was the first time they had an opening that fit with my schedule.

Peace Out Facebook, Mostly

Almost exactly one year ago, I wrote:

I’m taking a Facebook Vacation.
I’ve logged out from every device, removed the apps, the bookmarks, integration to operating systems.
The duration will be as long as I can swing it. There may be a point at which I can’t take it and come crawling back. I wouldn’t say I’m having withdrawal, but when I woke up this morning and got on my phone, the first thing I would normally do would be to open the app.
It wasn’t there.

It lasted about two or three weeks. I came back. We all come back.

I just spent the last 24 hours going without, and let me tell you… it’s hard.

When you’re 30, you’re basically right smack in the middle of the original Facebook demographic. I’m the same age as Mark Zuckerberg. Making it worse is having kids.

Everyone is on Facebook, especially family. They get quite irritated when I don’t keep them fed with pictures of 2.0 or news on developments of 2.1.

But now we have Facebook though their own admission, that they’ve been doing psychological testing on user emotional status without our knowledge or concent.

In a report published at the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS), Facebook data scientists conducted an experiment to manipulate the emotions of nearly 700,000 users to see if positive or negative emotions are as contagious on social networks as they are in the real world. By tweaking Facebook’s powerful News Feed algorithm, some users (we should probably just call them “lab rats” at this point) were shown fewer posts with positive words. Others saw fewer posts with negative words. “When positive expressions were reduced,” the paper states, “people produced fewer positive posts and more negative posts; when negative expressions were reduced, the opposite pattern occurred. These results indicate that emotions expressed by others on Facebook influence our own emotions, constituting experimental evidence for massive-scale contagion via social networks.”

My initial reaction was that I’m out, cold. That’s what I did last night. I even hovered over the button on the account deactivation page. But the pictures they throw up of my friends and family, wife included, who will miss me when I’m gone is almost another bit of emotional manupation.

After thinking about it today, I’m just going to be curtailing my browsing to a minimum. No more mobile. Just checking the main site a few times a day. Beyond the manipulation Facebook has been caught doing, Facebook really isn’t all that healthy to begin with.

At some point I’ll cut things off, but not cold turkey.

For now I’ll leave you with a bit of topical humor on the subject.

PTAB

I just flew back from Palo Alto where I’ve been attending the VMware Partner Technical Advisory Board on End User Computing. Prior to a couple of months ago, I’d never heard of a PTAB, and then I got invited to one.

The purpose of the PTAB is for VMware to invite services partners out to meet with VMware leadership to discuss the future of their products and to provide very candid feedback. There is also chance for training, as I was able to attend a free two-day ICM class on Horizon Mirage.

While the actual content of the PTAB is under NDA, I will say that VMware has some really exciting things happening in the EUC space. I had a great time, VMware puts on a nice show. The moment I realized I was sitting in the VMware headquarters eating bacon, I felt like royalty.

It was also a great chance to do some networking and meet people that I only previously had a chance to know on Twitter… including the vExpert Godfather, Mr. @jtroyer.

Last but not least thanks to people like @BChristian21 @DavesRant @rockygiglio @jaslanger @keithnorbie @thombrown @earlg3 and the others who let me tag along in the evening and share sushi, milkshakes, chowder and beer. Every night I felt like I was drenched in knowledge just being able to listen and share feedback between the group.

If I ever needed inspiration to start evaluating my professional future and to go for my VCDX, this was the group to do it.

I’m looking forward to another oppertunity to attend in the future.

Simple guide to datacenter power

Power… it is the only thing that you will find more prevalent in a datacenter than racks, yet many times when discussing upgrades and new installations it’s the part that no one ever mentions.

  • the IT team isn’t in charge of the power design (leased building, union, or separate electrical department)
  • have always just used 120v “normal” stuff under 1800 watts
  • aren’t an electric engineer/don’t understand what Amps, Volts, Watts are
  • don’t understand all of the options for connectors/cords

I’m guilty of these things, especially when I was just an administrator. Since becoming a consultant I’ve had to take a crash course (heh) in things like the differences between an C13 and an NEMA 5–15, 120 vs 208, etc.

Power always seems to be a major issue on projects these days, especially as more and more customers adopt blade systems like the Cisco UCS. What has really been difficult has been the latest generation of EMC VNX now requires 208v power on the Disk Processor Enclosure (there is a block only 5200 model that can run on 120, but you have to order it ahead of time, it doesn’t autoswitch by default anymore.)

Better understanding by customers is essential.

Thoughts on the VNXe 3200

I had some thoughts after reading Chad Sakac’s blog entry about the new VNXe 3200.

  • The original VNXe (3100/3150/3300) was not my favorite product. It was fine as far as entry-level storage goes, but there were a good chunk of restrictions on the product, both technical and artificial, compared to it’s “big brother” VNX.
  • I’m conversely more excited about getting into deployments of the VNXe 3200. I’ll let you read Chad’s blog to get a more complete list of features but being able to do FAST Cache and FAST VP makes it a lot more of a compelling product.
  • I get the impression from reading Chad’s post that VNXe is reaching the point where the platform will eventually gain the ability to be as feature complete as the VNX and being built on the same hardware platform eventually perform as well as the VNX.
  • At some point, I would expect the “next-next-Generation VNX” to look more like a VNXe then the CLARiiON/Celerra mashup that exists today. No Windows code anywhere to be found, truely unified block and file setup.
  • If all they did was get rid of Java in the full VNX Unisphere mangement interface, I’d be so happy.
  • I suspect a lot of customers where a block-only VNX 5200/5300 made sense are going to be “moving down” to the VNXe.

Looking forward to getting my hands on one.

VMware guidance breaks Windows security

I’ve been using the Windows Optimization Guide for View Desktops guide on the VMware website for a long time. Hidden inside the PDF are some text file attachments that when converted to .bat, run though and disable most of the functions that bloat virtual desktop linked clones or are totally uncessary when accessed from a thin client or mobile device. However around October of last year during a customer engagement I noticed the PDF was updated with a revised version. That version has caused me a lot of headaches.

After running the revised scripts, I was basically left with broken templates. Internet Explorer would no longer load. Breaking Internet Explorer sort of makes me look like an idiot after I deploy entire pools of desktops and companies can’t use them to run their corporate webapps.

I’d never got around to figuring out exactly what caused this issue, and because of it I’d been using a modified version of an older script during my engagements. However during a View implementation this week I was unable to find this older copy and so I decided I was going to figure out what made this new script such a pain.

ASLR

Address space layout randomization (ASLR) is a computer security technique involved in protection from buffer overflow attacks. In order to prevent an attacker from reliably jumping to a particular exploited function in memory (for example), ASLR involves randomly arranging the positions of key data areas of a program, including the base of the executable and the positions of the stack, heap, and libraries, in a process’s address space. (Wikipedia)

ASLR was a feature added to Windows starting with Vista. It’s present in Linux and Mac OS X as well. For reasons unknown, the VMware scripts disable ASLR. Specifically, it’s done by this registry entry command:

reg ADD "HKLMSystemCurrentControlSetControlSession ManagerMemory Management" /v MoveImages /t REG_DWORD /d 0x0 /f

Internet Explorer will not run with ASLR turned off. After further testing, neither will Adobe Reader. Two programs that are major targets for security exploits, refuse to run with ASLR turned off.

The “problem” with ASLR in a virtual environment is that it makes transparent memory page sharing less efficient. How much less? That’s debatable and dependent on workload. It might gain a handful of extra virtual machines running on a host, and at the expense of a valuable security feature of the operating system.

For some reason, those who created the script at VMware have decided that they consider it best practice for it to be disabled.

Or do they?

I actually can’t find anywhere else in the document that says that ASLR should be disabled. Even in the table that lists all the changes that are done by the script, it’s not listed, yet under the “changes since last version” the command referenced above is listed. I also can’t find anything else on VMware’s site that says it should be disabled. Actually, I found information to the contrary.

Back in 2011, a VMware blog entry by Eric Horschman specifically called out this issue and clarified that it is not recommended to disable ASLR in a general sense.

The same is true from André Leibovici (previously an Architect in the Office of the CTO End User Computing at VMware, now with Nutanix, and someone I consider to be a virtual desktop expert) who on his site myvirtualcloud.net back in 2011 had this to say about ASLR, specifically in VDI:

Is it a good practice to disable ASLR? The short answer is No. Unless you are pushing very high levels of memory overcommit in a 32-bit desktop VDI environment, you have a lot more to lose than to gain from disabling ASLR. On 64-bit platforms the loss of opportunities to share pages is much less due to the large memory page nature.

So how did this get added to the standard optimization script? Given VMware’s public position that runs contrary to this, I assume it’s there by mistake. I actually notified VMware about the fact that the script was breaking Internet Explorer back in October but it apparently had never been isolated, or possibly never investigated.

(The revised scripts also previously contained a bunch of incorrect ‘ and “ characters in it, that also caused running most of the commands in it to fail. This was corrected.)

Sadly, the reason why Eric and Andre even brought this up in 2011 was because of Microsoft. In a couple of Microsoft blog entries (1/2) they started spreading some FUD by attempting to say that VMware was suggesting that customers disable ASLR.

The reality was it was an topic was addressed to say that yes, you can increase consolidation ratios by turing off ASLR, but at the expense of security. There was a bit of back and forth from some of the VMware folks suggesting that Microsoft’s implementation of ASLR isn’t even all that effective at mitigating malware infections. I won’t get into that.

Regardless, it’s a security feature of the operating system, and in the case of the applications referenced above, one that totally breaks functionality. Hopefully, VMware will correct this soon. In the mean time, I’ll be commenting on this line on all future engagements.

Great worst successful error

There is a bug in Windows Server 2012 R2 in the volume license activation wizard, that if you don’t change the Key Management Service port setting when applying the configuration (from “0” to whatever you want it to be, such as the default of 1688) you get this absolutelty most unhelpful success/error message.

The following error has occurred. Please resolve the error and try again. Description: STATUS_SUCCESS

Being a VMware NIC isn’t easy these days

Life is rough for a ESXi network card these days, both pNIC and vNIC. It’s especially bad if you’re using E1000/E1000e adapters in your VMs, or using Broadcom network cards, or a combination of both.

And considering Broadcom cards are the built in pNIC adapters for nearly every piece of server hardware, and the E1000 driver is the default Windows Server vNIC adapter in VMware: these are two incredibly common things to have happen, so what environment isn’t using a combination of both?

On the physical NIC side, VMware has identified an issue with the tg3 drivers in use since ESX 3.5 that can cause data corruption.

The options for resolution there are to upgrade the Broadcom driver on your hosts, or disable TCP Segmentation Offload on your cards.

On the virtual NIC side, VMware has identified an issue with the E1000 adapter that causes the purple screen of death on hosts with virtual machines using this adapter on anything running ESXi 5.0, 5.1 or 5.5.

Options for resolution are to convert virtual machines to another driver such as VMXNET3 or disable Receive Side Scaling inside the guest operating system.

For ESXi 5.1 hosts, Update 2 has been identified as having a fix for this issue, but doing so may introduce its own set of issues.

Again, the workaround is to use something like the VMXNET3 adapter in your virtual machines. You can also install patch ESXi510–201402001 after installing Update 2 to fix the memory leak that causes the second issue.

Unless you can’t do so for an incompatibility reason I would suggest using VMXNET3 as your default vNIC adapter as best practice. If you have the ability to isolate E1000 virtual machines to a host or subset of hosts within your cluster to prevent a crash from effecting other systems, I would also do this.

Use FQDNs when doing SMB on Isilon

I ran across this little interesting tidbit in an EMC Support article that I wasn’t aware of previously. Using the fully qualified domain name of the EMC Isilon SMB server for file sharing on is necessary for proper load balancing and access:

Always use the fully qualified domain name (FQDN) of a SmartConnect zone when accessing the cluster. If you attempt to use the short name, Windows hosts will attempt to use the NetBios name service (NBNS) to resolve the connection. Because NBNS uses broadcast pings on the network to determine what IP a host is located at, the Windows client will connect to the first node to respond, which might result in client connections not being evenly distributed across the cluster. Additionally, by using the NBNS services, you do not utilize Kerberos for authentication and authorization, and are required to use NTLM (NT LAN Manager) based services, which can lead to permission denied errors.

For the non-Isilon initiated, a SmartConnect Zone is how Isilon does load balancing across various nodes in the cluster. It’s configured as a delegation zone in your DNS, that replies back with a different IP address coorisponding to a physical NIC on an Isilon node. Depending on licensing it can be configured to reply based on basic round robin, or by connection count, CPU or network utilization metrics. It’s important that it functions correctly as not to potentally overload an individual network port and therefore an individual node as an entry point into the cluster when accessing data.

The EMC Support article where it’s referenced (emc14003900) is centered around integrating SMB on Isilon with DFS, but I would think the principles are the same for normal user/server UNC addressing.

Even if it’s not, I’d still consider it best practice to use the FQDN.

My VCAP5-DCA experience

On Friday, February 7, I sat for the VMware Certified Advanced Professional, Data Center Administration (VCAP5-DCA) exam. Thinking about how I performed has consumed most of my idle hours, so after some reflection over the last week I’ve decided to document a bit of my perspective. I’ll say as much as I can without breaking NDA. I can’t imagine anything listed here isn’t something covered in the official exam blueprint or any of the numerous articles or training for the exam.

I actually thought the test was a lot of fun. For the uninitiated, the test is unlike any other exam in the VMware portfolio, and unlike any other exam I’ve taken for any other certification. It is 100% lab based. You have remote access to a VMware vSphere 5.0 environment, with a vCenter, two hosts, a collection of virtual machines, and pre-provisoned EMC storage.

In other VMware exams, you’re given 60–70 multiple choice questions to regurgitate anwsers to. In the VCAP, you are given 26 different “projects” you have work your way though. I say projects because each of the 26 will vary in length and have multiple component problems to solve. Some may be straight foward, some far less so. For example, one question might be something to the effect of:

Create a Distributed Switch called LabDSwitch and a port group called LabPortGroup that has two uplinks, then assign hosts 1 and 2 to this Distributed Switch.

There would generally be more to it then that, but basically, you’re given a roadmap of what to do, what the examiners are looking for is that you know where to go and what processes to follow to do the task so that all of the network connectivity to your environment isn’t lost. More on that later.

Something that might be less intutitive may be a problem that states a specific virtual machine is not performing as expected, and directs you to investigate why that would be the case. You’re given a target but very little direction from the question as to what to look for or change. You’re expected to draw on your own knowledge of VMware best practices and real word experience to correct the issue.

In many cases, the questions are a mix of both. It’s a series of complex and interconnected word problems. You’re told to do something direct, but with an occasional hint dropped that you may need to read more into what they’re saying to be succesful and achieve all the points for that project.

My advice for the future candidates would be to do as much as possible within each section that lets you move on to the next piece, note what you may have missed, and then come back when you have more time (or possibly must complete it to finish other sections of the exam.)

There were a couple of sections where I did struggle, especially for things like Auto Deploy where I’ve never used it in a production setting so I had very little to draw from. Everything on the blueprint though is fair game and I think nearly all of vSphere got touched in some way during my exam.

The exam itself is 3.5 hours. Normally I test at the Pearson Vue testing center at Johnson County Community College because it’s close to my house. I’ve done enough certification exams in the last three years of being a consultant that I’ve come to know the ladies who proctor the exams at this site pretty well. (Actually after my CCNA-DC exam last month I stood around and chatted with one of them about her son’s upcoming driving test and then a bit about lawn care for over an hour.)

However, the VCAP is what Pearson considers a “Professional” exam, so it must be done at one of their more low-key and higher security sites. Scheduling the exam gives a lot fewer options than your normal tests do. The number of days and timeslots are few and far between compared to a relaitive free for all of 15 minute increments on the normal exams. Arriving at the testing center, the people are friendly but it’s all business. While sitting in the waiting room before I was even checked in, I was chastized for checking my iPhone for just a few seconds. Apparently, once you enter their facility, just pretend you’re waiting to be interviewed by members the FBI and be on your best behavior.

After running through the process of getting checked in, it was time to test. As soon as you start, you’re given a quick survey from VMware about your perceived knowledge about their technologies. I’m not sure it has any bearing on the difficulty of the question you receive in the test, but I doubt it. The survey is off the clock, but as soon as you submit that, the 3.5 hour timer starts. There is some information about the test that you could waste time reading, and I started to until I realized it was all pretty much knowledge gained through training. Looking at the clock and I’d lost three minutes already. Time to get cracking.

You will alternate between windows that show your task lists for each section, and an RDP session that gives you access to your lab environment. You have a vSphere Client, access to the Microsoft RDP application, Putty and Adobe Reader. Opening Adobe Reader will get you access to any of the VMware documentation PDFs that you’d want to reference during the exam. You also have access to command line utilities like PowerCLI and the vMA running within various virtual machines.

I would limit your time looking through the PDF files, unless you’re looking for a specific command or advanced option. They are there as a reference, and you really have to know what you’re looking for to get anything from them. There is simply no time to waste browsing.

Now, I’m a animated person. If I’m engaged in a project, or a complex troubleshooting session, I’m usually moving around a lot. I might be hitting the whiteboards, walking around the room or down the hall, thinking, grabbing a drink, even talking to myself to walk through steps I’d take to implement a solution. Doing any of that here will get you disqualified and kicked out. This was perhaps the hardest thing for me to do for nearly 4 hours. Sit still, be quiet.

In hindsight as a result of that, I’d wear more comfortable clothes if I had to do this again. Not that my work clothes aren’t generally comfortable, but they’re not the most comfortable things I own.

Depending on the network connection from the testing center back to the environment of the lab, you may experience some latency. It was not a factor in my ability to complete the exam, but it was frustrating at times waiting for the screen to redraw if I asked too much of it at once. However, I’ve heard stories from others who have taken this exam outside of the United States where the experience was unbearable. The less time you spend trying to flip back and forth between the questions and the remote session the better off you’ll be.

Also remember that everything you do in the lab can potentially impact your ability to complete further problems. If you reboot your vCenter VM, or detach it’s network card, or do something that causes your hosts to become unresponsive, you either have to fix it or possibly end the exam right there.

I did have an issue where the function keys on the keyboard wouldn’t pass through the RDP session into the VMware console, making my ability to use say F6 impossible. If my score is such that I failed by one point, I’m going to argue on this point, but for now I’m not worried.

In terms of training for the exam, I relied heavily on Jason Nash’s video training at Pluralsight (previously Trainsignal.) Being a vExpert has some perks, and one of them is a free year of access to their video library. They have a lot of great virtualization and data center related topics and it’s well worth the cost, even if you subscribe for just a month, if you can’t get access for free. I also reviewed the “Unofficial VCAP-DCA Guide” by Jason Langer and Josh Coen. It’s available for free through a sponsorship by Veeam.

Overall, if you’re a VMware consultant who gets to play with the vSphere product on a regular basis for implementation and troubleshooting, there shouldn’t be too much that is so difficult you want to cry. However, I could see where your regular everyday system administrator would struggle unless they’re in environments where Enterprise Plus licensing is in place and they’re taking advantage of all the features they can. Even then it would be tough. That said, it’s probably the case that anyone who is considering going to the VCAP level is probably one of those two things already. SMB administrators probably have a hard enough time getting the expense of the required VCP training paid, and are probably pretty well served by the level of knowledge obtained by it if they obtain it.

Unlike most every other certification exam, when you hit submit on the final problem of the VCAP, instead of the familar “Congratulations” or “Sorry” — you’re told you will need to wait up to 15 business days for your results while they’re manually tabulated by VMware. My thinking is that it will probably be at the extreme of that timeline or possibly longer considering VMware Partner Exchange is going on and a lot of people are testing this week. Although it could mean more resources dedicated to grading, and I would be at the front of the line.

Either way, it’s now just a matter of waiting to see how I did. Out of 500 points a passing score requires at least a 300. I went in with the expectation of needing to run through the test once for the practice, and then taking it again to pass. I won’t be disappointed if I don’t, but I feel confident enough that I won’t be surprised if I do. The day I get my results, if they’re not positive I’ll be back on the Pearson website scheduling my next exam date.

Update: I passed!

Time to play the lottery

Over the weekend I facilitated a customer upgrade that involved:

  • In place upgrade of Windows Server 2008 to Windows Server 2008 R2 on a vCenter Server.
  • Direct upgrade from View Composer 2.6 to View Composer 5.3.
  • Direct upgrade from VMware View 4.6 to Horizon View 5.3 on two connection brokers.
  • Direct upgrade from vCenter 4.1 to vCenter 5.5.
  • Direct upgrade from ESXi 4.1 to ESXi 5.5 on multiple systems.

All of these, on a Saturday, with no issues. No calls to VMware support. No reviewing error logs. Very little hand wringing. For the most part everything went according to plan.

I feel like I should buy a Powerball ticket this week, or maybe make a trip to the casino.

Objective Complete – CCNA, Data Center

The Cisco Data Center track has been around since November 2012, and when they announced it I knew that I’d have to get it at some point. I’m pleased to say that it’s now done, and I can start making my way to other things… like a CCNP Data Center.

And my VCAP-DCA.

My goal (and my employers) for 2013 was to finally get my Cisco Certified Network Associate (CCNA) done, and I completed the first exam (ICND1) and received my Cisco Certfied Entry Network Technician (CCENT) back in July. The CCNA was something I’ve wanted to do since I got into IT. However I got side tracked by other things and never completed the second test.

I did however complete the EMC Implementation Engineer certfification for Isilon, and passed the VMware Certified Associate in Cloud exam. So 2013 wasn’t a total loss.

Sometime in late December after evaluating my status on the R/S CCNA exam, I decided to just bypass it and go straight into the Data Center specific version. Over my two week winter vacation I crammed for both exams and tested for both of them this week.

A few thoughts about each exam:

  • 640–911: This exam was very similar to the CCENT exam, covering the basics of networking however with less of an emphasis on subnetting (may have been one or two easy questions on the test vs a half dozen brain crunchers on the R/S version) — you are expected to do hex to binary to decimal and back, but that’s about it. There is a very Nexus flavor to this but nothing too heavy.
  • 640–916: I stressed over this exam but in the end found it easier than the first. It’s basically a knowledge test of the Nexus, MDS and UCS product lines. Not deeply technical, but enough that you have to know the products. The simulator portion was almost too easy compared to what I’d have expected from a Cisco exam.

Either way, it’s done!

So, for 2014, the goal is VCAP-DCA. No excuses. I’m also thinking a lot about exploring the Cisco Data Center track and going for my CCNP. I need to get more hands on expertise and a few UCS B-series deployments under my belt first. Between these two I will probably be very busy, and I’m sure work will require something else on top of those. It seems like there is always another EMC product that I’m having to catch up with.

Never stop learning.

Objective – CCNA Data Center

For the next two weeks, while I’m on vacation and enjoying the holidays, I’m also going to be heads down in study for the CCNA Data Center exams.

I obtained my CCENT back in July but was side tracked by other things from plowing through and getting the second test done to get my CCNA R/S completed. After trying to get back into it, I just can’t make it stick. I do very little with routing, and have background little knowledge in it. The DC exam was my eventual goal, so that’s where I’m headed.

The dates for my two exams (640–911 & 640–916) are right after I get back from vacation. This gives me two weeks to get it done.

New recruit(er)

Historically, finding employment has not really been particularly difficult for me. When I’ve decided it was time to make a change, I’ve been able to do so pretty quickly. A well assembled resume, solid technical chops, practiced interviewing skills, and making connections with people seems to have served me pretty well thus far. I don’t say that to brag, just as a statement of fact.

As such, I’ve never utilized the “services” of a technical recruiter during my job searches. I’ve watched friends and coworkers use them, with pretty mixed results.

Now, when I’m talking about a recruiter, I’m not referring to the internal HR professional who works for a company you’re trying to get a job with. I’m talking about the headhunters who make their living by finding people and placing them in jobs, and then their skin in the game is to get you hired and get a cut of it for them in a finders fee.

(If this process is actually financially beneficial to the person being recruited is probably up for debate. The Freakonomics study on real estate agents is probably something to think about in this regard.)

I’m also not here to argue that this type of recruiter has no place in the process. Organizations frequently are in need of new talent, and sometimes that talent is hard to find, especially when trying to recruit people from a new region or in a skill set outside the companies normal area. I know my company makes use of them at times.

I should also make a point, just to cover my own ass, that I’m happy where I’m at in my current employment. My dealings with headhunters recently are purely unsolicited. (Part of my frustration, see below.)

That said, I always keep an open mind.

However, what I’m not really open to are the amateurs who hound me on an almost weekly basis, sometimes via phone or email, but especially on LinkedIn. I spend a lot of time cultivating a serious and professional profile there, because I use it for maintaining relationships with current/former coworkers and clients. Doing so makes me somewhat of an easy target for these headhunters.

I’m usually polite, often times more than I should be. I will typically acknowledge their message and let them know I’m not interested in whatever they’re trying to get me to bite on. Many times simply notifying them of my minimum salary requirements is enough for them to realize they’re going down the wrong path.

However, the advantage of something like LinkedIn is (assuming the recruiter is being honest) that I get as much insight into them as they do about me.

Right away, I’m turned off if they’ve not been in their profession for at least 3 years, especially if their previous job was anything along the lines of being a professional cheerleader or hair stylist. If the only thing they know about servers is that three months ago they were one at the local mexican restaurant, it’s time to move on.

Really, what this tells me is they don’t (yet) have the skills to help me. They don’t understand what it is I do and they probably don’t have the connections to show me anything that a search on DICE wouldn’t turn up. Honestly, it’s not worth my time to engage with them.

I get it. We all have to start somewhere. There was a time when I didn’t know the difference between spanning tree and an oak tree. Time and experience, training, makes us all better. Most of us started in help desk, or desktop support. We’re not usually born as systems administrators or consultants.

The problems comes when these recruiters lack experience, they look at someone with years of experience implementing award winning virtualization solutions, holding multiple and VCP certifications… and then suggest a position managing Windows updates processes.

Just like any other job, they need to do research and know the market they’re in, and the positions they’re recruiting for. In the end all it does is make them look foolish.

I can tell you all right now, if I decided to quit my job and become something outside of my experience, like say as an investment advisor, I’d probably be pretty horrible at it for a while. The thinking that somehow because I bought my first stock (outside of my retirement accounts) in $TWTR last month, suddenly I’m equipped to handle the life savings of others because it’s up $15 since I bought in? Doubtful.

I’m sure someone, somewhere, probably told them that being a headhunter was really lucrative. Otherwise why do it? I guess you can probably work from home on your own schedule, or something like that. Make some phone calls and watch the money roll in on the backs of people with actual skills and talent who do the real work.

Honestly it’s something I’m surprised some of my Get Rich Quick Scheme relatives haven’t taken up yet.

Side thought: If this was really the case, if recruiting was really a good way to make money, why don’t senior technical people (system administrators, infrastructure designers, implementation engineers) quit their jobs en masse to become recruiters? If the money was there, it seems like someone from the industry would be better equipped to find good people and point them in the direction of good jobs?

And while I’ve said that headhunters do have a place, it’s a narrow one. Again, it’s different when they work for the company doing the recruiting. It’s different if they know the person is looking for work. It’s different when I ask a friend or former coworker if they’re interested in coming to work with or for me. There is a mutual interest at stake.

But if my job consisted of sitting around cold calling people with the prospects of changing jobs, just for the sake of making a buck, I’d quickly be looking for a new job. You rarely see this type of process with other life changing things. It’s like car salesmen who flags you down while you’re driving to ask if you’d like to come by the lot and test drive a new Audi… or a realtor who knocks on your front door and asks if you’d like to buy the house down the street.

Why not let the customer come to you?

One final thought, today received a LinkedIn message from a recruiter working for what is essentially a competitor to my current employer, asking me if I could refer anyone to work for them!

Isilon Solutions Specialist, EMCIE

Last week, I passed the EMC Implementation Engineer, Isilon Solutions Specialist exam.

I actually did the EMC training for it in Franklin, Mass, back in March, but at the time EMC did not have a certification test within their Proven Professional program I could take. Normally I don’t waste time after coming back from a class to get the associated certification. But since there wasn’t one, it got put on the back burner. The class was actually one of the first partner level Isilon classes that EMC had offered, and the whole thing was video taped for future use in video learning. I had the option of taking the older exam that was presented by Isilon Systems (the company before EMC bought them) but because of our partner agreements with EMC, I’d still be required to take the proven professional version later. I’m not a fan of extra work, so I waited.

Isilon is a scale out NAS product that EMC acquired in late 2010, and have since been incorporating it into their offerings. AOS has started to sell a lot of Isilon recently, which meant that I needed to get signed off on it ASAP. I actually did my first solo install of an 4-node X200 cluster on Saturday, and am booked through next year installing a lot more (in addition to my other projects featuring products in my wheelhouse, like the VNX, RecoverPoint, and VMware View.)

In addition all of that, I’m still working on getting my CCNA finished up, adding the VCAP-DCA to my resume, and once CommVault gets their implementation engineer certification program finished, get signed off on that (from training done in July.)

It never stops.

Longer title and more acronyms

There is no other purpose for this entry, except for some shameless self promotion. I’m pretty excited about both of them, as they’re the results of things I’ve been working on for a while. Even though I love to talk about myself, I’ll keep it short and sweet.

  • Last week, I was promoted to Sr. Systems Engineer with AOS. No doubt that the recent vExpert award played into this, but I also like to think it was the result of proving myself over the last two years to managers, co-workers and customers.
  • On Wednesday, I passed the first test for my CCNA (adding “CCENT” to my resume in the interim). Getting my CCNA done has been on my to-do since about 2007ish. Hopefully sometime soon I’ll be able to report on passing test #2 and finishing that up.

At the end of this month, I’ll be traveling to Washington, DC, for week long training on CommVault, since my company is going to start selling their solutions soon. This means more studying, more classes, and more testing/certifications. When kids say things like “I can’t wait to be done with school so I don’t have to study anymore” I’m quick to point out I do more homework now, then I probably did then, and with far more responsibilities along with it.

Learning never stops, and if it does, you’re doing it wrong.

Coaching without fear

Something stood out from an article on the Birth Without Fear site that Sadie sent me earlier tonight:

I have watched her move on past the trauma and postpartum depression by herself. I was there, but I am not a trained counselor or therapist. There’s only so much emotional support I can offer because I have never experienced it first hand.
But what about me? What about the husbands reading this or the husbands of the women reading this? What happens to them when they see their wife’s plans go up in smoke, when the hospital staff mistreats or violates their wife, when these supposed childbirth care providers instill their ignorant fears and hospital protocol on humans in a one-size-fits-all manner? What happens when we are there to support our wives through the thick and thin, but can’t because only she can birth her baby?
I was there to support Mrs. BWF, but I never realized I needed someone there to support me.

Sadie has covered in detail the events of Pearson’s birth, and how its effected her. When it comes to moms recovering from traumatic deliveries, there is an abundance of literature, support mechanisms, and well wishers out there. There were many people who were looking out for postpartum depression in her.

But did anyone ever stop to ask how it effected me?

I was there through the entire pregnancy (from the start, technically) and attended every prenatal appointment and test. I was there to research and interview all the midwives and doulas we considered. From the moment Sadie went into labor, I was there for the long haul. That is, up until the very end, when we were forcibly removed from each other.

At the point during the delivery where it became apparent that our natural birth plan wasn’t going to happen, I had been mentally preparing myself for what I thought would happen next. We knew Sadie would be put under because it was past the point of doing anything else. The nurses handed me my scrubs and told me to suit up. Unbeknown to me, there was some controversy as to where I’d be during this process. I assumed it would be right by her side. Sadie was wheeled down to the OR to be prepared for surgery, and I put on my uniform. I was nervous but excited that my son would soon be here. The nurse came back to the room and we started walking down the hall. That’s when she dropped the bomb:

You’ll need to say goodbye to her, and then we’ll come back down and get you.

What?!

By the time I got into the OR, Sadie already knew. I started to cry, and then we were separated. At first I thought I’d watch from behind the operating room windows, but then they shuffled me out and then I was back in the original delivery room.

Saying I had trouble breathing would be a massive understatement. It was as if suddenly, there wasn’t enough oxygen on the planet to sustain me.

I sad on the edge of the birthing tub, and I waited. Crying. Terrified. Furious. The entire pregnancy I’d focused on the process of eventually getting my son out. I was the coach. Through the labor I was the one my wife leaned on through the contractions. I was prepared to be there at that moment, to fight our midwife to catch that kid when he came sliding out. It was my job to be in that room at that moment he emerged, regardless of how… and I wasn’t.

At that moment, it was as if I had my identity ripped from me. What I’d setup to define that moment, and myself as a man, vanished.

Eventually a nurse came past the room to announce that they’d pulled a crying baby boy out of my wife. Eventually I got back down to the operating room and saw Sadie’s insides outside of her, and looked over as they were cleaning off a screaming Pearson. There, in that panic, is a moment I will never forget where I spoke to my son and he stopped crying to turn to look at me. It was awesome.

Awesome is a word that gets misused and abused. That was an awesome moment. For me, it was the moment he was born.

But even as I stood there in that moment, I was still furious. I’d missed something, something that would have been just as awesome. I’d missed the moment I’d waited for, that we’d planned for. I missed something I will never have a chance to experience again. The moment our first child came into the world.

Even as my parents and in-laws arrived at the hospital, in the joyous moment of them meeting their grandson, I was angry.

Everything had come down around us. The entire plan was destroyed. And destroyed not just in a way that we didn’t get exactly what we wanted. In a way that neither of us got to experience the most important part of the entire process. We’d both been cheated out of it. Her, by virtue of the decisions we’d made through the process to do a fully natural delivery, but me… by the decision of the anesthesiologist.

You see, there was no other reason why I was to be excluded from this moment, except for the arbitrary decision of one man.

For the rest of the time in the hospital, my wife and son were very well cared for. But no one really was watching out for me. I was physically exhausted, but more importantly, I was mentally exhausted. Everyone paid close attention to my wife and her care, but no one really stopped to find out how I was doing.

As I sat there on the horribly uncomfortable Dad’s Bed in the hospital room, I contemplated the events of the last 36 hours. At that moment, I wanted to find the man responsible for my pain and beat him to a lifeless pulp. It’s fair to say I probably wanted to kill that anesthesiologist.

I realize he doesn’t feel like he did anything wrong. It was just another day at the office for him. He probably never had a second thought about his decision. He came to work that day, put my wife under, had lunch, and then made similar decisions the rest of the day. He probably washed up, went home and ate dinner and had no problem sleeping. Not me. Here I was living on the flip side of his decision.

Living with the pain.

Sure people made the obligatory “how are you holding up, dad?” (usually followed by a big smile.) But no health care professional, family member, or friend ever pulled me aside and said “Are you OK?” They all made a point of making sure I monitored my wife for signs of trouble. But who was monitoring me?

No doubt that the trauma that Sadie endured was significant. And don’t for a moment let me make you think that mine is as significant. I also realize that there are dads and families that have had far more significant trauma. Pearson is healthy. That’s important, but it’s not the only important thing. The pain, the emptiness, the darkness, from those memories, are still there. I live with PTSD.

There is no support group for dads, like there is for moms. We’re expected to man up and move on. But what if you can’t? How do you deal with that?

What if the thought of your wife being put back into that situation, of having to deal with that pain again, is so much that you don’t even want to consider the thought of getting pregnant again? On January 18, 2012, I wasn’t afraid of becoming a dad, of birth, I was excited. I welcomed it. That’s not the case since January 19.

I had no fear. Now, I have nothing but fear.

Set all datastores to round robin using PowerCLI

So you want to set your datastores to Round Robin, but you’ve got multiple hosts, dozens of datastores, and very little time? Just fire up PowerCLI and run this script. Replace “VMCluster” with the name of your cluster. This will change the multi pathing policy on each datastore, on each host in the cluster.

get-cluster “VMCluster” | Get-VMHost | Get-ScsiLun -LunType disk | Where-Object {$_.MultipathPolicy -ne “RoundRobin”} | Set-ScsiLun -MultipathPolicy “RoundRobin”

A great overview of Round Robin vs Fixed multipathing, specifically on vSphere 5.1 and EMC storage, and why you should be using it, can be found over at vElemental.

Facebook Vacation

I’ve logged out from every device, removed the apps, the bookmarks, integration to operating systems. I’m taking a Facebook Vacation.

The duration will be as long as I can swing it. There may be a point at which I can’t take it and come crawling back. I wouldn’t say I’m having withdrawal, but when I woke up this morning and got on my phone, the first thing I would normally do would be to open the app.

It wasn’t there.

Lately I’ve just felt overwhelmed by the noise. I feel like at times I just contribute to it, and need to find a way to make it better for myself. I can still keep up with sharing photos with friends on Instagram. My wife is addicted, so she can be my source for actual news of importance about friends and family who don’t share it with me directly. I want to see what it’s like for a while without the need to know, without the sometimes the overwhelming chatter.

And of course I still have Twitter. Which strangely enough, I don’t consider that noisy even though I follow 1500 people. Twitter is like a stream full of conversation, compared to Facebook which is individuals yelling as loudly as they can at me.

I’m tired of the yelling.

NSA & ‘Big Data’

The civil libertarian in me is appalled at the NSA phone records from Verizon (and likely others) and backdoor access to the data from Microsoft, Apple, Facebook, etc.

The engineer in me is fascinated at how import all that data, what they’d store it on (EMC Isilon) and how they would process it and retrive it. It’s a perfect example of the need for people who understand “big data.”

I’m so conflicted.