From Zero To VMware Hero – with Duncan Epping (VCDX)

by Mirek Burnejko

Duncan EppingThis is an interview with one of my idols – Duncan Epping. Duncan is a principal engineer in VMware. He is also a VCDX #007. His blog is #1 in the Top 25 virtualization blogs (2008-2013). Genius and amazing person.

In this interview you will find:

  • When you should start thinking about VMware certifications?
  • When it’s a good time to pass the VCP and VCAP certifications?
  • Why VCDX is one of the best certifications on the job market?

Mirek Burnejko: Duncan I’m so excited to have you here. I’m your big fan. Please tell our readers something about you.

Duncan Epping: My full name is Duncan Epping. I work for VMware as a principal architect as part of R&D, or more explicitly as part of Integration Engineering (IE). Within IE it is my role to provide early customer type feedback to our developers for new products or new versions of existing products. This means that I typically work with releases 1-2 years out. We test the product from a usability perspective but also look at what it is aiming to solve and how it solves those problems. By providing feedback during the development process we aim to increase the quality of our products, and most importantly the user experience and exceed customer expectations.

MB: Can you tell us something about your beginnings in the IT industry and your start with the virtualization world?

DE: I started in IT over 15 years ago. My main focus back then was Windows and Novell Netware. I did some consultancy around these two platforms initially but quickly moved in to a Sys Admin role at Oracle in the Netherlands. While I was at Oracle I was moved between the various teams and worked with many different solutions: Windows Platform, SUN Solaris Platform, HP-UX, Citrix, Terminal Services etc. This is also where I got first introduced to VMware, and it started with Workstation for me. Some of the support folks looked in to Workstation as it enabled them to simulate customer environments easily. Back then though I never realized how big this would become.

MB: Let’s imagine I’m starting my IT career and I know that virtualization/cloud is the hottest topic on the market. Where should I start? Is is a good idea to learn virtualization without having access to it in a day-to-day work?

DE: I think it is always a good thing to try to lean things which you do not have access to in your “day-to-day” work. It is always useful to broaden your horizon and learn how other systems / solutions work. It is also a nice way of exploring which direction you should head in to from a career point-of-view. When I started out in IT within three years I had done various things ranging from SUN Solaris management to building a desktop deployment solution with Microsoft Visual Test. All of that has helped guiding me in to the right direction.

MB: When should I start thinking about first VMware certification?

DE: When it comes to certifications it is always good to have hands-on experience with a product. Most people will be able to go through the books often enough so they can pass the exam but then what? It is great to be a VCP-DV, but if you go for a job interview and you get selected and need to manage a VMware environment then what?

Hands-on experience in my opinion is the key to success. If you want to get certified, use the product!

MB: I’m a VCP-DV. What next? When VCAP-DCA or VCAP-DCD is a good move?

DE: VCAP-DCA is the next logical step after VCP-DV. Difficult to say when you should take that exam, I recommend 6 months hands-on experience at least. Before you take the exam make sure you are familiar with the UI and the command-line interface. Just knowing the UI will not be sufficient. You will need to understand how the command-line interface works but do not need to know all commands inside out, just make sure you understand the structure as you can use the “–? / help” functionality right. VCAP-DCD is a different story. I personally found this a fairly difficult exam as it is more about architecture / design. It just takes more time to have a good enough understanding of VMware technology to make these complex architectural decisions.

MB: Many people use vSphere and vCenter, but don’t have access to vCloud Director. Is it a good idea for a person without experience with vCloud Director to achieve the VCP-Cloud certification?

vCloudDE: Again, knowing a product like vCloud Director in my opinion is crucial for success on a certification like VCP-Cloud. Without a decent understanding of vCloud Director I would not expect someone to pass this exam. vCloud Director is not an easy product to grasp. Especially the networking part can get complex quickly.

MB: I know you work for VMware, but… Is it a good idea to learn also something about Microsoft/Citrix virtualization?

DE: It is definitely a good idea to learn about other solutions as well. Personally I have worked with other virtualization solutions in the past and what it taught me is that the price of a license is just a small part of the cost of your solution. At some point you will realize that the operational effort involved with managing an environment can cost a lot more than the licenses, so having a good understanding of who offers what but more importantly how operationally efficient you can be is useful.

MB: Virtualization is connected with storage, servers and networking. Should I be an expert in all these domains to become a good VMware administrator/engineer?

DE: I wouldn’t say that you need to be an expert in all three areas, however it will definitely help! I guess you will need to be familiar with storage, servers and networking to a certain extent to be a good VMware administrator. Configuring your storage incorrectly or your network could lead to downtime for your virtual machines.

MB: We still don’t see too much job offers for experts with VCDX. Why companies (excluding VMware) don’t need VMware Certified Design Experts?

DE: I wouldn’t say that companies do not need VMware Certified Design Expert’s. I know various VCDXs out there who have been recruited by companies because they held this certification, but these were typically recruited without the job even being posted. Those companies new the group was small, so they knew who to contact directly. I also think many companies out there are just not familiar with the VCDX program yet. The group of VCDX certified people is still fairly limited and an army of <150 people just makes less noise then for instance an army of VCPs.

It will be a matter of time for those VCDX requirements in job postings to go up.

MB: In the internet we can find hundreds of VMware trainings, websites, blogs, podcasts. What are your top places to learn about VMware technologies?

VMwareDE: First and foremost: VMware Community Forums. I have always spent a significant amount of time exploring the forums and trying to answer questions, but also read answers from others just to learn new things. Secondly I follow a lot of blogs… Blogs are just a great way of learning new stuff quickly. Blogs are typically not as boring and lengthy as documentation so you can read up on a subject quickly.

MB: Thank you so much Duncan. Tell us where we can find you?

DE: You can find me on / Twitter. Of course I also up on LinkedIn and various other social sites. Thanks for the opportunity Mirek and keep up the great work.

[This is part of the Interviews with IT Pros Series]