The new standard in Enterprise Architecture certifications

I am very proud to have been selected to be part of a team of absolute superstars who in the last few months have developed what I believe will be the new standard in Enterprise Architecture certifications, the Nutanix Platform Expert (NPX).

The NPX was developed under the guidance of Lisa O’Leary, a PhD psychometrician and recognized authority in the development of expert-level panel-based assessments for the IT industry. This was a real eye opener for me into how to create a scoring rubric and how to ensure different examiners score as evenly as possible to ensure consistent results.

The NPX certification (along with Nutanix nu.School Education) is designed to produce and certify the best of the best enterprise architects with the main goal of ensuring customers get the best architects to design and deliver solutions which solve real world business problems while maximizing value and reducing ongoing costs.

During the development of NPX, myself and other members of the group basically decided that none of us should be able achieve NPX without each of us putting in significant time and effort to improve our skills, especially as it is required to demonstrate expertise both architecturally and hands on in multiple hypervisors and vendor software stacks. Considering the talent in the group, this was a big call!

I personally am enjoying the challenge of preparing my submission for the NPX based on a large scale project I am working on at the moment, and look forward to submitting my application and hopefully being invited to the Nutanix Design Review (NDR) to defend. I can already tell you this is more comprehensive than any single design I have done to date, and it will be a blast to defend.

So what will being an NPX mean?

Certified graduates of the NPX Program will have a very unique set of skills, including the demonstrated ability to deliver enterprise-class Web-scale solutions using multiple hypervisors and vendor software stacks on the Nutanix platform (VMware® vSphere®, Microsoft® Hyper-V®, and KVM).

This hypervisor agnostic certification for Enterprise Architects is a first in the industry; our groundbreaking approach allows an NPX the freedom to design cutting-edge Web-scale solutions for customers based solely on their business needs.

The depth and breadth of the solution design and delivery skills validated through our peer-vetted program make NPX the new standard for excellence. In accordance with program goals every NPX will be a superb technologist, a visionary evangelist for Web-scale, and a true Enterprise Architect – capable of designing and delivering a wide range of cutting-edge solutions; custom built to support the business goals of the Global 2000 and government agencies in every region of the world.

So what’s required to achieve NPX?

The first prerequisite is the Nutanix Platform Professional (NPP) certification. The NPP is really the entry level certification showing core Nutanix knowledge.

As per the NPX Application, the NPX certification is a two-stage process;

Stage 1 being a review of a candidate’s NPX Program Application.

If a candidate’s application is accepted they will be invited to participate in the NPX Design Review (NDR).

Now at this stage you’re probably saying, this doesn’t seem that hard, right?

Well, here is an idea of the required documentation:

  • A current state and operational readiness assessment
  • A Web-scale migration and transition plan
  • Documentation of specific business requirements driving the solution design
  • Documentation of assumptions that impacted the solution design
  • Documentation of design constraints that impacted the design and delivery of the solution
  • Documentation describing risks identified in the design and delivery of the solution and how those risks
  • A solution architecture including a conceptual/logical and physical design with appropriate diagrams and descriptions all functional components of the solution
  • Documentation of operational procedures and verification

The documentation set goes well beyond any certification I am aware of, but more importantly demonstrates a candidates ability to produce documentation which ensures the solution can be implemented , validated and operated in the event the lead architect is unavailable. This is a very high standard of documentation which I’ve rarely seen in my career.

In addition, 3 Professional references will also be required to validate the candidates experience.

Stage 2 being the NDR is modeled after an academic viva voce defense (live, oral exam) and requires candidates to present their solution to, and answer questions posed to them by NPX-Certified Examiners (NCE). The NDR also includes a series of hands-on exercises, which must be completed by the candidate. Successful completion of both stages is required to earn the NPX credential.

The NPX has a strict policy regarding fictitious solution designs.

NPX candidates may not submit wholly fictitious designs.

I pushed for this during the development of the certification as in my opinion, an enterprise architect should have a portfolio of work to choose from which negates the requirements to create a fictitious design.

In saying that, Partially fictitious designs are permitted when an existing design requires additions or enhancements in order to demonstrate competence in required knowledge areas (e.g., a backup or DR solution may be added if this component was outside the scope of the original design).

Adapting an existing 3-tier solution design to the Nutanix platform is also permitted. In either case the submitted design should contain a majority of solution components architected to support applications with service level agreements specified by actual business stakeholders.

The NDR itself requires the completion of an exercise involving a live Nutanix environment and completion of a design scenario. Both exercises will require demonstration of NPX-level solution design and delivery skills with a second solution stack/hypervisor.

An NPX candidate is permitted to choose the hypervisor you will be tested on during your NDR (it must be different from the hypervisor utilized in the submitted solution design). The hypervisor selected will be used for the Hands-on and Design scenarios during the NDR.

The Hypervisor choices are:

  • VMware® vSphere®
  • Microsoft® Hyper-V®
  • KVM

What next?

I would encourage all enterprise architects to stay tuned for the release of more NPX details via the Nutanix nu.School website and take on the challenge of NPX and become a better architect in the process.

The Nutanix Platform Expert Official Certification Guide is currently being written and should be released at Nutanix .NEXT this coming June.


I really enjoyed working with such a talented group of people in developing NPX, and I look forward to being a part of the program firstly as a candidate and as a certified examiner in the future to ensure the quality of Enterprise Architects in the industry only gets better!

Here is a group shot of on the final day of NPX development in San Jose.

Names (Left to right): Derek Seaman , Steven Poitras, Jon Kohler, Ray Hassan, Bas Raayman, Raymon Epping, Josh Odgers, Michael Webster, Artur Krzywdzinski, Samir Roshan, Lane Laverett, Mark Brunstad and Richard Arsenian.

Absent for Photo: Magnus Andersson , Lisa O’Leary, PhD Psychometrician.


My VCAP5-CIA Experience

Yesterday (21st July 2014) I sat and passed the VMware Certified Advanced Professional Cloud Infrastructure Administration (VCAP5-CIA) exam at my local test centre here in Melbourne, Australia.

As with the VCAP-DCA which I did as a prerequisite for VCDX back in 2011, the CIA exam is a live lab exam where VMware get you to demonstrate your hands on expertise with their products.

I find the value of the VCDX, is in part due to the fact it is a requirement to have not only “Design” but hand-on implementation/administration/troubleshooting experience as it is my opinion a person should not be an architect unless that person has the hands on experience and ability to implement and support the solution as designed.

So, enough rambling, what did I think of the VCAP-CIA?

As with all VMware certifications, the exams are generally well written and closely aligned to the blueprints which VMware provide. For VCAP-CIA the blueprint and exam registration can be found here.

The VCAP-CIA was no different, and aligned very well to the blueprint.

The exam is 210 minutes and has 32 questions some of which are simple 1 min tasks where others require a significant amount of work. One secret to all VCAP exams is you are challenged not only by the questions, but by the clock as time is the enemy. This makes time management essential. Do not get caught up of one question, if your unsure, do your best and move on.

Be ware some questions are dependant on successfully completion of earlier questions, but in saying that, a lot of questions are not, so don’t be afraid to skip questions if your struggling as you will still be able to complete many other questions.

The actual live lab in the exam consists of seven ESXi hosts, three vCenter Server virtual machine, four VMware vCloud™ Director (vCD) cells plus additional supporting resources. The lab has a number of pre-configured vApps and virtual machines will also be present for use with certain tasks. It is importaint to understand the lab environment is based on VMware vCloud Suite 5.1 and vCenter Chargeback Manager 2.5, not vCloud 5.5 so ensure you study and prepare using the correct versions of vCloud/vCB!

At this stage some of you may be thinking, I just breached the NDA telling the world about the exam? Well I haven’t and this is the beauty of how VMware does their exam blueprints, the above information is all available in the blueprint so there is not trickery or secrecy to the lab.

As for the questions in the VCAP-CIA, you will not get a brain dump out of me, but what I can tell you is the questions are in most cases very clear and what is asked of the candidates is vastly skills that anyone with any significant vCD experience would be familiar with. For example, the blueprint under Objection 1.2 – Configure vCloud Director for scalability, states under skills and abilities:

 Generate vCloud Director response files
 Add vCloud cells to an existing installation using response files
 Set up vCloud Director transfer storage space
 Configure vCloud Director load balancing

Its safe to say if you know the blueprint properly, you will be able to complete the tasks in the exam, and as a result, get a passing score.

Now the bad news!

Being based in Melbourne, Australia, and the live lab is being accessed by RDP to a location in Seattle, USA. So what does this mean, Latency!

I was only able to complete about 2/3rd’s of the questions in large part due to the delay in the screen refreshing after switching between for example the vCD web interface and production documentation, Putty etc.

On that point, all the PDF and HTML documentation is available in the exam, but I would highly recommend you don’t rely on it, because accessing the doco and searching/scrolling for things is very slow, at least it was for me.

I had numerous occasions where the screen would totally freeze which was a concern, but I soon accepted this was a latency issue, and the lab was fine, and waited out the freezes (which varied from a few seconds to around 20 seconds, which feels like hours when your against the clock!)

I have heard from numerous other VCAP-CIA who sat the exam in the Australia/NZ region that they experienced the same issues, so if you are A/NZ based, or any location a long way from the USA, be prepared for this.

Now being a live lab, the exam is not scored on the spot, and you have to wait for VMware to score the exam and then you will receive an electronic score report via email. The exam receipt says 15 business days, but I was very impressed that less than 24 hours after sitting the exam, I got my score report. Obviously VMware education have done a great job in automating the scoring process, which is a credit to them!

Overall, the experience of the VCAP-CIA was very good, the exam/questions are a solid test of vCloud related skills and experience, so great work VMware Education!

I am very pleased to have completed this exam and all prerequisites for VCDX-Cloud (VCP-Cloud, VCAP-CID and VCAP-CIA) and I will be submitting my application in the near future.

VCDX Defence Essentials – Part 3 – Preparing for the Troubleshooting Scenario

Following on from Part 1 – Preparing for the Design Defence & Part 2 – Preparing for the Design Scenario, Part 3 covers my tips for the final stage of the VCDX defence, the Troubleshooting Scenario.

After completing the 75min Design defence and the 30min Design Scenario, if your still standing and haven’t retreated at full speed, your final challenge is the 15min Troubleshooting Scenario.

As mentioned in the previous Parts of this series, I am not a official panellist and I do not know how the scoring works. The below is my advice based on conducting mock panels, the success rate of candidates I have conducted mock panels with and my successfully achieving VCDX on the 1st attempt.

If you have read Part 2, then you should notice several similarities in both the common mistakes and tips below.

Common Mistakes

1. Trying to guess the solution to the issue

Taking pot shot guesses at what the problem/s might be does not prove your expertise. If you don’t methodically work through the issue and just keep making guesses, your not doing yourself or the people trying to assess your expertise any good.

2. Not documenting the troubleshooting steps you have completed

Assuming you have not made Mistake #1, and you are methodically working through the troubleshooting scenario, a common mistake I see is a candidate getting confused about what they have or have not investigated.

When candidates repeat the same troubleshooting steps because they have lost track, it does nothing but waste time and does not increase your chance of passing.

15 mins goes by in a flash, you cannot afford to waste time!

3. Going down a rabbit hole

Same as in the design scenario, I have observed many candidates who are clearly very knowledgeable, who have spent the majority of the time troubleshooting one specific area of the environment. eg: Just the vSphere layer

Doing this may demonstrate your expertise in one area really well, but this does not help getting as many potential issues eliminated in the scenario as possible within the time constraint.

4. Being Mute!

Again, same as in the design scenario, I have seen candidates who stand starring at the troubleshooting scenario and the whiteboard for mins at a time.


Tips for the Troubleshooting Scenario

1. Do not try to guess the solution to the issue

If you happen to guess the solution (assuming there is one.. hint hint) what expertise have you demonstrated to the panel for them to score you on? The answer is “bugger all” (This is Australian for “none”).

Talk the panel through your troubleshooting methodology, for example, you might choose to go through OSI models layers, or you may choose to start with, Networking, then move onto Storage, then application, then vSphere etc.

The goal of this section of the defence is to demonstrate your troubleshooting skills, so make sure you explain what your trying to eliminate. eg: If a VM has lost connectivity you may ask the panel to perform a vMotion of VM1 from host A to host B. You could explain to the panel that if the ping begins to work following the vMotion, you plan to investigate the networking of Host A. If the ping does not start working, you will continue to investigate for a larger networking issue, such as a VLAN specific problem.

2. Documenting your troubleshooting steps & findings

Ensure you methodically address each of the key areas of a vSphere solution by writing on the whiteboard headings like the following:

a) Storage/SAN/Protocol

b) Networking/Firewall

c) Compute HW

d) Application/Guest OS

e) vSphere

Ensure you eliminate several (i’d suggest >=3) potential issues in each section, so you are covering off the entire environment and record what you have done & the result of the troubleshooting step.

Keep in mind, you only have 15 mins, so 1 item per min is required if you are to cover all areas off thoroughly.

3. Don’t go down a rabbit hole!

Same as in the design scenario, I have observed many candidates who are clearly very knowledgeable, who have spent the majority of the time troubleshooting one specific area of a vSphere environment. eg: Storage

Doing this may demonstrate your expertise in one area really well, but this does not help getting as many potential issues eliminated in the scenario as possible within the time constraint.

Once you have looked into 3 potential issues in storage, move onto Networking, or vSphere etc.

Do not spend more than 60-90 seconds on any one troubleshooting step as this is preventing you demonstrating broad expertise which is the purpose of VCDX.

4. Think out Loud!

Again, same as in the design scenario, I have seen candidates who stand starring at the troubleshooting scenario and the whiteboard totally silent for mins at a time.

Talk the panel through your thought process and expected outcomes for troubleshooting actions.

I cannot give you advise, if I don’t know what your thinking! Same with the panellists, they can’t score you if you don’t verbalize your thought process.

No matter what, keep thinking out loud, if your working through options in your mind, that’s what the panel want’s to hear, so let them hear it!


I hope the above tips help you prepare for the VCDX design scenario and best of luck with your VCDX journey. For those who are interested, you can read about My VCDX Journey.

If you have any questions on the VCDX process or the advise given in this series please leave your comments and I will compile a list of questions and do a Q&A post.