1: description

The VCAP exams are totally different from VCPs (which you also need to pass in the same track to obtain the certification). While VCPs focus on facts and technical knowledge about products - or, in other words, what an administrator should know - VCAPs focus on two more advanced areas of expertise: the design of a solution and its deployment.

The VCAP Design exam’s main gimmick is the reliance on soft skills and semi-technical knowledge: design phases, business decisions and objectives, gathering customer requirements and so on and so forth. While its sibling, VCAP Deploy, can be considered a fairly easy test for anyone with some good experience in the product, the VCAP Design requires you to have knowledge which is not really that easily attainable and not stuff you learn “on the job”.

2: review

The exam is quite tough and there are two main reasons behind it:

  • The technical questions are a bit vague. It’s not like a VCP where you can easily identify the most likely correct answers out of the given set. The questions presented to you on this exam are usually accompanied by 4-6 answers which on the first glance could be all correct. The winning difference is often in very subtle and minute details. It is very important for an exam taker to be aware of the difference between being technically correct and business correct. For example, a question might have an answer which aligns with the best practices however it wouldn’t meet the business goals outlined in the intro - to pass this exam you need to know/guess what’s more important in a given scenario.
  • The non-technical questions rely heavily on VMware’s design philosophy and its concepts. For many it might be very obvious stuff but for most I’d say it’s not. Based on my experience, you shall study the following terms/principals before trying to pass this exam:
    • functional vs non-functional design requirements - you should understand the definitions of these terms and their implications
    • design phases/types: conceptual, logical and physical - you will need to explain the differences between them and identify what should be present in each of them
    • design/customer requirements, assumptions and constraints - again, you need to know the differences between then and correctly map definitions to examples
    • stability, manageability, availability, performance, security and recoverability of a solution - same as above yet again

3: experience

This time, I managed to pass this on my first attempt. Don’t get me wrong - I still hate VCAP Design exams - but having passed VCAP-CMA Design earlier in the year, I knew what sort of questions to expect this time around. Again, the most important bit is to properly review and understand the design methodology I briefly outlines above. Without understanding these terms, you will struggle to score the minimum amount of points required to pass (300). I think next month I will post a more in-depth article about that.

Other than that, the exam itself was very similar to a VCP - 60 questions, 2 hours to complete them, same quiz system. One difference is the presence of “mapping” questions where you are required to drag the names of design concepts to their definitions. It’s simple enough and could be replaced by multiple choice so it shouldn’t matter that much.

4: tips

  1. You do not need in-depth technical knowledge about the product. What I mean by that is that I wouldn’t focus on things you usually refresh on before a technical exam: ports, system requirements, commands - all of that will matter very little.
  2. On the other hand, it is very important to understand the relationships between products in scope and their high level definitions/use-cases. You probably won’t be asked how vCenter communicates with the ESXi hosts but you will definitely have to identify which products can coexist with another, which can be substituted and what sort of license you need for certain features.
  3. The soft skill / design questions are brutal. You need to understand the concepts very well but even then you might struggle correctly answering some of these questions. As an anecdote, on my first attempt, I was very confused by one question about functional vs non-functional requirements and after failing, I reached out to multiple VCDX holders for guidance… and I ended up with 5 different opinions
  4. Despite being discontinued / outdated, the VVD (VMware Validated Design) documents are a great source of “VMware design principles”. I really recommend going through all them while learning the “soft skills” required for this exam.