How to get started with Network Virtualisation and NSX

I have worked in “the industry” for the last 17+ years, so picking up new technologies and learning as much as I can (or at least as much I need to know to be dangerous) has become second nature to me.

If I was just starting out in IT today, I’m not sure where I would start.  I know when I started back in the day with software packaging with WISE Package Studio, Networking was a dark art.  Still today, some of its intricacies are a mystery to me and thats not because it is particularly difficult, its because there is only so much time in the day and so much you can know.

Enough about me… I wanted to put this post together because I think VMware NSX is not only a “big thing” right now, I think it will be a “big thing” for a little while longer so if you are starting out in the IT industry and want to work within the virtualisation space then Network Virtualisation (and VMware NSX) is a good place to look to move into.

Advice from a “IT Veteran”

So my advice for people starting out on the Network Virtualisation learning path is this:

1. Understand your goal

It is important to understand what you want to get out of this path you are taking.

  • Do you want to just learn the technology to enable yourself to work on cool and innovative projects?
  • Do you want to stretch your learning and earn a new certification?
  • Do you want to bolster your CV, so that you can earn more money?
  • Do you want to change direction in your career because your not being challenged?

I guess the point is, people do things for different reasons and those reasons are right for that person at that stage in their career.

2. Get a Good Foundation

Something built on a rocky or non-existant foundation will soon crack, so get a good understanding of the basics.

  • (Optional) Learn “traditional” Virtualisation (i.e. VCP6.5-DCV)
  • (Optional) Learn “traditional” Networking concepts (i.e. CCNA-RS)

My recommendation would be to learn/know one of those topics relatively in-depth.  You may decide to go further moving to CCNA-DC, CCNP or VCAP.  Only you can decide what level of background you need.

3. Get Official VMware NSX Training

I’m a big fan of official training, some of the courses can be a little slow but I understand that you have to cater for all skill levels when delivering a course.  Even after all this time, I don’t think I have ever been on an official course and come away from it having not learned anything.

The official training list for the VMware VCP6-NV NSX looks like:

Note: If you are not already a VCP in another track (i.e. DCV, CMA or DTM) then you will need to attend at least one official training course to be eligible to obtain the VCP6-NV.  You can take the exam(s) without it, but you wont be awarded the certifications.

4. Put in the EXTRA time and effort

So many people expect to go on a course and to become an expert overnight.  In my view, this is proliferated by companies putting a huge amount of pressure on people after they have been on training. After 15 years and 20+ certifications (including 5 Advanced Professional certification), I still refuse to call myself an expert… in anything.  Yes, I may know more than a lot of people when it comes to my field of “expertise”, but there is always someone who knows more.

You may be surprised to know that normally one of the courses doesn’t cover all the content required for the VCP6-NV or the VCAP6-NV and it is a combination of the Install, Configure, Manage (ICM), Troubleshooting & Operations and Design and Deploy that will help you in your goal to learn all you need/want to know (and become certified).

However, in my eyes, there is nothing like practical “hands on” experience, so building your own lab environment with VMware NSX is a good start. I know not everyone can afford to do this.  Therefore, to me, using free the VMware Hands On Lab is a very good way to learn the technology and get hands on with the products.  Yes they can be a little laggy sometimes but did I say it was free?  Also just because there are objectives in a lab, it doesn’t mean you can;t play around and break the lab, after all you can just end your session and start a new one…

5. Use ALL of the NSX resources available

If you have completed one of the courses and you still want to learn more and have a more structured way of learning the blueprint material, I cannot recommend enough the VCP6-NV official cert guide.

If you already have your VCP6-NV and when you are ready for the VCAP6-NV check out my VCAP6 – Network Virtualisation Deployment Study Guide which also links to other community resources i used to help me pass my VCAP6-NV.

There is a huge amount of google+ forums and general community support. #GoogleIsYourFriend

6. Show your knowledge… get VMware certified

When you think you are ready to take the exams, take them.  Are they always needed? No.  In my view, if you can provide demonstrable experience and skills that will be much more valued than a piece of paper and no real experience.  You do have to start somewhere though and sometimes that certification may just open the door to get some more hands on experience.

Note: Remember to check the exam version you are booking, you maybe playing with NSX 6.3.x for example, but the exam may only be NSX 6.2.x.

7.  There is no “silver bullet”

Learning any product / technology like VMware NSX takes time and so does learning the foundation technologies such as vsphere or networking.  There are, of course, ways to expedite your progression (aka BrainDumps, TestKing whatever you want to call them) but these should be avoided at all costs.  Not only do they break the NDA you agree to (which could cause you to be striped of your certification) but passing exams by memorising answers to questions rather than passing because you know a subject or know a subject well enough to understand what isn’t the right answer is much more valuable in my experience.

Note: I used the words “expedite your progression” not “expedite your learning”, it is very rare you will learn anything from cheating.

Good Luck!

Final Note: this is my advice, not a rule and there maybe additional work/ exam prerequisites required so please check and make sure you take the path to least resistance.

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