Seven Required Topics to Study for Virtualization Certification

Here are seven must-study items for anyone new to virtualization.

I recently acquired the VCP Certification. Although that certification is centered, of course, on VMWare, I would like to talk more specifically about Virtualization technologies for all the major vendors: Microsoft (Hyper-V), VMWare (vSphere), and Citrix (XenServer), rather than vendor-specific information.  I think this will help anyone out there new to Virtualization, because virtualization changes the game a bit.

Microsoft in particular is ramping up more of its Virtualization Certifications with Hyper-V, so I thought I'd spend some time on what you should concentrate on both for exams as well as implementation of virtualization if you are new to it:

  1. Host installation and configuration - How to initially configure the Host Operating System will be a good start. Any knowledge you have of Linux will help you immensely with learning Xen or VMware Installations, since they are Linux-based host Operating Systems. Additionally, study the User/Group/Permissions model for the Host.
  2. Shared Storage concepts - If you've never dealt with it, shared storage will be the greatest challenge for you. SAN knowledge and NAS knowledge is crucial. You don't need to know it well enough to be a SAN admin, but you will need to know private vs. public LUNs, the intricacies of Fibre Failover, iSCSI concepts, such as Software vs. Hardware iSCSI initiators, and NAS concepts, including NFS as a file-sharing mechanism, which could prove to be a challenge to MS-only admins.
  3. Guest OS Migration - This has become a "must have" technology when it comes to balancing dynamic workloads in the datacenter, so this will take up a lot of your study time. Each of the major vendors have subtle differences with how their Guest Virtual Machines are moved from one host to another.
  4. Overall Virtual Machine Management - How guest Operating Systems are configured and managed will be a big part of any certification. For example, what OS's are officially supported, how to add hardware to an underlying guest OS, how to do mass rollouts of Virtual Machines, and hardware allocation and management concepts. Also, as part of this, learn how to measure performance and make decisions based on the according data you find.
  5. Virtual Networking and Switching - All the major vendors have some level of internal switching, and you'll need to know how that is done. Additionally, you'll need to look at how external switching is done, such as link aggregation and how NIC hardware failover is done.
  6. Snapshotting - All of the major Virtualization Technologies have a way of saving some intermediary form of the guest operating system. This is used for Software testing, among other things. If you are interested in VMWare Snapshots, you can take a look at one of my previous blog posts on it.
  7. Backup and Recovery - And, if you've read the aforementioned post, you'd know that snapshotting should not be used for Backup and Recovery with Virtualization. This is another concept that is different than in physical environments, so you will need to look this over as well.

Although the above is not meant to be an all-inclusive list, it is a pretty inclusive list of the most challenging concepts that are unique to virtualization. Feel free to add to the list with your comments.

What I have found when it comes Virtualization in general, is that it is more about shattering your preconceived notions about physical environments, rather than your ignorance of virtualization. That will work against you in your learning more than anything.

If I were you, even if you don't plan on getting certified in virtualization, start learning it now because if you don't you will really be limiting your career options in the future.

And that's putting it nicely.

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