Certification – More than just a tick in the box

Roughly six weeks ago I received an invitation to participate in the item development workshop to update the NetApp Certified Implementation Engineer Data Protection Specialist exam. The premise was to take the exam from its current state and bring it up to date as in the last 2 years a lot has changed within NetApp ONTAP and its associated protection methodologies. To get a good idea of how much has changed simply look at the ONTAP 9.1 release notes, even in the data protection section it talks about NVE, RAID-TEC, SnapLock just to mention a few, so it was a honour to be invited to help update the exam and something I was looking forward to.

Sign greeting my arrival at RTP building one

Just over a week ago was the time to undertake this workshop and on a lovely sunny Sunday morning I boarded a plane to head to NetApp’s Research Triangle Park (RTP), North Carolina USA campus where the workshop was to be held. The following morning at 9am sharp we started the week long activity of modernising the exam to the most recent GA release of ONTAP. The workshop was run by an independent company who specialise in writing exams for certification. Their job was to lead the workshop making sure we kept to the exam blueprint, kept it to the right level of difficulty and asked the question as directly as possible. One of the first things we covered was the difference between assessment and certification and for those of you who may be unaware the difference is probably two fold. For assessment all the information required to pass is contained with a structured course material (e.g. PowerPoint; pdf course notes) whilst a certification draws on many various pieces of information ranging from course notes to technical reports to documentation and even industrial knowledge. The other main difference is that a certification needs to be able to stand up to any legal challenges to the content within. So with that we got down to work.

With all the changes going on with the portfolio and even within ONTAP it was great to get together with 9 other individuals who also shared a desire to update this exam and see not only how they viewed ONTAP had changed over the last two years but also the use cases and deployment models being adopted for the technology. Over the next few days we reviewed the current question pool and then set to work writing new ones. These were then assessed as a group to see if they were relevant and of the right difficultly, to name just two of the measurements we judged each question on. It was also good to see that the questions proposed for the exam were honest and fair with no intent of trying to trick candidates.

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It was both a long and rewarding week where I’m sure all in attendance learned something new. It also shone a light on the amount of work and effort that is put into constructing a certification exam by NetApp, as they understand the benefit to the candidate in undertaking the hard work preparing for, taking the exam and also the badge of honour received for the certification. I have often felt that by obtaining a certification it shows that you have a desire to know and understand the technology in question and also that you have taken the time to learn its best practices. They can help differentiate you within your company or when you apply for a new role. Just to make sure I’m up to date with what is going on I usually take an exam during NetApp Insight for my own personal benefit mainly but it helps reinforce the value I have to offer to the team when I am back at my day job.

Before we knew it Friday afternoon had rolled around and we had completed all the tasks required from the workshop, which meant that in a few weeks from now the update exam NS0-512 will go live. A big thank you goes out to NetApp Certification Program for inviting me to the workshop and also to the nine other individuals and the independent test company I had the pleasure of working with for the week. I left ready to talk SnapMirror and MetroCluster with anyone who wanted to listen. So if you get the opportunity to help write or update an exam I would highly recommend it, and before you start to contact me for help the answer is “yes it’s on the exam.”

NOTE: For more information listen to the upcoming Tech ONTAP Podcast Episode 78 NetApp Certifications NCIE featuring the NetApp A-Team

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25 hours at CLEUR

Last week I was lucky enough to get a chance to attend Cisco Live in Berlin. I have been at this venue before but this is my first Cisco event and I have to say I was impressed. Hosted at the Berlin Messe it didn’t feel overly crowded yet with over 12,000 people involved in the conference it barely used up a third of the 26 halls available for events there. My reason for attending was a FlexPod round-table to be hosted jointly by people from NetApp and Cisco. I was in attendance as the voice of Arrow ECS Europe and, as the UK distributor involved in the most FlexPods, I thought it was important not only to give my feedback at this event but also to hear the messaging coming out directly from the vendors and pass this back to our reseller partners in the UK and also back to Arrow ECS.

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Sadly no AAA

I attended the conference in both a virtual and physical capacity; virtually reviewing the content available from keynotes and also by being there on an Explorer pass. This basically got me to everything but breakout sessions. Being immersed in the Cisco community was a refreshing experience and one I would recommend. Even without attending sessions there is a huge amount of information available to gather, not just from Cisco but also from some of their strategic partners including and not limited to Veeam, F5 and Citrix.

At the round-table it was great to hear was the rate of growth from a FlexPod perspective. A partnership just over five years old and it’s an over $7 billion business, and the number 1 integrated infrastructure. It also great to see that they are not resting on their laurels with a new CVD released that week covering how to deploy FlexPod Datacenter with Docker Datacenter for Container Management and with more in the pipeline narrowing the gap between private and hybrid clouds I would have to say that this is a partnership with plenty left in the tank.

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Ready for the DevOps community

I swung by the NetApp stand after and heard about another exciting FlexPod project the All Flash 3D FlexPod, and for anyone who attended the UK partner academy last June might recall a presentation on an older version of this project. We often talk about FlexPod being more than a sum of all the constituent parts and this is one case where this statement truly shines. Being used in anything from the medical profession to 4k content creation to geological applications this is a true monster and I doubt we have really scratched the surface of the areas this solution could be applicable I would suggest checking out here for more information.

It was also great to see that a MetroCluster FlexPod was running the event, by swinging by the NOC you could see the statistics in real time like the 20GB (yes Gigabytes) of internet traffic flowing around the campus supported by 968 access points (they added 75 on Tue night to improve the experience) yet with everything going on the AFF8060 never really was taxed as seen on the Graphana dashboard.

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Monitoring one half of the NOC AFF FlexPod

What did hit me whilst wandering around the many halls was the vast plethora of Cisco products and how this company has evolved. I knew some of different areas they but there’s so much more than the routing and switching that the business was born out of. I talked to many interesting people covering varying business units from IOT to Digital Finance Services to business transformation. If I had had more time there there’s so much more I would have like to have done, like sat down for a few hours and run through a self-passed lab, attend one of the many of what looked like sessions in the DevOps area or even give 20 minutes of my time to their charitable cause to Rise Against Hunger. One thing that hit me was this was a company with employees understanding the companies vision, it’s like an 8 person coxed crew perfectly in time with one another lifting their stroke rate above 32 still creating perfect puddles and yet not breaking a sweat. The slogan for the event was Your Time Is Now and I have to say that we are definitely in a Cisco Era.