Building a VCAP live exam lab environment

Sections: Opening, Live exam environment summary, Live exam docs list, Scripts

To prepare for one of the three VMware live lab exams (VCAP5-DCA, VCAP-DTA, VCAP-CIA) you may want to build your own test environment.  This accomplishes a variety of goals; plenty of hands-on experience with the products, design and planning experience with severe performance constraints, as well as avoiding a RGE (Resume Generating Event) by doing your studying on a production environment.

I would recommend at least a four-core  w/ hyper-threading PC running VMware Workstation 8 or higher with at least 24GB of RAM and a 7200RPM hard drive.   Use of an SSD drive will improve boot time and storage-intensive tasks like deploying “full” VMs but is not a requirement.  5400 drives can be used, with a performance hit especially for boot up times or moving large objects around.

Turn off all non-essential services on your host PC especially anti-virus and backup software.  For a more realistic experience set your monitor to 1280×1024.

Note that I have not tried to replicate one of the environments with older versions of Workstation, it might work just fine.

To keep performance needs at a minimum, only power on components when they are needed.  CIA requires multiple hosts, cells, vCNS and vCenters for certain scenarios, but most of the tasks can be accomplished with just one environment and one host powered on.  Likewise, DCA will not need vMA, VUM or more than one ESXi host powered on for most scenarios.  You can get by with 16GB of RAM for most of the objectives if you are very careful about what VMs are running at a time.

For best performance for storage tasks (Storage vMotion, pool deploys, vApp deploys) try to use empty (no-OS-installed) VMs for the tasks and ensure the VMDKs are “thin”.  You will notice during the exams many of the VMs that are not powered on do not have an OS installed which greatly reduces the storage footprint and improves storage-related task performance.  Upload a “40GB Windows 2008” VM to vCloud in 30 seconds!

When your lab is built, consider switching all of the VMDKs for your Workstation-hosted VMs to non-persistent mode which will enable you to break the environment repeatedly while consistently returning to a known good state with a simple power cycle of the VMs.  This also lets you shut down the environment in a few seconds w/o any risk of corruption. (see script ideas below)

You might couple that with a boot script to start the environment in the proper order with delays between the VMs (also an example below).

Each of the live lab exams has a initial desktop you are intended to use for most of the management tasks.  DTA and CIA refer to it is as “controlcenter.”  To duplicate this in your environment just use your host machine’s desktop. Install Firefox, the vSphere client, WinSCP, Putty, Adobe Reader and create a “Documents” directory with all product PDFs  (see below).  You will also want a hosts file listing the VMs so your host PC can access everything via FQDN.

Live exam environment summary:

This doesn’t include nested VMs like a Transfer server (CIA)

When building your environment use 1 CPU and a minimum of RAM (4GB for ESXi hosts) for each VM.

Note: all vCenter servers are installed on Windows (either 2003 or 2008)

Four networks
iSCSI, NFS and FCP shared storage
DHCP, Active Directory, NTP, DNS
One “controlcenter” server with clients and access software
Two ESXi 5.0 hosts
One vCenter 5.0 server
vMA appliance

Four networks
iSCSI and NFS shared storage
DHCP, Active Directory, NTP, DNS

One “controlcenter” server with clients and access software
One “physical client” VM

Three Connection servers
Two security servers
Three ESXi 5.1 hosts
Two vCenter servers

Four networks
iSCSI and NFS shared storage
DHCP, Active Directory, NTP, DNS, MS SQL

One “controlcenter” server with clients and access software

vCenter Chargeback Manager
Two vCloud cells (installed on RHEL)
Two vCNS managers
Five ESXi 5.1 hosts
Two vCenter 5.1 servers

Docs available:

Each live lab exam includes a directory containing relevant documentation in PDF format. The DTA directory also contains the extracted files contained in some of the PDFs.

DTA docs

CIA Docs

DCA docs


Start Workstation-based VM (all one line):

"C:\Program Files (x86)\VMware\VMware Workstation\vmrun.exe" start "C:\MyLab\VMDirectory\VMName.vmx"

If you need a delay for that VM to power up,  get the IP address for it and modify this:

ping |find "bytes=32 time"
IF NOT ERRORLEVEL 1 goto :Continue1
IF ERRORLEVEL 1 goto :Wait1

Stop a Workstation-based VM (all one line):

"C:\Program Files (x86)\VMware\VMware Workstation\vmrun.exe" stop "C:\MyLab\VMDirectory\VMName.vmx" hard

Create one line for each of your VMs, put them in a “allstop.cmd” file on your desktop.  One click, 2 second environment shutdown (don’t use unless all Workstation VMs are non-persistent)

Wait for your ESXi host to fully start (ESXi responds to pings long before it is ready to run):

"C:\Program Files (x86)\VMware\VMware Workstation\vmrun.exe" -T esx -h https://esxiFQDN/sdk -u root -p rootpassword! listRegisteredVM | find "vmdirectory/vmname.vmx"
IF NOT ERRORLEVEL 1 goto :RunBatch
IF ERRORLEVEL 1 goto :LookBatch

Start nested VMs (all one line):

"C:\Program Files (x86)\VMware\VMware Workstation\vmrun.exe" -T esx  -h https://esxiFQDN/sdk -u root -p rootpassword start "[datastore] vmdir/vmname.vmx"

Good luck!

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22 Responses to Building a VCAP live exam lab environment

  1. Luke says:

    Have you come across the Autolab suite ? Does fully automated builds of a NFS/iSCSI NAS, Active Directory, Windows vCenter, ESXi Hosts, vCloud Director etc.

    I smashed it for my DCA and CIA study, especially liked the ability to destroy and rebuilt the environment with little fuss.

  2. Pingback: Mr.Non-Descript » Blog Archive » My VCAP5-DCA Experience

  3. Vaibhav says:


    Thanks for the article. I have a desktop with 16GB RAM / CPU i7 – 870 first gen / Graphics card. I have created iSCSI SAN via openfiler. Is that sufficient or anything else is needed. I mean if FC or FCoE required?


  4. Pingback: Time for the beast - Study Log for VCAP5-DCA

  5. S Sat says:


    Tks for the lab. But how do I practice different sample scenarios?

    Do we have to visualize a question based on the blue prints? Did I miss anything 🙂 ?

  6. albertwt says:

    Thanks Josh for sharing the design to follow 🙂

  7. Pingback: Prepping for VCAP-DCA (VDCA510) | virtualfng

  8. mmac134 says:

    Josh, How can i access this Lab.. Is there any possibility ?

  9. james says:

    I purchased a Lenovo TS140 and boot up to ESXi 5.5 so using nested VMs. I havew a number of 64 bit VMs working but when I log into the VCenter 64 bit VM and attempt to power on anything other than 64 Bit Vms it complains no host is compatible. I looked at the BIOS and enabled all settings and have VD-D but read VT-X is required to power on 64 bit vms. VD-D only allows you to power on 32 bits VMs so Im stuck as the lab is useless with just 32 bits VMs running on the Web client. I need to get the VMA working which is 64 bit to name a few. Any ideas?
    I had a look at this link

    • What CPU do you have? From Intel’s website all CPUs available for the TS140 include VT-x with EPT?

      When you ran William’s link was “nestedHVSupported” false?

      You might update the TS140 to the latest BIOS and check again in the BIOS menu for settings.

  10. Russell says:

    Just created a nice visio of the VCAP-DCA 550, Iet me know if you’d like a copy, it’s based on the above. Regards Russ

  11. Hi,
    Please help me with your expertise planning to give VCAP5-DCA in 2 months’ time.
    Assembled a box with i5 processor and 32 GB memory. Is that sufficient for practice.
    Please help me with demo questions and materials to kick start the study.

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