NPX – The Journey to Number 8

VCDX and NPX sound great (how can so few letters be so difficult to achieve?), but it is very, very hard work with many hours of effort and stress, including juggling a day-job that bleeds into your personal life.  I have to profoundly thank my wife and children for putting up with my passion (or obsession?) for knowledge and learning.

At VMworld US 2014, I first heard rumblings that Nutanix was planning an elite certification for HCI under the mentorship of Mark BrunstadMy opinion is that HCI is the future of data center infrastructure and legacy, three tier infrastructure will eventually die out, just like Token-Ring and Novell Netware (what is that?).  Right there, I made the promise to myself that I would be one of the first to attempt (and hopefully pass) NPX once it became publicly available.  And who better to align my efforts with than the inventor and leader of the HCI space?

The NPX Link-O-Rama is a great resource for all things NPX, including this applicable list of articles in my VCDX Deep-Dive series (more than 70 posts).

When NPX was announced in March 2015, I was able to disect the NPX Blueprint and start to plan my journey to NPX.  At the time, I had no idea if it would be 2015 or 2016 that I would defend, but I planned the skills, steps and objectives I would need to complete to get there.

Even now, I have only had access to “Proof of Concept” environments for a limited time and aside from the Customer Edition (with AHV), I do not have Nutanix XCP or Dell XC infrastructure running in my Data Centers.  This is the biggest weakness Nutanix has at the moment, being unable to give prospective customers quick and easy access to their technology stack (partly alleviated with CE for AHV).  VMware excels in this area with Hands-On Labs and Partner Demonstration software.

This was a very lonely journey and aside from the NPX Mentor review of my submission, there was no study group, mocks or pressure testing.  Luckily my VCDX experiences had prepared me for what to expect and the level of detail required to pass at the elite level.  However, there are no guarantees and you can only put in the work, make the attempt, hope for the best and plan for the worst.

I was very strategic in my approach with objectives that could be progressively achieved:

  • Take the Nutanix Administration Training course and pass the NPP exam.
  • Request another Nutanix PoC with the sole purpose of dissecting and examining the Nutanix XCP eco-system from an engineering, design, installation, configuration, troubleshooting and operations perspective.  That prompted this series of blog posts and I had the XCP hardware for 6 weeks in June/July 2015.
  • As part of the PoC program, I was given “Customer-level” access to the Nutanix Support Portal.  Without this, you cannot access all of the official documentation and KB articles or open tickets.
  • In June, the Community Edition was released, I knew that getting another PoC for AHV was next to impossible, so all of my AHV preparation was with nested CE clusters.  This allowed me to drop Hyper-V from my radar as the second hypervisor for the defence.  There is loads of Hyper-V content out there, but it is incredibly complicated and would be too difficult to master in the timeframe I had.
  • I took a one month break to complete and submit my VCDX-NV design in July-August 2015, just days before VMworld US 2015.
  • As soon as I returned from VMworld, I decided to stick with ESXi as my primary hypervisor and revamp my original VCDX-DCV design from a “home-made” Vblock to Nutanix XCP.  I am glad I made that choice, because the “before and after” reduction in complexity for HCI design was an enlightening experience.
  • At that time, Mark Brunstad contacted me to be a part of the NPX Mentor program and Michael Webster agreed to be my official mentor.
  • It took me 5 weeks to complete my NPX submission.  It was tough and exhausting because the blueprint is much deeper than VCDX, you also have to address Web-Scale and Cloud-native migrations and design methodologies.  That included design review feedback from Michael, which took me a week to incorporate.  Mark was gracious enough to give me a one week extension on my submission deadline.  Josh Odgers also volunteered for some optimisation and performance design discussions.
  • Immediately after submitting my NPX application, I launched immediately into D-Day preparationThis nearly broke me: I had to prepare my presentation for ESXi and master AHV from a design and troubleshooting perspective within 7 weeks using only “public sources” and “customer level” documentation.
  • I received my “Invitation to Defend” 3 weeks before my defence date.  I immediately responded by requesting to be the first defence of the series on Monday morning the 7th of December.  My reasoning was three-fold: get the defence out of the way as soon as possible, set an example by stepping up to the plate as a customer and be first in line for NPX#8 (for me it is a very lucky number – numbers one to seven were assigned during the bootstrap program).
  • Acropolis is a very new offering from Nutanix with a very limited amount of publicly available information from Nutanix or the “blog-o-sphere” (“Mastering AHV” does not exist as an eBook or Pluralsight course).  Four things saved me here, just in time for my defence:
    • The Nutanix Bible had some serious updates during Q3/Q4 2015 for AHV and the new AOS features by Steven Poitras.  I have to give kudos: no company publicly exposes the inner workings of their technology like Nutanix does.  This information was a life saver.
    • The “AOS 4.5 version” of CE was released in November 2015, this became my Acropolis lab for all NPX Defence preparation.
    • The Best-Practices guide for AHV was released by my brother NPX, Magnus Andersson, and his co-authors in November 2015.
    • From July to November, 2015, a plethora of Nutanix employees released blogs about AOS 4.5 and AHV, most of them from my brother NPXs and VCDXs.
  • Josh Odgers agreed to organise a mock panel defence on the Sunday to help me settle my nerves, so I arrived on Saturday and then went through the mock process the next day.  It really calmed me and reinforced my self-belief that I could perform in the live defence.
  • I turned up to the scheduled panel defence (aka “NPX Design Review”) at 7am on Monday morning, the 7th of December.  I was expecting an examination panel of three with a moderator, instead I had a mixed panel of seven VCDXs/double VCDXs and NPXs.  To cut a long story short, I went into a four hour whirlwind of white-boarding, talking, explaining, ducking, weaving and deep-diving.  Even now I cannot remember exactly what I said or did, I was in the “zone”, operating completely on autopilot.
  • After the defence, we agreed to meet for lunch before the next panel defence in the afternoon.  During lunch, Mark stood up and said, “I want to make a toast to number 8!”  And that was it, I made it!  I was so happy and overjoyed, it took a few hours to sink in and reflect on the experience.  It was well worth the hard work and sacrifice.  HCI is the future, the sooner you get that skill-set under your belt, the better off you will be.
  • Thank you to Mark Brunstad, Michael Webster and Josh Odgers for their support during the entire process.  Thank you to Nutanix and Steven Poitras for the Nutanix Bible.



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Chief Enterprise Architect and Strategist, 4xVCDX#133, NPX#8, DECM-EA.

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