My NCDA preparation experience


   Edit: To jump to the good stuff, check out Neil Anderson’s free eBook, How to Build a NetApp ONTAP 9 Lab for Free!

I’d like to share quick note about my experience in studying for and taking the NetApp Certified Data Management Administrator exam for Data ONTAP 8.0 7-Mode, NS0-154. Perhaps someone out there will find the links and study methods here useful .

I’ve never held a pure Storage Administrator position, but I did recently complete a year-long contract implementing NetApp FAS3240 and FAS3270 filers as part of an Enterprise Virtualization Project for the US Army in Southwest Asia. I was actually hired as a Network Engineer to install, configure and migrate to Cisco Nexus 5020s and 2224 Fabric Extenders, but coming from a Systems background, I was able to perform the role of Implementation Engineer for the VMware, NetApp, and Nexus environments. It was a very satisfying role overall and one in which I gained a lot of varied experience.

That role, then, led to my current position as a Systems Engineer with a focus on VMware. We’re a NetApp shop using FAS6280s and a 3140 as a SnapVault secondary from which we pull backups. Even though my role here focuses on VMware, I have the hope that I’ll get some hands-on time with the filers. Soon after my arrival, a couple other engineers took NetApp training with the company’s on-hand NetApp training credits. One fellow took an accelerated NCDA boot camp while the other took an advanced Cluster Mode course. Quite frankly, while they were getting trained-up, I wanted to prove to my co-workers (and management) that I could at least hang with them in technical discussions revolving around NetApp. I also have a Storage Admin that’s willing to throw me a bone once in a while to keep my skills sharp – I appreciate that.

So now let’s get into how I went about studying for the NCDA. At a high level, I used the following methods:

  • On the job training (OJT)
  • Data ONTAP 8.0/8.1 simulator
  • White papers and product documentation from NOW site
  • Free web-based NetApp training from NOW site
  • Blogs
  • Books
  • Discussions with fellow engineers and technical mentors!

OJT

The OJT came in the form of deploying the 3240s and 3270s. I was able to follow design documents to rack, stack, cable, label, and configure the filers and shelves. Although the physical implementation of NetApp filers wasn’t tested directly, it was very useful in gaining a holistic view of a NetApp storage system. I’ve only used 7-Mode – all my hands on and research only involved 7 – Mode. Being an enterprise solution, our implementations were, of course, configured in HA pairs. I was able to see the difference between a 3240 single chassis HA pair with internal interconnect versus that of the 3270, which is a dual chassis HA pair with two, 10 Gbps Twinax interconnects. I was able to reset the filers to factory condition and re-insert the partner system IDs, reboot, add licenses and see that each filer saw the other as an HA partner. From there I was able to create aggregates, volumes, qtrees, and LUNs from the CLI via an SSH session and through System Manager and Filer View (we still used 8.0). I was able to set security options, snap reserves, fractional reserves, configure iSCSI and LUN masking, /etc/rc files, ifconfigs – basically, a large chunk of the meat and potatoes of the content of the NCDA.

FAS3240 single chassis dual controller – can be used as an HA pair

Data ONTAP Simulator

I first got a hold of the 8.0 simulator from a work colleague. If you haven’t heard it yet, you can only download the simulator if you’re already a NetApp customer. You can get a guest NOW account, but this won’t let you download the software. You need to be able to register a NetApp storage system serial number to gain access. Later, when I received an upgraded NetApp On the Web (NOW) account, I downloaded 8.1 myself. The simulator was *crazy* useful, although anyone will tell you they’d like to be able to simulate an HA pair. From what I read on the web, you could do this in simulator versions prior to 8.0. From here, I was able to create and present storage from the ground up to my VMware and Windows environments. I’m still surprised VMware isn’t tested as directly as Windows and Solaris are, but I suppose it’s a matter of time – then again, the principles are still very much the same. Either way, the simulator runs a VM and will let you experiment with the filer. As a VM, you can blow it away and rebuild it in no time. Cloning, though, doesn’t work well if the systems speak to each other because they’ll both have the same System ID. This can only be changed when initializing the VM. I ran mine in VMware Workstation 8 along with virtualized ESXi hosts. This enabled me to run an entire lab in Workstation.

Vendor documentation

A must, if you want to be able to speak intelligently about NetApp technologies, is to read the documentation. I think a guest NOW account will allow you to get access to the PDFs. I downloaded just about all the 7-Mode documentation and added it to my iBooks on my iPad. The iPad in general and iBooks in particular (and the Kindle app) help me carry all my technical documentation and leisure reading. I can refer to PDFs quickly with the use of categories and the search feature.

Key PDFs include:

  • Block Access Management Guide for iSCSI and FC
  • Commands: Manual Page Reference for 7-Mode, Volume 1
  • Commands: Manual Page Reference for 7-Mode, Volume 2
  • Core Commands Quick Reference
  • Data Protection Online Backup and Recovery Guide
  • Data Protection Tape Backup and Recovery Guide
  • Fibre Channel and iSCSI Configuration Guide
  • File Access and Protocols Management Guide
  • High Availability Configuration Guide
  • Network Management Guide
  • Storage Efficiency Management Guide
  • Storage Management Guide
  • System Administration Guide

Most of these you can spend some quality time with. You probably don’t need to read every word, but hitting the highlights is certainly suggested. I didn’t read every word, but these were the PDFs I used the most. You’ll also notice the Manual Page references – you won’t want to/be able to read those cover to cover – but reference them often as you come across CLI commands to understand what various switches do. If I were to highlight certain PDFs to cut the above list, I’d focus on these:

  • Fibre Channel and iSCSI Configuration Guide
  • File Access and Protocols Management Guide
  • Network Management Guide
  • System Administration Guide
  • Storage Management Guide

There’s still a bit of reading here, but then it’s a complicated system.

I also read several white papers and technical reports, including:

  • SnapMirror Async Overview and Best Practices Guide – TR 3446
  • Fibre Channel SAN Best Practices – TR 4017
  • NetApp Storage Best Practices for VMwarevSphere – TR 3749

The vSphere white paper isn’t really a requisite for the NCDA, but it’s still very informative.

Vendor training

Once you have NOW access greater than “guest,” you should be able to take free web-based training courses on various NetApp hardware and software. Simply enroll and begin. The training is self-paced and you get a certificate at the completion. If you’re a NetApp Partner, I believe you get even better free training than those who are simply NetApp customers. These videos were useful to be because I had certain cabling questions I couldn’t find answers to online. The videos cover the range of hardware, too, from entry-level 2000 series all the way to 6000 series. The NCDA doesn’t necessarily ask about hardware, but again, for a holistic view, you can’t beat their free training.

There are two Learning Maps for customers: The Head-Start Program and the Getting Started Program. Here are screen shot of each and the web-based courses available. For the test, you can focus on Data ONTAP 7-Mode Fundamentals, SnapMirror Disaster Recovery, and Technical Overviews.

Blogs

There are plenty of blogs out there that focus on NetApp products and technologies. Some useful ones for me included

Neil Anderson’s FlackBox.com and his free NetApp lab eBook

Vaughn Stewart’s The Virtual Storage Guy

NetApp’s own Tech OnTap including their newsletter!

NetApp Back-to-Basics series (start here)

Julian Wood’s NetApp page (WoodITWork.com) This includes great setup documentation for the simulator!

Cosonok’s IT Blog (Cram Notes)

Mtellin.com has many NetApp articles

For some very useful blogs, I sent the web pages through a free online Web-to-PDF converter and added the PDFs to iBooks on my iPad. This made for easy reference, especially Julian Woods’ setup of the simulator.

Books

The only real book I referenced in my studies was Mike Laverick’s SRM 5 book. This walked me through the setup of a NetApp filer for use with VMware’s Site Recovery Manager. The relationship with the NCDA here is that SRM can use SnapMirror to replicate virtual machines (volumes, really).

Shop Talk

I also worked with some smart dudes. We would have plenty of time to drink coffee and talk shop. These were probably the most valuable moments. I would be able to explain what I thought I knew and someone would point out, perhaps, a detail or core concept I lacked. This presented a great opportunity to research a particular point of interest.

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3 Comments on “My NCDA preparation experience”

  1. vmmojo says:

    Nice and detailed write up. I basically followed the same path, and had the privilege of attending an on-site NCDA bootcamp. I also appreciate the reference to smart dudes:)

    • Great blog post. There isn’t a lot of training material outside of the NOW site and bootcamp classes. There a few vendor neutral storage books (Tom Clark, IBM Redbooks, etc) that were fundamental in laying the groundwork for me during my early days of learning storage.

  2. Andy says:

    Very informative article, great job. Sorry for this stupid question , but just curious what are the specs of the system which is running VMware workstation. Thanks in advance.


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