Nutanix Vocabulary

This will be the first post of a series —as I am going to post my study notes for NPP as a general reference and a study tool for others. We’ll start with the basics, Nutanix vocabulary.

The Nutanix Xtereme Computing Platform (XCP) is a converged, scale-out compute and storage system that is purpose built to host and store virtual machines.

XCP is comprised of two components:

Acropolis – data plane made up of App Mobility Fabric (AMF), Distributed Storage Fabric (DSF) and hypervisor integration.

  • App Mobility Fabric (AMF) – logical construct built into Nutting solutions that allows application and data to freely move between environments. The AMF abstracts the workloads (Containers, VMs, etc.) from the hypervisor, which is what provides this ability to easily move applications and datas around.
  • Distributed Storage Fabric (DSF)  – distributed system that pool storage resources and provides storage platform capabilities such as snapshots, disaster recovery, compression, erasure coding, and more. Nodes work together across a 10 GbE network to form a Nutanix cluster and the DSF.
  • Hypervisor –  ESXi, Hyper-V, and Acropolis Hypervisor (AHV)

PRISM – provides management UI for administrators to configure and monitor the cluster. This web interface also provides access to REST APIs and the nCLI.

A few more terms to be familiar with (since I used them in the section above!):

Node – the foundational unit for a Nutanix cluster. Each node runs a standard hypervisor (ESXi, Hyper-V, and AHV) contains processors, memory, network interfaces, and local storage (SSDs and HDDs).

Block – a Nutanix rackable unit containing up to four nodes

Nutanix Node.png

Cluster – set of Nutanix blocks and nodes that forms the Acropolis Distributed Storage Fabric (DSF). A cluster must contain a minimum of three nodes to operate.

The three objects that allow the Nutanix platform to manage storage are:

Storage Pool – is a group of physical storage devices, including SSD and HDD devices, for the cluster. The storage pool can span multiple Nutanix nodes and is expanded as the cluster scales.

  • It’s recommended that a single storage pool be created to manage all physical disks within the cluster.

Container – is a logical segmentation of the storage pool and contains a group of VMs or files (vDisks). Containers are usually mapped to hosts as shared storage in the form of an NFS datastore or an SMB share.

vDisk – is a subset of available storage within a container that provides storage to virtual machines. If the container is mounted as an NFS volume, then the creation and management of vDisks within that container is handled automatically by the cluster. Any file over 512 KB is a vDisk.

nutanix bible.png

(Image above taken from

Some more storage terms:

Datastore – logical container for files necessary for VM operations.

Storage Tiers – utilize MapReduce tiering technology to ensure that data is intelligently placed in the optimal storage tier —flash or HDD —to yield the fastest possible performance.

The general process for provisioning storage is as follows:

  1. Create a storage pool that contains all physical disks in the cluster.
  2. Create a container that uses all of the available storage capacity in the storage pool.
  3. Mount the container as a datastore.


More to come over the next few weeks!

Lessons Learned From My Time in the Marine Corps

This month I’ve spent a lot of time reflecting on my time in the Marine Corps, and not just because of Veterans Day a few weeks ago. November 27 is 10 years since I stood on the yellow footprints at bootcamp in Parris Island, SC, and 5 years since I separated from the service. I’ve now been out of the military as long as I was in it. Sometimes it feels I just got out of the Marine Corps; but most of the time it feels like a weird dream that I woke up from…as if I was never really in the military.


Most days I’ll tell you that I was miserable (somewhat true) and couldn’t wait to get out of the military (true). I spent my youth, my formative years (18-23) in the military. These years have molded who I have become as a (mostly) fully formed adult. During my time in the Marine Corps, I learned a lot about leadership and even more about myself. I’d like to spend a little bit of time discussing some of the things I’ve learned and how they are applicable to the tech industry.

Be Self-Aware

Understanding yourself and your own limitations —what you’re good at, and, more importantly, what you’re not good at, is critical to ensure you surround yourself with the right people. There’s a Marine Corps leadership principle that states: “know yourself and seek self-improvement.” I’ve always felt that is one of the most important principles for a leader. Surround yourself with people who complement your skill sets and challenge you to improve. Personally, I tend to surround myself with those who I perceive to be far more intelligent than I am because it motivates me to do better —be better. Don’t be the smartest person in the room, learn your weaknesses, and find a way to make your weaknesses a strength. On consulting projects, I try to surround myself with others that have a skill set I don’t so I can try to learn from them.

Be Decisive

In the Marines, I was taught to make “sound and timely” decisions; there was always an extra emphasis placed on “timely”. My fellow non-commissioned officers (NCOs) and I were taught to methodically analyze decisions, to weigh the pros and cons, and to minimize risk as much as possible before making a decision. In one of my NCO courses, I was taught to use a 75% solution to make rapid decisions —this means to gather as much information and details until you have at least 75% of the data, at which point use experience, intuition, and expertise to fill out the other ~25%. Sometimes waiting for all the information to make the “perfect” decision results in action happening too late. Whether you’re weighing a job offer or trying to decide on the right hardware vendor, gather as much information as possible and make a decision. If you wait too long to decide, that opportunity may have disappeared.

Problem Solving / Strategic Thinking

Traditionally the Marine Corps has suffered from a systemic lack of resources because it is the smallest branch of the military and has to compete for funding with the Department of the Navy. This spartan lifestyle helped my team and I develop unique and ingenious ways to get what we needed…whether it was “acquiring” office supplies from mysterious places or finding a way to feed the troops during Thanksgiving, there was always a display of initiative and entrepreneurial spirit amongst my Marines. Being exposed to that kind of culture taught me to try new things and to challenge the status quo which has served me well in my entrepreneurial journey thus far. As a leader in tech, co-workers and customers alike will look to you to solve problems and help the business grow. In order to do that, you have to know about more than just the underlying technology. You also need to understand customer needs, the market, the competition, etc. Don’t be afraid to get out of your comfort zone to solve the problem at hand.

Create a Collaborative Environment 

Strong collaboration skills allow you to work with others to exploit synergies and be able to deliver way more than you would be able to deliver if you were working solo. It’s easier to work with people when you have a warm, working relationship rather than just dropping in when it’s only in your interest. It’s not necessarily about being everyone’s friend. It’s about building trust and respect. If you’re in a leadership role, listen to the team…you’re not the only one with great ideas. As a leader, you’re a servant first. You exist for the good of the team, to ensure that the teams succeeds. Empower and give your collaborators the tools they need for success; it’s a two-way street.

Continue to Learn and Grow

I know, there’s always a fire to put out or a deadline to meet. Many of us don’t have an abundance or spare time. However, professional development and continued growth are the only surefire ways to ensure you’re not left behind in this ever evolving tech world. Whether it’s technical skills or business skills, you have to continue to seek self-improvement. I know someone who puts one hour for studying into his calendar each work day. Do what you need to do but find the time to improve yourself.

On that note, the worst is pretending to know something that you have no clue about. It will come back to bite you, or even worse, your entire team. Some may think it’s a sign of weakness to say ‘I don’t know,’ but I disagree. I think more people will respect you for your self-awareness and your desire to learn. No matter what your job is, there’s something you don’t know. Everyone needs a mentor, find one. Listening and asking questions are not signs of weakness.

It’s OK to Fail (But Never Give Up)

It doesn’t take much effort to find numerous example of Marines enduring seemingly impossible circumstances —from Iwo Jima to Fallujah —heroes like John Basilone or Chesty Puller, there is never a shortage of amazing acts of courage and tenacity. I remember running miles in full combat gear and thinking that I couldn’t make it each time my feet hit the ground…but somehow I always did.

I had never failed anything in my life until I took my first VCP. I had been up all night working and then went straight to the test center on no sleep and took the exam. I failed, barely, but I failed. That was the first time I’d experienced the feeling of failure —I was gutted. I questioned my entire life,  questioned whether I should even be in tech or not. I felt like an idiot. I had never failed in my life so I never had anyone tell me that it’s OK to fail. The important thing is what you do from that point thereafter. I had to figure that out on my own; it was a tough road. There have been many times when I’ve felt like quitting tech or some project or certification I’m chasing, but I have to stop and remind myself of how much harder things could be (even when the circumstances seem insurmountable) or how much worse they’ve been in the past. These little reality checks help me keep moving forward. Giving up is not an option.

Sense of Humor

Sometimes we all take life a little too seriously. It’s important to loosen up sometimes when circumstances seem to be dire. I often think of my five years in the Marine Corps as the best and worst time of my life. I remember being a part of Operation Tomodachi after the 2011 earthquake and tsunami in mainland Japan. Some of us were working 18-19 hour days, 7 days a week, for two months straight. Despite being exhausted, we never stopped making jokes. It was as if my unit’s credo was to keep things lighthearted. We’d be slap happy, highly caffeinated, just laughing our asses off while working. It made time go faster and made the long hours not seem so bad. Sometimes things suck, we have crazy deadlines and we work long hours…that doesn’t mean that you can’t make the best out of a bad situation. Go ahead and send that funny meme to your co-worker.

Learning from Failure – My Path to VCDX (Part II)

ICYMI, you can find Part I here.

Second Attempt – Pass!

The important decision to make whether I should wait or reapply immediately. Brett and I talked a lot about this over the two days following our results. I decided that I would shore up the gaps in our design (primarily our DR plan and the capacity planning) and reapply for the November defense. The deadline for application was Aug 24…that meant I had slightly less than two weeks to edit the design and reapply. Brett decided to wait because he had a lot of work obligations for the second half of the year. Per policy, VCDX partners can defend separately (however, must apply at the same time) but must be within two defenses of each other.

In case you did not know, a second defense on the same design requires a change log to be created. Check out Lior Kamrat’s blog post here.

In hindsight, it was a crazy move to reapply so quickly. Between application and defense in November, I had VMworld US, two Europe trips, and VMworld EU…translating to not a lot of time to prepare. But I felt like I had a better idea of what I needed to do and what the panelists wanted to see.

I talked to many VCDX candidates and VCDXs while at VMworld US and VMworld EU. I listened to all their advice and how they prepared. I’m grateful for the time that so many spent with me.

This time I decided to prepare differently. I was going to do it my way. I went into a little bit of an isolation; I didn’t tweet about it. I didn’t work with as many people, I kept my group small. I just focused on working with my study group. I didn’t do as many mocks for myself (I think only two or three), but I participated in quite a few mocks as a “panelist” for others. I created flashcards for questions I thought panelists would ask. And I completely rebuilt my slide deck so that the intro (or main deck) would talk more to my requirements and constraints, as well as specifically highlight my design decisions.

I went up to Palo Alto a few days before my defense to do some mocks and study with a member of my study group. Unluckily, my defense was the morning after the US election so I stayed up later than I had planned. I went over my slide deck, slide-by-slide, with someone in my study group that night. I woke up early, flipped through my main deck one last time, and then headed to VMware’s campus. While I waited for my panel, I reviewed through my Quizlet sets one more time.

Honestly, I wasn’t sure how I did. I felt more comfortable in the design scenario because I did what I normally do with a client—I wasn’t so focused on following someone else’s template. In the defense section, I felt I did ok but I could tell I wasn’t doing well explaining my networking. I got a little ramble-y in that area. I think I may have made up for that in the scenario. Either way, I was convinced I’d failed again.

To VMware’s credit, they cranked out our results much quicker than in July. I defended on Wednesday and found out my results the following Tuesday. I passed! I’m officially #243.


My Thoughts  

  • Make sure your friends and family realize how much time you’ll be dedicating to VCDX.
  • No (wo)man is an island. Surround yourself with a community of others doing the same.
  • Join a study group. Gregg Robertson runs a great one on Google+ and Slack. Join it! But then find a smaller group who are preparing to defend around the same time as you.
  • Have someone (or multiple people) review your design as you are writing it.
  • Review your design and have someone else review your design once submitted. There will be gaps and errors—-find them! Figure out how to address them in your defense.
  • Do mocks! Do more mocks!!
  • Create backup slides in your PPT for reference, but do not be afraid to whiteboard in your defense.
  • Be familiar with your slide deck. You don’t want to waste time fumbling around looking for a slide in the defense. Work out those kinks in mocks.

But you should do what feels right to you. Don’t focus on the techniques that helped others. Don’t feel the need to follow someone else’s template. Achieve VCDX your own way. Grant Orchard (#233) just wrote a brilliant post along the same lines, read it here.

Obligatory Thank You(s) 

First and foremost, I would like to thank my VCDX partner, Brett Guarino, and his wife, Leann, for putting up with us working weekends and late nights and letting me stay all of those weeks in their home in Raleigh while we worked. Thank you to Brett’s managers at VMware for letting him dedicate time to this project. I can’t wait until he gets his number.

And a massive thank you to:

Lastly, Chris Williams, thank you so much for being the only person who responded with notes when we sent our design out for review. Your time reading our design is greatly appreciated and your notes were invaluable.

Learning from Failure – My Path to VCDX (Part I)

I’m excited to announce that I have been awarded the title of VMware Certified Design Expert (VCDX) #243. If you are unfamiliar with the VCDX program, you can find more information here.

My journey towards VCDX began a little over three years ago. I had successfully passed the VCAP5-DCA (May 2013) and VCAP5-DCD (Sept 2013) exams and was trying to figure out what was next for me.

I talked to my friend and former business partner, Brett Guarino, about it several times throughout the next few weeks. Together, we decided to partner up, write a design, and chase this certification together. In October 2013, I wrote an article titled “Why I am Pursuing the VCDX” for VMware Press, publicly announcing my pursuit (that way I could be held accountable). I had no idea what a long road this would be.


Writing the Design

This part took us forever. I think we underestimated the length of time it would take and it became increasingly difficult to prioritize VCDX time over work. This is primarily because Brett and I were both self-employed when we set out on this endeavor. So for me, taking time off to work on VCDX meant no money coming in for that given time period.

We kicked around a few different designs we worked on, considered doing something completely fictional, but ultimately we landed on a lab infrastructure design we had worked on together. Brett and I selected this design because it was very unique (leverages nested virtualization) but was still fairly simple.

By December 2014 we had put together our first draft of a design document and had created a plethora of diagrams and tables. But…around that time Brett accepted a position with VMware and was trying to settle into this new role. I was still self-employed and had landed a few gigs that were keeping me traveling overseas regularly. Our VCDX design was put on back burner…and it sat there for about a year.

Around Christmas 2015, Brett and I had a frank conversation regarding our pursuit of VCDX. When I had time to work, he was busy; when he was free, I was busy or out of the country. We tried to divide up the sections and conquer them separately but when we weren’t together we found that it was easy to prioritize something else over our design. It was time for us to ‘shit or get off the pot.’ Either we would both dedicate time working on this or we needed to pursue VCDX individually. We decided to give it one more shot together.

I had looked at the VCDX schedule and found that there was a submission deadline in May 2016 to defend in Palo Alto in July 2016. We created a schedule and got to work. We both took off for much of April to sit down and hammer out the rest of the design document together. Within about 2 weeks we had the design document finished and sent to a reviewer. From there, we split up the remaining work of completing the supplementary documentation (installation guide, implementation guide, testing and validation guide, and standard operating procedures). I think we underestimated the amount of time that the supplemental documentation would take.

With the deadline fast approaching, I found myself on a plane to Tel Aviv the day before the submission deadline. I was furiously making last minute adjustments to our documents, re-reading, editing, and trying to finish filling out the application.

We submitted our applications, and then had a drink to celebrate. Idiotically we thought the hard part was finished…we were wrong. Turns out preparing for the defense is far more stressful than writing the design.

First Attempt – Fail!

Once our applications were submitted, it came time to work on our PPT and start to participate in mocks. We should have started immediately after submitting our applications but we didn’t because we both had vacation plans for the end of May. And honestly, we really didn’t think we’d get accepted. We did. I took a week off in June and together we worked on our PPT and did some mocks for the design scenario portion of the design defense.

We both took off work for the two weeks leading up to our defense, crammed, and worked on perfecting our PPT. Through mocks we found quite a few gaps in our design and slide deck and we worked furiously to make more supplemental content (backup slides).

I defended on July 25 and Brett defended on July 26. I must say that I didn’t feel like I had bombed the defense, but didn’t walk out feeling like I’d given an A+ performance. I felt the outcome was 50/50. There were a few things I was hit on for which I was not properly prepared. I didn’t feel great about my design scenario —I think I had read too much about how it should approached by different VCDX bloggers and I tried to follow their approach and it just didn’t feel natural to me when I was in the room.

But I had a lot of time to replay my defense in my head because I didn’t find out my results until Aug 9…slightly over two weeks! I failed (sadly, Brett had failed as well). I’d thought a lot about my defense and I realized that I was completely “defensive” rather than “offensive,” I wasn’t guiding the conversation. I spent too much time in the technical details and not enough time explaining why I made that decision in the first place. Additionally I didn’t feel like I did the best job tying design decisions back to requirements. I was determined to learn from my mistakes.