Hyper converged infrastructure has become well established in many enterprises today. As an engineer it is our passion to become skilled in knowing new technology and how to leverage it to help our customers grow and solve their business case demands.

HCI is a term used for infrastructure that combines storage, computing and networking into a single system to reduce Datacentre complexity and increase scalability. Being a VMware fan, HCI for me, starts with vSAN and means being more than proficient with the technology, I want and need to know how to implement and maintain the system as best I can.

There are many ways to start a learning process. For some its natural to simply read a book or attend a course and then you’re up and running. For me, I require practical, hands-on learning and this article is my approach for how to get started.

A lab is an essential component to enable your HCI learning process. A fantastic advantage of being part of an excellent DellEMC and VMware partner, is a commitment to invest and maintain a lab that enables the engineering team to physically deploy and destroy. The more you break, the more you fix, the more you learn.

However, a lab like this can be done for much less of an investment by leveraging other virtualization skills that you already have. Nested lab environments can be created on an old server or computer that can be obtained cheaply. A more powerful laptop can be used if you have a license for something like VMware Workstation. Nested labs allow you to virtualize your hypervisor and in turn, establish multiple VMware ESXi VM’s to work together in provisioning your vSAN cluster. A key learning tool for this can be found in William Lams website virtuallyghetto.com. Following Mr Lam via social media is also highly recommended so that you keep up to date with advancements.

Another key learning tool is to invest in VMUG Advantage. This is a paid subscription service from VMware that offers all the licenses for the software so that you don’t have to rebuild trial environments on a regular basis. VMUG and participation in the vCommunity is essential to keep you up to date but also gives you a forum to reference questions that may have already been asked or ask your own and learn from the sometimes-diverse range of response’s. If you don’t already have a twitter account, get one and start to follow people that I will mention in this article. The more you follow key people in the industry, the more you will grow your network of knowledgeable people and the more access you will get to articles to boost your learning growth.

Once you have your nested lab, you might want to create yourself any number of VM’s but depending on resources, don’t expect stellar performance. VMs are not needed for testing the underlying HCI infrastructure, but with a running VM, the idea is to see what changes you can make to your new HCI system without killing that VM.

At this point, you will have played with the environment and become well versed in how to perform maintenance tasks such as powering up and down the environment and maybe performing upgrades if you started with an older version of vSAN. The next learning leap is going to need a little more time and investment in reading. This not so practical approach can be made a lot easier with the right book and your “labbing” to date will hopefully have made you eager to know more. Thankfully the VMware community has people like Cormac Hogan and Duncan Epping who have written this fantastic book that will guide you into the deeper workings of vSAN.

If like me, you struggle with reading books, don’t read it page by page simply refer to the index and start addressing the topics in your lab and then use the book as reference material to understand the feature sets and changes that can be made with vSAN. The book is something that you will have with you as reference always.

The next major step is going to be daunting if you are like me. Certification!

Passing exams and maintain industry certification can be a chore but there is so much satisfaction in seeing the “You passed!” message flash up after the ton of effort you have put in. Start your certification journey by aiming for the VCP-DCV. This cert will give you an excellent basis for the greater vSAN learning track and like me, you might find yourself striving to achieve the specialist certification also.

If you do get the urge to complete the vSAN Specialist Certification, Paul McSharry has an excellent review of what you can expect.

Satisfaction for your efforts will also come from the many production deployments that you will complete. As an engineer, you will always be learning, and this can be challenging. With the knowledge gained from practical application of technology in your lab, you will be more confident when faced with your customer/production challenges. Knowing others are happy with your work is a super confidence boost and seeking feedback is a good thing.

Finally, the last thing you’ll need with your learning path is motivation and support. The vCommunity is great and getting involved by simply reading and observing will suffice. Knowing that you can reach out for help and advise can keep you going when finding topics tough. Ariel Sanchez Mora is a key person to follow on twitter  for VMware VMUG news and vCommunity engagement. Re-tweets from his VMware contacts will give you more contacts to follow and will ultimately grow your awareness of changing tech in the industry.

Family, friends and colleagues are all essential to your motivation and support and I thank all of mine for putting up with my “grumpiness” when I struggle 😊. You all motivate me to be better.

Robert Dowling | Asystec Technical Consultant