Introduction

As a highly respected, award winning VMware partner, Xtravirt has had the opportunity to send consultants on VMware’s Advanced Architecture Course at their headquarters in Palo Alto.  The first two consultants attended earlier this year, and I got my opportunity in September 2018.

This article (a somewhat non-technical one) describes the purpose of the course and my experience attending it.

What is the Advanced Architecture Course?

VMware have always been a technology company.  As the product portfolio has grown outwards far beyond the original hypervisor product, VMware have realised that while the technology is perfectly good, what is more important is the purpose to which the technology is applied.

Often, solutions get purchased (or for that matter, sold) based purely on the technology and its capabilities.  This rather misses the more important point of ‘what benefit will this solution be to the business and why should we use it?’  As such, in the worst cases, such acquisitions can end up as ‘shelf-ware’ – acquired, tested but ultimately deemed of little value and not used.  This is harmful to the customer and, significantly, harmful to how VMware is perceived by the customer.

The Advanced Architecture Course is a product of VMware’s desire to change the emphasis to being business needs driven.  The course aims to take experienced consultants and architects and provide them with a business needs oriented approach to discovering requirements and proposing solutions to meet those requirements.  A key part of this involves educating consultants on how to present to C level executives – all of which is quite a departure from the comfort zone for technically focused consultants.

My Adventures in Palo Alto

I’ll gloss over the journey out there (which was quite an adventure in itself – avoiding Hurricane Florence, almost missing a connection and losing a suitcase…) and focus on the course itself.

VMware Palo Alto Sign

The course was a nine-day affair and to pass the course as a whole, we had to accrue a score of greater than 70% on all the objectives.  This included points for the pre-course online study (on matters ranging from ITIL and TOGAF through to VMware Workspace ONE), points for passing the end of day tests on content and the final presentation – which I’ll describe later.

It all started early on a sunny California Monday morning (at 7am!).  The first day focussed on VMware’s model for developing a business’ journey from basic virtualisation through to hybrid cloud and microservices as well as their model describing application of Digital Workspace technologies to business.  The approach consciously avoids specific products – so, for example, for Digital workspace, it describes the journey from traditional identity management through multi-factor authentication to single-sign-on.

Day 2 focused on the importance of requirements gathering, but broadening from just the traditional technical viewpoint outwards to business requirements – ‘we need to increase business revenue by… ’.  The importance of adapting the operating processes as well as IT were emphasised on Day 3.  A key message was that technology is only a part of the solution, without adapting to accommodate new abilities, those new abilities will still be hog-tied by legacy approaches to new needs.

We then had a particularly interesting day being taught presentation techniques, covering presenting to large audiences, conflict resolution and useful tips and tricks.

From here on out, the focus was on new technology, but with a business as a driver slant.  It’s not possible to replay much of the course content here for non-disclosure reasons, though, again, the idea was to broaden the knowledge of consultants.  As such, the breadth of technical areas covered was vast.  It included Cloud and DevOps, through network virtualisation and End User Compute to emerging solutions such as serverless computing, app containerization and Kubernetes.

The final day, although the briefest was the most challenging.  At the beginning of the course, the attendees were broken down into groups and given a case study.  From this, the groups had to work out a requirements matrix and put together a 20-minute final presentation (plus 10 minutes of questions) covering requirements, conceptual and logical design for a global solution encompassing both Software Defined Data Centre and End User Compute technologies.  This led to many long days putting in additional hours throughout the two weeks as well as some weekend work.  The presentation was to be given to a panel consisting of senior VMware staff (senior vice presidents and the likes) serving as the C-level execs of this fictional corporation.  This contributed most of the points on the course – so a pass here was important.

Fortunately, I was surrounded by thirty-seven of the smartest consultants and architects from all four corners of the world.  It was a real pleasure to work with these guys and I have to say that, despite the difficulty of the course, I wasn’t too surprised that we all passed.

VMware Center for Advanced Learning, Advanced Architecture 2018

Closing Thoughts

It was without doubt a tough course, intended to take the attendees out of their comfort zone to both broaden skills while also attempting to equip them for dealing with a bigger picture than just technology.  For me, it certainly has taught me a great deal, disproving the line “you can’t teach an old dog new tricks”.

Certainly, I consider myself fortunate to be working in a company that provides the opportunity to attend courses such as this.  It’s an investment for the company, of course, but one that ultimately benefits the customer.

(The day trip up to San Francisco was rather nice too, I can recommend the calamari and chips at Pier 39…).