Virtual Design Master – My Experience

It started in early July and finishes around mid-August. The Virtual Design Master competition reached its second season this year and I was fortunate enough to be a participant.

I started to inquire about vDM, a zombie apocalypse-based IT reality show, back when I noticed Eric Wright, Angelo Luciani, and Melissa Palmer were discussing it on Twitter. I went back through the first season’s videos and I was a bit skeptical on whether my skills were up to snuff to be able to compete. Previous until the competition, I had only done two designs before. Both of them at my current organization. Eventually I’d like to pursue the VCDX-DCV certification, so I figured no time like the present to learn how to defend a design and see where I was with coming up with a design along those lines. This looked like a good opportunity to find out just what I was in for. I didn’t realize just how tough that would be.

Challenge 1 – 3-Tier Manufacturing Application, Orchestration, Earth to the Moon

The first challenge was immediately into the fire. It was extremely open-ended and covered orchestration, something I’d never done before. We had basically 4 days to put it all together (a 3-tied manufacturing application), present and defend our designs. I put my head down and started digging into documentation and research. I looked over things like the vCAT documentation, manufacturing application technologies and architectures as well as researched new vendors. The vCAT documentation is amazing. It helped me ensure that I was covering all the necessary aspects of a design. I even enlisted my wife to logic check some of my decisions. She actually enjoyed it from what I could tell. On days I could, I was getting up at 4:00AM and working on the documentation and design well into the evening. The competitors I was up against were no slouches and I knew it would take serious efforts to make it past round 1. For the first challenge I’m sure I spent upwards of 30 hours on it total.

Challenge 1 – Submission and Defense

Submission was rough. I’d not slept much trying to put in as much time as I could while juggling family and work life. I managed to turn in what I consider a quality product given the amount of time to perform the task. After submission it was very surreal. I had this feeling of ‘shouldn’t I be doing something’ all the time after I poured so much into the last task. Lots of pressure and loads of adrenaline and caffeine. Judgment night came quickly and we were being judged by several extremely well-known and highly intelligent people. I had never been a part of a Google Hangout that was live before so it was a bit daunting. I have to say the judging was a great experience. They weren’t as abusive as I thought they would be and they provided great feedback. It was an amazing feeling to realize that the effort exuded was well received. The judges were gracious enough to let me pass on to the second round.

Challenge 2 – Revise and Scale, IPv6 on the Moon

The second challenge involved taking a previous competitors design and using it, scaling it down and following requirements such as only using IPv6. It was really difficult because we had to learn another person’s design, break it down and scale it down to still be able to run the same thing from Challenge 1 on it. That wasn’t the most difficult part of the challenge. Going through every bit of documentation and looking for IPv6 support or dual-stack support was a giant pain. If any vendors read this, please for the love…update your docs. IPv6 is coming, you have zero excuses right now.  For this challenge I would say I spent about 30 hours on it.

Challenge 2 – Submission and Defense

Another rough submission but managed to finish it out. I was very happy with the result. I went back and forth between blades and rack mount systems and was asked why I went rack mount instead. In the end and regardless of how rare a chassis failure might be, in this situation it was the right call for my design. Brian Kirsch seemed to agree as well and I managed to make it another round.

Challenge 3 – VMware, KVM, and OpenStack…oh my

After the Challenge 2 defense, we got another bomb. Basically, learn OpenStack in 4 days. What I didn’t understand was that I needed to actually ‘build’ an OpenStack environment. My daughter’s first birthday and family in town took priority and I was only able to start working on Sunday afternoon until the submission deadline. More up at 4am working and I went back to designing and when I finally realized my error, it was too late. I spent the remaining time making sure all my documentation was as good as I could get it. I wanted to showcase what I’d learned over the past few days. I wanted to design what I thought was a highly available OpenStack deployment and I wished I would have been able to actually get it all configured and tested.  With this challenge I know I spent over 30 hours on it total.

Challenge 3 – Submission and Defense

I was really dreading the defense night. I was pretty sunk after realizing that I didn’t get the challenge completely finished up. When it was my turn to present I donned the flame retardant suit and dug in waiting to hear ‘what were you thinking’. These comments never came actually and the judges really liked my design. The worst comment was ‘how could I not complete the requirements’. I was still very happy that they provided great feedback and it was nice to hear that what I had prepared was good work. However, it was not enough to push me on to the next round and I was cut. I didn’t have any problems with it though. I didn’t complete the requirements and this isn’t Chopped where you can leave a basket item off the plate.

Final Thoughts

If you’re even contemplating getting involved, don’t think about it too much just do it. If you can spare the time you should absolutely get involved. As you can see I spent over 90 hours working on it over the course of three challenges.  I think that’s probably low given what others have said, but it was worth it.  It’s an amazing challenge and will test not only your skills but your mental toughness. Can you pull it together and finish the challenge even when you’re tired and it seems like your head is swimming? You will be tested to that degree. I can say that I’m better after being a part of the competition. The competitors pushed each other every challenge to up the ante and it was a great ride. Thanks to everyone who worked on the competition, the competitors, the sponsors, the judges, and especially the community. It was great to see others already wanting to get in on Season 3 of the competition. I think those comments alone speak volumes about what this competition can do for the community.

If you want to know more about the competition and you want to see my submissions as well as the other competitors, visit







One thought on “Virtual Design Master – My Experience

  1. Pingback: What a year… | vWilmo

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