About Thomas Mackay

Tom Mackay has been a Staff Systems Engineer for VMware for the past five years covering National Strategic accounts. He holds VCP, CNE, and HP Master ASE certifications, and prior to joining VMware, was an HP Solutions Architect for almost 10 years. Tom has presented at VMWorld, VMware Partner Exchange, Novell Brainshare, and various national and international virtualization forums and VMware User Groups, as well as been an author contributor to the VMware VCP test content. Tom lives in Columbus, Ohio.

Tom’s Picks for VMWorld 2012 – Session & Speaker Recommendations

Here is my annual “Tom’s Picks List” for VMWorld 2012. This list began several years ago as an email recommendation of some presenters to several of my strategic customers, and was passed around and is now asked about every year (so apparently it has been helpful!) I have gone through the content catalog and selected ONLY those sessions and presenters that I know personally, have presented with in other events, or come highly recommended by other colleagues I trust. There are also a few sessions this year I selected due to the topic, and the value of the topic’s subject matter for an attendee. For example, the vCenter 5.1 session (INF-VSP1353), is a session that everyone needs to attend since it is a deep dive into the latest version of the management interface into vSphere AND the presenters rock! Overall, I have listed 65 of the sessions out of 165 as of this posting that are listed in the content catalog.

Pay particular attention to the “Highly Recommended” sessions as these will likely fill up quickly, and often feature the “rock stars” and bloggers we all know and follow. Should we add any additional sessions or if someone would like to add to the list, please do so in the comments section below. Remember, YMMV on if you think my picks are accurate or worthy, so keep in mind, this is a totally personal recommendation list. I am sure there are a number of other excellent sessions and presenters who are not on the list, so if you wish to promote other sessions or speakers, please do so below.

I am a Hands On Lab Principal this year, so will be in the HOL Lab most of the time, so feel free to stop by and say hello!

See you in San Francisco and Barcelona!

Thanks! Tom

Thomas MacKay VCP, CNE, Master ASE
Staff Systems Engineer
US Central Region Strategic Accounts
Email: tmackay@vmware.com

Tom’s Picks for VMWorld 2012-Sessions and Speakers Recommendations

So What IS it Really Like to be a Lab Captain for VMWorld???



I have recently completed one of the most difficult (yet rewarding) portions of work that I have ever been challenged with at my 6 year tenure at VMware. That is, serving as a Lab Captain for the VMWorld Hands-On-Labs at both the US & European conferences as well as the recent Partner Exchange (PEX) event in Las Vegas. As many of you have read in Aaron’s recent post “The Layer between the Layers”, like him, I was also asked to specifically captain and write a section of a vFabric Lab for the HOL at both VMWorld events in Las Vegas and Copenhagen and at PEX. There are 27 Lab Captains for the US and an equal number for the EMEA show, plus a larger number of Proctors for both. As a “generalist” SE (i.e. NOT a specialist in vFabric or even an SME – Subject Matter Expert), I was appropriately intimidated to Captain a topic I was not an SME in, so I was looking for any vFabric Specialist help I could get! Fortunately, I was paired with a great colleague, Chris Harris, who was a vFabric Consultant in the UK.

Since this was so much a part of my life for the past 10 months, I wanted to give you all a taste of what this preparation process entailed. If for no other reason that to help me to decompress from the massive amount of creative work that we went through to prep for VMWorld 2011, but also to give the reader a flavor for the process of what it takes to stand up the HOL from a content perspective.


So let’s start with the content definition and pre-work. We had a plan to construct content around a “real-world’ customer implementation of VMware technology, rather than product centric demo names and examples. I personally thought this to be a double sword of opportunity. We could communicate to customers the “scenario” of how and why VMware can supply a solution to a specific problem, but I thought many attendees might be confused with “NO PRODUCT NAMES” in the scenarios. I agree that we need to avoid product sell in a technical lab environment, but we also need to inform our attendees in a bit more detail on the products that they will be concentrating on in the individual labs. (BTW, we are changing this next year…)

That aside, the labs this year continued to make great advances in not only the technical demo aspects, but also business application illustration examples as well. I am always amazed at the ability of the Core Team to adapt to the constantly changing, massively dynamic virtual workload demands of the lab (while using alpha and beta “dogfood” builds to equip the lab) in a “live-fire” environment. After working in the labs over the past several years, I think this is THE example environment that represents the “most extreme” examples of virtualization “stretch” in our customer base.  By that I mean that the problems we face using cutting edge technologies, the latest beta (and sometimes alpha) code, and the massive workloads being generated and managed, are extraordinarily challenging (and really fun!…mostly…) J.  Never let it be said that PCOIP does not work over the WAN…we ran an entire portion of the lab from Las Vegas in Copenhagen, and everyone thought it was local! So overall, we are often breaking new ground and demonstrating what can be “virtually” achieved in a very intense and verifiable lab environment.

Again, that aside, the HOL environment, is one that we begin building months in advance of the events, and as most are aware, it is based on vCloud Director in a vPOD based model. The Captains start with the Lab Manual Build out back at the beginning of May. This is essentially a storyboard of the lab scenario that reflects the business problem and possible solutions and products required to solve that problem. We used a product called Screensteps to create the content and allow easy editing of the screenshots we needed to include into the manuals. We create a Lab Abstract Template, vPOD Configuration docs, and Visio diagrams of exactly what we need to include into each Lab Pod from an infrastructure and product perspective, build the base vPODs in our own vCloud orgs, and then turn those designs and completed vPODs over to the HOL Core Team for virtual build out to the WW Cloud. The overall idea is that once the vPOD is built and deployed into the various cloud DCs, it will be called up from the catalog by each lab participant “on-demand” and we actually create and deploy the lab in real-time (with some pre-population of the most popular labs). Once completed, the lab is “destroyed” and compute resources are returned to the pools. We complete this process literally 100,000-150,000 times during the week of VMWorld.


As you can see by the timeline below, we were under VERY tight time targets and each milestone counted!


Once the various drafts of the content for the manuals are completed and reviewed by the content leads, we then lock them in for lab manual build out and completion. Since we are often using alpha and beta versions of many new, or unannounced products for kickoff at VMWorld, it can be a bit dicey on build out, since we are also logging bug reports in the early code development and adjusting manuals to describe any workarounds needed to complete the lab. It is great that we have the chance to see these new products so early in development, but it adds to the workload and we get NO breaks in the timelines for delivery of our finished labs. SO that is where the pressure-cooker starts! This is also true for the Core Team as they are also using early, often unreleased alpha or beta builds and can run into similar issues. The additional effort that is required to be building out a lab environment while actively QA-ing new code drops at the same time is challenging…Days of 14-16 hours, nights, and weekends are considered the norm for Captains and Core Team as well as the Product Engineering folks who are on-site with us, so this volunteer effort is not for the faint of heart!

Once everything gets fully documented and deployed, the Core Team works their magic on pushing out everything to the three cloud environments: Las Vegas (Switch), Amsterdam (Colt), and Miami (Terremark). These are the sites from which we will be pulling sessions through View 5 into the labs for the attendees.

Finally, after months of creation and testing, we arrive onsite in Las Vegas several days prior to the event to setup the physical lab and begin testing.  Again, long days and little sleep are the highlights of these final testing sessions where we bring up the labs and stress test the environment.


Heroics abound in and around the lab from the Captains, Proctors, Core Team, and support staff. Every year we worry, ”Can we really pull off such a trick of having 480 workstations all pulling virtual labs and manuals to a single event, and have it be smooth and without incident? Well, generally SOMETHING happens (small config errors, lose a piece of HW, etc.) but the teams band together to make sure things work, even if it requires brute force to do so! Somehow, we get through it (after 148,000 VMs) and then do it all again in Europe and PEX! (Though admittedly on smaller scales…250 seats in Copenhagen, and 120 seats at PEX to reflect the difference in overall attendance of the events.)


We also got to watch all of the lab activity via vCOPs (vCenter Operations), and saw exactly how dynamic and massive the environment really was.


No other technology company I know of provides this level of lab automation and complexity while providing a high value experience for our customer attendees. I am really looking forward to next year when we offer these labs all year round and allow everyone to take advantage of the great work hundreds of people have contributed to provide such a unique offering (more on this soon). So next time you see any of the “red shirts” that say LabStaff on them, give a note of thanks for all of the hard work these folks have put in to give our attendees, the best possible lab learning experience available anywhere! We will also have new labs and processes that we are already beginning to formulate for VMWorld 2012 and beyond, so stay tuned later in the year to see what we have in store! Please ask questions in the comments about the HOL, and Aaron and I will share what we can…

Tom’s Picks for VMWorld 2011 – Speaker Recommendations


Over the past few VMWorld events, I have sent a list of speaker recommendations to my customers outlining some of my personal picks for the sessions I think would be the best to attend based on either my direct experience with the speaker, through personal relationship, or presenting with them at another event. I have combed through all of the speaker sessions, and chosen only the ones that I know (IMHO) who are “golden” in technical knowledge or presentation skills! Try not to miss the ones marked “Highly Recommended” as they are sessions that have an extraordinary speaker or topic.

Remember, the standard disclaimer applies: These are my own picks (not those of VMware, and not meant to be exclusive of the many other talented presenters and contributors) so your mileage may vary! BTW, stop by the Hands-On Lab at both Vegas and Copenhagen this year to say hi, since that is where I will be living with my other Lab Captains!


UPDATE: An Opportunity to Voice YOUR Feedback for the Next VCP Test!!


I am one of the SE SME content contributors to the VCP certification exam testing and blueprint process at VMware, and as we are about to start the analysis portion for preparation of  the next version of the exam (and no, I cannot share any timelines or version numbers since they are under NDA!), I thought it might be a good opportunity to get some direct feedback from the VCP certified readers of this blog to take back to my curriculum development colleagues. So this is YOUR opportunity to tell me what you like, dislike, would like to see changed, areas that need more or less content coverage, etc. Please be honest, but reasonable and constructive as well. I will take the feedback from the comments back to our upcoming curriculum development meetings. Let your voice be heard!


UPDATE: Thanks for all of the feedback folks! I have submitted the input to others in the curriculum dev team as we start to formulate the next tests. I have had one informal conversation with one of the test developers, and he agreed that we will be looking to not totally eliminate the min/max, but reduce it to -5% of the overall test question complement…So mission accomplished on your feedback! Let me know if you have other comments or suggestions!TMac

VMWorld recommendations – By popular demand…


Over the past few VMWorlds, I have sent out an email to my customers outlining some of my personal picks for the sessions I think would be the best to attend based on my direct experience with the speaker, either through personal relationship, or presenting with them at another event. I have taken a look at all of the speaker names, and chosen only the ones I know are “golden” in technical knowledge or presentation skills! Try not to miss the ones marked “Highly Recommended” as they are sessions that have an extraordinary speaker or topic.

Remember, the standard disclaimer applies: These are my own picks and your mileage may vary! Feedback on my picks would be appreciated, and I know they will be better than my Fantasy Football picks this year!! 🙂

Link to recommendations doc… VMworld 2010 Speaker Recommendations – Tom’s Picks

Understanding ESX/ESXi Equivalency…Are we there yet?

So I am often asked the question “how does this work in ESXi?” from my customers, especially around HW or management agents equivalency. So I hope to make the answer a bit more clear for everyone…

It is public knowledge that ESX is evolving to a pure ESXi model in the future release cycles of the product, though exact timelines are still under NDA. Convergence to a “console-less” ESX provides a number of benefits to our customers, with which many of you are, by now, well acquainted . It reduces the overall footprint that requires patching (see below) as well as removes the dependency on the vestigial RHEL-based Console Operating System, and sets the stage for future enhancements and technologies yet to be introduced. (Those who are under NDA might know to what I am referring!) 🙂

Continue reading

TMac joins Virtual Insanity and shares his thoughts on virtualization in Santiago, Chile

Hello all,

My name is Tom MacKay.  I am a Staff SE for VMware and colleague of Scott and Aaron and have worked closely with John B. (vTrooper!) for a few years now.  In fact, John was my customer at one time (remember that John?), and Aaron was my “mentee” when he joined VMware.  So I have been around at VMware for almost 5 years and seen a dramatic transformation from the days that there were only two of us SEs in the Ohio territory trying to explain to customers why virtualization was a good thing to do!

Aaron and I recently traveled to Santiago, Chile as part of an initial VMware “SE Exchange Program” to present at the VMware vForum there, and Aaron asked if I could add some of my impressions of the trip to the blog. So that no one is confused on this point, I am new to blogging and tweeting, and the other social media aspects of the current scene, so I generally don’t hit the blogs very often. I have a few friends and colleagues you all might know (Duncan, Mike D., etc.), in the blogosphere who do a fantastic job, so this is my attempt at adding my thoughts and input in such a way that might be helpful in some way to the readers.

Continue reading