The first steps in the Microsoft Virtual Academy - taking the plunge on virtualisation

Cloud computing building blocks

It was, ahem, a good many years ago now but I still remember the feeling of horror when confronted with a multiple choice paper for my Chemistry A level.

None of our exams up until then had been multiple choice so this was a bit of a novelty and I remember that we convinced ourselves that this would be a doddle as, after all, they told us the answer. I was about to get a rude awakening.

Of course, it's true that the answers were there but there were also lots of other options, all of which sounded equally plausible. I passed but it was a nasty shock.

And multiple-choice questions still have that power to shock: after stumbling through the first two in the Microsoft Virtual Academy, I was transported back all those years to my scruffy and long-haired 18-year-old self frantically trying to remember the difference between Boyle's Law and Charles' Law. I got through them both (at the second time of asking) but it was an unnerving experience.

If you recall last week, I'm going to spend the next eight weeks ploughing through Microsoft's Virtual Academy, really testing my knowledge of cloud and virtualisation technology and am inviting you to join me; take the courses with me and tell me about your experience (

We're going to print the best replies and, remember, the reader with the best score will win a new laptop and top-of-the-range coffee machine.

I started with the Microsoft Virtualisation for VMware Professionals - The Platform track. It seemed like the most relevant for me but there's no set order for doing the modules. I should say right off that I'm not a VMware professional, so I'm not exactly the target audience. Nor do I run a network, nor do I have access to a server which means that I'm lacking the means for some hands-on experience (I'm looking to rectify this point at some point as I believe that this is not a subject that should be restricted to theory).

Students of this course are offered Windows Server 2008 R2 with SP1 and Hyper-V Server 2008 R2 with SP1 as downloads and I definitely think that having hands-on experience would help. A few years back I did my CCNA as part of which, Cisco offers a virtual lab so that students get real practice in configuring routers and working out IP addresses something that would have been useful here (but then, Cisco charges heavily for its course while Microsoft is providing this material entirely free of charge - the much better deal).

The course itself provided an overview of virtualisation, explaining some terms on the way. The first video looked very much at what virtualisation was and why it would help some organisations there was a bit of time spent explaining the difference between VDI and desktop virtualisation, a distinction that some vendors are quite keen to blur. The conversation jumped a bit and, perhaps because it was an introduction and didn't really get to grips with much that was concrete, I found it a bit tricky to make notes. There was another issue too, but more of that later.

All the teaching is through video with some slides the slides are not displayed for very long on screen so there's lots of use for the pause' button. All the videos that I've seen so far have been presented by the same two presenters Symon Perriman, a clean-cut Microsoft evangelist and Corey Hynes, an independent consultant. The pair make for an engaging team but more slides would definitely help the learning process.

We see more of Hynes and Perriman in the second video which looks in some detail at the differences between Microsoft and VMware. I found this much more satisfactory. I may not be a VMware expert but I know enough about virtualisation to understand some of the basic principles.

What was really useful was the use of graphics to illustrate the way that VMware's terms have Microsoft equivalents. This part was really useful Hynes came into his own much more in this video too, explaining the concepts lucidly and comprehensively. There was coverage of a wide range of terms: from Integration Component to Virtual Machine Servicing Tool, from Failover Clustering to Cluster Shared Volumes

There's a lot of "we'll cover this more fully in module 4" or "we'll go into this later". It made me wish there could be some form of hyperlink taking me to these sites and the videos could do with a supporting website.

Despite the heavier subject matter, I did find this module easier. However, I still didn't pass the first time though, scoring four out of seven. I then looked at the questions again, realised that two I knew but had misread the questions an old failing of mine. I then made a quick recap of one of the topics before taking it again and passing with a 100 percent.

I'm now looking forward to the next few modules. I have an idea of the level of knowledge needed; my notes, sketchy at first, are now much more comprehensive and I take time to revisit areas before doing the tests.

Something else that was causing me hassle was the fact that running the videos at home was not easy. I had tremendous buffering problems, rendering some of the videos unwatchable one of the reasons I found the first one so hard, the constant stopping and starting made it hard to concentrate. There's some heavy material here so I did have to watch each video two or three times - I suspect that it will go up to three or four in future.

The two presenters do make much of the fact that they're presenting the Microsoft point of view but do try to stress that it's not the only way of doing things and, indeed, encourage viewers to make up their own minds. I think this is unnecessary, it's a Microsoft video and it's fair enough that the company blows its own trumpet.

The next track is on Hyper-V Deployment Options and Architecture - so it looks like it's getting heavier yet. I can't wait to get stuck into the modules some more. All credit to Microsoft for making so much rich material available for students and at no charge. It's already given me a greater understanding of Hyper-V than I have of Boyle's Law or is it Charles' Law?

Max Cooter

Max Cooter is a freelance journalist who has been writing about the tech sector for almost forty years.

At ITPro, Max’s work has primarily focused on cloud computing, storage, and migration. He has also contributed software reviews and interviews with CIOs from a range of companies.

He edited IDG’s Techworld for several years and was the founder-editor of CloudPro, which launched in 2011 to become the UK’s leading publication focused entirely on cloud computing news.

Max attained a BA in philosophy and mathematics at the University of Bradford, combining humanities with a firm understanding of the STEM world in a manner that has served him well throughout his career.