from my experience NCDA is the easiest exam. Completed it twice in the last 5 years. (once when i missed the date to upgrade mine NCIE and had to take both exams again thanks NetApp they gave me a voucher for NCDA)
What is really important is having hands on experience. If do not have NetApp environment in the office, simulator is ok, but still real hardware is real hardware. I would built a lab on FAS 270 or 2020/50.
PS Why do not you start with cMODE, 7 mode is fading away?
We still use 7 Mode for our smaller environment. I believe its situational on what is appropriate. You may be spot on in general situations however, in my case it would be more pointless for me to learn cluster mode when Im using 7 mode at work. Im glad both options are available to get certified on. Like I was telling a buddy of mine. Its pretty cool to work on a certification that I have to do at work every day anyways. Just kind of adds a layer or 7 of understanding. *no pun intended*
@vims - Yep thought about Cluster mode but I'll do 7-Mode then Cluster straight away afterwards. I've had 12 months office experience with a FAS 3170 and a FAS 2240-2 - (one is FC and the other is iSCSI). I'm VMware VCP too - so have a very good understanding of SANs / LUNs provisioning in general etc.
@ivelb - I've seen the FAQ on the NetApp site but its a little vauge to be honest. I'd like to see NetApp produce a topic breakdown of all the relevant points to study for. I ended up getting the 'course breakdown' structure from a training vendor and I am using that as my areas of what to study on.
If anyone has any links to there own study material / notes I'd love to see them. Thanks