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Should you certify?
While there are many facets to the certification vs. experience debate, I tend to find those that are certified have an earlier and advantageous understanding on the newest software. After all, every certification makes you learn technologies that you would have never used before. This knowledge lets you fix your problems with a whole new batch of tools and knowledge. Earning an MCSA for Windows Server 2012 will teach you the latest improvements in server technology and expand upon your existing skills.
What is required?
The MCSA for Server 2012 has three straight forward requirements.
Take (and pass) the:
- 70-410 exam: Installing and Configuring Windows Server 2012
- 70-411 exam: Administering Windows Server 2012
- 70-412 exam: Configuring Advanced Windows Server 2012 Services
Though each of these exams cover the three stages of a server cycle, the exams can be taken in any order. If you feel more comfortable managing Active Directory and Group Policy, study for the 70-411 first and then take the other two exams.
What to study?
Microsoft exams are not the mysteries that they used to be. Every exam is completely broken down to each objective. If I was taking the 70-410 exam, I would know that at least 15% of the exam will cover server installation and first config.
A portion of the 70-410 percentage breakdown:
Install and Configure Servers (15-20%)
This objective may include but is not limited to: Plan for a server installation; plan for server roles; plan for a server upgrade; install Server Core; optimize resource utilization by using Features on Demand; migrate roles from previous versions of Windows Server
This objective may include but is not limited to: Configure Server Core; delegate administration; add and remove features in offline images; deploy roles on remote servers; convert Server Core to/from full GUI; configure services; configure NIC teaming
Configure local storage
This objective may include but is not limited to: Design storage spaces; configure basic and dynamic disks; configure MBR and GPT disks; manage volumes; create and mount virtual hard disks (VHDs); configure storage pools and disk pools
Should you buy books?
If you are new to certifications (or earned a 2003/XP certification), you might think you’ll need expensive books, videos, or training. I would argue that every resource needed is available for free!
Because you have the exam breakdown, you can search TechNet for additional information. If you are an IE user, add TechNet as a Search Option to make life easier. Because the 70-417 exam covers all of the material in the 70-410, 70-411, and 70-412 exams, you can use it as an all in one reference. On the TechNet Wiki, a complete study guide has been made free for the 70-417 exam. This guide contains TechNet links to every objective that you would be tested on.
If you prefer video resources (or just want a review of the new components), Microsoft put together almost 11 hours of training. All for free. The videos are available here.
How to practice?
You will also want a test lab to play with. If you don’t have a lab, you can run Hyper-V on any Windows 8 machine. If you simply don’t have a machine capable of virtualization, you can also sign up for a 3 month trial of Windows Azure. With Azure, Microsoft will host your virtual environment for anywhere access.
When to sign up?
Sign up for an exam! Just looking at my personal behavior, I will never take an exam without a definite exam date. Without a date, getting certified is something that would be nice to have. Once you are scheduled, the exam becomes real. Worried about failing? Microsoft gives you a free second chance to take your exam if you fail. So if you fail, you will know exactly what to study and can easily pass the second time around. I even know a few guys who take the exam to fail just so that they know what to study.
Can you upgrade?
If you already have previous Microsoft certifications, you might be able to upgrade it to the MCSA by taking one exam.
The upgradable certifications include:
- MCSA: Windows Server 2008
- MCITP: Virtualization Administrator on Windows Server 2008 R2
- MCITP: Enterprise Messaging Administrator 2010
- MCITP: Lync Server Administrator 2010
- MCITP: SharePoint Administrator 2010
- MCITP: Enterprise Desktop Administrator on Windows 7
To upgrade, you will need to pass the 70-417 (Upgrading Your Skills to MCSA Windows Server 2012) exam.
What comes after the MCSA?
If you are working on your MCSA, start planning for the future. Once you are certified, you can earn an MCSE with just two additional exams. Having your MCSA allows you to pursue the MCSE Desktop, Server, or Private Cloud (System Center) tracks. Here are two good starting points:
If you are working on your MCSA and still have answered questions, please leave a comment. And if you already earned an MCSA, please share your experiences so we can extend this FAQ.