Customer asks: Is now the time to study for Windows Server 2008 certification, or Server 2012?September 27, 2012 at 1:39 pm | Posted in Certification Paths, Microsoft, Study hints | 32 Comments
Tags: Windows Server 2008, MCTS, MCITP, exam expirations, exam retirement, mcsa, mcse, Windows Server 2012, certification lifecycle, private cloud
In response to a recent post, blog reader Zappy asked,
I am new to Windows Server certifications and I currently hold none. I am thinking of getting certified but I am not sure if I should begin with Windows Server 2008 or Windows Server 2012. I have a fair amount of experience in 2008. What would you suggest?
The knee-jerk response is “Forget 2008; study for the cert that will have the longest shelf life.” However, there are a few factors to consider before writing off a 2008 certification entirely. Those factors are:
- the number of exams required to earn a certification
- the desired time frame for earning a certification
- the user’s level of experience with 2008 versus 2012
- how soon the user can expect 2012 to be the standard in his or her particular industry
For the sake of demonstration, I’m going to look only at Windows Server certifications, and not specialties such as Lync, .NET, SharePoint, or Exchange. (You can find more information on those certification paths here.) I’m also going to stick with entry-level and mid-level certs, since you’d be earning those anyway as you blaze towards the MCSE or MCM.
(Remember: These recommendations are for someone who, as of late 2012, has not yet taken any Microsoft exam and needs to factor exam retirement dates into a certification strategy.)
Do it now: Be off like a shot
No matter which path you decide to pursue, do it now. The perfect time to buy your first Microsoft exam voucher is during the Second Shot promotion. That means that if you take an exam between now and May 30, 2013 and fail it, you can sit for a free retake. You can buy Second Shot assurance for a single exam or for a multi-exam voucher pack (which typically earns you a bulk discount on exam fees as well).
It only takes one
Remember that passing one certification exam, even if it’s part of a multi-exam certification track, earns you the Microsoft Certified Professional (MCP) credential. As a member of the Microsoft Certification Program, you have access to MCP Flash emails from Microsoft, and you can share your transcript with others to show your progress towards a specific certification.
Single-exam certs: testing the Microsoft waters
In the “need a cert now” category, you can obtain a Microsoft certification with just one test — and it will count toward a higher-level certification, should you choose to pursue one. However, one-test certs are only offered for Windows Server 2008. The three server specializations are:
- 70-640 – Earns the Microsoft Certified Technology Specialist (MCTS): Windows Server 2008 Active Directory, Configuration
- 70-642 – Earns the Microsoft Certified Technology Specialist (MCTS): Windows Server 2008 Network Infrastructure, Configuring
- 70-643 – Earns the Microsoft Certified Technology Specialist (MCTS): Windows Server 2008 Applications Infrastructure, Configuration (retires July 31, 2013)
Remember that these exams include Windows Server 2008 R2 material, so you absolutely must be familiar with R2 before sitting an exam.
Our recommendation: if you’ve never sat for any Microsoft test and don’t know what to expect, combining Second Shot with a one-test cert might be the perfect low-stress entrance strategy, even if it “only” earns you an MCTS Server 2008 credential. If you go this route, choose either the 70-640 or the 70-642, since these also count toward the newly fledged MCSA in Server 2008 (more on that in the next section).
70-643 alone is not relevant to the MCSA 2008, so look at the exam’s objectives, and only choose it if you need this certification in your current job (and your boss is paying).
Three to five exams: not all middle-tier certs are created equal
Things get a bit murky as you move up the Server 2008 certification ladder. Having divided Generation 2008 certifications into five MCTS (entry level) and three MCITP (mid level) exam tracks, all covering different job roles and skills, Microsoft recently collapsed the varied tracks back into a revised MCSA, and added the upper-tier MCSE options. However, the MCITP tracks are still active. Depending on the track, each MCITP will either be phased out in July 2013 or rolled into the new generation of certifications.
You can obtain an MCITP in a Windows client or in Server 2008 R2 by taking three to five exams. The three server paths are Enterprise, Server Admin, and Virtualization Admin.
- The MCITP: Server Administrator requires three exams. None of these exams is scheduled for retirement in 2013.
- The MCITP: Virtualization Administrator requires three exams. These exams retire July 31, 2013.
- The MCITP: Enterprise Administrator requires five exams. These exams retire July 31, 2013.
Earning the MCITP: Server OR the MCITP: Enterprise automatically snags you an equivalent MCSA: Windows Server 2008. However, Server can be earned in only three exams, while Enterprise takes five. A MCSA: Server 2008 plus the 70-417 upgrade exam can then earn you the MCSA: Server 2012.
The MCITP: Virtualization also allows you to upgrade to MCSA: Server 2012 — but, confusingly, you can’t upgrade it to an MCSA: Server 2008. Microsoft has dropped it from this list of current MCITP tracks; also see this blog post.
Our recommendation: If you go the MCITP route, focus on time limits and cert upgradability. While Enterprise is upgradeable to MCSA, you’ll need to knock all five tests out in ten months. You can earn Server or Virtualization with three exams. However, if you go for Virtualization, you’ll have to pass three tests before July, and then take a fourth test to end up with a non-expired certification (MCSE in Server 2012). By contrast, going for Server earns you the low-hanging fruit (MCTS) plus the currently relevant MCSA: Server 2008, and you do not have to pass all three by July 2013.
Regardless of the path chosen here, you’ll have until July 31, 2014 to upgrade a relevant MCITP to a MCSA: Server 2012.
The case for the direct run: When to start with 2012
So as I’ve demonstrated, one exam will earn you an MCTS; an additional two well-chosen exams will earn you the MCSA: Server 2008; one past that (to be taken at your leisure) will upgrade you to MCSA: Server 2012. However, you could also choose to go straight to a MCSA: Windows Server 2012 in three exams (not required, but HIGHLY recommended, that you take them in this order):
- 70-410: Installing and Configuring Windows Server 2012
- 70-411: Administering Windows Server 2012
- 70-412: Configuring Advanced Windows Server 2012 Services
Three is less than four, so this should be the logical choice, correct? Well, not always. This is where we get into the really subjective criteria: the user’s time frame, the user’s level of experience with 2012, future certification paths, and the degree to which the user expects 2012 to be the standard in his or her slice of industry.
According to the most recent FAQ, an MCSA credential will never expire. Given how long hiring managers were asking for 2003 MCSAs — even after Microsoft axed the program — it seems safe to say that earning either the MCSA: Server 2008 or MCSA: Server 2012 is going to boost your job potential for years to come. Nor is the MCSA: Server 2008 a dead-end path. Here are the various ways to take a MCSA: Server 2008 certification to the next level:
MCSA: Server 2008 + Two exams (246, 247) = MCSE: Private Cloud
MCSA: Server 2008 + One exam (417) = MCSA: Server 2012
MCITP: Virtualization Administrator + One exam (417) = MCSA: Server 2012
MCSA: Server 2012 + Two exams (246, 247) = MCSE: Private Cloud
MCSA: Server 2012 + Two exams (413, 414) = MCSE: Server Infrastructure
MCSA: Server 2012 + Two exams (416, 415) = MCSE: Desktop Infrastructure
If you need a certification to put on your resume in the next few months, or if your certification efforts are self-funded, then going for a one-test MCTS may be a perfectly valid choice. By contrast, starting with the 70-410 puts you weeks to months out from your eventual MCSA. Only you can decide whether time is of the essence.
How much have you worked with Server 2012? Taking a practice test can, of course, help you gauge your comfort level in a given technology with a much lower entrance fee (and stress factor) than a live exam. If you don’t administer or work with Server 2012 in your current job, you can download review copies or take advantage of Microsoft’s extensive library of free training videos and virtual labs. A skilled user can bring him or herself up to speed at home.
Whether your industry will have a pressing need for 2012 certification is the third fudge factor. Before you laugh, a friend of mine who manages IT for a multinational firm recently went on a search-and-confiscate mission aimed at the highly insecure Windows 2000 laptop squirreled away by an executive who didn’t want to learn a new OS — ever. (My friend had to explain to another executive that no, Microsoft would not make a “personal exception” and keep supporting Windows XP solely on that firm’s behalf.)
If you’re in a company that has a largely remote employee base, handles a lot of BYOD employees, or develops for cutting-edge technologies, then you are going to end up in Server 2012 eventually, so you may want to start there right off the bat. You can earn the 2012 certification in three exams. Conversely, there are many industries where change is slow to occur, tech budgets are stingy, and business may run to the ragged edge of the support cycle. Nor is cloud the be-all, end-all wave of the future, as concerns about data security and privacy weigh heavily in industries such as government and healthcare IT. My point is that many businesses, having upgraded software and hardware to support Windows 7 and 2008 R2 and lacking a pressing need (or funds) to upgrade to the mobile, cloud, or touch-screen capacities of Windows 8, may well keep today’s systems operating until the absolute end of their support cycle, and require engineers to keep them going.
Look at the candidate requirements for jobs you’d like to have. Are they already asking for an MCSE?
If you have never taken a Microsoft exam, then starting with the 70-640 or 70-642 will earn you an immediate certification that can be rolled up to an MCSA: Server 2008 without any time limits.
Starting with another of the MCITP paths will also earn you a solid certification, but you’ll be working with Microsoft’s looming retirement dates for most of the relevant exams. Only consider these if you can pass all of the tests by July 13, 2013. (For more information, read this previous post on exam expiration.)
Starting with the 70-410 will let you gauge how ready you are to certify in Server 2012. Pick this if your 2012 skill set supports it, and if you think your industry will be demanding the most current versions of certifications in job candidates.
Again, I want to emphasize that if you’ve already started on a Server 2008 certification path, then exams other than the ones mentioned here are still relevant, and the certifications will add value to your resume for years to come. Regardless of which path you choose, you can’t go wrong adding a Microsoft certification to enhance your already valuable job experience.
Hope this helps!
–Ann & the Cert Prep team