NASCAR and Microsoft: A match made in Victory Lane

June 24, 2015 at 4:42 pm | Posted in Microsoft, Vendor news | Leave a comment
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I grew up in “stock car” country and loved to see auto racing, so I was pretty pleased when Microsoft announced it has teamed up with Hendrick Motorsports. NASCAR and Hendrick Motorsports will use the Windows 10 platform and Microsoft Azure to deliver technology solutions to make the cars faster and the fan experience better.

Microsoft will sponsor the Dale Earnhard Jr’s Number 88 car.

No88Car

For those of you not familar with NASCAR, NASCAR is auto racing using cars that resemble standard stock cars, but these go 200 miles per hour around a track. Unlike Formula One or other open wheel racing, stock car racing is full contact. These drivers bump and bang their cars into each other for 500 miles. Dale Earnhard Jr is the most popular driver in the sport, and Hendrick Motorsports  is the most successful team; it includes four-time champion Jeff Gordon  and six-time champion Jimmie Johnson.

HendrickDrivers

Microsoft has made in roads into other sports recently. If you are a fan of American football, then you may have noticed that every NFL team uses Microsoft Surface tablets. NASCAR has a large fan base in the United States. One of the reasons for its large popularity is the interaction of the fans. When they’re at the track, fans can get pit passes to tour the the garages and see the cars and teams up close. Even if a fan is not at the track on race day, the fan can get a 3D virtual picture of the live race, hear live race radio, and stream live audio of the driver talking with his crew during the race. Technology plays a big part in the fan experience in NASCAR as well, with the NASCAR teams trying to shave a hundredth of a second off a lap or pit stop.

RaceView

In 2014 NASCAR used a Windows touch-enabled mobile line of business application for the race car inspection process across all three NASCAR series (Camping World Truck, Xfinity and Sprint Cup), which reduced inspection times by nearly half.  NASCAR will use Windows 10 as its platform to run all apps for different types of devices and race operations. NASCAR teams will use this information to make quicker and more informed decisions in race situations.  Hendrick Motorsports will use Azure to capture and analyze terabytes of data for race simulations. Making critical decisions at critical times is how great race teams win. How many laps can I keep the car out on the track before I need to get gas in the pits? How many laps can get on these new tires now that the sun has come up and heated the track up by 10 degrees? If we give the car a track bar adjustment late in the race, will this give us a competitive edge?  Knowledge is not only power, it is the difference between winning and losing.

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Earnhardt said, “I’m a big technology user and really enjoy Microsoft products.” Dale Jr. may be excited about playing around with Windows 10.

As you’ve probably already heard, everybody that owns Windows 7, Windows 8, or Windows 8.1 can get a free upgrade for Windows 10 on July 29th, 2015. I know I’m supposed to be writing a more computer-oriented post here, but personally, I just can’t wait to see what improvements this will bring to my favorite sport. I hope to see you at the track.

FansAtTrack

Shake and Bake!

–George Monsalvatge

What went down at Microsoft Ignite 2015

May 13, 2015 at 11:53 am | Posted in Conferences, Microsoft, Vendor news | Leave a comment
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After spending a week in Chicago at Microsoft Ignite, I have a lot to report.

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First, some comments on the big picture. Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella said that Microsoft has changed their strategy from buying companies to partnering with companies to get at new technologies and provide services to Microsoft customers.  Microsoft wants to be mobile first and cloud first. They announced that there will be new changes to Azure to make it the next-generation hybrid cloud. Microsoft hopes to convince customers to use Azure as their secure public cloud deployment.

Windows 10

Yes, there was a big splash for Windows 10.  Microsoft VP Joe Belfiore presented Windows 10 at the keynote.  Windows 10 is billed as “Windows as a service.”  The voice assistant, Cortana, will be built-in. Cortana can perform web queries and pull indexed files on the computer or OneDrive. Internet Explorer’s days are numbered; IE is slated to be replaced by the new Edge browser.

TheEdgeWindows

The Edge browser will have a language extension to quickly translate a website from one language to another. You will be able to use Microsoft Passport with Windows 10 which means you can use your face as authentication to log in. Encryption in Windows 10 will improve. In the past, you could use BitLocker to do an “all or nothing” drive encryption. Now you can encrypt by document, not drive. You can further extend the protection capabilities by emailing the encrypted file to another person in the company and allow that person to open the file if they use the same encryption type. Users outside the company will not be able to open the file. You could have the encrypted file copied to a USB thumb drive so that another person in the same company could open it, but not have a person outside the company open it.

Windows Update for Business

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When you mention Windows updates to someone, their eyes roll and a low guttural groan comes from their mouth. A system administrator does not like to be overloaded with untested patches that will be applied to unsuspecting computers. With Window Update for Business, the administrator will have more flexibility on what updates are applied to company computers. You can configure distribution rings so that updates will not show up on the first Tuesday of the month.  You can configure maintenance periods to avoid updates and configure peer-to peer distribution.  Windows Update for Business will be free for Windows 10 Pro and Windows 10 Enterprise.

HoloLens

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Microsoft mentioned  HoloLens, but did not offer a demonstration. HoloLens is a holographic headset which overlays virtual environments onto real ones.  Is this another Google Glass, or something else?  Too soon to tell.

Reinvent the nature of work

Millennials are changing the way business works. Yes, Millennials were raised by “helicopter parents” and always got a trophy for participating. However, this same generation will be the majority of the workforce in five years (2020). Millennials believe work is what you do , not where you are.  Companies such as Uber and AirBnB have used technology to disrupt industries in a similar way to how Millennials have changed corporate culture.  Millennials care less about how the individual worker is productive, and more about how the team is productive. Microsoft  announced that Office 2016 and Skype for Business will help change the nature of work to better fit the needs of this generation. Skype was mentioned a lot because studies show that 55% of communication is body language, rather than spoken word.

BodyLanguage

Security

VP Brad Anderson mention that the attendees of the Microsoft Ignite conference were not James Bond, but rather  the dude with all the nifty gadgets, Q.

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Security is the number one topic on every company’s agenda. Microsoft took the opportunity to highlight the security features of Windows 10. Device Guard verifies whether each application is signed by Microsoft.  Device Guard will prevent the application from downloading if the code is not approved.   Outlook has been improved to prevent data leakage.  Data leakage protection keeps data from being copied and pasted to non-approved applications, such as Twitter, so employees cannot Tweet security secrets.  You can create a policy to allow copy and paste, but ensure that the action is logged for security purposes.   Microsoft also announced its Advanced Threat Analytics (ATA) software that uses deep packet inspection and file analysis to determine suspicious data. ATA can spot the location of a potential attack.

Coming Soon

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Yes there will be a new version of Windows Server and SQL  Server, Windows Server 2016 and SQL Server 2016 respectively. There was not a sneak peak of either one. However, there was mention that SQL Server 2016 will allow you to stretch part of a table into the cloud. A good use of this could be stretching a table that contains historical data.

Microsoft Ignite was different than Microsoft TechEd shows in the past. For starters, it was a heck of a lot bigger. There were over 20,000 reported attendees at the inaugural Microsoft event.  The McCormick Convention Center was a city in itself. If you were there, I hope you got an opportunity to visit the Hands On Lab.

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The Hands On Lab offered you the opportunity to run through different labs on SharePoint, Azure, Office 365, SQL Server, and others. Attendees of Microsoft Ignite can access these labs online through https://myignite.microsoft.com/#/ until  June 1st, 2015.  If you did not attend, you can still access Microsoft online labs at https://technet.microsoft.com/en-us/virtuallabs/bb467605.aspx for free.

Microsoft Ignite was a blast. It will be back in Chicago next year. I hope to see you there!

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–George Monsalvatge (that’s me in the middle)

Microsoft Ignite 2015: Sweet Home Chicago

April 29, 2015 at 12:51 pm | Posted in Microsoft, Vendor news | Leave a comment
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Leonard and Phil Chess started a record company named Chess Records  in Chicago that forever changed the face of music. In the first week of May 2015, Microsoft will have their new educational megaconference, now named Ignite, in Chicago. Will something be announced at the Ignite Conference that will change the tech world?  I don’t know, but I can’t wait for the keynote address.

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Instead of hosting separate events for SharePoint, Lync, Exchange, Project, and TechEd North America, this year Microsoft rolled several annual conferences into Ignite. Not surprisingly, this conference is already sold out. However, even if you can’t attend in person, you may still be able to look at Windows 10, as well as learn the latest features and changes taking place with Azure, Exchange, SharePoint, Office 365, SQL Server, System Center, Windows Server, Visual Studio, Intune, Lync, and more. Microsoft usually publishes online versions on Channel 9.

Because Ignite replaces the venerable TechEd, Microsoft will provide opportunities for you to get certified at the conference. During the week of the conference, there will be onsite testing available to all attendees for  $75, that’s 50% off the regular price. You can visit http://www.microsoft.com/learning to preregister for the exam. Use the promo code ignitena at checkout to get the 50% discount.

There will be at least 15 exam prep sessions conducted by Microsoft Certified Trainers (MCTs). MCTs will walk you through each objective on the exam to ensure that you know what is covered on the test. Check the Microsoft Ignite schedule for the times and rooms for these sessions.

There will also be a study hall at Microsoft Ignite that will free access to practice tests before you go take an exam. The study hall will located in Certification Central. Along with free exam prep resources, there will be MCTs on hand to answer questions and offer advice on taking the exams.

This inaugural event will include a Hands-On Lab that gives you the opportunity to run through hundreds of labs on Azure, Exchange, SharePoint, Office 365, SQL Server, System Center, Windows Server, Visual Studio, Intune, Lync, and more. These labs are self-paced and are a great way to increase your knowledge about a topic or learn a new technology.

HandsOnLabs

MCTs are running these labs on site to ensure that everything runs smoothly. The Hands-On Lab is open every day, and I encourage you to stop by. I will be working in the lab, so come by and say Hi.

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Also do not forget about the Attendee Celebration on Thursday. The food will be great and the beer will be cold. To quote the late famous Chicago Cubs announcer, “Holy Cow”!

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New conference, but still the man with the unpronounceable name,

–George Monsalvatge

Microsoft TechEd 2014 — I’ll see you there!

May 9, 2014 at 3:38 pm | Posted in Conferences, Microsoft, Transcender news | 3 Comments
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TechEd 2014 is happening next week in Houston (May 12-15). If you haven’t already heard, this event is SOLD OUT, and no, you can’t just buy tickets from a scalper. (It looks like a limited number of Expo Only passes are available as of this writing, but that’s it.)

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Why all the hubbub to attend an annual event? What’s in it for you? Well, not only do you get to attend four days of presentations on the latest tech, but if you’re in the market to upgrade your resume, you’re in luck: Microsoft will be offering 50% off of all MCP exams to attendees at TechEd.

Study hall, free Transcender practice tests, and Hands-On Labs

Not only can you take your MCP exam at TechEd, but you’ll have plenty of support to prepare for your exam. There will be targeted exam prep sessions led by different MCT Ambassadors (check the TechEd schedule as times and locations are released/updated).

Or, you can escape the convention center and study using Transcender practice tests in a quiet environment (including our newly released  70-412, Configuring Advanced Windows Server 2012 Services R2). The Study Hall is located in Room 339 on level 3 of the Hilton Hotel this year. The workstations there will also provide you with free e-books and on-demand training from  the Microsoft Virtual Academy (MVA). To get there, just take the sky bridge on the 3rd floor of the Convention Center across to the Hilton Hotel, 3rd level.

I believe one of the greatest features of TechEd is the Hands-On Lab. The Hands-On Lab offers you 214 different labs on different technologies that you can work through at your own pace. For example, if you do not have SQL Server 2014 installed at your office, or have access to a private cloud that you can practice with, the Hands-On Lab is the place to go.

HandsOnLabs

Where’s George? Find me and win a future practice test discount

Myself and the best MCTs on this planet will be working in the Hands-On Lab to help you through any technologies. I’ll also be available in the Study Hall to help set you up with practice tests and study materials.

If you can find me at the Hands-On Lab (or the Study Hall), come on up and say hello. Bonus points if you can pronounce my last name correctly — hint: it’s spelled “Monsalvatge.”

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If you see this smiling mug, snap a photo and post it to social media — or, better yet, snap a selfie WITH me in the frame tag us on Facebook, @Transcender , or Tweet us @TranscenderPrep and we’ll send you a post-show discount!  

Too shy to post your mug to social media? Closet social media Luddite? Not to worry.  You can just give me your contact information (business card, SMS) and I’ll make sure to email you the promo code after the show. 

How to score your 50% off (or FREE) certification exam sitting at TechEd

If you want to take an MCP exam at TechEd, I strongly recommend you schedule it in advance. To do so, go to Prometric.com and then follow these instructions:

  • Choose “United States,”  and then select Texas as the state.
  • Pick test center MC62 or MC63 at the George R Brown Convention Center.
  • You can take 74-409 – Server Virtualization with Windows Server Hyper-V and System Center for FREE with promo code TENA409.
  • For all other MCP exams, use TENA50 as the Promo Code to get your 50% discount.

If you’re already a TechEd ticket holder and you plan to take advantage of ExamDiscountpalooza, here’s a word of advice from my past experience: the best day to take exams is Sunday. Yes, the test center will be open from Sunday through Thursday, but knocking it out early on Sunday will ensure testing doesn’t overlap your other TechEd sessions. Furthermore, if you happen not to pass your exam, you can retake it after 24 hours have passed instead of paying full price after TechEd is over. And finally, signing up for an early slot lowers your chance of losing your exam seat to a walk-in registrant.

George’s Picks For Events

As a longtime TechEd attendee, I am always blown away by the amount of programming available. Here are my suggestions for the events I’ve marked as “must attend” at TechEd.

The TechExpo is held Monday night from 6-8:30 at the Convention Center. You get to meet the vendors, see what new products are available in the marketplace, and get some neat “swag.” And, oh yes, there is food and drink.

Straight after the TechExpo is the Certification Nation Celebration party. Just show your MCP ID to get in. If you do not have a MCP ID, this is a great opportunity to get certified. Check with the folks at the Study Hall where the celebration will be. You can mix and mingle and share testing stories with other candidates.

Tuesday is networking night from 6:30 to 8:30  at the Convention Center. Get the opportunity to make friends and find people in similar fields.

If you are female, you may want to check out the Women in Technology luncheon from  11:45 to 1:15 on Wednesday. This is another great opportunity to network.

Thursday is the Attendee party. If you have ever been to TechEd before, you know how fun this is. This will be at the Minute Maid park, the home of the Houston Astros or affectionately known as the “Juice Box”. I will see you there.

–George Monsalvatge

Death cometh for Windows XP?

March 21, 2014 at 7:58 am | Posted in Microsoft, Technical Tips, Vendor news | Leave a comment
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Microsoft has announced that as of April 8, 2014 there will no longer be any technical assistance for Windows XP. There will be no more automatic updates for Windows XP. You will be able to receive anti-malware signature updates if you have installed Microsoft Security Essentials for a limited time after 4/8/2014.  With no security patches to protect it, is this the death of Windows XP?

DeathComesForWindowsXP

I am not sure how to react to the death of Windows XP. Do I put on a coat and tie, invite some other XP users over, and say some nice words about the operating system? Do I sing “Dust in the Wind” like Will Ferrell did in  the movie “Old School”at the funeral for the beloved character “Blue”?

WillFarrelOldSchool

What I do know is that my Windows XP computer will not drop dead on 4/8/2014, but the risk of a Windows XP computer getting hacked increases significantly.

Who cares, you say? No one runs Windows XP anymore, you say? That is not quite true. As of December 2013, Windows XP computers represented  30%  market share according to netmarketshare.com.  According to the NCR corporation, 95% of the ATMs worldwide run Windows XP.  Not to mention the number of medical devices using Windows XP.  My coworker Ann snapped this photo during an unscheduled visit to the emergency room at a major metropolitan hospital on 3/14/14:

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The end of support for Windows XP will require many companies to make decisions on the future of their products.  Product manufacturers will need to upgrade to stay ahead of any compliance issues caused by a lack of security updates.

Companies have been lukewarm to Windows 8, so I do not expect them to jump on the Windows 8 bandwagon. However, Windows 7 has been  up and running for several years and has a solid install base of about 47%, according to netmarketshare.com.  Granted, hardware will need to be upgraded or replaced to support the upgrade, but there are many other choices besides Windows 7.  Linux and Android have a chance to take advantage of this change.  Could the death of Windows XP mean Microsoft no longer dominates the operating system market?

In the past, companies continued to offer applications to customers who ran on outdated operating systems especially in the medical industry. I expect that companies will still support applications that run on Windows XP long after the end of the support date. People will still use old operating systems and drive old cars.  For example, I drive a car that is more than 41 years old, and I clock more than 8,500 miles a year on that car:

73VwSuperBeetle

My 1973 Volkswagon Beetle is not as safe as a car manufactured after 2010.  I drive it because it’s fun to drive, but I take precautions.  I will not drive the car for more than 100 miles at a time. I always make sure that I have an auto club subscription like AAA.  If you drive an old car, you know you’ll need to upgrade the brakes, upgrade the head lights, and upgrade the safety belts. I replaced the ignition in 2014. Similarly, if you decide to keep Windows XP on your home machine or have your company’s applications continue to run on Windows XP, you will need to keep a few things in mind:

  • Older Internet browsers are lightning rods for security hacks. Upgrade those browsers to the latest version that will run on Windows XP.
  • Keep up-to-date anti-virus and anti-malware software.  Microsoft will support anti-malware signatures for some time after the end of support date. Look for third-party companies that may continue to provide anti-virus and anti-malware support for Windows XP.
  • Scale back privileges on the computer.  Restrict administrator privileges anywhere possible to minimize risks.
  • Have a plan to move data to a new operating system.

Microsoft offers a free program to migrate your data from Windows XP to Windows 8.1 called LapLink. The program will transfer your data, but will NOT migrate your applications.  There are several third party applications that will transfer data and applications that you can purchase such as PCmover.

Although we do not like to think about it, death comes for us all.  Like my father, the insurance salesman, would say, “You always need to provide for the inevitability of death”.  If you have Windows XP, death is knocking on the door. Make sure that you insure yourself against the security risks of running Windows XP and have a plan for moving data to a new operating system.

HomerTheEndIsNear

Good Luck!

Ch-ch-ch-changes: Turn and face the change (to Windows Server 2012 R2 exams)

March 12, 2014 at 9:03 am | Posted in Microsoft, Study hints, Vendor news | 6 Comments
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The first song I ever heard by David Bowie was “Rebel, Rebel” and in the video, he had scarlet red hair, an eyepatch, and some stylin’ 70s pantaloons.  If you have followed the (not parallel, but similarly meteoric) careers of Windows Server and British rock star David Bowie, you will see one common thread. Can you guess what it is?

PhasesOfBowie

Mr. Bowie, like Windows Server, has gone through several significant changes of appearance since those early days. The first version of Window Server I ever used was Windows NT 3.1. Despite undergoing several version updates since then, some core functionalities have stayed the same.

WinServerVersions Now there is a new version on the market, Windows Server 2012 R2. Late last year Microsoft announced that they would modify the existing Window Server 2012 certification exams to cover  R2 (70-41070-411, and 70-412). The Windows Server 2012 R2 exam changes officially took effect in January 2014, although we saw staggered rollout in the field. So if you spent good money taking a Microsoft Official Curriculum (MOC) course on Server 2012, only to find yourself under pressure taking an exam that tested concepts from Server 2012 R2, you may be asking why Microsoft felt the need to update the exam content so soon. I have met several people at Microsoft. They are not mean people who pull the wings off of butterflies; they are actually really, really nice folk.  It’s simply that the exams needed to reflect the new features of Windows Server 2012 R2. David Bowie is not content to just live off his old tunes; he put out his 24th album in 2013.  In similar fashion, Microsoft is not content for certification candidates to know what might soon be a legacy operating systems. They want to ensure that candidates for their flagship MCSA and MCSE certifications are tested on the newest features deployed to the field.

Without further ado, here are the additions to the official exam objectives list for the  70-410, 70-411, and 70-412 exams. 70-410certChanges 70-411certChanges 70-412certChanges While you can purchase the latest album from David Bowie  and listen to it, you may not yet be able to find much training on the new R2 features.  The best way to prepare for this exam is to set up a couple of servers and work through each of the tasks listed in the exam objectives. You can get a free evaluation copy of Windows Server 2012 R2. There aren’t a lot of books on Windows Server 2012 R2 yet. I would use TechNet and other online resources to study the information on each sub-objective. I find that Microsoft generally pulls test questions from the examples in TechNet. I would ensure that I was 100% confident with each sub-objective listed on the prep guide before attempting the live exam. Reviewing information on a particular sub-objective will ensure that you will not see anything that you are not familiar with on the exam.

If you need extra hands-on experience but do not want to spend hours configuring a server, try using the FREE virtual labs at the following link: http://technet.microsoft.com/en-us/bb467605. These labs allow you to have 90 minutes of practice lab time on a Windows Server for FREE.

We will be cranking out the Windows  Server 2012 R2 updates for the 70-412 Transcender practice exam in the next few weeks. (Drop a comment here to be added to our notification list.) And you better believe I’ll be listening to a little David Bowie while we do it.

You can check out the already updated R2 Transcender practice tests here:

  • 70-410, Installing and Configuring R2
  • 70-411, Administering R2
Until next time,
George Monsalvatge

What the heck happened at TechEd 2013?

July 24, 2013 at 8:59 am | Posted in Microsoft, Transcender news, Vendor news | Leave a comment
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TechEd 2013 in New Orleans started with James Bond and ended, no lie, with me dancing on stage with Tina Turner. In between those two events, I did some technical stuff and saw some technical things.

As you may have heard by now, Microsoft Vice President Brad Anderson started the keynote speech by driving onto the stage in an Aston Martin, doing his best James Bond imitation.
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Color me impressed.

Moving onto more relevant news: Microsoft announced the R2 revision to Windows Server 2012 as well as a new version of SQL, SQL Server 2014. During the keynote speech Brad Anderson gave a demonstration of the speed of Live Migration with Server 2012 R2. Server 2012 R2 performs Live Migration with compression that brings a significant improvement over Window Server 2012. SQL Server 2014 will support migration to Windows Azure virtual machines.

I got to attend a nice session on how SQL Server 2014 can easily back up and restore to the cloud, plus the improved “Always On” functionalities. For those of you unable to attend a TechEd session, you can bring yourself up to speed by reviewing the official SQL Server Blog, this article from Redmond Magazine, and this MSDN video, “Getting the Most out of Windows Azure Storage.”

The title of the keynote speech should have been “Cloud…James Cloud.” Microsoft is soaring toward the cloud at the speed of sound. Companies that currently manage a private clouds,  use a public cloud, or use some type of hybrid cloud configuration were excited to see improvements to Windows Azure, System Center, and Windows Intune.  A few bullet points:

  • With Windows Azure services for Windows Server, hosters can use System Center to manage hosted environments from a single management console in System Center.
  • Azure and Windows Server can offer web hosting and manage virtual machines.
  • Windows Intune is a cloud-based systems management and security service that can help integrate BYOD (Bring Your Own Device).

The BYOD sessions at TechEd were heavily attended. IT professionals need to connect to network resources with their iOS, Android and Windows devices. Microsoft said that they would provide support iPads and other devices in future updates.

One of the more interesting sessions I attended was the “Case of the Unexplained 2013: Windows Troubleshooting with Mark Russinovich“. It was informative and funny.

One of the more popular attractions at TechEd was that perennial favorite, the Hands On Labs. An attendee could go to the Hands On Labs and get their hands dirty with the latest technology. I got to work in the Hands On Labs this year. The Server 2012 R2 (Yes, Server 2012 R2!), Lync, and SharePoint labs were very popular. At certain times during TechEd, there was hardly a seat available for an attendee.

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One nice bonus: Microsoft announced that attendees were given the opportunity to purchase Surface RT tablets for $99 and Surface PRO tablets for $399.

SurfaceRT

There was a mass rush for these tablets. Lines to purchase the tablets stretched for what seemed like miles. I heard of people that waited hours in line to purchase the tablets. It was a complete zoo.

SurfaceLine

However, Microsoft had plenty of tablets, they did not run out, and both Josh and I came back with shiny new tablets. For those of you who would like to run Transcender test engine software on the tablet: we are both running it with no problems, but not as an installed application. You have to run it in Internet Explorer (in compatibility mode).

Screen of Surface RT

Microsoft Surface RT running Transcender’s online test engine. Plus Daddy’s little helpers.

As always, Microsoft had a blow out party during TechEd; since this was New Orleans, it was held at the Superdome and featured the famous local music and culture.

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Future NFL Hall of Famer, Drew Brees, played football with the TechEd attendees.One of my co-workers dropped a pass thrown from Mr. Brees. Tina Turner sang for the crowd. In what was probably the most surreal and memorable of my TechEd attendances to date, I, George Monsalvatge, got to go onstage with Ms. Turner and dance to “Proud Mary”.

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The Transcender crew had a great time and I learned a lot.  Such as: I can’t dance. Or at least not with that many people staring at me.

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Josh Hester, Aima Rotella, and Yours Truly. BTW, that’s not a booth babe, that’s our boss.

Until next time,

George Monsalvatge

My PMP Journey: Bad News, Good Advice, and the Dire Warnings You Should Heed

January 25, 2013 at 4:14 pm | Posted in PMI, Study hints | 3 Comments
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While I do manage projects in my daily work, I’d never thought of myself as an actual project manager. Being a take-action, Active Directory kind of guy, I primarily develop Microsoft practice exams and leave products like Project+ and CAPM to the professionals (aka Robin Abernathy). But last year several of my co-workers began suggesting that I take PMI’s Project Management Professional (PMP) exam. Then my supervisor softly “suggested” that I take the PMP exam. Even my sister, a project manager, got in the game and encouraged me to take the exam. Furthermore, my sister said the exam was easy and did not take a whole lot of work to prepare for.

Well, she was wrong.

Since I am a veteran trainer, exam developer, and test-passer, my initial plan of attack was to fill out the application, take a practice test to identify gaps in my knowledge, do self-study to close those gaps, schedule the exam, take the exam, and pass it. BOOM! PMP-ville.

The Bad News

Not so fast. First, it took forever and a day to detail all of my project work experience for the application. Yes, you have to document 4,500 hours of project management experience (7,500 hours if you don’t have a bachelor’s degree). They also require 35 hours of formal project management training, which I didn’t have. The training materials was not actually a problem, as I was able to take a Skillsoft e-learning course that my company offers, but I did have to stop and find time for 35 hours of training in my schedule.

Once I finished the training and completed the application, back in June 2012, I got the go-ahead from PMI to schedule my exam. Next, I tested my existing knowledge by taking the Transcender PMP practice test. I failed that practice test miserably, and I emphasize: miserably.

I appealed to my friends and Dr. Internet for advice. One friend suggested a book that turned out to be a lifesaver: PMP Project Management Professional Exam Study Guide by Kim Heldman. Meanwhile, Dr. Internet suggested that I read the book chapter by chapter, then go through some practice tests after I’d finished the whole thing.

The More Bad News

Great plan, except for the part where it didn’t work. I would read one chapter, then another chapter, and then life would get in the way. I would put in one week of good study, then put the PMP info down for about 10 days. Unfortunately, a lot of the information that I’d studied seemed to float away. This process continued all the way through fall. By the time September rolled around, I was still not able to pass the practice tests that came with the book. Worse, the actual PMP exam is four hours long, but I had to take lots of breaks to finish each practice test. I just could not sit through all 200 questions. I felt like I was in high school taking the SAT test again. Augh!

I soon figured out what everybody and their mother has already posted on the Internet: you need to know every process, every input for that process, every tool and technique for that process, and every output for that process. By the way, there are a whole lot of processes. I tried to memorize them with repeated reading, but was never successful.

Finally, I tried using the audio CDs that came with Heldman’s book. Since my office recently relocated to East Tumbleweed, I had plenty of driving time to listen to someone else describe each process. Although this sounds like this would be outlawed by the Geneva Convention as torture, it actually helped a lot. I was able to memorize most of the processes and their information in this way. More importantly, I was able to do significantly better on the book’s practice tests, and started to make headway on the Transcender practice test as well.

The very last thing I did to prepare was to actually read the PMBOK guide. Not exactly a page turner, but it had to be done. I wasn’t too far into the PMBOK when I realized that Heldman’s book has done such a great job of explaining the abstract terminology with real-life examples, that I didn’t need to spend a lot of time with the PMBOK itself. I might owe dinner to the buddy that recommended Heldman’s book.

The Dire Warnings

Scheduling, or rather the impossibility of RE-scheduling the PMP exam, was no walk in the park. I strongly suggest that you do not schedule your exam too many months in advance. In fact, you might want to make sure your test date is carved in stone. If you need to reschedule your exam within 30 days of the exam date, you will have to pay a $70 fee.  Worse, if you need to reschedule within 48 hours, you lose the entire testing fee ($405 for PMI members, $555 for non-PMI members). Ouch! Just be mindful, if you schedule the exam months in advance, life might get in the way, and you will risk losing your $70.

MoneyDownTheDrain

All warnings aside, I do recommend you set a goal date. I decided on the date that I wanted to take my exam and scheduled the exam only a few days out from that date.  Set a target date for when you want to take the exam, and then try to schedule the exam two weeks out from the target date.

The test center where I took the exam reminded me of the gulag in the movie “Stripes” where the East Germans held John Candy, Judge Reinhold and the gang, before Bill Murray and Harold Ramis busted them out.

Stripes

The lighting was so bad that I could barely see what I was writing on the scrap paper they gave me. As promised, the exam had 200 questions and blocked out four hours. My sister said that it would only take me two hours, tops. As I may have mentioned before, my sister was wrong. It took nearly the whole four hours for me to finish. It was comprehensive and really a tough exam. After staring at a screen for four hours, I could barely see to drive home.

Finally, the Good Advice

The exam was not impossible. Looking back, there are some things that I would have done differently. For starters, former Transcender team member Jennifer Wagner gave some really good advice on the application process in her blog post from 2009. Like she mentions, you should start documenting your project hours as soon as you start thinking about the PMP exam to cut down on the time spent sorting out the application requirements.

After I finished the application process and got the approval to take the exam, I would have tried to take the test within 6 weeks. I would have taken several days off from work and buckled down to go through all the material and practice tests on a continual basis, instead of trying to dedicate 90 minutes to studying five days a week.  PMI uses specific terminology to describe things that seem obvious or intuitive when you’re actually managing a project. If you do not know that terminology backwards and forwards, which I didn’t at first, it will be tough to pass the exam, even if you apply those principles every day at your job.

For me, the best way to get the knowledge about the processes was to go through as many practice test questions as I could to cement the information about the processes in my brain. There are about 800 practice test questions and over 1000 flash questions in the Trancender PMP practice test. I also went through the 400 practice test questions in the Kim Heldman’s book. With my work/life schedule, it took about two weeks to go through all those questions. Going through the questions highlighted my deficiencies. This was the key to the whole process, since after I identified the weak areas, I concentrated on the processes that I was weak on. I got better and better at the flash cards and practice questions until I felt ready to schedule my exam.

The more that you space the studying out, the less you’ll retain. Dedicate some time to the process and knock it out of the park while it’s still fresh. Hope this insight into my experience helps set your expectations & project management goals. Good luck!

Graduate

–George Monsalvatge

Free resources to help you learn, master, and get certified on SQL Server 2012

November 1, 2012 at 10:27 am | Posted in Microsoft | 6 Comments
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I am always trying to gain more knowledge that will advance my career. However, I’m finding that keeping up with the leading edge of technology can be a bit pricey. I don’t want to find myself looking for loose change in parking lots or scuba diving at night for quarters in the wishing fountain at the mall to pay for training and materials on SQL Server 2012. Thankfully, Microsoft offers a lot of FREE resources to help you learn SQL Server 2012.

Virtual Labs

I highly recommend the SQL Server 2012 virtual labs (http://www.microsoft.com/sqlserver/en/us/learning-center/virtual-labs.aspx).  At the time of this post, there are 19 labs that are between 45 and 90 minutes each. They cover such topics as AlwaysOn Availability Groups and Upgrading to SQL Server 2012. Bang-for-the-buck-wise, this is the best way to gain experience with SQL Server 2012. With these virtual labs, you don’t have to invest money in SQL Server 2012 licenses or buy additional hardware to set up a multi-server configuration to prepare for certification; you just need a highspeed Internet connection and Internet Explorer. The labs consist of virtual machines running SQL Server 2012 with accompanying lab text in a sidebar. Not every feature of SQL Server 2012 is enabled in the VM, but there are enough features to play around with and get a feel for the controls.

The labs have step-by-step instructions. I actually recommend that you ignore them the first time around. The beauty of these VMs is that you do not have to perform the lab by the directions. You can use the lab to experiment with the software and test different features.

Free Books Online

The SQL Server 2012 Books Online resource contains everything that you wanted to know about SQL Server 2012 but were too clueless to ask. You can access it on the web at http://msdn.microsoft.com/en-us/library/ms130214.aspx. If you are in a firewall or proxy-restricted environment, you can download the information directly from http://www.microsoft.com/en-us/download/confirmation.aspx?id=347. The downloaded version is nice to have on your mobile device if you’re stuck in an airport with no Internet connection and the airline can’t locate the plane that is supposed to take you home…totally hypothetical situation of course.

Microsoft Books Online allows you to search on any topic. The search results are pulled from TechNet and other authoritative sources.

The information is FREE and is generally used by technical writers to put together materials for SQL Server.

Microsoft Prep Guides

These are the classic pre-certification resource: the objectives and sub-objectives that you must master to pass the test.  For example, the prep guide for the 70-462 exam, Administering Microsoft SQL Server 2012 Databases, can be located at http://www.microsoft.com/learning/en/us/exam.aspx?id=70-462.  Here’s a tip:  you can change the last number in the URL to match, your specific Microsoft exam to find the prep guide for that exam.

The prep guide pages have four tabs: Overview, Skills Measured, Preparation Materials and Community. The Overview tab describes the audience profile for the exam and any certifications associated with the exam. The Skills Measured tab lists tasks that you must master to be successful on the exam. The tasks are broken down by objective and each objective’s weighting percentage for the exam. The Preparation Materials tab displays the officially Microsoft sanctioned training materials.  By now you might be reading along and saying, “Gee, George, I already checked there, and it was a dead end!” I feel your pain. Generally, there is not a lot of preparation information listed for a relatively new exam, and what is listed usually isn’t free. So I encourage you to check out the Community tab which has links to newsgroups that can give you a better perspective on training and possible offer some reviews on just-released instructional materials, so I find them a better resource for new technologies.

The Skills Measured tab lists the tasks Microsoft recommends that you know for the exam. I would suggest that you don’t limit your knowledge or experience to the items on this list. In my recent experience with Microsoft exams, the Skills Measured tab contains about 95% of what you will be asked on the exam. The other 5% will be the kinds of questions you can only answer from experience (which is where the virtual labs come in handy). Remember, Microsoft is moving away from the standard fact-based multiple choice question types, and weighing their exams more heavily toward question types that emphasize hands-on knowledge — such as Build List and Reorder, Extended Matching, and Case Studies. This is why you need to have a lot of practical knowledge of SQL Server 2012 to pass the exam.

Despite what is listed, there probably is a Transcender practice test available or SOON TO BE  AVAILABLE for most of these exams. Check the Transcender web site regularly over the next few months for the availability of the practice test.

Free e-book: Introducing Microsoft SQL Server 2012

You should definitely obtain the free e-book on Microsoft SQL Server 2012. This e-book is an overview of SQL Server 2012 and will introduce you to some new features in SQL Server 2012. You can download the e-book from the link for the 70-462 Microsoft Prep Guide, http://www.microsoft.com/learning/en/us/exam.aspx?id=70-462#tab2.

Again, this is where those virtual labs come in handy. I guarantee that the certification exam will expect you to be familiar with the functionality changes between previous versions of SQL Server and SQL Server 2012. Go through the e-book chapter by chapter, and use the virtual lab to poke around every new feature introduced in the book.

To successfully pass a Microsoft exam and not spend a dime on additional training is possible, and I have done it, but you have to dedicate some time to it. You should go through each task in the prep guide for the exam. Learn all you can by searching for the task in the books online, and then perform the task in the virtual labs. This will enable you to update your existing knowledge of administering older versions of SQL Server and translate those concepts into 2012.

It is not hard or expensive to learn SQL Server 2012, but it is time consuming. Block out some time in your schedule and use the free resources that are available to master the skills required to gain your SQL Server 2012 certification.

Happy studying!
–George Monsalvatge

O-M-G, Microsoft announces more exam question types

August 15, 2012 at 12:32 pm | Posted in Microsoft, Performance-Based Testing, Study hints | Leave a comment
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If you’ve taken a Microsoft test in the past, you’ve experienced the Single Answer Multiple Choice and Multiple Answer Multiple Choice questions. While this is a tried and true psychometric technique, a multiple choice question does not always fully test a candidate on his or her knowledge of the material.  You may remember that a few years ago Microsoft launched performance-based testing (PBT) segments with their multiple choice questions. The 83-640 exam included a series of tasks that tested candidates’ abilities in a virtual environment. Although this exam and item type have since retired, most of us that had the chance to experience this item at a test center agreed it was the ultimate test of a candidate’s skill. And I, for one, very much doubt we’ve seen the end of the PBT item.

With a similar goal in mind, by which the certification exam truly separates the experienced IT professional from the pack, Microsoft has added several new item types to exams over the last few months. Well, I say new, but some of these item types are more like “vintage” and you just may have not seen them in a while. You can view the entire list here:

http://www.microsoft.com/learning/en/us/certification/exam.aspx#tab4

Active Screen – These questions are good at testing candidates’ knowledge because you see an actual screen. The downside is the candidate does not need to know where to go in the software to access the screen, the task is limited to the screen that’s provided.

Build List and Reorder – This is one you may recognize if you’ve taken Microsoft exams for as long as I have. This question type is used to test whether a candidate knows which steps are needed to perform a task and the order in which they should be performed.

Case Studies – Case studies allow a candidate to be tested based on different real-life business scenarios. Microsoft used case studies for the Windows 2000 Server and some Windows Server 2003 exams. If you do not have a high level of reading comprehension, you will find case studies to be time consuming. Several testing candidates who did not read rapidly enough struggled and ran out of time with this question type. Microsoft has addressed this issue by no longer timing each case study separately from the rest of the exam questions. While time management is still important, you get one clock for the whole exam, allowing you to spend a bit more time reading through the case study.

Create-a-tree – Similar to the Build List and Reorder question type, these questions test your knowledge on structures and organization. This question type first appeared in the NT 3.5 and NT 4.0 tests.

Drag and Drop – This is a basic matching question. This question type allows a candidate to be tested on multiple concepts. It also appears on exams from other vendors, such as CompTIA and Novell.

Hot Area – This question is similar to an Active Screen question. You have to click one or more places within a graphic to satisfy the question requirements.

Multiple choice – You have seen this question type zillions of times. I believe it was invented in 1,000,000 BC. This item type presents a scenario, a question, and a minimum of four answer options. A prompt within the item stem (or sometimes at the end of the question) will indicate the number of possible correct answers.

Repeated answer choices – These questions (which we called “extended matching” in our previous post, Multiple options beyond multiple choice) are presented in a series. Each question in the series has the exact same answer options. Each question is worded slightly differently, so the answer could be different for each question — or it could be the same correct answer across the questions in the series.

Simulations – These type of questions actually first appeared in Microsoft Vista exams. This question type does a good job of testing the candidate’s knowledge of navigating to the problem and choosing the correct answer. This type of question is better than an Active Screen or Hot Area because the candidate has to navigate the software or OS to find the screen or page that contains the correct choice, and is thus tested on his or her hands-on knowledge. If you do not know how to get to the right set of options, you will not be able to answer the question. The limitation to this type of question is that there may be more than one way to solve a problem. A simulation question may want you to fix a problem with a GUI tool, even though you could correctly solve the task with a PowerShell cmdlet or by running a command from the command prompt.

Short answer code – This type of question will force a candidate to actually type the correct answer into a text box or blank line. This type of question will test your knowledge of the correct code use, the proper order of the code and syntax of the code. We haven’t actually encountered this item type in the wild yet, but we’re keeping our eyes peeled.

Best answer – These type of questions appeared in the original NT 3.5 exams. It is a standard multiple choice question that may have one or more correct answers — you have to pick the BEST answer. People complained back in the day on the NT 3.5 exams as to what constitutes the BEST answer. I believe the debate will continue if Microsoft revives this item type on tests.

If you are planning to take a Microsoft exam in the near future, you may see several of the above question types – or none of them. If you have an issue with any of the types of questions on your Microsoft exam, please let Microsoft know in the comments section at the end of your exam.  Also, if you liked a particular item type on an exam, please take a few seconds to let Microsoft know. And as always, we welcome any questions or comments you might have, and will do our best to reply or point you in the right direction.

Happy Testing.


George Monsalvatge

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