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What Microsoft professional certifications are available?

Microsoft offers a bevy of certifications that can help a Windows Server admin demonstrate expertise in technical areas such as desktop administration

Microsoft's family of Windows operating systems has a long history in businesses and enterprise data centers. Windows...

Server 2012 R2 provides a wide range of enterprise-class functionality, but the infrastructures that use Windows Server can be challenging to design, implement, configure and manage without some level of formal training. Microsoft sponsors several different certification levels designed for IT staff at different places in their career. Let's start with a few essential Microsoft professional certifications.

Microsoft Technology Associate (MTA) is a single, entry-level certification that covers basic concepts and verifies essential technical knowledge. It's really for educators, students seeking a new IT career -- or change in career -- and business professionals looking for better technical insight. The MTA certification is organized into infrastructure, developer and database tracks, which build on the MTA exam with one or more specialty exams. A successful MTA recipient can build infrastructure knowledge by also taking the Windows Server Administration Fundamentals, Networking Fundamentals or Security Fundamentals exams. MTA can help lay a solid foundation in Windows environments and does not expire, but MTA certification is not recognized for higher levels of Microsoft certification.

Microsoft sponsors several different certification levels designed for IT staff at different places in their career.

Microsoft Certified Solutions Associate (MCSA) is a mid-level certification intended for network or systems administrators that install, configure and manage Windows Server. The MCSA is the basic certification for IT staff currently "in the business." MCSA certification for Windows Server 2012 involves three exams: Installing and Configuring Windows Server 2012, Administering Windows Server 2012, and Configuring Advanced Windows Server 2012 Services -- though this can be substituted for numerous alternative exams to facilitate job needs or career goals.

MCSA can also be tailored to several specific paths including MCSA: SQL Server 2012, MCSA: Office 365 and others. This is accomplished by taking several different or additional exams. The MCSA: SQL Server 2012 certification requires three different exams: Querying Microsoft SQL Server 2012, Administering Microsoft SQL Server 2012 Databases and Implementing a Data Warehouse with Microsoft SQL Server 2012.

MCSA certifications serve as a prerequisite to higher levels of Microsoft certification. MCSA certifications do not currently expire, so they do not require periodic recertification. However, Microsoft eventually retires MCSA certifications and replaces them with more recent technologies. For example, Microsoft is retiring the MCSA: Windows 8 certification in early 2016. Once a certification is retired, it is no longer available. Earlier iterations of Windows Server training -- ranging from MCSE: Windows 2000 to MCSA: Windows Server 2008 and others -- can be upgraded to the current version by taking the Upgrading Your Skills to MCSA Windows Server 2012 exam.

Microsoft Certified Solutions Expert (MCSE) is generally deemed to be the standard for IT professionals. For example, the server infrastructure track includes the installation, configuration and administration exams used for MCSA, and builds on them with Designing and Implementing a Server Infrastructure and Implementing and Advanced Server Infrastructure exams. Advanced exams include topics such as identity management, systems management, virtualization, storage, networking and more. The desktop infrastructure track builds on the basic MCSA exams with exams in Implementing a Desktop Infrastructure and Implementing Desktop Application Environments. Some exam substitutions are available to tailor Microsoft professional certifications to job requirements and preferences.

Unlike lower MTA and MCSA certification levels, the MCSE certification requires recertification every three years in order to verify continued proficiency in the underlying topic areas. Recertification typically involves a single exam such as the Recertification for MCSE: Server Infrastructure exam. Some other certifications can be upgraded to MCSE, such as MCSA: Windows Server 2008 and MCITP: Virtualization Administrator on Windows Server 2008 R2. For example, upgrading to the MCSE server infrastructure track involves taking three exams: Upgrading Your Skills to MCSA Windows Server 2012, Designing and Implementing a Server Infrastructure and Implementing an Advanced Server Infrastructure.

Enterprise software developers may opt for the Microsoft Certified Solutions Developer (MCSD) certification rather than MCSE. MCSD focuses on software tracks such as Windows store apps, Web applications, SharePoint applications and others.

Next Steps

Microsoft updates MCSE, MCSA certification exams

Make Windows certifications work for you

Changes to the Microsoft certification path

This was last published in January 2016

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