New Microsoft certs changes that IT pros need to know

Ed Tittel

Microsoft is delivering updated versions of exams related to the revised versions of the Microsoft Certified Solutions Expert and the Microsoft Certified Solutions Associate certifications.

The release of Windows Server 2012 R2, Windows 8.1 and System Center 2012 R2 prompted revising exam content for the certs.

We'll go through a complete list of all affected exams and point to some helpful Microsoft documents that spell out changes and additions in sufficient detail. This information should help candidates prepare for these latest exam versions, which retain the same exam IDs as their predecessors.

Changes to Microsoft certs: Affected MSCA credentials and exams

Only two of the MCSA credentials currently available are subject to the update -- MCSA: Windows Server 2012 and MCSA: Windows 8.

MCSA: Windows Server 2012 shifts from Windows Server 2012 to Windows Server 2012 R2. These are just a few of the changes Windows Server admins can expect to see.

The complete list of additions for these exams may be found in these change documents:

Exam 70-410: Installing and Configuring Windows Server 2012

Exam 70-411: Administering Windows Server 2012

Exam 70-412: Configuring Advanced Windows Server 2012 Services

  • 70-410: Installing and Configuring Windows Server 2012. Content added to this exam includes PowerShell Desired State Configuration, storage pools and Work Folders.
  • 70-411: Administering Windows Server 2012. Content added to this exam includes driver groups and packages; patch management in mixed environments; scheduling performance monitoring; configuring management tasks; forcing Group Policy updates and managing slow-link processing and Group Policy caching.
  • 70-412: Configuring Advanced Windows Server 2012 Services. Content added to this exam includes configuring and optimizing shared volumes, clusters, and storage spaces; configuring Hyper-V extended replication and Global Update Manager; configuring DNS registration, Workplace Join; and backing up and restoring AD directory rights management services.

Windows 8 shifts from Windows 8 to Windows 8.1, but the certification exams retain some double coverage. There are a number of changes to the two exams associated with Windows 8.

The complete list of additions for these exams may be found in these change documents:

Exam 70-687: Configuring Windows 8

Exam 70-688: Managing and Maintaining Windows 8

  • 70-687: Configuring Windows 8. There's a mix of new and updated content for topics, which include migrating from a previous Windows version or upgrade from Windows 7 or 8 to 8.1; installing additional Windows features or configuring for additional languages; configuring signed and unsigned driver settings; installing and configuring desktop apps and Windows Store apps; and configuring Internet Explorer 11 settings (add-ons, downloads, security and privacy.
  • 70-688: Managing and Maintaining Windows 8. This mix of new and updated topics covers supporting OS installation and Windows To Go; installing and configuring User Experience Virtualization (UE-V); deploying desktop apps using Windows Intune; supporting Windows Store and cloud apps (Office 365 and Windows Store apps); supporting authentication and authorization; supporting data storage; OS and hardware support; and managing updates using Windows Update and Windows Intune (including non-MS updates).

In particular, the changeover from Windows 8 to 8.1 appears to have made substantial changes to exam content and coverage, so candidates should restart their usual preparation processes with new study guides, Exam Crams and practice tests before tackling these revised exams.

Changes to Microsoft certs: Affected MSCE credentials and exams

To some degree, all of Microsoft's current MCSE offerings are affected by these changes, simply because all eight credentials require first earning the MCSA: Windows Server 2012 (or the equivalent 70-417 upgrade exam for those who qualify to take it) as an initial prerequisite or starting point.

That said, several MCSE credentials also involve changes to their content related to the recent release of Windows 8.1, Windows Server 2012 R2 and System Center 2012 R2. Microsoft and many of its authorized training partners offer classroom and some online courses for these MCSE exams. Given the thinning of the aftermarket that appears to be a natural consequence of Microsoft's increased release cadence, these courses are poised to become more popular than ever before. At $2,500 and up for a three-to-five-day class, though, such sessions are not within everybody's budget, making the case for self-study.

MCSE: Server Infrastructure

  • 70-413: Designing and Implementing a Server Infrastructure. While no change document is available, Microsoft has a revised Exam Ref for this exam, which covers changes and additions. I see no other books on this exam on Amazon.
  • 70-414: Implementing an Advanced Server Infrastructure. There's no change document for this exam either, but Microsoft has a brand-new Exam Ref here with a scheduled release date of April 22, 2014. There are no other books on this topic as far as Amazon will tell.

MCSE: Desktop Infrastructure

  • 70-415: Implementing a Desktop Infrastructure. There's a revised Exam Ref for this topic due in March, but there are no other books scheduled on Amazon.
  • 70-416: Implementing Desktop Application Environments. An Exam Ref for this exam is also due in March, but no other books get mentioned on Amazon.

MCSE: Private Cloud

  • 70-246: Monitoring and Operating a Private Cloud with System Center 2013. I don't see any books on this topic, though ExamFocus offers study notes for earlier exam versions, and MS Press has a book on Private Cloud Computing. There are no self-study materials scheduled yet, according to Amazon.
  • 70-247: Configuring and Deploying a Private Cloud with System Center 2012. The same ExamFocus and MS Press items cited for 70-246 also cover this exam, and the self-proclaimed BrainDump label on another item makes it problematic. Microsoft is vocal about exam/cert candidates avoiding such materials, as they can void certifications and lead to forcible and permanent ejection from the MS certification program.

The SQL credential (MSCE: Data Platform) is also due for a substantial addition later this year, when the Microsoft SQL Server platform gets upgraded from 2012 to 2014. There should be entirely new credentials for this new platform.

Self-study more challenging with changes to certs

One side effect of this latest batch of exam changes is the decreasing ease of self-study cert preparation for MCSE. While MCSA remains well-covered with lots of aftermarket options, the smaller candidate pools and more rapid revision cycles for MCSE credentials appear to be having a chilling effect on the traditional cert publishers such as Wiley (Sybex), Pearson (Cert Guide, Exam Cram and Que), Osborne/McGraw-Hill (All-in-One and Passport) and Elsevier (Syngress).

We're at a crossroads in the Microsoft certs prep world right now. Going forward, I believe broad aftermarket coverage will apply to the popular base-level exams for MCSA, and only selectively and sporadically to MCSE and beyond. The phrase "pick the low-hanging fruit" appears to be the future rule of what topics will warrant publication of self-study materials. I hope video and online training companies will pick up the slack to maintain a price point shy of the $3,000-per-exam rate that applies when classroom training, practice tests and costs for an exam topic are included.

About the author:
Ed Tittel is a 30-plus-year IT veteran who's worked as a developer, networking consultant, technical trainer, writer and expert witness. Perhaps best known for creating the Exam Cramseries, Ed has contributed to over 100 books with titles on information security, Windows OSes and HTML. Ed regularly blogs for TechTarget's IT Career Jump Start and Windows Enterprise Desktop blogs, as well as for Tom's IT Pro and PearsonITCertification.com.

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