The future of .NET certification

Thoughts on what to expect from Microsoft's .NET exams.

With Windows.NET Server delayed owing to Microsoft's "trustworthy computing" initiative, nobody knows exactly when the next generation of .NET exams will become available. But the shape of this landscape is starting to emerge. In its MCSE and MCSA requirements pages, Microsoft mentions the following .NET-related exams:

  • 70-275 Installing, Configuring, and Administering Microsoft .NET Server
  • 70-276 Implementing and Administering a Microsoft .NET Server Infrastructure
  • 70-277 Implementing and Administering a Microsoft .NET Server Directory Services Infrastructure
  • 70-278 Managing a Microsoft Windows .NET Server Network Environment

While these exams don't constitute the sum total of .NET-specific exams in the Microsoft Certified Professional program (You'll find numerous developer-focused examples already amply described in the MCSD and MCAD requirements pages, for example.), they do represent the core of Microsoft's arguably most important and numerically its most popular certifications.

"What's likely to be new and interesting in these .NET certifications?" seems like a pretty inevitable next question. Officially, no details are available from Microsoft. But it's not unreasonable to look at major new features, functions, and initiatives, and to speculate on likely candidates for inclusion in the upcoming .NET Server MCSE and MCSA exams. Based on a review of recent Microsoft technical publications, training materials, press encounters, and some (hopefully) inspired guessing, here's my list of high-probability topics:

  • Passport services: Anybody who's installed Windows XP knows that Microsoft is boosting visibility and use of its Passport single login technology. Administrators will have to learn, understand, and eventually use this technology.
  • Certificate services: With an increasing reliance on Internet access for partners, vendors, customers and employees, the stronger authentication, privacy, and data protection services that digital certificates offer can no longer be ignored. Administrators are going to have to increase their use of this technology, be it from trusted third parties (such as VeriSign) or by installing and managing their own certificate servers.
  • Active Directory 2.0: Windows 2000 included AD 1.0 but Windows.NET Server will include AD 2.0. Beta reports indicate that it's more powerful, more manageable and more integrated with other aspects of the operating system. Thus, you'll start to encounter more mention of AD outside the 276 (and possibly a 279) exam. You will also need to learn more about how it integrates with key services like DNS, DHCP, and so forth.
  • XML Web services: The new developer credentials and the recent buzz from Redmond makes it clear that XML Web services are the cornerstone for many of .NET Server's enhanced capabilities. Learning to install, configure, and manage such services will almost certainly figure into future .NET exams.
  • Enhanced security protocols and services: Greater use of PKI, IP Security (IPsec), and more secure protocols and services is likely in .NET if only in reaction to the "trustworthy computing" initiative. Administrators will need to learn, understand, and manage these system components, their underlying tools and technologies, and get more involved in system and network security on all of their local and remote networks.
  • Usual GUI, tool, and utility changes: I've yet to see a new server release that didn't include changed and reorganized tools and utilities, with numerous interface changes to boot. Be prepared to spend some time learning and using these new facilities to prepare for .NET exams.

All this said, it's important to ponder the timing of Server .NET in light of what has happened with Windows NT Server and Windows 2000 Server. In each case, it took at least 18-24 months for industry to start adopting the new operating system in large numbers. That explains why many companies are still involved in migrating from NT 4.0 to Windows 2000 today, 26 months after Windows 2000 Server shipped in February 2000. Unless your organization develops for Server .NET platforms or is an early adopter, you're unlikely to need to tackle these exams before 2004. In fact, if you're already passed the equivalent Windows 2000 exams (For example, 70-215 corresponds to 70-275, 216 to 276, and so forth.) there may not be any compelling reasons to take these exams for a while. That's because Microsoft is allowing MCPs, MCSAs, and MCSEs to "mix and match" items from the Windows 2000 and Windows .NET tracks without regard to version. Unless Microsoft changes this policy, you won't need to take these new exams until your organization migrates and you need to understand the new OS.

Other relevant Resources:
MCAD Requirements
MCSD Requirements
MCSE Requirements
MCSA Requirements


Ed Tittel is a principal at a small content development company based in Austin, Texas, and the creator of the Exam Cram series, and has worked on over 30 certification-related books on Microsoft, Novell, and Sun related topics.

Want more information on what .NET means for your Microsoft certification? Tune in today (April 25) at noon for Ed's live SearchWin2000 Webcast. Click here to register.

This was first published in April 2002
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