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New certifications hit as Windows Server RTM arrives

Microsoft's revamped certification program and the debut of Windows Server 2008 go together, giving IT managers new accreditation choices.

As new certifications kick in with Windows Server 2008, Windows IT administrators may be unsure which to pursue as they see older, well-known certifications end.

The new Windows Server 2008 exams will debut soon after the server's release to manufacturing this week, as two long-standing exams, Microsoft Certified Systems Engineer and Microsoft Certified Systems Administrator, are phased out for Windows Server 2008 and future product releases, Microsoft said.

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Replacing the MCSE and MCSA designations is a new middle-tier certification called the Microsoft Certified IT Professional, which is job role focused. The new designation lets IT managers tailor the exams to their job functions, said Greg Shields, an independent security consultant and author, based in Denver, Colo., who also writes about certifications.

These MCITP certifications need to be retested every three years.

Cut to the certification chase

With so much change afoot, Shields said he believes confusion will abound among IT managers who hold existing certifications and for those already on a path to attaining older certifications.

One path that's available for Windows IT managers with Windows 2003 MCSE and MCSA certifications is an expedited program, which eliminates one of the exams necessary to receive the new certifications. Those who hold a Windows 2003 MCSE or MCSA certification must take a specific exam that covers material on two of the new exams in order to receive the MCITP certification in Windows Server 2008, as well as an additional MCITP exam. So instead of three tests, the expedited path means taking two exams.

So far, 11,000 Windows IT administrators have taken advantage of the expedited path from Windows 2003 MCSE or MCSA to Windows Server 2008 MCITP certification since it became available in October, said Rob Linsky Microsoft's Learning Division senior product manager.

If IT managers know they're going to work with Windows Server 2003 and Windows Server 2008, they can get an MCSE or MCSA in the older technology and then get the new certification in Windows Server 2008.

In with the new programs, out with the old

There isn't an upgrade path from Windows 2000 Server to Windows Server 2008, so they would have to attain certification in Windows Server 2003 first, according to Microsoft. And if administrators want an MCSE or MCSA in Windows 2000, they have until mid-March, when Microsoft will retire those exams.

For the path straight to Windows Server 2008 certification after the product is released, there are two new MCITP credentials -- MCITP Enterprise Administrator and MCITP Server Administrator. The Server Administrator certification requires passing two Microsoft Certified Technology Specialist (MCTS) exams as well as the Server Administrator MCITP exam. The MCITP Enterprise Administrator requires two MCTS exams and three other MCITP exams.

The MCTS designation replaces Microsoft's base-line Microsoft Certified Professional certification, which is being retired.

Microsoft also introduced a new top-tier accreditation a year ago called the Microsoft Certified Architect certification, which systems architects earn after a peer review board process.

The certification overhaul began a couple of years ago with new importance given to covering material that focuses on Microsoft's products and IT job roles, like server administrator, Linsky said. The certification paths have been shortened as well, he said.

The changes Microsoft is making can be seen across the IT certification industry. "No matter what vendor you're talking about, the certifications are more specific and different tiers are offered. This lets more people get in and get certified in some fashion without just giving it away," said Jeff Jenkins, vice president of information security with First American Corp., a large financial services company based in Santa Ana, Calif.

And although some Windows folks may be a little nostalgic about the departing MCSEs and MCSAs, others feel that change is just part of the whole IT process.

"It's nothing new: Products come and go. You have to maintain skills. Just like school teachers have continuing education, you have to stay current," said Richard Opal, with Peters & Associates Inc. of Oak Brook Terrace, Ill., a technology business systems design company.

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