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Microsoft security certs: Are they worth the work?

The value of Microsoft security certifications.

Microsoft recently announced a Windows Server 2003 version of its security specializations for MCSEs and MCSAs. Since Microsoft has yet to explain how holders of a security specialization can upgrade their credentials from Windows 2000 to Windows Server 2003, I'd like to examine the credentials side-by-side, propose a potential upgrade path and explain how those who pursue a security specialization over the short term can optimize their future Win2k3 upgrade options.

There's no big deal about the MCSA core exam on client operating systems: Windows 2000 Professional (Exam 70-210) or Windows XP Professional (Exam 70-270) applies equally to both versions of this credential. You also don't need to fuss about the core networking system exams since Microsoft has already declared that the 70-292 upgrade exam will cover MCSAs who've passed Exams 70-215 and 70-218.

For the MCSE, in addition to taking 70-292 to upgrade from Exams 70-215 and 70-218, MCSEs must also take Exam 70-296 to upgrade core networking Exams 70-216 and 70-217. Core design exams differ, but because of the security focus in this specialization, candidates seeking to upgrade will have to take Exam 70-298 to replace Exam 70-220.

Things start to get interesting for the security specialization exams.

Windows 2000 vs. Windows Server 2003 specialization MCSA exams
Windows 2000 Windows Server 2003 Equivalent Notes
70-214 70-299 Implementing and administering security
70-227 or Security + 70-227 or Security + Take one of ISA Server 2000 exams, or CompTIA Security+ Exam

Requirements for MCSAs to upgrade a security specialization from Windows 2000 to Windows Server 2003 seem to depend solely on their choices for specialization. Only if they take Exam 70-214 will they face the possibility of taking Exam 70-299 to replace it. Otherwise, taking the 70-292 upgrade exam, obligatory for all MCSAs, should do the trick.

Requirements for MCSEs are slightly greater, as you'd expect in a more senior-level credential. Here, it seems that in addition to meeting the 70-292 and 70-296 upgrade requirements that apply to all Windows 2000 MCSEs, they'll probably have to take Exam 70-298 to replace Exam 70-220. As with the MCSA, only if they took Exam 70-214 as a specialization exam will they have to face taking Exam 70-299 as well.

Microsoft has wisely decided to require specialization candidates to take the most platform and best practices specific exam (70-214 for Windows 2000, 70-299 for Windows Server 2003) plus either 70-227 (ISA Server 2000) or Security+. Because Security+ does a reasonable job of ensuring that its successful takers have a good general background in information security, I recommend that option over 70-227, except for MCPs who expect to (or know they'll) work with ISA Server on the job.

Ed Tittel is a regular contributor on certification topics for numerous TechTarget sites, and a contributing editor and columnist for Certification Magazine. He also developed and still edits the Exam Cram 2 series of certification prep books.

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