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While the previous two articles in the series focused on some of the things that can be done at an organisational level to help achieve the appropriate MCP exams, this article is the first in the series to discuss a specific competency, and what you can do to help your staff through the process. I’ve started with this competency for two primary reasons, first of all the changes that have been implemented as well as changes that are coming within the year, and the timing of the System Centre 2012 launch and availability via your Internal Usage Rights as a Microsoft Partner.

Exam Strategy

One of the other elements that I touched upon in the previous articles was working with your exam candidates to make sure that you were working towards common goals in the long term with certifications, and with changes to the MPN requirements, and now the introduction of the new MCSA and MCSE Cloud certifications for individuals, it’s probably the best place to start to compare and contrast their current alignment.

 

May 2012 Silver

May 2013 Silver

May 2012 Gold

May 2013 Gold

MCSA

MCSE

70-659 Server Virtualization

X

X

Until Jan 31, 2013 in place of 70-247

70-669 Desktop Virtualization

X

X

70-693 Virtualization Administrator

X

70-246 Monitor And Operate with SC2012

X

X

X

X

X

70-247 Configure and Deploy with SC2012

X

X

X

X

X

70-400 Operations Manager 2007

X

X

70-401 Configuration Manger 2007

X

X

70-658 DPM
2007

X

X

70-640 Windows Server 2008 AD Config

X

X

X

70-642 Windows Server 2008 Net Infra Config

X

X

X

70-646 Windows Server 2008 Server Admin

X

X

X

There are a couple of things to note with this chart, which is the importance of the System Centre 2012 exams, regardless of whether you want to be Silver or Gold in this competency from May 2013 onwards. However, that doesn’t mean you should drop everything now to focus on them, as the chances are your staff are better equipped to pass some of the exams on the current/previous technologies, which gives you almost a year to get people through the System Centre 2012 exams. You can also see that their is alignment between the new MCSE Cloud certification and the Gold requirements for 2013, which means that your organisation and your exam takers should be aligned as well, but you will be driving the timeline to meet your goals.

For those of you who are fairly new to the System Centre world, and haven’t investigated the 2012 releases yet, I would recommend looking at 70-659, 70-669 and 70-693 depending on your requirements, as the depth of System Centre knowledge on SCOM, SCVMM and SCDPM required is something that can be achieved without a huge amount of day to day exposure. A strong Hyper-V, networking, Remote Desktop and shared storage base will go a long way to getting through these exams, with some MDOP knowledge required as well.

In a previous post I mentioned sitting exams in clusters due to the overlap between exams, and for these three, here is a very simplified view of that.

 

 

70-659 Server Virtualization

70-669 Desktop Virtualization

70-693 Virtualization Admin

Hyper-V

X

X

X

Remote Desktop

X

X

X

SCVMM 2008 R2

X

 

X

SCOM 2007 PRO Tips

X

 

X

MDOP

 

X

X

VDI

 

X

X

Virtual PC/XP Mode

 

X

 

User State Virtualization

X

X

 

With these three exams I was in the situation where I needed to sit all three of them in a single morning due to the bookings available in the closest testing centre to where I was staying. And by closest, I mean a two hour bus ride into a city I had never been to, and where English was not natively spoken. You get it, it wasn’t the best way to do an exam, but despite that I was still able to get through the exams with flying colours. For someone working with these technologies on regular basis they shouldn’t have to do a great deal of preparation, instead they should be focused on filling in the knowledge gaps they identify.

Building Out Your Hardware Environment

One of the big differences between these series of exams and many of the others is that you need a bit of bare metal in order to really get it all up and running. Providing a purely virtualized environment for all of this is going to remove much of the learning around virtualization, but there are still some things you can do to simplify the learning process.

Realistically you want to be able to provide two Hyper-V capable servers with at least three NICs in them, but these don’t need to be enterprise grade servers, they could be repurposed desktops with extra NICs added. Make sure the server CPUs are from the same manufacturer so that Live Migration and Quick Migration can be tested. If you need to buy new hardware, make sure that the CPUs support Second Level Address Translation (SLAT), as this is a requirement for the new Hyper-V release in Windows Server 2012.

Some type of shared storage should be provided preconfigured, and with the Microsoft iSCSI Target as a free download it’s a good place to start if you don’t already have an iSCSI or Fibre Channel solution to use. The reason I encourage the storage to be pre-configured is that the exam isn’t on how to configure the storage from the storage vendor’s perspective, it’s about what is required on the Microsoft side of the equation.

A couple of switches, or a solution providing VLAN support, and an Internet connection for some of the required downloads are also needed, and you may want to look at using Threat Management Gateway as the firewall and caching solution between your network and the test environment. If you do you need to purchase some additional NICs for the servers, make sure you pick ones up that support some of the later virtualization technologies such as Virtual Machine Queues, , along with VLAN, Jumbo Frame and iSCSI support. My NICs of choice at this point in time are the Intel i350 series, which are available in dual and quad port PCI-E configurations. PCI cards without these capabilities may be required for older servers, but won’t stop the testing from occurring; it just limits some of the testing that should be performed. If you’ve got enough switches and ports, MPIO is also an option that should be tested.


What I would recommend is that the lab environment already have the basic infrastructure up and running on another server, potentially virtualized already – Active Directory, DNS, SQL Server, Windows Deployment Services, Data Protection Manager and WSUS etc. If these are a constant in your lab environment, and configured the way you would normally configure them for your clients, you have saved a bit of time that is normally spent on the basics which could be spent on learning something new. Also have the software installation ISO files ready for install.
The SCOM and SCVMM installs should be performed by the test candidates, as these are areas that will be in exams. While you may not need to know intricate details of IIS, you do need to know what it needs to work in these environments. SQL Server knowledge isn’t extensively required, thus my recommendation to have it as part of the infrastructure that can be connected to. This rules out using some of the pre-built VHD files that Microsoft has made available to help understand the products, but these won’t teach the initial setup and configuration.

Something else that is worthwhile if you can provide the abovementioned infrastructure is to encourage the use of Windows Server Core or Hyper-V Server rather than the full installations of Windows Server Enterprise or Datacenter 2008 R2. This forces the use of the command line interface, which will be tested, but for those without extensive scripting skills there is the option of managing them from a full install.

Think Of Projects That Encourage Learning Required

One of the projects I recommended to a colleague recently was designed to address his requirement of having two different Lync sign-ins at once. One was his Office 365 Lync sign in, while the other was with a company that he does some work for. After a discussion that only lasted a few minutes, his world of options had expanded greatly, and they all tie nicely into these exams.

1. Virtual PC

2. App-V

3. Med-V

4. RemoteApp

All of these options have the ability to provide an experience that presents itself as a window on the existing desktop, even though they take different paths to get there.
Another approach to consider is if the VMM infrastructure is kept in place, the Self Service Portal capabilities make it easier for future exam takers to build out pre-configured VMs very easily with the predefined templates and VHDs. There’s no point doing manual installations of the OS etc. if you can leverage somebody else’s work.

Exam Resources

I am specifically not going to list an extensive list of reading material, instead I will point you to two sources that will provide plenty of links for your staff.

Partner Learning Centre – Check for the free online training offers for the 70-659 (Collection 10215) and 70-669 (Collection 10324) exams that can be redeemed on http://learning.microsoft.com . There is also a webcast series from the UK that covers the 70-659 exam with about 10 hours or so of video.

Understanding Microsoft Virtualization, Second Edition – This book does a good job of introducing the range of Microsoft virtualization technologies, but more importantly is generous with links to learn more on the technologies, as it can’t cover them all in the detail that is required to get through the exams.

Microsoft Learning - With recommended learning paths for exams, as well as the requirements of each exam, this is definitely a site that exam takers should be familiar with.

Virtualization Jump Start – This video series on TechNet Edge gives a great overview of Hyper-V and System Centre capabilities.

What About The System Centre 2012 Exams?

As I haven’t sat these yet, I don’t feel I’m qualified to discuss them, but I am planning on sitting these in June at TechEd in Orlando as they will be offered for free. Prior that I have a great deal to learn about what’s new and what’s improved, but thankfully I’m motivated to get them done, and have followed my own advice around the necessary lab hardware required to set up a test environment without too much effort.

Mark O’Shea
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