Archive for 23rd January 2016

Windows Server 2012 MCSA Upgrade 70-417 Study Guide and Exam Experience

Sat and passed the 70-417 exam this week so thought I would get a few thoughts down for the benefit of the handful people who may still be planning to sit it. Yes, I know it’s Windows 2012, and I am writing this in 2016, but I’ve been a bit busy the last few years doing “other stuff”. 🙂

Preparation Materials

The list of materials I used to prepare for this exam were relatively few, and were certainly very inexpensive!

  1. Upgrading Skills to Windows Server 2012 Jump Start on Microsoft Virtual Academy – not massively in depth, but a great introduction to the new features in 2012.
  2. What’s New in Windows Server 2012 R2 Jump Start on Microsoft Virtual Academy – again, a good overview on the new changes. This of it as the foundations on which to build your new skills!
  3. Pluralsight training: Dipped in and out of the 70-410 / 70-411 / 70-412 courses for areas I needed additional knowledge. The quality of course material on Pluralsight is second to none and they are always my go-to video training provider. The only shame is that they don’t have a specific 70-417 course, which you can get on their biggest competitor (CBT Nuggets).
  4. Pluralsight: Windows Server 2012 Remote Desktop Infrastructure.
  5. Exam Ref 70-417 Upgrading from Windows Server 2008 to Windows Server 2012 R2 (MCSA) by J.C. Mackin. This was by far the single most effective aid to learning all of the new features, as well as passing the exam! If you only have time to use one study aid, this is the one to invest in. It’s also only just over a tenner! I will definitely be investing in these official guides for my future MS exams (if I do any – see below!).
  6. Followed the blueprint on the MS 70-417 site, to confirm that I had a reasonable understanding of each of the areas tested.
  7. Spent a number of hours installing and configuring as many of the different new / updated features in Windows 2012 R2, on my home lab (Intel NUC Nanolab). In terms of getting to know what the different configuration options and processes are, this is invaluable!

Exam Experience and Tips
This exam is unlike most other MS exams (or indeed other vendor exams) in that it is broken down into three distinct sections, covering each of the three equivalent exams (70-410/411/412). Once you complete each section, you cannot go back to the previous one. Personally this is not a massive issue for me as my exam technique is to answer and move on. If I’m unsure, I go with my gut feeling as this is probably more likely to be right than anything I come up with spending 10 minutes wavering back and forth between answers!

Taking this three section element a step further, your final grade is actually based on the lowest score of each section. Worse still, if you don’t meet 70% in any one section, even if you ace the other two, you fail the exam. No pressure then! I believe it varies, but I had less than 60 questions, roughly split three ways between the sections.

Everyone is going to have their strengths and weaknesses but I personally found the middle section the trickiest, passing by relatively small margin, but the first and last were not too bad.

It felt to me like the typical mixed MS bag of easy marks from simple questions, and the insanely difficult “how would you know that one setting or feature unless you had implemented it in some obscure use case”. This is perhaps where I feel sometimes MS exams are not very realistic, and don’t actually test your real world understanding / skills. This has become even worse in the past few years, as you are now expected to memorise literally hundreds of PowerShell commands, many of which you will probably never use, or could check using the ISE when you need to.

In terms of tips, my number one suggestion is that you definitely make sure you know all of the key PowerShell commands required by the blueprint / exam guide. Beyond that practice as much of the configuration as you can in your home lab, as you will be expected to know which “nerd knobs” to turn and buttons to click to achieve some activities.

Closing Thoughts on the Current State of Microsoft Exams
I have stated this openly previously, but I will say it here again. I strongly object to the concept of certifications which are linked to a specific product version, having an expiry date. There is absolutely no benefit to the individual, or indeed the industry to have someone take the same exam over and over again every couple of years, and any particular version is only “current” for 3-5 years anyway.

Do employers of vocational degree graduates expect you to go back to University every couple of years and re-take your finals to prove you understood the content? Of course not! They take your degree as proof that you understood the subject matter at the time, and that you have gained skills and experience both from that time and subsequently.

The other joke here is that the technical certifications themselves do not actually prove that you truly know how to do the job anyway, especially with the prevalence of brain dumps, and IMHO are only a gateway and aid to recruiters. Unless you’re a contractor, the further you progress in your career, the less potential employers actually seem to care about these certifications anyway. They appear to me to be seen as a “nice to have”, but your experience and skills are far more important.

For this reason I have decided that even as a self professed certification junkie, it is very unlikely that I will take my new MCSA 2012 and upgrade it all the way to the MCSE, largely due to the 3 year time limit and re-certification requirement. I would far rather spend my limited time learning other new technologies (for example AWS, Docker, Vagrant, etc) with or without certification, and using those new skills to progress my career.

I don’t think there is any doubt that the new Microsoft is making a great many positive decisions under Satya Nadella’s leadership, but the organisation’s decision to expire certs is not one I can get myself behind.

Top 5 Posts of 2015 on

This is just a very quick note to say thank you, everyone, for your awesome support and continued readership over the past year! Without that I don’t know that I would put in the effort!

I very much hope that the content produced continues to be of some use in the coming year…

Moving swiftly on to the Top 5 most popular posts of 2015; they were as follows:

  1. My Synology DSM Blue LED issue was actually just a failed drive!
  2. NanoLab – Running VMware vSphere on Intel NUC – Part 1
  3. Installing Docker on Ubuntu Quick Fix
  4. Docker Part 1 – Introduction and HOWTO Install Docker on Ubuntu 14.04 LTS
  5. NanoLab – Running VMware vSphere on Intel NUC – Part 2

I can’t say I’m surprised with the Synology post popularity, as there are far more Synology users out there than virtualisation and storage admins I should think… not 100% my usual reader demographic. 😉

The Nanolab series continues in popularity, which warms my cockles! They make for an awesome homelab, and I have a handful of posts almost ready to go for 2016 to continue this series.

Finally, and most interestingly considering current industry trends, the Docker HOWTO series has definitely proven very popular, even though so far I have stuck to the absolute basics! I will definitely endeavour to expand on this series throughout this year.

So that’s it for now, just a quick one. I hope you all had an awesome New Year (I spent mine this year watching Star Wars: The Force Awakens woohoo!) and wish you all the best for the exciting things to come in 2016!

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