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Microsoft Azure Architect 70-534 Exam Study Guide & Resources

Azure Architect 70-534

Following on from my previous Microsoft Azure Architect 70-534 exam experience and tips post, the following article describes the study materials I used towards the exam.

Having been warned that the exam was a bit tricky, I made sure to do more studying for this than most exams, probably spending fast approaching 100 hours to prepare. Based on my actual experience I believe I could have reduced this a bit, for example by dropping the Pluralsight course altogether (even though I really like them, it is too out of date to be useful, other than for historical knowledge).

legacy azure cloud asm classic mode

Microsoft Azure 70-534 Study Materials

Whilst studying for the exam, I used the following study materials:

Training Courses

  • Pluralsight – 70-534 by Orin Thomas
    • Pretty out of date now, but an ok intro if you have a bit of extra time to really reinforce things. I love Pluralsight, but this course was just too far out of date to be really useful.
  • Linux Academy – 70-534 Prep Course
    • Excellent course, and pretty well presented by Doug Vanderweide. This does cover most of the topics at a broad level, with some deep dives. It is not enough to pass the exam on its own, however.
    • The BEST thing about this system (IMHO) is the Flash Cards. I did all of the decks provided by Linux Academy, and some bits of the other ones.
    • Doug, and the “Architecting Microsoft Azure Solutions Exam 70-534 Prep” deck from “Dominic”. The great thing with these is that you can just pick them up and do them for 5-10 minutes when you have some spare. They are also really good for helping you remember the ridiculous and pointless minutia which you need to know (such as the precise specs of individual names instances, e.g. A8 vs A10).
    • The quiz at the end of each section was also pretty useful.
    • I believe they have also just introduced some hands on labs, which will also help to solidify things, as well as help you remember the specific order in which certain implementation steps need to occur.
  • Udemy 70-534 prep course from Scott Duffy
    • I only found this one with a couple of weeks to go until my exam, so only had time to watch the videos described as updated in 2016/2017. This was useful however as it covered several areas not included in the Pluralsight / Linux Academy courses.
    • The best thing about Scott’s course (which was glaringly missing from Linux Academy and Pluralsight) was that it asked you to do labs with your Azure test account, then showed you how to do them afterward.
    • Scott has also released some practice tests, which I bought (on offer for £10) but then didn’t have time to go through!

Fry shut up and take my money


  • 70-534 Exam Blueprint
    • This is always the go-to document for almost any current industry certification, and should be used as your primary guide for resources and areas to study. In the case of the AWS Exam Blueprint, they actually direct you to specific white papers, docs or FAQs to review as well as the content areas to study.
  • Labs
    • Normally I would lab like crazy to learn a new technology, as I genuinely believe you learn something best when you get your hands on it. I only managed to get a few labs done in Azure, purely down to lack of time. To be honest I really felt it when it came to exam time, and there were a couple of questions where I really wished I had created at least one or two ARM templates and configured a few bits via PowerShell, just to help memorise syntax.
    • You can get a free $25 of credit per month by signing up for the Microsoft Cloud Essentials scheme (, which is more than enough to spin up a few services.
    • Concentrate on learning the ORDER in which you do things, as this is a learning outcome for MS.
    • Reading other people’s exam tips (just google it!)
  • Practice Exams
    • I had purchased an exam voucher which gave me the exam, a free retake and a free MeasureUp practice test, for less than the full price of the normal exam!
      The MeasureUp practice test was very good prep as it had LOADs of questions (179 IIRC), and covered a broadly similar set of topics. There were one or two questions in there which seemed to be out of date, but when I got to my actual exam, I had a couple of legacy questions, so this made sense to me after the fact! What I did was do an untimed exam with the setting that tells you the answer after you hit next every time. That way as soon as I got a question wrong, I then went and read up more on the specific topic.
      This was absolutely invaluable in my prep as I think I got just under 70% in the MeasureUp, but passed comfortably in the actual exam (largely due to MeasureUp prompting me to “fill in the blanks” to my knowledge). This is an excellent resource, and highly recommended!


  • Exam Voucher
  • FAQs and Docs (over 75 articles – see below)
    • I skim read these looking for key points. I copied these into a giant OneNote file for future reference and rationalisation!
    • If you want to be sure to absolutely nail the exam, read the FAQs. If the exam has indeed changed and become slightly easier (as I suspect it may have), then you may be able to get away without this.
    • The extremely long list below is what I read to augment my own knowledge; do not feel you have to read any or all of them, this is entirely at your own discretion!
List of FAQs

The following is a mahoosive list of all the FAQs I read, as per the above:

still going

Anyway, that’s probably about enough reading material for now! Best of luck to you, and if you found this article useful or have any other recommended resources (eval please, no brain dumps!), please leave a comment below! 🙂

Want to Learn More?

You can find more information on this exam in my exam experience and advice article, here:

Microsoft Azure Architect 70-534 Exam Experience and Tips

Microsoft Azure Architect 70-534 Exam Experience and Tips

Azure Architect 70-534

The information below covers my Microsoft Azure Architect 70-534 Exam experience. Following this I will post a list of my study materials, so keep checking back for updates!

One real positive for me when taking this exam was that I realised if you have an MCSA 2012, you do not need to take another Azure exam to achieve the MCSE title. Handy, especially as I have been pretty vocal about my thoughts on re-certification for versioned exams!

Microsoft Azure Architect 70-534 Exam Experience

Almost everything I read in the run up to taking the Azure Architect 70-534 exam, suggested that it was going to be pretty tricky. Many people suggested to me it was harder than typical MS exams. For those of us who are already a bit cloudy, harder than the AWS SA Associate exam but easier than the SA Pro.

My personal experience (having done both) was that it was a little harder than the AWS SA Pro exam, mainly in prep time and breadth of information, but and the reputation was perhaps a wee bit overblown. Don’t get me wrong, it was definitely tricky, but I have a sneaking suspicion that they may have dumbed it down a little in the past few months, as my experience did not quite match that of those who came before me!

tricksy Azure 70-534

The scoring methodology was WAY better than many other exams I have taken in the past (including from Microsoft). When you have a multi-part answer (e.g. choose 3 of 5, etc), then for each correct PART you get a point. In other exams, one wrong selection means “nil points”! In the 70-534 exam, I could have got one wrong selection in every multi-part answer, and still walked away with half or more of the points, which is AWESOME! This really took the pressure off!

The exam is very similarly formatted to most other MS exams, with a couple of notable exceptions. There is a section with standard multi-part, ordering, drag/drop, multi-choice as you would expect. Once this is completed (or perhaps before?), then you do a number of case studies. Note: Once you complete each case study, you cannot go back to it, however, the timing for the case studies was cumulative, so you don’t have to worry if one takes you a bit longer than another.

The number of questions I had in my exam left me with plenty of time, vs some of my colleagues who have done it in the past as well as since, who had 50% or more questions and case studies than me (I had 39 questions spread across all sections of the exam). I can only suggest that perhaps there have been some changes of late which mean you may or may not end up with more time per question.

It’s also worth noting that one or two of the questions I received were based on ASM (i.e. classic) instead of ARM! Not enough that it would be worth learning ASM, but don’t be surprised if something does come up.

legacy azure cloud asm classic mode

Exam Tips and Advice

Here are a few tried and tested tips for most exams as well as specific to the 70-534 exam (based on my experience):

  • Flip through the case study questions as you get to each one to get an idea of the kinds of questions being asked (e.g. security, authentication, networking, etc) so that you can bear these in mind as you read the case study.
  • Don’t worry too much about the clock, they give you plenty of time, especially as there is no specific time limit on the individual case studies (I think there may have been in the past?). For around the number of questions you are likely to get, this is loads of time.
  • Personal opinion: Old questions are dead to me! What I mean by that is that I don’t mark questions for review and once I click Next I never, ever, ever, ever, [ever!] go back. Chances are if I wasn’t sure about an answer and I go with my gut, it’s more likely to be right. If I sit there paralysed with indecision, I just waste time (or worse, potentially change a correct answer to an incorrect one!). By the time I hit the end of an exam I generally have a feeling whether I have passed or not, so going back to get a couple of extra points is a waste of time and I am just desperate to see the result! 🙂
    The one and only contradiction to this rule is if I come across a later question which immediately triggers me remembering something, or even blatantly answers a previous question by asking another. These are as rare as hen’s teeth though!
  • Finally, this may sound a bit cryptic, but I can’t go into any detail obviously due to NDA. All I can say is don’t get weirded out by what seems like an odd handful of questions at the start of the 70-534 exam. I got some which didn’t make sense to me at all until the end of the series (which doesn’t allow you to go back). I can’t go into more detail than that, but hopefully this preps you more than me, so you are not as surprised!
Architect Grumpiness

I do have one complaint about this exam which I will therapeutically air publicly now; why on earth as an “Architect” exam should anyone have to memorise the thousands of possible combinations of PowerShell commands, or indeed any commands whatsoever?! Fortunately, the percentage of the exam weighted towards this is small, but it is ridiculous IMO. 532/533, yes! 534? Stupid!

There also seems to be a key focus on understanding the exact specs of exact machine types. IMO this is also dumb as with any cloud platform you simply pull up your machine list and match the right machine at the time. Wasting time memorising the spec of every A-series, D-Series, etc machine is completely pointless, but is unfortunately required reading (at least as a minimum to remember the key “odd” ones, such as which provide RDMA).

powershelgl azure 70-534 exam tips

Anyway, all in all, a reasonably fair exam across a broad and relatively deep set of information and services. Best of luck to you, and if you found this article useful please leave a comment below! 🙂

Want to Learn More?

Part 2 of this article, my 70-534 exam study guide and all of my 70-534 study materials is available here:

Microsoft Azure Architect 70-534 Exam Experience and Tips

Downtime sucks! Designing Highly Available Applications on a Budget

HA Minions

Downtime sucks.

I write this whilst sitting in an airport lounge, having been disembarked from my plane due to a technical fault. I don’t really begrudge the airline in question; it was a plumbing issue! This is a physical failure of the aircraft in question and just one of those things (unless I find out later they didn’t do the appropriate preventative maintenance of course)! Sometimes failures just happen and I would far rather it was just a plumbing issue, not an engine issue!

What is not excusable, however, is if the downtime is easily preventable; for example, if you are designing a solution which has no resilience!

This is obviously more common with small and medium sized businesses, but even large organisations can be guilty of it! I have had many conversations in the past with companies who have architected their solutions with significant single points of failure. More often than not, this is due to the cost of providing an HA stack. I fully appreciate that most IT departments are not swimming in cash, but there are many ways around a budgetary constraint and still provide more highly available, or at least “Disaster Resistant” solutions, especially in the cloud!HA Austin Powers Meme

Now obviously there is High Availability (typically within a single region or Data Centre), and Disaster Recovery (across DCs or regions). An ideal solution would achieve both, but for many organisations it can be a choice between one and the other!

Budgets are tight, what can we do?

Typically HA can be provided at either the application level (preferred), or if not, then at the infrastructure level. Many solutions to improvise availability are relatively simple and inexpensive. For example:

  • Building on a public cloud platform (and assuming that the application supports load balancing), why not test running twice as many instances with half the specification each? In most cases, unless there are significant storage quantities in each instance, the cost of scaling out this way is minimal.
    If there is a single instance, split it out into two instances, immediately doubling your availability. If there are two instances, what about splitting into 4? The impact of a node loss is then only 25% of the overall throughput capacity for the application, and can even bring down the cost of HA for applications where the +1 in N+1 is expensive!
  • Again in cloud, if there are more than two availability zones in a region (e.g. on AWS), then take advantage of them! If an application can handle 2 AZs, then the latency of adding a third shouldn’t make much, if any difference, and costs will only increase slightly with a small amount of extra inter-AZ bandwidth or per-AZ services (e.g NAT gateways).
    Again, in this scenario the loss of an AZ will only take out 33% of the application servers, not 50%, so it is possible to reduce the number of servers which are effectively there for failover only.
  • If you can’t afford to run an application as multi-AZ or multi-node, consider putting it in an auto-scaling group or scale-set with a minimum and maximum of 1 server. That way if an outage occurs or int he case of AWS, an entire AZ goes down, an instance will automatically be regenerated in an alternative AZ.HA Oliver
What if my app doesn’t like load balancers?

If you have an application which cannot be load balanced, you probably shouldn’t be thinking about running it in the cloud (not if you have any serious availability requirements anyway!). It amazes me how many business critical applications and services are still running in single servers all over the world!

  • If your organisation is dead set on using cloud for a SPoF app, then making it as ephemeral as possible can help. Start by splitting the DBs from the apps, as these can almost always be made HA by some means (e.g. master/slave replication, mirroring, log shipping, etc). Failover nodes also often don’t attract a license fee from many vendors (e.g. MS SQL), so always check your license documentation to see what you can achieve on the cheap.
  • Automate! If you can deploy application server(s) from a script, even if the worst happens, the application can be redeployed very quickly, in a consistent fashion.
    The trend at the moment is moving towards a more agile deployment process and automated CI/CD pipelines. This enables companies to recover from an outage by rebuilding their environments and redeploying code rapidly (as long as they have a replica of the data or a highly available datastore!).
  • If it’s not possible to script or image the code deployment, then taking regular backups (and snapshots where possible) of application servers, and testing them often is an option! If you don’t want to go through the inflexible, unreliable and painful nightmare of doing system state restores, then take image-based backups (supported by the vast majority of backup vendors nowadays). Perhaps even syncing of application data to a warm standby server which can be brought online reasonably swiftly, or even use an inexpensive DR service such as Azure Site Recovery, to provide an avenue of last resort!
  • If maybe cloud isn’t the best place to locate your application, then provide HA at the infrastructure layer by utilising the HA features of your favourite hypervisor!
    For example, VMware vSphere will have an instance back up and running within a minute or two of the failure of a host using the vSphere HA feature (which comes with every edition except Essentials!). On the assumption/risk that the power cycle does not corrupt OS, applications or data, you minimise exposure to hardware outages.
  • If the budget is not enough to buy shared storage and all VMs are running on local storage in the hypervisor hosts (I have seen this more than you might imagine!), then consider using something like vSphere Replication or Hyper-V Replicas to copy at least one of each critical VM role to another host, and if there are multiple instances, then spread them around the hosts.

Finally, make sure whatever happens there is some form of DR, even if it is no more than a holding page or application notification and a replica or off-site backup of critical data! Customers and users would rather see something telling them that you’re working to resolve the problem, than getting a spinning wheel and a timeout! If you can provide something which is of limited functionality or performance, then it’s better than nothing!

HA ServersTLDR; High Availability on a Budget

There are a million and one ways to provide more highly available applications; these are just a few. The point is that providing highly available applications is not as expensive as you might initially think.

With a bit of elbow grease, a bit of scripting and regular testing, even on the smallest budgets you can cobble together more highly available solutions for even the crummiest applications! 🙂

Now go forth and HA!

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