Archive for Certification

MCTS: 70-659 Windows Server 2008 R2, Server Virtualization Exam Review

So I just got back from sitting my 70-659 Windows Server 2008 R2, Server Virtualization exam this morning and I thought I would jot down a few thoughts from the exam (NDA permitting!).

First, I would say it’s actually one of the easier MS exams I’ve actually sat (and I’ve been doing them for about 7 years now). I don’t know if this is because I have a virtualisation background or whether the exam itself would be easy for newer members of the IT community, but either way it could have been a lot worse!

I would say the exam content sticks fairly well to the exam “skills measured” table on the 70-659 page. The problem with this page is it’s very general, and doesn’t give you any specific details on source materials etc, like you normally get on for example a VMware Exam Blueprint. I would suggest that you look at the topics covered but always remember to research into the “corners” so to speak, i.e. look into the fringe areas which you may not use every day, such as P2V, SAN migration, Authorization Manager, etc. Also make sure you understand the use cases for each type of technology, e.g. PRO, CSVs, the Self Service Portal, etc, and finally make sure you know all your numbers e.g. ports and maximums. MS is always keen to check you know these values, even though they change frequently between OS versions (and even service packs)!

Most importantly, I go back to my final recommendation from my MCTS: 70-659 Windows Server 2008 R2, Server Virtualization Exam Prep and Study Guide, which is to build your own home lab, using at least full fat Server 2008 R2, plus a Hyper-V 2008 R2 server, and just test, test, test. Play with it and break it as much as possible, and look into every menu option as specific options in specific menus is always another MS favourite for testing. If you build and configure every item from the skills measured list, you should have a good chance when you come to the exam.

Finally, for all existing VMware-trained professionals, I definitely recommend the Microsoft Virtual Academy courses mentioned in my previous blog post, specifically the following courses, which do a good job of translating your existing VMware knowledge into “Hyper-V speak”:

Next on my agenda was originally to go onto do the MCTS desktop virtualisation and the MCITP exams, but as MS have completely overhauled their certs again I will be holding off until June now, when I should be able to take the 70-246 exam and jump straight to MCSE: Private Cloud certification. At least my wife and kids will get to spend a bit more time with me until then! 🙂

Related Posts:
MCTS: 70-659 Windows Server 2008 R2, Server Virtualization Exam Prep and Study Guide

Microsoft Releases MCSA and MCSE Certs (again?!)

Out with the old, and in with the… older? With a whisper as quiet as a fart in a storm (I haven’t even received an email on this yet, and only found out through the twitter-sphere), Microsoft have released the information on the complete overhaul of their certification system, and by overhaul, I mean putting it back to the way it was pre-2008! The MCITP cert will be replaced by the trusty old MCSA and MCSE, but with a slight difference… the acronym.

The qualifications are now as follows:

  • MCSA: Microsoft Certified Solutions Advisor
  • MCSE: Microsoft Certified Solutions Expert
  • MCSM: Microsoft Certified Solutions Master

After a lengthy chat I had with a very friendly MS live advisor, I can summarise the facts as follows:

  • If you are an existing MCITP: Enterprise Administrator you will get the MCSA qualification for free (and no requirement to take the 70-646 SA exam). This should be automatically updated on your transcript some time soon. UPDATE: I have heard a rumour that this will be on April 24th.
  • The MCSE: Private Cloud will be considered a higher level cert than the MCITP.
  • The new 70-246 and 70-247 will not be released until June, which seems to match with my checks on the Prometric site, where the earliest date available at my local test centre is 8th June.
  • If you have passed the 70-659 exam already, you will be allowed to skip the 70-247 Private Cloud Configuration and Deployment with System Center 2012 exam, as long as you pass your MCSE by January 31st 2013.

When I first heard that they were changing the certs I was a bit annoyed (having just started down the MCITP Virtualization Administrator track), but as it turns out it’s pretty good! Based on the above, I’ll complete my 70-659 exam (which is free anyway) next week, take a break and await the release of 70-246 Private Cloud Monitoring and Operations with System Center 2012. Then it’s only one exam for the MCSE… easy!

I would highly recommend anyone who hasn’t already taken advantage of this offer, get your free 70-659 exam voucher and do the exam now! I have posted my 70-659 study guide here which is now updated with the info on the free 70-659 training for MS partners!

For those interested in the word from the horses mouth, here follows the transcript of my chat:

Jeffrey: Hello, I'm Jeffrey with the Microsoft Certification Guidance Team.
John: hi
Jeffrey: Hi John
John: I'm trying to understand this new MCSA stuff
Jeffrey: I can see here that you have a question about getting the MCSA 2008
John: I'm already an MCITP Enterprise Admin in 2008
John: Do I have to still do 70-646 Server Admin exam just to get the MCSA 2008?
Jeffrey: That is great to hear. That already qualifies you as an MCSA in Private Cloud
John: Ah right, that's good. So when does that get updated onto our transcripts?
Jeffrey: Excellent question. There is no updates yet at this time since the announcement is still new - but you should have it in your records soon
Jeffrey: If you want to further upgrade to the MCSE in Private Cloud - you just need 2 exams
Jeffrey: Exam 70-247 
Jeffrey: Exam 70-246
John: right, thanks. I also have one other question then
Jeffrey: Go ahead
John: I'm currently studying towards MCITP: Virtualization Administrator
John: This now seems a bit pointless as you appear to be replacing this cert with MCSE Private Cloud
Jeffrey: That is great to hear
John: would the MCSE be considered a "higher level" cert?
Jeffrey: Excellent question. Yes - the new MCSE will be considered as a higher certification path
Jeffrey: The new Microsoft Certified Solution Expert (MCSE) credential focuses on the ability to design and build technology solutions, which may include integrating multiple technology products and may span multiple versions of a single technology.
John: The following page also seems to recommend that we do 70-659 as a pre-req for the MCSE, even though it's not required?
Jeffrey: You can also see the latest training resources for this technology in this link. I can further recommend that you check on them regularly as training resources are usually updated once they have been set for release
Jeffrey: System Center 2012 - Latest Training Courses and Materials 
Jeffrey: Great question. Currently all the exams you need to upgrade towards the MCSE in Private is not offered until June this year
Jeffrey: However, you can use Exam 70-659 as a substitute for the new exam Exam 70-247
Jeffrey: Exam 70-659 counts as credit towards the Private Cloud certification until January 31, 2013.
Jeffrey: After January 31, 2013, you will be required to pass Exam 70-247 to achieve the private cloud certification.
John: right
John: ah thats good. So if I pass 70-659 in a week, then I only need one exam to be MCSE?
Jeffrey: Exactly. When you are ready to take an exam, you can register with Prometric. Prometric serves as the exam provider for all IT and Developer exams.
Jeffrey: Exam Location and Registration Steps - Prometric 
Jeffrey: If you would like to take instructor-led training, you can use the Class Locator tool to find training near you
Jeffrey: Class Locator 
John: Great stuff, that's a lot more clear now... (and saves me doing extra exams I don't need to!) :)
John: Thanks for your help
Jeffrey: You are most welcome. Just one more thing
Jeffrey: Since you are interested in taking up the Virtualization exam - let me also show you  another exam offer we have for this path
Jeffrey: How to Register - Jump Start Online Class for Virtualization 
Jeffrey: The Jump Start package for US$99 includes attendance at one online Jump Start training session and a voucher good for Exam 70-659.
Jeffrey: This next link will show you the current training resources we have available for this exam
Jeffrey: Learning Plan for Windows Server 2008 R2, Server Virtualization (70-659) 
Jeffrey: I just wanted to make sure that we cover everything you need to know.
John: Thanks for that
Jeffrey: You are most welcome. We understand that getting a  certification is a big step and we would like to give you all the  help you need
Jeffrey: If you have a moment, we would appreciate you taking a short survey for us. The survey will appear when you click the “close” button on the chat.
Jeffrey: Have a great day John!


Here’s also a few more links for further information:

UPDATE: The following graphic is now available which summarises things quite succinctly:

MCTS: 70-659 Windows Server 2008 R2, Server Virtualization Exam Prep and Study Guide

So having passed my VCAP exam last week, I barely have time to catch my breath before getting fired into the 70-659 Windows Server 2008 R2, Server Virtualization exam, which I am taking with my free 70-659 exam voucher! As usual I have summarised my prep materials / study guide below for anyone interested.

As with many MS exams, the first thing that happens when you look for some study materials for an exam is that you have to trawl through all the search results peppered with spammy brain dumps etc, to find any nuggets of actual material useful to those of us who actually want to learn the subject, very annoying! To be honest there isn’t a huge amount of information out there, but the best of what I found / used has been is condensed below:

  • Official Microsoft Exam Page
    Links to all official source material, exam reqs, etc
  • Official MS E-Learning Collection 10215
    I find the MS official training a little dry (some might say tedious!), but it does cover all the basics and the lab simulations are useful, if a tad flakey… 15-20 hours training for £120 is cheap compared to classroom learning, but does depend on you being a little more disciplined, and buying the books would work out cheaper if you are on a tight budget.
    UPDATE: If you are an MS partner then use the following link and code to get the 70-659 and 70-669 training for FREE for 2 months (subscription ends July 31st)!
    Collection 10215: Implementing and Managing Microsoft Server Virtualization [Code: 8062-COL10215-1445]
    Collection 10324: Implementing and Managing Microsoft® Desktop Virtualization [Code: 8430-COL10324-8932]
  • Mastering Microsoft Virtualization by Tim Cerling & Jeffrey Buller
    Not actually read this yet but it comes recommend by many other people. I always recommend if you are going to buy these books, buy them on Kindle. Why kill a few trees for a book you will only read once or twice, and have it clog up your book shelves for years to come. Also it’s cheaper on Kindle!
  • Mastering Virtual Machine Manager 2008 R2 by Michael Michael & Hector Linares
    I haven’t read this as yet, mainly due to time restrictions, but plan to do so for the 70-693 MCITP Windows Server 2008 R2, Virtualization Administrator exam. If you do have time it is recommended reading. VMM 2012 is now out as RTM, though I assume the exam is still based on 2008. No sign of any 2012 books as yet, but I’m sure they’ll be coming soon.
  • Mastering Hyper-V Deployment by Aidan Finn
    Again I haven’t actually read this one yet so can’t review at this time, but I plan to for the 70-693.
  • Virtual Training Boot camp for Exam 70-659 TS: Windows Server 2008 R2 VirtualizationFree!
    A welcome offer from MS to get partners interested in Hyper-V by offering what is in effect a full 70-659 course, crammed into 2 days of LVCs (Live Virtual Classes) using Microsoft Office Live Meeting. Mine was run by a QA trainer called Paul Gregory, who was very friendly and competent. If you do a Google search for the exact title above, you may even find the slide decks from this course… 😉
    It was a great offer, so I also recommend you keep an eye on the MS Events website for future similar offers. I believe they have some Windows 8 Tech days coming up shortly…
  • Microsoft Virtual Academy CoursesFree!
    For a free resource these courses are superb! There are many hours of training available, and MS encourage you to watch more (via a bit of obvious geek-tosterone based competition / ranking) you are awarded points for each course you complete, which can then be tracked and compared to other people in your own country and across the world. Be prepared to wade through the marketing BS (particularly for the overview-type presentations), but a very good resource either way.
    Note: there is quite a bit of repetition in the courses, so I will try to highlight as I go, which are the best use of your time (unless of course you’re a rank whore, in which case do them all!). The courses I completed are as follows:

    1. Microsoft Virtualization for VMware Professionals – The Platform
      A good intro to Hyper-V where all of the features are translated for VMware-trained folk such as myself, presented in a fairly informal manner.If you don’t watch any of the other videos, watch this one! 11 videos @ 20-30 mins each.
    2. Microsoft Virtualization for VMware Professionals – Management
      A continuation of the previous course. There’s a lot of marketing material in this related to systems which may or may not come up in the exam, though depending on your experience with the MS System Center range of products, this may be of use to you. Personally I’m used to products like BMC Patrol, Tivoli Netcool/OMNIbus, HP Openview, Altiris DS/NS etc, so this was quite interesting for me.
    3. Microsoft Virtualization for VMware Professionals – VDI
      I would say this would be more useful for the next exam in the MCITP track (70-669 TS: Windows Server 2008 R2, Desktop Virtualization), but is included in this list for reference. I will probably take this later when I have some time.
  • Microsoft Server Virtualization Training by TrainSignal
    I haven’t actually used this one but a few people recommended it to me, and the TrainSignal courses are usually of a pretty high standard. The only drawback is that it’s nearly $300, but that’s still way cheaper than a live course.
  • Blog Post Series by Joseph Yedid
    This series covers a number of different subjects based on the exam outline / “skills measured“, which are very much like VMware exam blueprints, minus the links! These posts are also mirrored by Ruth Morton’s Technet blog.
  • Technet Blog Series by Chris Avis
    Another great series of posts going into the detail for everything you need to know. The above link goes to the most recent post which can then link you to all the others. His first post also has a load of other study resources linked off it which you should check out!
  • Official MS Virtualisation Blog
    If you’re a VMware person, hold onto your hat for some serious politicking, but there is some interesting content if you have time for a browse.
  • Exam review by Matt McSpirit
    A few useful tips here on the exam itself, and what to study.
  • Hyper-V White Papers by Aidan Finn
    This site is run by MS MVP Aidan Finn, who has co-authored a load of books on MS products.
  • Build a Home Lab
    I cannot recommend this enough. The best way to learn Hyper-V is to play with it, that way you have seen the ins and outs, the great bits (like Dynamic Memory), and the downright ugly ones (like simply setting up SCOM to then get PRO working – use SQL Server 2008, not R2, as R2 doesn’t work properly without a load of fiddling)!
    My home lab runs under VMware Workstation 8 on Windows 7 64-bit, with an Intel Core i7 920 and 24GB of RAM. I run 2 Hyper-V hosts, one is full fat 2008 R2 Enterprise, and the other is Hyper-V Server. Clustering is not officially supported, but does work, and this way you get to practice both worlds (GUI and CLI).
    To get Hyper-V to run like this you need to do a couple of fixes to your hypervisor VMs when you create them. See Velimir Kojic’s blog postfor more info on this, but the headline points are:

    1. Enable virtualisation of VT-x/EPT. This is the same as you would do for virtualising ESX/ESXi under Workstation 8, allowing nested 64-bit VMs.
    2. Add the following line to your VMX files:
      hypervisor.cpuid.v0 = “FALSE”
  • More to links to follow…

Please feel free to submit any worthwhile links to study materials and I will include them above.

VMware VCAP-DCD 4 Exam Review

Well I’m very pleased to say that as of 4pm yesterday I am now a VCAP having passed the VMware VCAP4-DCD exam! So how was it?

My final week was an interesting one as I was actually out of office all week attending the internal/partner version of our Sun Storage 7000 Unified Storage System Installation, Maintenance and Administration course. In some ways this was a blessing as this was away from work (and all the distractions thereof), but studying all day on one subject then coming home at night and hammering the books on another does tax the brain somewhat!

Anyway, my final week of prep looked something like this:

One week to go: Finished watching the last few VMworld 2010 videos listed in my Exam Prep post. Mainly concentrating on the Exchange, SQL & Oracle ones, plus anything to do with SRM. I also watched several of the customer case studies, which were really useful in helping to relate the theory to the practice.

4 days to go: Watched all of the VCAP Brown Bags by Alastair Cooke et al, and the other two by Jason Boche and Harley Stagner. I cannot recommend these highly enough, and would really like to thank them for all of their efforts in producing this excellent (and completely free!) content. I would suggest you save these for your final week or so, as they are a great recap of everything you should know, plus a few extra golden nuggets. The one by Harley Stagner was also really good as an exam prep as the way things are discussed, is exactly what you need to do in your own head during the trickier exam questions! Do NOT miss this brown bag!

3 days to go: Read through all of my copious notes (> 400 pages of A4!!!) taken over the past 8 weeks. My preferred study method is always to take lots of notes as I watch / read material, and the act of writing it down helps to cement it, and give you a summarised reference for later. It does mean I tend to take a lot longer to watch a video as I often have to pause to write up diagrams etc (+30-50% on the length of most videos!). Obviously this is just my preference, but try it, and see if it helps you too…

2 days to go: Read the official VMware vSphere: Design Workshop [V4.x] workbook from my course last year, cover to cover. This didn’t really come up with anything I didn’t already know but it was good to remind me of the VMware-specific terminology, which obviously carries through to the blueprint and hence exam. In much the same way as you do with an MS exam, you have to “think with your VMware hat on”, even if you would do something slightly differently in the real world.
Finished reading VMware vSphere 4.1 HA and DRS Technical Deepdive by Duncan Epping and Frank Denneman, which is an excellent resource. If you don’t have time to read it all before your exam, just jump to Appendix A, which lists all of the key best practices (or recommended practices as Scott Lowe calls them!). If you are studying for the VCAP 5, there is an updated version already out: VMware vSphere 5 Clustering Technical Deepdive

Day before the exam: Read through a handful of the white papers dealing with the “fringes” of my knowledge, e.g. vCenter Heartbeat, where I haven’t actually used the product before, and where none of my previous study materials had covered much detail.
Read through the case study at the end of VMware vSphere Design by Forbes Guthrie, Scott Lowe and, Maish Saidel-Keesing. I read the book weeks ago, but deliberately saved the case study until later. In hindsight it may have been interesting to write down some thoughts on it before and after the rest of my study, maybe highlighting the things I’d learned in between!
Did as much of the VMware workshop case study as I had time left to complete. Went to bed @ 2.30am ready for my midday exam the next day.

Night before the exam, 4.30am: Got called out for work!!! Aaaargh! Not only that but it turns out it was due to someone being unable to connect an box by IP and thinking it was down, when they simply had the wrong IP… we invented DNS 30 years ago, let’s try using it!!! *facepalm*

The Exam: So as for the exam itself, I managed to completed every one of the 113 questions in time, but by “in time” what I actually mean is that I literally submitted my last answer with one second to go! The timing on the exam really is that tight! It didn’t help that about half way through the exam I needed the loo, and held on to the end. Had I not done so I might not have managed to get to those last handful of questions… the “crossing of legs” best practice was implemented with no DR plan, which I admit was a high risk strategy!

One thing I would say if looking at the exam with a critical eye, is that VMware should consider taking a small leaf out of Microsoft’s book. At the end of an MS exam you get a breakdown of where you gained all of your points (just a bar chart with a relative %). I would love to have known how my points were broken down so it could identify any weaknesses in my skill set, both for future exams and my actual job! Similarly there could be a small breakdown of the “relative” scores for the three types of questions. It’s great to know I passed, but would be even better to know where I didn’t do so well. This would be even more useful for people who don’t pass on the first attempt.

Regarding the “Visio tool”; even though I did actually do the demo a couple of times, I still had some issues with it, including the fact that the more objects you add, the more lag you experience (sometimes several seconds to place an object), which wastes precious time. I hope this improves with the vSphere 5 exam (though I doubt it will).

Now, a few tips for the actual exam from my perspective (obviously being careful not to breach the NDA!). Watch this brownbag with Jon Hall (of the VMware cert team) for an in depth look at the way the points are allocated per question, or see my summary:

  1. Don’t pay too much attention to the clock, except when doing the Visio design questions, and maybe for the final 30 minutes or so. Whenever I had one of those (for which VMware recommends 15 mins each), I checked the clock and worked out roughly what time I should be done by. A couple of them took me 5+ mins longer than the recommended time, but the others took slightly less so I guess it probably averaged to 15 or just over. Dont stress if one takes you a bit more time, but don’t let it go much beyond the 20 minute mark. At that point you’re better to move on and get more points elsewhere as you can still get lots of points for a “nearly right” answer.
  2. There was one exam strategy I mentioned in my prep post which came from a VMware trainer; Do all multi choice questions first. Second time through, do drag and drop questions. Third time through do design questions, which means you know how much time you have left.
    I did not take this approach in my exam, and instead just went through the exam in a serial fashion. If I had taken the above approach I may have wasted time with the review process to get back and not had enough time to complete the questions.
  3. Read the question before you read the information as it will help you to more quickly identify what information you are looking for and will reduce the likelihood of having to re-read anything.
  4. Once you have entered an answer don’t second guess yourself. Chances are your gut reaction is probably right as long as you have read the question and answers properly.
  5. Mark any questions you haven’t been able to complete but always put an answer in and keep moving. There are 113 questions to get through! If you do actually make it to the end with time to spare you can come back, but concentrate on getting through the questions first.
  6. I don’t believe there is negative marking employed, so any answer is better than leaving blanks. This is especially true if you reach the last 5 mins and still have some questions left. Speed read and answer quickly…

One final point I would make is that as I understand it, the VCAP4-DCD and the VCAP5-DCD are not massively different, just the new improvements which will tweak your designs (especially HA!) and the way the new blueprint emphasizes the design method. Therefore a very large proportion of the exam prep materials in my VMware VCAP-DCD 4 Exam Prep Guide should be just as relevant as a VCAP-DCD 5 exam prep guide. I plan to upgrade my VCAP4 to a VCAP5 while the information is still fresh in my mind. Hopefully this will be soon as the beta completed over three weeks ago, meaning the final exam version shouldn’t be far off.

In the mean time, I have to learn Hyper V for an upcoming project!…

Related posts:
VMware VCAP-DCD 4 Exam Prep Guide

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