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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this a bit, for example by dropping the Pluralsight course altogether (even though I really like them, it is too out of date to be useful, other than for historical knowledge).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    • Pretty out of date now, but an ok intro if you have a bit of extra time to really reinforce things. I love Pluralsight, but this course was just too far out of date to be really useful.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

Preparation

  • 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 (https://www.microsoft.com/cloudessentials), 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!

practice

  • 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

Amazon AWS Tips and Gotchas – Part 2 – AWS EBS & RDS MS SQL

Continuing in this series of blog posts taking a bit of a “warts and all” view of a few Amazon AWS features, below are a handful more tips and gotchas when designing and implementing solutions on Amazon AWS, including EBS and MS SQL on RDS.

For the first post in this series with a bit of background on where it all originated from, see here:
http://tekhead.it/blog/2016/02/amazon-aws-tips-and-gotchas-part-1/

For more posts in this series, see here:
Index of AWS Tips and Gotchas

AWS Tips and Gotchas – Part 2 – EBS & RDS
  1. You cannot increase the size of EBS volumes without stopping the instance. If you are designing scale-out / high availability solution then this is not a big issue as you should be able to take some downtime on any individual node, but that downtime is going to be fairly significant, and the larger the volume, the more downtime you will incur. The actual process looks like this (summary below):
    • Stop the instance
    • Snapshot the volume
    • Create a new volume from the snapshot, with your new larger size
    • Detach the old volume
    • Attach the new volume and start the instance back up

    This is one of those features which is bread and butter for a vSphere or Hyper-V admin, and could be done online in seconds with the vast majority of guest operating systems.

    I think it really highlights the key difference between designing for AWS Cloud, and a traditional enterprise virtual infrastructure. In a solution where most of your hosts are ephemeral, this should not be a big issue. If you try to take a traditional enterprise approach, you may find yourself in hot water, having to take service downtime to make simple changes.

    I suggest where possible / appropriate, avoid using EBS and use alternative options such as S3 which can scale on demand.

    UPDATE 13th Feb 2017: Amazon have just released Elastic Volumes, which allow you to scale up EBS volumes on demand! Yay! More info here:
    Amazon EBS Update – New Elastic Volumes Change Everything

  2. Similar to resizing EBS volumes, you cannot hot-resize an instance, or indeed resize them / change their type in place. In order to change instance type you need to detach any EBS volumes (including root volumes if you wish to maintain them too), terminate the instance, create a new one and re-attach your volumes.
    Obviously you cannot re-attach a root volume if you are using instance storage (ephemeral) for this, so make sure you use EBS backed volumes if you want to maintain your root volumes for any scale-up elements of your solutions which cannot simply be re-created from a bootstrap script.
  3. If your application depends on Microsoft SQL, you are going to be in for a fairly unpleasant surprise! It is not currently possible to resize MS SQL volumes on Amazon RDS once they have been deployed! At all. Full stop. Nada.AWS MS SQL - say what nowThe recommendation from AWS is to deploy your estimated future capacity requirement from day one! Not very cloudy at all…Your only growth option when you hit your initial capacity limit is to migrate all the data to a new RDS instance and take some application downtime to fail over.This can be minimised by using things like log shipping from the source instance to get the target as close to up-to-date as possible, but you will still need to shut down and swing your applications, and frankly it’s a risky headache which would be better avoided if possible, and certainly not something you want to be doing on a regular basis.Probably best to design for your estimated growth, and add a percentage on top.

Find more posts in this series here:
Index of AWS Tips and Gotchas

Amazon AWS Tips and Gotchas – Part 3 – S3, Tags and ASG

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.

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