Tag Archive for PluralSight

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.

Citrix CCA 1Y0-A20 XenApp 6.5 Exam Review and Study Guide

Citrix CCA

As I am doing quite a bit of Citrix design at the moment I thought it would be worthwhile doing the CCA for XenAppA 6.5 as a minimum. I sat the exam last week and am happy to say I passed reasonably comfortably. Unfortunately due to the release of XenDesktop7, my certification is immediately deemed as legacy! The designs I’m working on are all pretty much 6.5 based, so it seemed the most sensible to do.

I was not originally going to worry about the CCAA (A22) exam but after the CCA exam I thought it was worth giving it a go too. The list below was made for the CCA but covers virtually all the required CCAA content too; I have a follow up post coming for the differences and some exam tips later this week. Note: The CCAA equates to only a CCA in the new XD7 exam paths (CCA/CCP/CCE) anyway, but in my case I just took it for the challenge more than anything. The one other advantage with the older certs is (as I understand it) they don’t expire like the new ones, every 36 months!

Exam Review
Obviously I cant go into any detail on the exam itself but as per the official guide, it is 90 minutes long for native English speakers and consists of 68 questions with a slightly odd 61% pass mark required.

In comparison to other vendor exams I found it very interesting that you are surveyed in quite a bit of detail before and after the exam. This definitely shows Citrix are keen to listen to their customers. Whether they act on that feedback however, I couldn’t comment? For me, I would have liked to see some simulation questions, which I think genuinely test an individuals knowledge of the product, over the standard multiple choice style. These are included in the more advanced CCAA exams though.

In terms of difficulty, I would probably equate the XenApp 6.5 CCA exam as being on a par with an intro to mid level Microsoft MCP/MCTS, so definitely very achievable, even if you haven’t spent a huge amount of time using the product. Timing for the exam seemed very reasonable and at no point did I feel under pressure by the clock.

Prep Materials
I have listed my prep materials below for anyone else fool-hardy enough to follow me down the “legacy” cert path. I would say the materials below should be more than enough for you to pass both the CCA and CCAA should you so choose.  I probably “over-studied” for the CCA, however the exam was more of a by-product to wanting to dig into the material in detail in the first place as opposed to the key driver!

  • PluralSight aka TrainSignal Courses
    Thanks to the very kind folks at PluralSight / TrainSignal, as a VMware vExpert, I am very fortunate enough to have access to all of their content and courses for free this year. Even without this I would still be very happy to pay the $50 a month (without any contract commitment!) to access the huge catalogue of courses available.
    I tend to do my studying in phases, where I do several exams in the space of a few months, then take a break for a while. Being able to dip in and out of the training material with only a month commitment is really great, and at only a pound a day (if you live in the UK) its not going to break the bank, even if you are paying for it entirely yourself!
    Bada bing, bada boom! Elias Khnaser presents all of the Citrix courses on PluralSight. He is a great teacher, who gives plenty of real world examples and has a good speaking style which is at the right pace and pitch.
    The main XenApp material was based on 6.0 with a 2 hour update course to 6.5 bolted on the end. This is fair enough as its pointless re-recording a whole course for a “point” update, however there were a significant number of changes between the versions so you should bear this in mind. Ideally setup your lab in advance of the course, so you can see the differences as you follow along.

    • Citrix XenApp 6: Installation and Getting Started
      Very good rounded intro to the world of Citrix and XenApp. A great first toe in the water.
    • Citrix XenApp 6: Policies, Applications, and Printing
      This is where is gets interesting, and the true power of policy-based management comes through. The sheer number of policies is enough to make your head spin. I don’t think at this stage you need to know every single one, however you should try to get an appreciation for what you can achieve with the policies, as opposed to learning each individual setting by heart.
    • Citrix XenApp 6: Security and Advanced Administration
      Things get very interesting now with a large part of the content dedicated to NetScaler configuration. It only scratches the surface in terms of what you can do with a NetScaler but this is certainly great content. Elias also gives some great tips on the troubleshooting process for XenApp which are especially useful for the CCAA as well as tips for exam prep (if that’s your ultimate aim).
      If you want to go further, Citrix run some NetScaler Master Class webinars online once a month or so its always worth popping along to one of them and you can raise any questsion you might have at the end. The old ones are available on demand too.
    • Citrix XenApp 6.5
      A fairly brief overview of the key differences with XenApp 6.5. One or two features were not covered, but generally this should be enough to understand the differences and pass the A22 exam. It’s worth augmenting this with the XenApp 6.5 Release Notes.
    • Best Practices for Running XenApp / XenDesktop on vSphere
      In an ideal world, the only other thing I would have liked to see from this course was a little bit more architecture focus, and some rules of thumb on things like storage design. Yes, every application is different and you should always aim to implement a PoC where possible, but you need to have some idea on a baseline from where to start.
    • Citrix Provisioning Services 6.1
      If I had time I would have also like to go through this course too, but this is absolutely not required for the XenApp CCA but good to know and understand.
  • Once I finished the video courses, the next key sources of information I used were a number of PacktPub ebooks. I say ebooks specifically because they are generally cheaper than the paper versions and as most technologies are generally out of date in a couple of years, do I really need 2 kgs of dead tree choking up my bookshelf? Instead I can have an electronic copy, which I can share across all my devices for anywhere access, and I save a bit of space in my man cave for the next Terry Pratchett masterpiece! PacktPub ebooks are also DRM free and can be auto-sent to your Kindle account.
    At time of writing you cab get 40% off all orders from PacktPub with the voucher code “bawdanu” and you always get 50% off every second ebook (buy one get one half price). Bargain!

    • Getting Started with Citrix XenApp 6.5 by Guillermo Musumeci
      Although this book covers most of the same content as the TrainSignal course, there are still some really good ideas and tips, and one or two things not covered. It also helped to solidify and confirm the knowledge I gained from the video training.
    • Citrix XenApp Performance Essentials by Luca Dentella
      Quite a few good architectural suggestions and tips in this book. Great value; even more so if you get it under the 50% off deal!
  • Home Lab
    My number one tip for learning Citrix or any other technology is lab it, lab it, lab it! There is no substitute for hands on experience with a product to both help solidify understanding and help identify the more niggly issues you tend to find with any technology.
    I spun up a 6 virtual server lab in my NanoLab to make it as close to a real design as possible. Obviously you could collapse this all the way down into 3 VMs (DC, XA & NetScaler) if you wanted to. My setup included:

    • 1x Domain controller (1 vCPU, 2GB RAM)
      Running the Citrix license server role (which I used a 90 day Citrix eval license for). This also doubled up as the profile server for roaming profiles and redirected folders.
    • 1x DB Server (1 vCPU, 2GB RAM)
      This was running SQL Express only, but I wanted it on a separate VM to be more like a production environment.
    • 1x Web Interface Server (1 vCPU, 2GB RAM)
    • 1x NetScaler Gateway appliance (2vCPU, 2GB RAM) for testing secure access (which is a little tricky to setup!).
    • 2x XenApp Workers (1vCPU, 2GB RAM each)
      At least 2 is best so you can test using multiple Worker Groups, comparative policies etc.
  • The last item on the list is one I somehow managed to miss, even though I’m usually pretty thorough with these things. The Official A20 Exam Prep Guide. It contains a load of links to great prep content as well as ten example questions to give you a feel for the what the exam will be like. Must read item!

If you are currently working with Citrix products and are as yet undecided as to whether to take the exam or not, I would definitely say go for it! Remember… Nobody ever missed out on an interview for being certified! 🙂

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