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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this a bit, for example by dropping the Pluralsight course altogether (even though I really like them, it is too out of date to be useful, other than for historical knowledge).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    • Pretty out of date now, but an ok intro if you have a bit of extra time to really reinforce things. I love Pluralsight, but this course was just too far out of date to be really useful.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 10 – EFS (Elastic File System)

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. This week, we talk about the latest feature of AWS, EFS (aka Elastic File System).

For the first post in this series with a bit of background on where it all originated from, see here:
Amazon #AWS Tips and Gotchas – Part 1

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

20. Amazon AWS Tips and Gotchas – Part 10 – EFS (Elastic File System)

A big challenge when designing highly available web infrastructures is historically how to provide a centralised content store for static content without wasting resources.

A classic model for this is a pair of web / file servers with either rsync or Gluster to replicate the content between them. In Windows world, this would be something like either a WSFC (failover cluster) or perhaps something evil like a DFS replicated share. This means that not only are you wasting money on multiple virtual machines / instances just to serve file content, but you also add significant risk and complexity in the replication and failover between these machines.

Enter, AWS EFS!AWS EFSAt a simple level, EFS is basically an NFS (v4.1) share within the AWS cloud, which is replicated across all AZs in any one region. No need for managing and replicating between instances, or indeed paying for EC2 instances just to create file shares! Great!

As this is still a relatively immature product, there are still a few “features” to be aware of:

  1. There is no native EFS backup solution (yet!). I’m sure this will come very soon. As we have Re:invent coming up, it wouldn’t surprise me if something came out then. In the meantime, your main methods would be either to use Data Pipeline to backup to another EFS store or potentially mount EFS and backup through an EC2 instance using your own tools or scripts. I would be concerned about backing up EFS to EFS (if in the same region), as this is putting all your eggs in one basket. Hopefully, AWS will provide other target options in the future.
  2. There is no native encryption of EFS data as yet. If you need this right now, you could achieve it by simply pre-encrypting the data in your application first, before it is written to EFS. Alternatively, just hold your breath as AWS have already stated that:
    “Amazon EFS does not currently provide the option to encrypt data at rest, but we will offer this option soon”.AWS EFS Meme
  3. If you have less than about 100GB, then due to the way the performance burst credits work you may not get the performance you need. The more you buy, the more performance you get, so don’t short change your app for the sake of a few dollars!

    “Amazon EFS uses a credit system to determine when file systems can burst. Each file system earns credits over time at a baseline rate that is determined by the size of the file system, and uses credits whenever it reads or writes data”
    .

    In early testing, it has been seen that very small filesystems can lead to IO starvation and performance issues. I would recommend you start with 100GB as a minimum (subject to your workload requirements of course!). This is still pretty cheap at only about $30-33 a month; a lot less than even a pair of EC2 instances, never mind the complexity reduction benefits. KISS!

    Of course, the more caching you can do on that content, e.g. using CloudFront as a CDN, the lower the IO requirements on your EFS store.

    For more info on performance see here:
    Amazon EFS Performance

    kiss - Keep it simple stupid EFS

  4. And finally… being NFS based, this is obviously primarily aimed at Linux solutions. It would be nice to think that AWS will release an SMB version in the future… we can but hope!

Thanks to my learned colleague Tom Ellis for the tip! As he says, “The size needs to be determined by the throughput needs, and not the storage capacity needs. “

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

Amazon AWS Tips and Gotchas – Part 9 – Scale-Up Patching

Continuing in this series of blog posts taking a bit of a “warts and all” view of a few Amazon AWS features, below is another tip for designing and implementing solutions on Amazon AWS. In this case, Scale-Up Patching of Auto-Scaling Groups (ASGs) and a couple of wee bonuses about Dark Launch techniques.

For the first post in this series with a bit of background on where it all originated from, see here:
Amazon #AWS Tips and Gotchas – Part 1

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

19. AWS Tips and Gotchas – Part 9 – Scale-Up Patching in ASGs

Very quick tip on Auto Scaling Groups this week, courtesy of an awesome session I attended at the AWS User Group UK (London) last week on DevOps, presented by Chris Turvil from The Trainline.

Assuming you need to just do a code release to an existing farm of servers running in an ASG, and you aren’t planning anything complex such as a DB schema update, you can use a technique called “Scale-Up Patching”. I hadn’t heard the term before, but it’s actually incredibly simple, but very effective! There are a couple of methods you might use, depending on how you deliver your code, but the technique is the same; make your new code or image live, double the minimum size of your ASG, then halve it! Job done!AWS Scale-Up Patching with ASGs (Auto-Scaling Groups)So how does this work?

If you have looked into the detail of ASGs, assuming you have roughly even instances spread over multiple AZs then when an ASG shrinks / scales down, the oldest EC2 instances are killed first. For more detail on the exact rules, see here.

If you double the size of your current number of instances, all of the new instances will be deployed with your new code version. This leaves you with a farm of 50% vOld and 50% vNew. When you then tell the ASG to scale to the original size, it will obviously kill off all of the vOld instances, leaving your entire farm upgraded. If you found an issue and had to roll back, you simply rinse and repeat the same exercise! How brilliant is that?!

This process will work exactly the same regardless of whether you deploy your code via updated AMIs each time, or simply post-boot using a user-data script which pulls your source from a bucket, repo, or similar. Either way, the result is the same and infinitely repeatable!

The one counter to this which a colleague of mine brought up, is that you are explicitly depending on a specific feature of AWS always functioning in the same way and not changing in the future. An alternative might be to deploy in a blue-green setup with independent ELBs and instances. You then simply failover using Route53, either all in one go or using weighted routing for a canary release process. Funnily enough, AWS released a white paper on exactly that subject a couple of months ago:
Blue/Green Deployments on AWS Whitepaper

They also cover the scale-up patching method in detail from page 17 of the whitepaper.

Brucie Bonus One – Deployment Dictionary

Incidentally, you can actually deploy said code, without it actually going live immediately, by using methods called “Dark Launch Techniques”. As the name suggests, this separates code deployment from feature launches. You pre-release your code into production, but you simply don’t toggle it on for anyone (or everyone) at first. You can then either toggle it on for everyone, or even better, smaller canary groups. Web-scale companies such as Netflix, Facebook and Google have been doing this for many years!

This process then completely avoids the panic-inducing impact of deploying a large new code release whilst simultaneously having that code go live and ramping up utilisation at the same time!

devops Dark Launch Meme

Combining dark launch methods with scale-up patching or blue/green deployments should lead to a few less grey hairs in the long run, that’s for sure!

For more info, see the following overview:
What is a dark launch in terms of continuous delivery of software?

Brucie Bonus Two – Environment Manager

Lastly, a bit of interesting news which also came from The Trainline is that they have open sourced their own internal deployment tool, they call Environment Manager.

With an AngularJS front end, and a Node.js back end, it’s a home-grown continuous deployment tool which includes a self-service portal, REST APIs, and a number of operational governance features. The governance elements include a feature which prevents rogue developers deploying anything which hasn’t already been defined in the central service catalogue.

The Tramline Environment Manager Architecture

You can check out Environment Manager on GitHub:
https://trainline.github.io/environment-manager

Want More AWS Tips and Gotchas?

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

Amazon AWS Tips and Gotchas – Part 10 – EFS (Elastic File System)

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