Tag Archive for Windows Server 2012

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.

Windows Server 2012 Storage Spaces Missing Disks

HP Microserver N36L

This is just an annoying quick bug I came across today while messing with Windows 2012 Storage Spaces. The bug apparently affects a significant number of RAID controllers, including the embedded AMD SATA controller in the HP Microserver N36L which is what I am currently in the process of configuring as a remote personal backup server.

As you can see from the screenshot below, the main symptom is that it effectively causes the storage spaces UI not to show all of the available disks in the primordial storage pool. There are actually 3 1TB physical drives in the server below, however only a single drive appears (which can be any one of the three drives in slot 2/3/4 when I refresh the view):

Primordial storage space only showing a single physical drive

Primordial storage space only showing a single physical drive

This is caused by the RAID controller presenting all disks with the same UniqueID. You can list your UniqueIDs by typing the following command into a PowerShell window:

Get-PhysicalDisk | ft FriendlyName, UniqueId, ObjectId, BusType –auto

 

The result looks something like this:

3 identical UniqueIDs

3 identical UniqueIDs

This is an annoying bug, but a simple workaround is available for Microserver users, and I’m sure a similar approach could be taken on other platforms. Simply load up the AMD RAIDXpert UI (or boot into the BIOS) and configure each individual drive as a single RAID Ready device as follows:

Use RAIDXpert to create individual RAID Ready drives

Use AMD RAIDXpert to create individual RAID Ready drives

Complete RAID Ready Drive List

Complete RAID Ready Drive List

This causes the RAID controller to present an individual UniqueID for each drive through to the OS:

Actually unique UniqueIDs!

Actually unique UniqueIDs!

You can then go ahead and create your storage space as normal from the primordial pool:

Primordial Storage Space now shows all 3 unique drives

Primordial Storage Space now shows all 3 physical drives

Hope this helps a few people as it drove me potty before I worked out what was going on!

Bonus Tip: Another wee tip I read recently is that storage spaces are NOT supported inside a virtual machine. I know you would need a quite specific (read: odd) use case to even consider doing this, just don’t! 🙂

MCTS: 70-246 Monitoring and Operating a Private Cloud with System Center 2012 Exam Review

Well I am very pleased to say that I came back home today certified as an MCSE: Private Cloud… yay!

First off, I would say this is one of the trickiest MS exams I have taken. This is not because the subject is particularly difficult, but purely for the volume and depth of information you need to cover, as you are in effect being tested on your knowledge of no less than 7 enterprise applications as well as their interoperation!

I will admit that due to time constraints I wasn’t able to study all elements of SC2012 in the depth I would have liked (I have barely scratched the surface with App Controller and Config Manager), but I was fortunate not to have been hammered too badly because of this.

I have already listed my study materials in my previous post MCTS: 70-246 Monitoring and Operating a Private Cloud with System Center 2012 Exam Prep and Study Guide, but once again I believe it is really getting as much hands on experience as you can, which makes all the difference.

I created a simple lab environment running the entire thing under VMware Workstation 8 on my desktop machine. The spec of the machine is:

  • Intel Quad Core i7 920 processor
  • 24GB RAM
  • Multiple SSDs (the test lab runs across 2 of them totalling around 150GB of space in use).
  • I also used a FreeNAS 0.7 appliance running on another vSphere box to provide some shared iSCSI storage for my Hyper-V clusters (doesnt need to be fast as only for a couple of test VMs and cluster quorum).

The only time I suffered any real performance issues with this setup were when installing windows updates. This wasn’t an issue for me as I kicked them off overnight, but if you were being a bit more proactive, you could build one VM first, update to all the latest patches, install Sliverlight, .NET3.5 / .NET4  (required by lots of SC products), then sysprep and clone the VMs instead.

As I was being a little lazy, I didn’t do much with nesting VMs this time, so immediately under WS8 I installed 9 VMs. You could of course nest most or all of these roles under your Hyper-V hosts, barring the DC which is required to auth the startup of your VM hosts, an issue which is now fixed in Windows Server 2012 (in theory). The performance reduction is minimal, it’s just a bit of a pain if you want to shut down your machine in a hurry…

HostnameRolesvCPUsvRAMvDisks
(Thin)
SV2008R2-MGTAD, DNS, SQL Server 2008 R2 SP124GB40GB
100GB
SCOMOperations Manager 2012, SQL Server 2008 R2 SP1 Reporting Services22GB40GB
SCCMConfiguration Manager 201212GB40GB
SCVMMVirtual Machine Manager 201212GB40GB
SCSMService Manager 201212GB40GB
SCACApplication Controller 201212GB40GB
SCORCHOrchestrator 201212GB40GB
HV1-FULLHyper-V under a full 2008 R2 OS installation24GB40GB
60GB
HV2-HVSHyper-V Server 2008 R224GB40GB
60GB

Hyper-V Server and 2008 R2 are not supported in a cluster configuration, but it will work (with a couple of red lines on your cluster validation report). As long as you implement the following steps, you can then nest 64 bit VMs inside your Hyper-V servers. See Velimir Kojic’s blog post for 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”

I did initially try the unified installer but it proved to be a total pain, especially as some of the components were not recognised or were missing / different from the download links, and the installer itself refuses to install or even recognise a package if the install does not have the correct name (e.g. you have to download 2 editions of reportviewer, 2008 and 2010. You need to put them in separate directories with their original file names, and not just rename them to reportviewer2008.exe and reportviewer2010.exe – very annoying!). The same goes for the service packs, SQL installers etc. In the end I gave up with it and installed all the components manually, which I think probably teaches you more about the install process anyway.

Once I had my lab up and running I simply followed through all of the MS training on the Microsoft Virtual Academy. I genuinely cannot recommend these highly enough, and it really is very good of MS to provide them free of charge. When running through the videos, I tried to emulate every demo on screen, using my lab, then followed through reading as many articles as possible from the other links I included in my prep article.

Good luck to anyone attempting this exam in the future, next on my agenda was going to be the upgrade to Windows Server 2012, but I have decided to (at long last) slot in some time to aim for a CCNA first!

Related Posts
MCTS: 70-246 Monitoring and Operating a Private Cloud with System Center 2012 Exam Prep and Study Guide

MCTS: 70-246 Monitoring and Operating a Private Cloud with System Center 2012 Exam Prep and Study Guide

Exam 70-246

After a rather busy summer, I figured it was about time I got round to finishing up my MCSE:Private Cloud, by completing the final exam in the track with the 70-246 exam. Unfortunately due to a very busy week since I came back from holiday, I haven’t given myself much time to study for the exam!

At the time of writing there are still no online MOC (Microsoft Official Curriculum) courses on 70-246 (such as the courses you can use with your TechNet subscription), so if you have a manager with a great training budget you can always attend the 10750A: Monitoring and Operating a Private Cloud with System Center 2012 (5 Days) training course. I have other courses I want my dev budget spent on, so I have chosen to use online resources to study for it instead.

As always, I have summarised my prep materials / study guide below for anyone interested:

  • Official Microsoft 70-246 Exam Page
    Links to all official source material, exam reqs, etc. Make sure you know and understand all of the skills measured.
  • Microsoft Virtual Academy CoursesFree!
    For a free resource these courses are superb! I used these previously for my 70-659 exam prep, and have done so again this time. If you haven’t done 70-659 and are approaching 70-246 without any Hyper-V knowledge but perhaps some VMware knowledge, then I highly recommend you consider the “Microsoft Virtualization for VMware Professionals – The Platform” and “Microsoft Virtualization for VMware Professionals – Management” courses first. They are based on 2008 R2 but it will cover off the mapping of terminology etc.
    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. Configuring and deploying Microsoft’s Private Cloud
      A good intro to Hyper-V 2012 covering a broad base – expect so spend a good 16 hours watching the 8 videos (allowing for pauses for breaks and note-making). As usual, the inimitable Symon Perriman leads the course, assisted by a selection of other MS technical marketeers.
      Be warned, the content in this is very useful, but this was one of the driest MSA courses I have watched to date. At points I did struggle to keep my attention levels up. Try to watch them say one video a night, then spend some time playing with your lab on whichever component you were watching. Trying to watch these in one go will zap your brain!
      Note: For some reason this skips the intro video for the jump start course which can be found here, and I recommend you watch first for a general overview:
      Private Cloud Jump Start (01): Introduction to the Microsoft Private Cloud with System Center 2012
    2. What’s New in System Center 2012
      This follows the same slide deck as the intro to private cloud course I mentioned above, but with a different presenter.
    3. System Center 2012: Virtual Machine Manager (VMM)
      Still a lot of high level technical marketing, but there are some quite useful demos.
    4. System Center 2012 Operations Manager
      Very well presented and goes into a decent amount of detail with plenty of demos.
    5. System Center 2012: Orchestrator & Service Manager
      Another well presented and more in-depth course.
    6. System Center 2012: Configuration Manager
      Review TBC – I did not actually get through this in time before my exam, but plan to revisit it later anyway.
    7. System Center Advisor
      Review TBC – I did not actually get through this in time before my exam, but plan to revisit it later anyway.
    8. Introduction to Private, Hybrid and Public Cloud
      Do this if you are totally new to cloud concepts, otherwise save your time and look elsewhere.
  • System Center 2012 Self-Study Guide by Scott RachuiRecommended!
    Quite simply the most in depth, detailed set of study guides I have ever come across! Scott has put in a huge amount of effort to gather all of these resources in one place. Go through as many as you can, but to be honest, you probably wont have time to get through them all!!!
  • Study Guide by Keith Mayer
    Great resource from MS blogger Keith Mayer. To download his guide, you need to use the “Pay with a Tweet” link to get a copy of his free PDF. Totally worth the price! 🙂
  • 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.
  • 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.
    My home lab runs under VMware Workstation 8 on Windows 7 64-bit, with an Intel Core i7 920 and 24GB of RAM.
    To get Hyper-V 2008 R2 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 and updates to follow over the next week…

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

Related Posts:
MCTS: 70-246 Monitoring and Operating a Private Cloud with System Center 2012 Exam Review

%d bloggers like this: