AzureAD: Joining is easy!

There was a time, years ago, when I maintained my own Active Directory infrastructure.  I was living with my family in Canada, I had server racks in the basement, and my company required my having AD that I could use and often demo.  Those days are long gone.  I now live in an apartment in California, and aside from not having the infrastructure I would need, I also do not feel it as important as I once did.  I do, however, like to have some of the centralized management capabilities that I once did.  The solution?  For me, it is Azure Active Directory (AAD).

Joining my computer to AAD is as simple as joining an Active Directory infrastructure.  The following steps are all it takes:

  1. Click on the Start Menu and type the word Azure.  The option to Access work or school will appear in the list.  Click it.
  2. In the Access work or school window, click + Connect.
  3. In the Set up a work or school account window that pops up, look at the bottom… click the option Join this device to Azure Active Directory.
  4. In the window Let’s get you signed in, you should enter the e-mail address of the account you use to access Azure and Microsoft 365 services, then click Next.
  5. On the next screen, you will be prompted to enter your password.  Go ahead, and then click Sign in.
  6. If your organization account is configured for Multi-Factor Authentication, you will be asked to authenticate… usually on your smart phone.
  7. The next screen will ask you to confirm your organization.  Verify that you are joining the right one (although the chances of this being the wrong organization are slim), and then click Join.
  8. That’s it!  After a few seconds of configuring things in the background, the next screen will say You’re all set!

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You will see that you are now free to switch your account, or simply log off and log on using your Microsoft 365 (AzureAD) credentials.  When you log on with that account, you will have the permissions your organization has given you.  As you see in mine, I am an Administrator… but you might be a Standard User, depending on your role.

Good luck and have a great week!

Azure Administrator

A little over a year ago I spent two days sitting at a Starbucks in Atwater Village preparing for what turned out to be one of the easier exams I have taken over the years.  I earned my first one-star badge from Microsoft (Microsoft Certified: Azure Fundamentals).  I did not do much to follow it up, as I was not working in Azure.  I honestly took the exam so that I could teach the course internally at the company where I was working at the time.

Now that I am once again independent, and especially as we are all essentially working from home, I am hoping to deliver more training.  There is not as much of a market for Windows Server trainers as there once was, and while I have my Microsoft Office 365 certifications, those do not seem to be flying off the shelf either. 

azure-administrator-associateWhat does seem to be hot is Microsoft Azure.  I have been working with that technology for a few years now, so when I put my mind to it I was able to sit the exam yesterday afternoon and pass AZ-103.  (There is also an AZ-104 which has the same credentials, but the exam for it is still in the beta stages.)

For bragging rights, it is the 57th official certification exam I have passed… which does not hold a candle to some friends and colleagues who are in the high hundreds.  Still and all, I beam with pride every time I earn a new cert.

Interesting trivial facts of my certifications journey:

  • First certification attempted: 70-215 Windows 2000 Server (December, 2001)
  • First certification passed: 70-210 Windows 2000 Professional (March, 2003)
  • Years since 2001 during which I did not take a cert exam: 1 (2013)
  • Greatest streak of consecutive passes: 9 (current!)
  • Worst streak of failures: Sorry, I do not discuss or disclose my failures.  I will say that I have probably failed more exams than most IT Pros have taken.
  • Most exams in a single day: 4 (January 23, 2014)
  • Most exams passed in a single day: 3 (May 3, 2011)
  • Most exams taken in a calendar year: 12 (2008). (I took 11 in a year twice – 2010 & 2012)

Yes, I was bored this afternoon after the exam, and I decided to write a fluff piece!  With that said, Microsoft Azure is an extremely important technology, and if you are considering it, let’s discuss a training plan for your team!

Azure Exams: Different?

Since I started working on Microsoft Azure certifications, I have noticed a lot of things that are quite different from what I am used to.  for instance, the single, non-technical AZ-900 exam does give you a certification (Microsoft Certified: Azure Fundamentals).

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Okay, I passed that exam… but when I went to start looking for courseware for the technical exams – namely, AZ-100: Microsoft Azure Infrastructure and Deployment, things looked different from what I was used to… and I am not sure if I like it or not.

For a minute, it looked like Microsoft Learning had gone back to the heady days of requiring multiple courses to pass a single exam.  Well, in fact, that is what they did… but in a much more rational fashion.

Courses Required For AZ-100:

  • AZ-100T01: Managing Azure Subscriptions and Resources
  • AZ-100T02: Implement and Manage Storage
  • AZ-100T03: Deploying and Managing Virtual Machines
  • AZ-100T04: Configure and Manage Virtual Networks
  • AZ-100T05: Manage Identities

Five courses… but that is not entirely accurate.  They are each about a day long; yes, they are separate courses, but the sum total of these (5 courses = 5 days) is the same amount of learning you would have done for a legacy course… say, 10215: Implementing and Managing Microsoft Server Virtualization.  Five days of learning for one exam.

I will be honest, I am not sure that I like this methodology… for myself.  For people looking to get certified, whose companies want to send them for that full week of training, this can get tricky: imagine a training centre that offers some of these courses, but not all of them; they might offer one of some of these courses, but not in order, not on consecutive days or consecutive weeks.  It might be cumbersome.

With that said, I understand that certifications are not the sole purpose of learning.  Someone who is going to be responsible for managing virtual machines but will never touch virtual networks or identities, having to sit through the five day course in order to learn what they will need for their job is also cumbersome and inefficient.

The good news is that there are courses, both in-person and on-line, that will cover what you need… whether it is the one or the other.

As someone who wants to go out and get certified, I know that I will be downloading the material for all of the courses… and yes, I am going to offer my company to teach some of internally.  There is no way that they would say ‘Yeah, let’s take all of our consultants off their contracts for an entire week to learn everything they will need to get an Azure certification, but might not need to do their jobs.

So… is this way better than the old way? I don’t know… but I am willing to try it out and see.  How much of the material that I need to pass the exam is in the five courses? How much overlap is there between the five courses?  Is it enough?  We’ll see.  I look forward to sharing the results with you as I discover them.

Azure Fundamentals

Last week my company launched a certification challenge. Yes, they would be rewarding employees who passed certification exams, but they also asked if I would be able to teach a class. My pleasure… but before I teach it, I’d like to pass the exam.

I decided that the best way to light a fire under my backside was to register for the exam… which I did, and I gave myself two weeks to prepare. I sent my team a notice that on Tuesday the 26th I would be in late.

A huge benefit to being a Microsoft Certified Trainer is that I can download any Microsoft courseware, and go through it at my own pace. I downloaded the materials for AZ-900, and realized quickly that there were no labs… on-line or otherwise. For those of us who learn better from doing than from reading, that could be daunting. No matter, I started going through the materials.

By Friday afternoon I was halfway through the material – it is a one day course – and decided that if I could spend 5-6 hours over the weekend, I would be ready to sit the exam Monday (instead of the following Tuesday).

Microsoft Certified Azure Fundamentals (AZ-900) is an entry-level certification that covers the basic cloud technologies... but don’t be fooled, you had better read the material!

There was another method to my madness… this was going to be my first Azure exam, and I had no idea what to expect. I knew the process of on-premises solutions exams, but public cloud? It might be different. For the cost of an exam (which is covered by my company anyways) I would either pass… or not, and be able to re-sit the exam next week.

For a non-technical exam, it was a bit challenging; not because the questions were hard – some of them were very simple – but as someone with 80+ exams under my belt, a lot of the questions had me getting into the heads of the question writers. I don’t know if that helped or hindered me, but on a couple of questions it made me second-guess my answers.

Having to know about geographies and such was not a surprise; having to know about civilian, government, military, and other certification authorities was a surprise. I am grateful that as I got bored on Sunday I did not pack it up and go for a cigar; rather I ordered another cup of tea and a biscotti, and soldiered through the last module of material. I am reasonably certain that had I not done so I would be writing a very different article (without the certification logo).

The bottom line: can you pass this exam without ever touching Azure? Maybe. I am not an expert by any means, but I certainly have quite a bit of Azure experience. Can you pass this exam without knowing about all of the Azure components and what they do, what they are for? Unlikely. Make sure you know all the tools, as well as the subscription levels and support agreement types.be certain you know what you are charged for… and when.

I walked into the exam room at 10:05am and walked out with a respectable passing score at 10:29, besting my best time ever on a certification exam by two minutes. The 26 minute exam was a Windows Vista exam I think. I strongly recommend not trying that… take your time, read the questions, mark as many of the, for reviews as you can (and there are a few sections you cannot go back and change). I was given 85 minutes for the exam, although only 60 minutes for the actual questions (there were just shy of 50 questions). Pass or fail, I am always in and out in a hurry… but I think that the time allotment is appropriate for anyone whose mother tongue is English.

Overall, I am not impressed with this exam as a certification exam, but the world changed and I have to adapt. Microsoft doesn’t ask me about technology trends, and it has been years since Microsoft Learning asked my opinion about cert exams. And so here I am, taking Azure exams. This was my first; it will not be my last. For a guy who is Senior Windows Engineer for a large data centre, these exams are irrelevant to my career… for now. But everything changes, and I am getting ready for the future. How about you?