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Another tough exam…

As a subject matter expert (SME) on virtualization, I was neither excited nor intimidated when Microsoft announced their new exam, 74-409: Server Virtualization with Windows Server Hyper-V and System Center.  Unlike many previous exams I did not rush out to be the first to take it, nor was I going to wait forever.  I actually thought about sitting the exam in Japan in December, but since I had trouble registering there and then got busy, I simply decided to use my visit to Canada to schedule the exam.

This is not the first exam that I have gone into without so much as a glance at the Overview or the Skills Measured section of the exam page on the Internet.  I did not do any preparation whatsoever for the exam… as you may know I have spent much of the last five years living and breathing virtualization.  This attitude very nearly came back to bite me in the exam room at the Learning Academy in Hamilton, Ontario Wednesday morning.

Having taught every Microsoft server virtualization course ever produced (and having written or tech-reviewed many of them) I should have known better.  Virtualization is more than installing Hyper-V.  it’s more than just System Center Virtual Machine Manager (VMM) and Operations Manager (OpsMgr).  It is the entire Private Cloud strategy… and if you plan to sit this exam you had better have more than a passing understanding of System Center Service Manager (ServMgr), Data Protection Manager (DPM), and Orchestrator.  Oh, and your knowledge should extend beyond more than one simple Hyper-V host.

I have long professed to my students that while DPM is Microsoft’s disaster recovery solution, when it comes down to it just make sure that your backup solution does everything that they need, and make sure to test it.  While I stand behind that statement for production environments, it does not hold water when it comes to Microsoft certification exams.  When two of the first few questions were on DPM I did a little silent gulp to myself… maybe I should have prepared a little better for this.

I do not use Service Manager… It’s not that I wouldn’t – I have a lot of good things to say about it.  Heck, I even installed it as recent as yesterday – but I have not used it beyond a passing glance.  The same used to be true of System Center Orchestrator, but over the last year that has changed a lot… I have integrated it into my courseware, and I have spent some time learning it and using it in production environments for repetitive tasks.  While I am certainly not an expert in it, I am at least more than just familiar with it.  That familiarity may have helped me on one exam question.  Had I taken the time to review the exam page on the Microsoft Learning Experience website I would have known that the word Orchestrator does not appear anywhere on the page.

Here’s the problem with Microsoft exams… especially the newer ones that do not simply cover a product, but an entire solution across multiple suites.  Very few of us will use and know every aspect covered on the exam.  That is why I have always professed that no matter how familiar you may be with the primary technology covered, you should always review the exam page and fill in your knowledge gaps with the proper studying.  You should even spend a few hours reviewing the material that you are pretty sure you do know.  As I told my teenaged son when discussing his exams, rarely will you have easy exams… if you feel it was easy it just means you were sufficiently prepared.  Five questions into today’s exam I regretted my blasé attitude towards it – I may be a virtualization expert, but I was not adequately prepared.

As I went through the exam I started to get into a groove… while there are some aspects of Hyper-V that I have not implemented, those are few and far between.  the questions about VHDX files, Failover Clustering, Shared VHDX, Generation 2 VMs, and so many more came around and seemed almost too easy, but like I told my son it just means I am familiar with the material.  There were one or two questions which I considered to be very poorly worded, but I reread the questions and the answers and gave my best answer based on my understanding of them.

I have often described the time between pressing ‘End Exam’ and the appearance of the Results screen to be an extended period of excruciating forced lessons in patience.  That was not the case today – I was surprised that the screen came up pretty quickly.  While I certainly did not ace the exam, I did pass, and not with the bare minimum score.   It was certainly a phew moment for a guy who considers himself pretty smart in virtualization.

Now here’s the question… is the exam a really tough one, or was I simply not prepared and thus considered it tough?  And frankly, how tough could it have been if I didn’t prepare, and passed anyways?  I suppose that makes two questions.  The answer to both is that while I did not prepare for the exam, I am considered by many (including Microsoft) a SME on Hyper-V and System Center.  I can say with authority that it was a difficult exam.  That then leads to the next question, is it too tough?  While I did give that some thought as I left the exam (my first words to the proctor was ‘Wow that was a tough exam!) I do not think it is unreasonably so.  It will require a lot of preparation – not simply watching the MVA Jump Start videos (which are by the way excellent resources, and should be considered required watching for anyone planning to sit the exam).  You will need to build your own environment, do a lot of reading and research, and possibly more.

If you do plan to sit this exam, make sure you visit the exam page first by clicking here.  Make sure you expand and review the Overview and Skills Measured sections.  If you review the Preparation Materials section it will refer you to a five day course that is releasing next week from Microsoft Learning Experience – 20409A- Server Virtualization with Windows Server Hyper-V and System Center (5 Days).  I am proud to say that I was involved with the creation of that course, and that it will help you immensely, not only with the exam but with your real-world experience.

Incidentally, passing the exam gives you the following cert: Microsoft Certified Specialist: Server Virtualization with Hyper-V and System Center.

Good luck, and go get em!

Free ebook: Introducing Microsoft System Center 2012 R2

Folks you will not want to miss this!  Microsoft Press is giving away the ebook Introducing Microsoft System Center 2012 R2: Technical Overview.  It is written by Mitch Tulloch, Symon Perriman, and the System Center team… and is a great way to get up to speed on Microsoft’s private cloud!

Check it out at http://blogs.msdn.com/b/microsoft_press/archive/2013/12/16/free-ebook-introducing-microsoft-system-center-2012-r2.aspx.

Virtual Networking in Hyper-V 2012

Microsoft has released a poster diagramming virtual networking in Hyper-V 2012.  Much of it revolves around Virtual Machine Manager, and is actually branded System Center 2012 SP1.  If you are building or managing datacenters – even smaller ones – you should download this document and review it.  We all have something to learn from it!

The VMM networking poster is available for download here.

Now: If you are going to be at MMS, I am told that the Windows Server team will be giving out printed copies – I had one of the original Hyper-V environment and wore it out – it was my most referenced document for months!

If you are interested in evaluating Windows Server or System Center 2012 you can can do so by clicking here:

Microsoft Certified Career Day!

Our industry moves fast! There was a time when if you learned a system you e set for a long time.  Now Microsoft is releasing operating systems every three years (client AND server), and the management tools are constantly evolving.  A carpenter who takes a year off work may be out of practice, but will remember his way pretty quick.  An IT Pro who is out of the loop for that long has a steep learning curve to step to… just to get back to where he was.  Automation with PowerShell and System Center Orchestrator is increasing the ratio of servers to administrators, and that means that people who once thought they had a secure position may be fighting for their jobs, or even find themselves looking for a new one in a market where there are hundreds of others in the same boat, fighting for the same jobs.

In a world of ones and zeros, how can we stand out from the crowd?  What can we do to make ourselves worth more to a IT potential employer than the rest of the pack?  Experience is great, but once you are out of work it is hard to build while pounding the pavement.  What can we do to increase our value and marketability?

GET CERTIFIED!  Certifications demonstrate not only that you have the respect for your profession to learn to do things right, they also give you the chance to show that you are up to speed on the latest technologies… even when the company you were working for wasn’t.  Are you an MCSE? Great! But hiring managers now understand the difference between an MCSE on Windows Server 2003 (2000? NT4??) and an MCSE: Private Cloud.  If they are looking for someone to lead them into the future they are not looking for someone who only knows the past.  That is why we as IT Pros are constantly updating our certs, even at a cost of $150 per shot.  It is not usually for our current company, but rather for our next one.

Microsoft Learning is hosting an on-line certified career day on March 12, 2013.  The day will begin with a live, interactive panel discussion with IT managers and industry experts who will discuss how the cloud is redefining IT recruitment and the growing need for up-to-date certifications. 

The panel will be followed by an exclusive interview with special guest Mark Russinovich, Microsoft Technical Fellow. Next, attend the technology focused sessions with Windows Server 2012 and SQL Server 2012 product group experts.

Attendees of Certified Career Day are eligible to win an Acer tablet with full Windows 8. Event capacity is limited so register now!  Click here and you are on your way!

msl

MCSE Private Cloud… Not easy, but valuable!

This morning before I started teaching I came into the training centre early to sit an exam.  It is not the ideal way to take exams – I showed up at 7:30, knowing I had to start teaching at 9:00 – but sometimes it is the only way that you can make it work, and besides, pass or fail I am usually a quick exam taker.

When Microsoft Learning announced the new generation of Microsoft certifications a couple of months ago I was surprised to see just how much of what I have already accomplished would count toward my new certifications.  Any IT Pro who held the MCITP: Server Administrator (or MCITP: Enterprise Administrator) would already hold the new certification, Microsoft Certified Solutions Associate.  Cool.  Out of the gate I already had a new cert!

The MCSA is a prerequisite to earn your Microsoft Certified Solutions Expert (MCSE): Private Cloud, which in the immediate would be my next goal.  The MCSE would require MCSA, plus two more exams (70-247 and 70-246). mcse-private-cloud

The Private Cloud certification would be great, but nobody said it would be easy.  Fortunately I had two things going for me:

  • I was able to sit the beta teach for class 10751A: Private Cloud Configuration and Deployment with System Center 2012.  It was held the second week of April in Redmond, Washington, and I had a great time learning.  This class aligns with exam 70-247, which would become irrelevant due to my next point.
  • If you have already passed exam 70-659 TS: Windows Server 2008, Server Virtualization then you do not need exam 70-247.

In other words, it looked to me that I was one exam short of earning my MCSE (again). Okay, I can live with that.  All I would have to do is pass an exam based on one product… which until recently was actually seven products, each with their own exam (or two).  Although I was competent in the older versions of some of these products, and even an expert in one or two, this would be a tall order.  I would probably sit this one out for a few months, while working on other things.  It was not a question of procrastinating, I just had other things to do… and at $150/exam, it seemed like a waste to spend the money if I didn’t know I had a good chance of passing.

Then I got lucky.  Microsoft Learning announced that attendees at Microsoft TechEd 2012 in Orlando would be able to sit the exam for free.  Cool!  On the one hand, I had absolutely no time to prepare; on the other hand, it was free, and I would be able to see the types of questions they would ask, and then better prepare for the exam.

I have said before and I will say again, it is better to know the product than it is to study for an exam.  I broke this rule for this exam, because while I ‘know’ it, I do not consider myself nearly proficient in it to pass an exam without studying.  However when you know how to read the questions, once you have seen the exam you will know what you have to study.  There were a lot of terms and processes I had confused in my head, and based on my first (unsuccessful but free) viewing of the exam I was able to go back, study those terms and processes, and knock the exam out of the park.

This morning, June 20th, I signed onto the exam computer and was nervous… the questions were still tough, and it was a very rigorous exam – asking questions on several components of System Center 2012.  When I hit the ‘End Exam’ button I was not at all confident, but I was certainly moreso than I was last week in Orlando, when the results were in line with that confidence level.  When the screen flashed its congratulatory message and told me my score, I was thrilled… and I was an MCSE again.

I have a lot more to do… as the score report states, the Sectional Results …’indicates your relative performance on each section of this exam.  We hope this information will help you determine areas, if any, for further development.’  I certainly have several of those, and will be spending a lot of my downtime over the next few months working on these.  However in the meantime I can take a deep sigh of relief, knowing that I have earned that elusive MCSE (again).

Private Cloud Training from Microsoft Learning

Hey folks!  I have been asked to post here information about the release dates for Private Cloud training from Microsoft, so here it is:

10747A: Administering System Center 2012 Configuration Manager: June 29, 2012 (currently in Beta)

10748A: Deploying System Center 2012 Configuration Manager: June 29, 2012 (currently in Beta)

10750A: Monitoring and Operating a Private Cloud with System Center 2012: July 30, 2012 (currently in Beta)

10751A: Configuring and Deploying a Private Cloud with System Center 2012: July 30, 2012 (currently in Beta)

I hope this helps!

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