Journey to MCSE in Server Infrastructure and Private Cloud in 90 Days

Coffee Required

Intended Purpose and Audience

This is intended to encourage IT professionals and aspiring IT professionals in their journey to obtain Microsoft’s top career certifications. As well as explain how an ambitious fast-track approach to certifications can be advantageous in a rapidly changing technological world. I hope this is informative for this audience and although our specific specializations, goals, or certifications may vary I intend this to be broadly beneficial for the process of becoming certified. I am going to give a brief history of my certification path and give detail on my recent 90-day journey including the timeline, resources, study habits, and general advice from my experience. Keep in mind the certifications and their requirements are subject to change after the time of me posting this article, so be sure to reference Microsoft’s web site directly as you take your journey. Please feel free to comment any questions you have below. Yes, I did include a picture of a Mac above to avoid partiality or vendor lock on this article.

Personal Back Story

My name is Ben Jones and I have been an IT professional since 2006 primarily working in the SMB market. To give a brief overview of my certification career, I obtained my Cisco Certified Network Associate (CCNA) certification within my first year. I started studying to obtain Microsoft certifications in 2011 and passed the first test in the MCSA track after about six months of studying, but then decided I ought to wait until they update the curriculum for the upcoming Windows Server 2012. I focused in on becoming a VMware Certified Professional (VCP) in Datacenter Virtualization (VCP-DV to be specific) and obtained that certification by January 2013. Since renewing my CCNA was upon me in 2013 I decided to go deeper and obtain my Cisco Certified Design Associate (CCDA) certification to gain more understanding of network design concepts and principles as the software defined network is a hot topic nowadays. I obtained my CCDA on June 18, 2013, and on June 19th I decided to return to my ambitions of obtaining distinguished Microsoft certifications now that they changed the acronyms back to suite their beloved predecessor MCSA and MCSE with some slight linguistic modifications to their definitions.

Timeline

So, June 19th was day one on this journey to obtain my MCSA Windows Server 2012, MCSE Server Infrastructure, and MCSE Private Cloud in 90-days. Although, when I began I would not have believed it would happen so quickly.

MCSA: Windows Server 2012

The first step was passing the 70-410, 70-411, and 70-412 exams as they are the prerequisites for all but two MCSE certifications. In regards to my prepare and conquer days it took me 20 days to pass the 70-410, 14 days for the 70-411, and 14 days for the 70-412. Which equates to MCSA in 48 days. Which although doesn’t have the same ring to it as MCSA in 90 days, which was my goal, I was well pleased.

MCSE: Server Infrastructure

The next step for me was passing the 70-413 and the 70-414 exams to earn my MCSE Server Infrastructure certification. I passed the 70-413 in 7 days and the 70-414 in 14 days.

MCSE: Private Cloud

Finally, I aimed to pass the 70-246 and 70-247 to earn my MCSE Private Cloud certification. I passed the 70-247 first in 14 days and the 70-246 in 7 days. Thus, my 90-day certification track was completed. However, this is totally irrelevant if you don’t keep reading.

Motivation

There are a myriad of reasons to become Microsoft Certified, but I am simply going to share my motivation and belief as to why this is a valuable path and why I believe approaching it diligently is the way to go. The primary motivation for me is it adds measurable valuable to me as an IT professional. It adds this value not simply because I have the certification, but because I have demonstrated that I care about the technology enough to spend my time diving into the nuts and bolts of it. I have demonstrated that although technology moves quickly I intend to keep up. It is measurable because there are studies showing that people will relevant IT certifications get raises, job opportunities, and tend to get picked over the one who doesn’t have them when applying for a job. Now, to those that do the bare minimum to pass the exams there really is no intrinsic value for the certification they obtain. Because, the certification is not a statement that you can pass a series of tests, but a statement that you know the content and have the skills necessary to perform on-the-job. Faking it until you make it may or may not work, but I strongly encourage you to invest the time to really learn the material and have confidence that you are the expert you work to become.

The Fast-Track

That all aside, the diligent fast-track of certification versus the slow-paced certification method. I prefer the fast-track when it comes to certifications and it has worked well for me. The fast-track certification method is where you set ambitious goals to learn the material and pass the exams and dedicate as much time as you can make available to accomplish those goals. For me it meant communicating with my family the value of what I was doing and giving them an expectation of how long it will take me. You want to have their support as you consume precious time to do this. People are naturals at procrastinating and spare time is rarely just discovered, but more often it is allocated and planned for. I allocated an hour before work, most of my lunch hours, an hour each night, and two to four hours on the weekend. Some mornings I am too tired, some lunches I need a break, and some evenings I don’t want to break away from time with family and friends. However, I am intentional about studying. The fast-track isn’t intended with the sole purpose of getting done quickly, but being intentional and not dragging out the duration unnecessarily.

Another reason I am advocating the fast-track to certification is that Microsoft and other vendors are going to an annual product release cycle, and if you take too long learning one product version by the time you are done you are already behind.

Connect and Contribute

I highly encourage everyone on the certification journey to get social and contribute your experience. I would start by getting connected to experts in your field of study. For the MCSE Server Infrastructure and MCSE Private Cloud paths I recommend some of the following people to follow in no particular order:

Connect with people on the forums and on Twitter. There are a lot of people on Twitter with informative posts, so follow the ones above and search for relevant posts on Twitter and follow people who are talking about what matters to you as you study. If you want to share more you can even start your own blog. Don’t be afraid to ask questions along the way. I have been encouraged by all of the feedback and support I have received along the way from the online community.

Process

I developed a method that worked well for me and I know this will not work the same for everyone, so I hope you will glean from this whatever you believe will work in best for you and the process you define. I am going to outline the process I take and include links to the resources in the next section that will be exam specific.

Gathering Information

I start by gathering the exam objectives and resources available into OneNote, where I have a page created for each exam. I continue to work off of this throughout my studying. I go to the page specific for the exam on Microsoft learning and essentially copy and paste the “Skills Measured” section into my OneNote page. I then look to see what “Preparation Options” are available and try to get a good list of what resources I need to purchase and store links to all of that in my OneNote page. Again, details on resources is in the next section.

Once I have my OneNote populated with the exam objectives and the available resources. I make tentative notations on sections that I need hands-on experience with, topics that are completely new to me, and ones I feel like I already have a grasp on. You can highlight them, take notes, whatever makes sense to you here. I do this so I have my priorities.

Reading

I then turn to the books available, if there is any, and will read through the book (my first time not using the printed books and using the Kindle versions). I don’t study the book in depth and work off of it, but I simply read it through and make simple notes in my OneNote as something catches my attention. This works with theses exams because it is not simply memorizing the information and tables as much as it is understanding the concepts and principles, and being able to actually do what you learn. So, the value I find in reading the books is getting the overview.

Video Training

I then go to the video training on CBT Nuggets and start the series. Sometimes there is a walkthrough on setting up your lab environment for the series, and other times I just look ahead to see what I will need and can reproduce in my lab. The video training series I try to treat as if I am in a classroom environment but with control, so I take notes constantly, pause and dig deeper with online resources when I feel that I haven’t quite got something yet, etc. For the most part watching the video series and following along in my lab is where most of my most profitable study happens.

Filling in the Gaps

Once I made it through I will look over my notes and make sure there isn’t an area in the exam objective that I haven’t covered thoroughly and have confidence in. If there is I either watch the video for that area again, find other online videos, TechNet articles, blog articles from industry experts, or try to simulate it in my lab.

Practice Tests

The final study method is the practice tests. This is to primarily get the feel of taking what you have learned and working through questions. I will reference some practice tests below, but I typically used the practice questions in the books. If you have never taken a Microsoft exam before, they have some exam format and question type video clips that help you see what the test is like. When going through the practice tests be sure to use your troubleshooting skills to eliminate answers and narrow down the possibilities. Try to simplify the question down as much as you can and be sure to know what details need to be considered. If one is hurting your head and holding you up just mark it for review and come back to it. You should be able to see how many questions are on the test and how much time you are given to take them. With this information you can determine how much time you can spend on each question. Be sure that you are practicing timely question taking during your practice.

Test Day

On to the day before the test. For me, I go over all of my notes and try to draw it back to memory. A final fill in the gap moment where I may look up some things or get back in my lab to see something one more time. I will go over my practice questions a lot to just be in test mode.

Now, it is on to test day. Remember to bring the necessary forms of identification as outlined by your testing site, and just follow their instructions overall. I prefer taking my tests in the morning after an hour of final study, breakfast, and coffee. I recommend picking the time you feel that your brain will be the most ready to go at it. Morning is typically the most productive for me, and it prevents me from getting involved mentally in some work project prior to the test. Don’t attempt to do a panic cram as that will just stress you out. Just cover the high points to remind yourself you are ready. Be confident. Relax. Listen to some music that you studied to or can relax to on the way to the testing center. Stay calm. As you begin your test remember the methods you used to go through the practice questions and continue it here. Mark difficult questions or ones that you aren’t sure about for later review. Draw out topologies or things that will help you get a visual on challenging questions. Keep the pace you practiced and don’t get discouraged by questions you don’t know. During review there will be some you just don’t know, but continue to try to eliminate options that don’t apply. Before I hit the final end the exam option I see how many I checked for review, the ones I wasn’t confident in, and I try to see if half of those were wrong would I generally have a passing score. Typically this is 700 out of 1000, and although it isn’t as simple as getting 70% of the questions right because some are weighted differently I still use that method here to get a general idea if I should review one more time before ending the exam. Hopefully at this point you passed! Regardless of pass or fail be sure to use the sheet they gave you to measure your performance on different sections and fill in the gaps where you could have done better. On to the resources.

Resources

Effective January 2014 exam specifics will change for MCSA to reflect changes in the R2 releases.
Effective April 2014 exam specifics will change for MCSE to reflect changes in the R2 releases. 

Documents on MCSE: Server Infrastructure updates due to R2 from Britt Adams blog Geek Babble.

413_OD_R2-April-2014

414_OD_R2-April-2014

Updated the 70-413 book with the Second Edition on July 7, 2014.

That said, if you believe you will be testing in 2014 be sure to check out the links with what has changed for that exam and be sure that you get content specific to 2012 R2 when available. From what I have read it looks like the changes are minor and you will just want to know what’s new and what has changed in 2012 R2. Be sure to look to the forums for that exam when it gets closer to 2014. I believe most press books will be coming out in January 2014 for MCSA and April 2014 for MCSE as stated on Amazon. I wouldn’t delay in preparing for the tests because of these changes, as it will be the new normal and variations and changes should be smaller than previous shifts. Use my links as a guide, but always do some looking around on your own for changes that occur.

*For more information there is a Microsoft video update that was made on September 23, 2013.

My Lab Environment

I recommend setting up a lab environment so that you can get some hands-on experience with each topic. There are so many ways to accomplish this, but I am just going to share what I did and recommend. I built a continuing lab environment from the beginning of my first exam to the end of my second MCSE certification.

The Platform

I used a laptop with a 256GB SSD for the OS and a 256GB SSD for my virtual machines, 16GB of RAM, and a CPU with 8 logical processors. I recommend at least having one SSD and patience, but two is preferred.

I have built similar labs on a Mac and a PC. I recommend VMware Fusion for the Mac and VMware Workstation for the PC. I started my lab on Hyper-V because I wanted to immerse in the Microsoft way, but ended up starting over with VMware environment when I realized I couldn’t create a Hyper-V server within Hyper-V (nested Hyper-V virtual machine). New: I found an article where someone was able to install Hyper-V on Hyper-V using Windows ADK which may save you money from buying something like VMware Workstation if you already are using Windows 8.

The Network

That said, the first thing I did was setup a Brocade virtual router so that my environment would be more production like, have multiple subnets so I could setup multiple AD sites, VPNs, etc. Brocade makes the Vyatta router freely available and is very similar interface and process of setting up a Cisco router. You can download the ISO here:

http://www.vyatta.com/downloads/vc6.6/vyatta-livecd_VC6.6R1_i386.iso Although, you may want to get the latest version from their site. To setup the router download the ISO, create a VM with 256MB of RAM, a 5GB VHDX, 1 CPU, and at least 2 NICs to start. The first NIC should be connected to the Internet shared connection for your WAN and the second interface should be connected to a private network that I would create. This private network will be the network for your lab virtual machines. You will be setting the router to have an IP address on this network and it will be the default gateway for your virtual machines. To set it up, boot the VM to the ISO, login with user and password “vyatta”, run the “install image” command to install it to the VHDX (just enter through the prompts). Then you can follow the steps of this article to setup a dynamic IP address and NAT for the outside interface, assign a static IP address to the inside interface, and you are good to go. http://xmodulo.com/2012/10/how-to-set-up-dhcp-and-nat-on-vyatta.html

Licensing

In regards to Windows licensing I was fortunate enough to have a Premium MSDN subscription, and an expiring TechNet subscription to use, but if you don’t have that benefit I recommend using Microsoft’s evaluation software that they offer free for 180-days.

The 180-day expiration is a good encouragement to move quickly to becoming certified!

The Base Servers

I then deployed a Windows Server 2012 domain controller and setup the Active Directory Domain Services, DNS, and DHCP roles. I also recommend setting up a secondary domain controller with the same roles to get experience with that. I would promote it, setup failover with DHCP, practice moving the master FSMO roles around between the two, and then demote and decommission one. You really only need one for the lab since resources will be limited, but I think the experience here is crucial.

I recommend setting up a Windows 8 management computer that you will install the Remote Server Administration Tools (RSAT) on so you can do most of your management from here. Give this VM more processor and RAM and limit the others as much as possible.

You can then setup servers as necessary with the CBT Nugget material. I review what will be covered and attempt to have what I need setup. When it gets into setting up System Center in the Private Cloud it gets a little complicated and you want to consolidate as much as possible. Here is a blog that has some good walkthrough articles on setting up your System Center lab. http://adinermie.wordpress.com/

Honestly, too much direction on your lab would take away from the learning experience. Some trial and error is good for learning the most valuable things. If you have questions please leave a comment on the post and I would be glad to talk you through your lab setup.

General Resources

Microsoft OneNote
An excellent digital notebook for compiling all of the objectives, notes, helpful screenshots, lab configurations, etc. If you don’t have the paid desktop version, no problem. Sign up for an Outlook.com account and access SkyDrive to create a new OneNote notebook.

CBT Nuggets
I recommend a subscription to CBT Nuggets IT Training for $99/month during the time of your study. You can view the first two minutes of each video to get a preview. This may be something your employer will invest in, as it does provide lots of content that could be helpful not only to you but to your colleagues. Regardless, I believe this is the most helpful component I had in my study resources. If you buy a year for $999 you also get the Transcender practice tests which is about $110 per test value.

Microsoft Exam Experience
Microsoft has a page with some video clips to show you how the exam look and feel will be if you have never taken a Microsoft exam before.

Registering for the Exam
The Prometric Microsoft testing web site where you can find a test center and sign-up for your test. If you already have an MCP ID be sure that it is associated with the account you use to schedule your exam at Prometric.

Join the “Early Experts” Challenge
I didn’t do this for all of my exams, but I did get some preparation materials and some insights from the LInkedIn study group.

70-410 Exam – Installing and Configuring Windows Server 2012

Changes to Exam 70-410 effective January 2014 regarding Windows Server 2012 R2

Microsoft Exam 70-410 Page
Includes skills measured outline and preparation options. It also has references to available practice tests by Kaplan, MeasureUp, and Transcender.

Microsoft Born to Learn Wiki for the 70-410
There is reference to the official press material, a prep talk video, and at the bottom of the page there are the exam objectives that expand out to include TechNet articles, TechEd sessions, and other articles to go deeper on different exam topics.

Microsoft Born to Learn Forum for the 70-410
I recommend this as a community to interact with others on the same journey. Questions as you go, sharing how you did on an exam, sharing resources, etc.

Official Microsoft Press Book for 70-410
Exam Ref 70-410: Installing and Configuring Windows Server 2012 [Kindle Edition] by Craig Zacker for $17.99

I read this book and it provides a good high-level coverage and introduction.

Official Microsoft Training Guide
Training Guide: Installing and Configuring Windows Server 2012 [Kindle Edition] by Mitch Tulloch for $27.49

This wasn’t available when I studied, but I always recommend something like this when possible because it will help you with your lab and getting the hands on experience. I will say this would be an above and beyond if you are using the CBT Nuggets video series as they provide similar coverage.

Sybex book that covers the 70-410, 70-411, and 70-412 exams
MCSA Windows Server 2012 Complete Study Guide: Exams 70-410, 70-411, 70-412, and 70-417 [Kindle Edition] by William Panek for $52.24

This is a great book for an overview of the topics for these exams.

CBT Nuggets video series for 70-410
James Conrad covering the 70-410 exam, Installing and Configuring Server 2012

TechNet Windows Server 2012 Jump Start Videos
I didn’t watch these, but I thought they could be helpful for some of you. Especially if new to WIndows Server 2012 and if you don’t have the CBT Nuggets subscription.

70-411 Exam – Administering Windows Server 2012

Changes to Exam 70-411 effective January 2014 regarding Windows Server 2012 R2

Microsoft Exam 70-411 Page
Official Microsoft page for the exam with skills measured outline and preparation options. It also has references to available practice tests by Kaplan, MeasureUp, and Transcender.

Microsoft Born to Learn Wiki for the 70-411
There is reference to the official press material, a prep talk video, and at the bottom of the page there are the exam objectives that expand out to include TechNet articles, TechEd sessions, and other articles to go deeper on different exam topics.

Microsoft Born to Learn Forum for the 70-411
I recommend this as a community to interact with others on the same journey. Questions as you go, sharing how you did on an exam, sharing resources, etc.

Microsoft Press Training Guide for 70-411
Training Guide: Administering Windows Server 2012 [Kindle Edition] by Orin Thomas for $34.86

I did not use this book and used the Sybex MCSA book along with my other resources.

Official Microsoft Academic Course material for the 70-411
Exam 70-411 Administering Windows Server 2012 (Microsoft Official Academic Course Series) [Print Replica] [Kindle Edition] by Microsoft Official Academic Course for $69.50

I didn’t use this material either, but I am sure it would be a deep learning experience.

Sybex book that covers the 70-410, 70-411, and 70-412 exams
MCSA Windows Server 2012 Complete Study Guide: Exams 70-410, 70-411, 70-412, and 70-417 [Kindle Edition] by William Panek for $52.24

This is a great book for an overview of the topics for these exams and the only one I used for the 70-411.

CBT Nugget video series for 70-411
Administering Windows Server 2012, by James Conrad

TechNet Windows Server 2012 Jump Start Videos
I didn’t watch these, but I thought they could be helpful for some of you. Especially if new to WIndows Server 2012 and if you don’t have the CBT Nuggets subscription.

70-412 Exam – Configuring Advanced Windows Server 2012 Services

Changes to Exam 70-412 effective January 2014 regarding Windows Server 2012 R2

Microsoft Exam 70-412 Page
Official Microsoft page for the exam with skills measured outline and preparation options. It also has references to available practice test by MeasureUp.

Microsoft Born to Learn Wiki for the 70-412
There is reference to the official press material, a prep talk video, and at the bottom of the page there are the exam objectives that expand out to include TechNet articles, TechEd sessions, and other articles to go deeper on different exam topics.

Microsoft Born to Learn Forum for the 70-412
I recommend this as a community to interact with others on the same journey. Questions as you go, sharing how you did on an exam, sharing resources, etc.

Microsoft Press Book (Pre-Order, Estimated January 2014)
Exam Ref 70-412: Configuring Advanced Windows Server 2012 R2 Services

They appear to have canceled publishing this material until R2 changes are added in.

Sybex book that covers the 70-410, 70-411, and 70-412 exams
MCSA Windows Server 2012 Complete Study Guide: Exams 70-410, 70-411, 70-412, and 70-417 [Kindle Edition] by William Panek for $52.24

CBT Nugget video series for 70-412
Configuring Advanced Windows Server 2012 by Timothy Warner

TechNet Windows Server 2012 Jump Start Videos
I didn’t watch these, but I thought they could be helpful for some of you. Especially if new to WIndows Server 2012 and if you don’t have the CBT Nuggets subscription.

70-413 Exam – Designing and Implementing a Server Infrastructure

Microsoft Exam 70-413 Page
Official Microsoft page for the 70-413 exam with skills measured outline and preparation options.

Microsoft Born to Learn Wiki for the 70-413

There is reference to the official press material, a prep talk video, and at the bottom of the page there are the exam objectives that expand out to include TechNet articles, TechEd sessions, and other articles to go deeper on different exam topics.

Microsoft Born to Learn Forum for the 70-413
I recommend this as a community to interact with others on the same journey. Questions as you go, sharing how you did on an exam, sharing resources, etc.

Microsoft Press Book for 70-413 Second Edition
Exam Ref 70-413: Designing and Implementing a Server Infrastructure [Kindle Edition] by Paul Ferrill and Tim Ferrill for $17.99 (This is the Second Edition published June 27, 2014)

CBT Nugget video series for 70-413
Designing and Implementing a Server Infrastructure by Don Jones

70-414 Exam – Implementing an Advanced Server Infrastructure

Microsoft Exam 70-414 Page
Official Microsoft page for the 70-414 exam with skills measured outline and preparation options.

Microsoft Born to Learn Wiki for the 70-414
There is reference to the official press material, a prep talk video, and at the bottom of the page there are the exam objectives that expand out to include TechNet articles, TechEd sessions, and other articles to go deeper on different exam topics.

Microsoft Born to Learn Forum for the 70-414
I recommend this as a community to interact with others on the same journey. Questions as you go, sharing how you did on an exam, sharing resources, etc.

Microsoft Press Book (Pre-Order, Estimated August 10, 2014)
Exam Ref 70-414: Implementing an Advanced Server Infrastructure by Steve Suehring (Should be out August 10, 2014 although it was supposed to be March 2014)

System Center 2012 Book
Microsoft System Center 2012 Unleashed [Kindle Edition] by Chris Amaris, Rand Morimoto, Pete Handley, and David Ross for $26.39

I recommend referencing this book to learn SCVMM and you will want it if going on to Private Cloud.

Private Cloud Computing Book
Microsoft Private Cloud Computing [Kindle Edition] by Aidan Finn, Hans Vredevoort, Patrick Lownds, Damian Flynn for $27.49

I recommend referencing this book to learn SCVMM and you will want it if going on to Private Cloud.

CBT Nugget video series for 70-414
Implementing an Advanced Server Infrastructure with Greg Shields

70-246 Exam – Monitoring and Operating a Private Cloud with System Center 2012

Microsoft Exam 70-246 Page
Official Microsoft page for the 70-246 exam with skills measured outline and preparation options.

Microsoft Born to Learn Wiki for the 70-246
There is reference to the official press material, a prep talk video, and at the bottom of the page there are the exam objectives that expand out to include TechNet articles, TechEd sessions, and other articles to go deeper on different exam topics.

Microsoft Born to Learn Forum for the 70-246
I recommend this as a community to interact with others on the same journey. Questions as you go, sharing how you did on an exam, sharing resources, etc.

FREE MCSE Private Cloud Study Guide for 70-246
This is provided by Keith Mayer a Senior Technical Evangelist at Microsoft. You need to follow the three steps in the article to get the guide sent to you. This was extremely helpful in completing my outline and helping me fill in the gaps.

System Center 2012 Book
Microsoft System Center 2012 Unleashed [Kindle Edition] by Chris Amaris, Rand Morimoto, Pete Handley, and David Ross for $26.39

Private Cloud Computing Book
Microsoft Private Cloud Computing [Kindle Edition] by Aidan Finn, Hans Vredevoort, Patrick Lownds, Damian Flynn for $27.49

CBT Nugget video series for 70-246
CBT Nuggets series covering exam 70-246, Monitoring and Operating a Private Cloud with System Center 2012 with Greg Shields

TechNet Private Cloud Jump Start Videos
I didn’t watch these, but thought they could be helpful to some of you. Especially if you don’t have the CBT Nuggets subscription.

70-247 Exam – Configuring and Deploying a Private Cloud with System Center 2012

Microsoft Exam 70-247 Page
Official Microsoft page for the 70-247 exam with skills measured outline and preparation options.

Microsoft Born to Learn Wiki for the 70-247
There is reference to the official press material, a prep talk video, and at the bottom of the page there are the exam objectives that expand out to include TechNet articles, TechEd sessions, and other articles to go deeper on different exam topics.

Microsoft Born to Learn Forum for the 70-247
I recommend this as a community to interact with others on the same journey. Questions as you go, sharing how you did on an exam, sharing resources, etc.

FREE MCSE Private Cloud Study Guide for 70-247
This is provided by Keith Mayer a Senior Technical Evangelist at Microsoft. You need to follow the three steps in the article to get the guide sent to you. This was extremely helpful in completing my outline and helping me fill in the gaps.

System Center 2012 Book
Microsoft System Center 2012 Unleashed [Kindle Edition] by Chris Amaris, Rand Morimoto, Pete Handley, and David Ross for $26.39

Private Cloud Computing Book
Microsoft Private Cloud Computing [Kindle Edition] by Aidan Finn, Hans Vredevoort, Patrick Lownds, Damian Flynn for $27.49

CBT Nuggets video series for 70-247
Configuring and Deploying a Private Cloud with System Center 2012 with Greg Shields

TechNet Private Cloud Jump Start Videos
I didn’t watch these, but thought they could be helpful to some of you. Especially if you don’t have the CBT Nuggets subscription.

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41 thoughts on “Journey to MCSE in Server Infrastructure and Private Cloud in 90 Days

  1. this blog is exactly what i was looking for in regards to the Microsoft certifications. i have something that i want to ask you, do you think following this track can help a bussiness major gain access into the IT feild on just the basis of solely having these certifications on there resume?

    • I think that professional IT certifications definitely speak well of someone looking to enter the IT field. However, I know experience is worth its weight in gold. That said, the degree, certification, and ambition should be enough to get you in the door at some level. It may be a situation where you have to get in on a job and work your way up and perhaps to another company in a higher position once you’ve gained some experience. My recommendation is to check http://www.indeed.com or http://www.dice.com for the position you are seeking and try to align yourself with what job seekers in your search are looking for as much as possible.

  2. Thanks a lot for the wonderful and practical advice.

  3. Hi,

    Very informative blog. I was wondering whether you could offer me some advice. I am a wireless technician by trade but am trying to move off the field into a more in-house position. I have no system admin/Microsoft Server experience but am semi computer savvy and have experience using all windows desktop OS including Windows 8. Obviously being a wireless tech I have basic networking experience and have completed my N+ and CCNA. Is server experience necessary before attempting the MCSA Server course? Would it be worth doing something like the Comptia Server+ as an introduction/preparation?

    • Hey Greg, Sorry for the late reply. I would recommend going right into the MCSA content, but would highly stress setting up a lab environment and following the CBTNugget videos to get some good introduction to Windows Server. You may have to take a little longer to practice some nuances of Windows Server, but I believe you could get right to it with MCSA. Be sure to look at the R2 changes if you are taking the tests after year end.

  4. if i am MCSE : Server Infrastructure certified , should we go for MCSE:private cloud Certification. If yes please explain. I am very much confused with the course content of both

    • Hello, I particularly did the MCSE Private Cloud as a job requirement and that it was my process of learning Microsoft System Center. System Center is the course content as you can see from Microsoft’s site, so if you are interested in Microsoft’s private cloud then I would go for it. That said, keep in mind at this point in time it is an enterprise product that is complex and would be intended for larger environments looking for the automation of the private cloud. Not something that I know will be very useful for the line of work I am in now. Best of luck to you.

  5. Hi Ben- Great job. I have been a MCSE since 1995 and have re-certed three times now, however your post was still very helpful. I am taking up the 90 day challenge today. My path is a little different as I can do a single rollup test of 70-410, 70-411, & 70-412 which will have some of it’s own challenges and hope to blog about my experience. I will be sure to reference this blog as a resource. Thanks for your post.

  6. Hi Ben, great summery of your procces!

    I have started planning my path to MCSE and trying to figure out a detailed schedule for myself-
    How many hours did you dedicate to studying and experimenting every day? How many hours would you say you invested in total or per exam?

    Thank you for your post.

    • Sorry I missed this comment and so my response is a little behind. I explained my schedule in the blog and I am afraid I can’t remember exact details on the hours. However, the majority of my study was 1 hour in the morning, 1 hour for lunch, and occasionally a couple hours at night a few times a week. I would typically take a Saturday and invest a few hours too. I would just pick some consistent blocks of time throughout the week and go at the pace that works well for your life, but I recommend being aggressive and getting it done rather than making it an extended process as I wrote about in the Motivation section of my blog. Best of luck to you!

  7. I usually never write to blogs, but this time I feel that you deserve it, this is great info. I had several sites as a source, but now i feel like this is the only one I need to remember until I start studying. Thanks!

    • Well thank you Jay, that’s very kind. I hoped that this would serve as a good guidepost to resources. I am not sure where you are at with your studies, but be sure to check with the course changes for R2 for the MCSA in January and for the MCSE changes which are coming in April I believe. Best of luck to you!

  8. Oh man, this is beatiful. I must say, this is probably the best information that I saw on the internet about this topic. I’ve been thinking on how to get started and this post is just perfect. Thanks.

  9. Great post. Finally i got all information regarding MCSE at one place..thankx benofthecloud i am really inspire from your certification series.

  10. Great Post. I will study this post with great detail before I embark on my journey (next week hopefully). Could you share a Print screen of how your onenote looks to compare efficiency organised notes could be a key part of remembering exactly what you are learning.
    Thanks in advanced

    • Just copy/pasted some random parts. My notes typically followed the chapters in the books and I highlighted sections that I needed to go deeper in.

      Stuff to read in MCSA Book to be ready for all MCSA tests (LOCATION 720 has a nice chart):

      410 and 411 Stuff:
      Chapter 7 – AD Roles
      Chapter 8 – Exam essentials, breeze through
      Chapter 11 – Updates and performance
      Chapter 14 – BitLocker, DirectAccess, DFS
      Chapter 15 – VPN, NPS

      Chapter 13 – Security (AD Security, smart cards)

      Chapter 16 – High Availability, Clustering

      Chapter 17 – Storage

      Chapter 18 – Disaster Recovery

      Things that I want to make sure I setup in a lab:
      2 Server 2012 VMs > Network Load Balancing, Storage Pool, HA cluster
      1 Win 8 VM > join to domain with PowerShell
      RAS, NPS, DirectAccess

      Setup SSL for WSUS (http://www.vkernel.ro/blog/configure-wsus-to-use-ssl)
      Move WSUS location: cd “c:\Program Files\Update Services\Tools” and use the wsusutil movecontent command

      Cluster Shared Volumes – a fail-over clustering feature. More reliable migrations. Provides a single consistent namespace so all servers (2012) see the storage.

      Quick Migration > MS’ version of HA. Not Fault Tolerance in Vmware terms, just HA. Planned failover saves the state, but unplanned failover does not save the state.

      Is server 2003 not available for a V2V from ESXi to Hyper-V?? Maybe a P2V is necessary.

      Mirrored Spaces

      Scale-Out File Servers (SOFS) – Continuous Availability is how it is described in the Roles column in FCM (Failover Cluster Manager). Good for VMs, does not support DFS Replication, File Server Resource Manager. Managed in Failover Cluster Manager. You can create a role for a general user file server, for documents etc, and then a SOFS for application data like SQL server and Hyper-V.

      ////

      70-414 –
      Capstone exam for my MCSE: Server Infrastructure
      Not just what to do, but when to do it!

      Notes from the Exam outline on MS and BornToLearn site on things to study:
      • Setup SCVMM
      ○ Although the self-service portal has gone away with SC 2012 R2, I still need to know about it
      § Reference Installing and opening the VMM SSP
      □ This has been replaced with Service Manager as the licensing includes all SC apps
      ○ Setup Logical Network in VMM and learn what they are for in detail
      § Reference Configuring networking in VMM overview
      § Managing Fabric Updates in VMM
      • Setup SCOM
      ○ Reference the TechNet Article
      ○ Reference the Config OpsMgr integration with VMM
      ○ Implement and optimize management packs
      ○ Plan for monitoring AD
      • Freshen up and practice CAU
      ○ TechNet Article
      • Setup NLB for an FTP server
      ○ Reference NLB Overview
      • Learn how to recover an AD domain and forest
      • AD Certificate Services
      ○ Reference Overview
      ○ Reference Best Practices
      • Plan and implement claims-based authentication
      ○ Relying party trusts
      ○ Claims provider trust rules

  11. Thank you very much for sharing this information. I just started 70-410 cert. You were right about one thing when i first started to study the material was good then r2 came out. I thought to myself i should start over again and get the correct material. For me studying is a little hard some times. Reading and reading. I’m more or a lab guy. You show me and give me instructions i will learn it. That’s how i learn hands on.

    The book right now is killing me trying to follow without any real example. They don’t tell you how to setup the lab . But I’m glad in your blog you did mention how to set this up. Tonight I will start up the lab and follow some of the examples they are talking about. Since I’m using a mac I guess I will use vmware fusion but most of my stuff is on virutalbox. I guess either one works right?

    If you don’t mind me asking what was the best way of you learning , or recalling the info for you while taking the exam? I freeze up when taking the exams and stuff so any kind of help would be great full .

    Thanks again for your blog.

    • I am not familiar enough with Virtualbox, but I have used Vmware Fusion on my Mac and it works great for labs. For me if I have done it in my lab it is far easier to recall and test on. The ares that I read only become a bit more challenging to recall. Definitely defining any unfamiliar terms and memorizing them is helpful too.

  12. Thank you, for sharing your wonderful experience. I am in the path to the first exam based on your advices. I see that in the 70-410 you use basically the Microsoft press Book refered and CBT nuggets with R2 updates. Is that correct ?

  13. Hi benofthecloud, i was wondering if i can still use the resources you have here if i would be taking exams this year (2014)

    hope you can give me some advice

  14. Hi Ben!
    This is very inspiring post. I just started my MCP career by passing the 70-410 and will be going for 411 and 412 to get a MCSA. Getting a bunch of certs in 90 days is an excellent result.
    Although I assume you had plenty of hands-on experience before didn’t you? I worked with Win server before a bit, but it still took me 2 weeks of intensive preparation (3-4 hrs/day + 2 full weekends), nearly a month in total to prepare for 70-410.
    How could you pass an exam in 7 days? Are you such a fast reader, watch CBT nuggets videos on 2x speed or really had such good hands-on experience? On the other hand I am wondering how much a brain can absorb if you bomb it with such a big portion of information in a short period of time.
    Although the study is sometimes a pain especially for me as a not English native speaker, I decided not to give up.
    Cheers very much for your article.

    Jan

    P.S. The link to your linkedin profile in MEET BEN doesn’t work properly.

    • When I embarked on this I did have over 7 years of sysadmin experience and just finished passing another Cisco exam so I was already in study mode. Primarily I just went with the fire hose method to take it in as quickly as possible and then be honest with myself with any information I didn’t know in and out. I did watch the CBT Nuggest videos at 2X actually as that helped with time. I read through the book fast and just highlight areas I need to study or practice. I would note things to do in lab or things to just define and understand. The tests really build on each other and I take it one test at a time and it is surprising what you can retain, at least for a 90-day period. Now as I do projects involving things I have learned I reference my notes, but ultimately I confirm things in the books and TechNet before making a project plan in the real world. Best of luck to you, and I bet you will knock it out! https://www.linkedin.com/in/benofthecloud

  15. I just reviewed Microsoft’s web site and the last changes I found were the January 2014 and April 2014 changes for R2 that were mentioned in the post. Just an FYI.

    From: http://www.microsoft.com/learning/en-us/windows-server-certification.aspx#faq

    “Beginning in April 2014:
    MCSE: Server Infrastructure will be updated with Windows Server 2012 R2 and System Center 2012 R2
    MCSE: Private Cloud will be updated with System Center 2012 R2 and Windows Server 2012 R2 content.”

    • Can you propose and study track for this?
      i’m just new in MCSA track. i dont really know when at how to start

  16. Great post, thanks for the useful information.

  17. I am considering a Nugget subscription (I just tried their 7-day trial), and I am wondering if you used the Nugget Labs? They were not available as part of the trial and I’m wondering if you used them at all or not? I have really appreciated your post!

  18. I am a MCSE Server Infr.. I don’t understand how u did all this in 90 days,,seriously.. it took me good 1.5 years

    • There’s nothing wrong with an accomplishment like that in a year and a half. I tried to give credit where credit is due for my pace in the post, but really just one test at a time.

  19. Compare and contrast your choices to decide what will work best for your
    room and budget. (The gears in the camera that pulled the film through was technology borrowed from clockwork.
    But Alfredo’s death has released him from this promise.

  20. Cracking post Ben, a great boost in addition to the one given by the ‘born to learn’ challenge and motivation from work. I’ve got 10 yrs exp. but the change to MS exams to stop people just braindumping has made their value more apparent and now I want those letters too…alongside VCP :-o

    in total I have 6 exams spread across MS and VMware alongside a couple of product specific ones to do asap. I’ve already cancelled Sky TV to get rid of that distraction – early starts and study nights are the order of the day – with the all imp support from the wife :-)

    Have just ordered the Exam Ref 70-410: Installing and Configuring Windows Server 2012 R2 by Craig Zacker from Amazon – Good reviews (and the ‘bad’ reviews helped too) to show that it’s a supplement not a full on exam guide, which will do me – videos and labs are what I mainly need.

    I do like the MS virtual academy offerings, v polished and helpful so far for a free resource.

    Work will provide either CBT or Pluralsight or TestOut (I’m leaning towards Pluralsight personally) – Not experienced the 3rd one but have seen it mentioned in cert forums.

    Send your pass ‘vibes’ this way!

  21. Great Blog and really good effort, can you please share where should we go to practice exam questions , scenarios and labs?

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