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Microsoft Certifications for the Cloud

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The IT world — Microsoft included — is under heavy Cloud cover, yet Microsoft does not offer any certifications that can be called specifically “Cloud certification.” Microsoft does have an approach, however, to the Cloud, and recommends a variety of certifications for IT professionals who want to adapt their skills for the Cloud. In this article, Brian Posey outlines Microsoft’s certification approach to The Cloud for IT professionals.

Anyone who attended Microsoft’s annual TechEd conference in 2010 or 2011 can attest to the fact that the company was heavily promoting the Cloud. In fact, there was such a heavy emphasis on the Cloud that at times it felt like something of a Cloud bombardment. It seemed that almost every technology had the word Cloud appended to it. Surprisingly, however, Microsoft does not offer a “Cloud certification”—not yet anyway.

So in a world that is rapidly moving toward the Cloud, what is an IT pro who wants to become “Cloud certified” to do? Well, even though Microsoft does not have a “Cloud certification,” they do have several recommendations for those who are interested in adapting their skills to Cloud environments.

Not surprisingly, many of the Cloud-focused exams concentrate on Windows Azure, which is Microsoft’s Cloud operating system. Since Windows Azure is geared primarily toward developers, this article will focus on an alternate set of technologies and exams that are better suited to IT pros.

Types of Clouds

The first thing that anyone who wants to learn about the Cloud needs to know is that there are a number of different types of Cloud services. Three of the most well-known types of Cloud services include:

  • Platform as a Service (PaaS)
  • Infrastructure as a Service (IaaS)
  • Software as a Service (SaaS)

Platform as a Service primarily refers to Cloud based development environments. In other words, platforms (such as Windows Azure) exist within the Cloud and can be used to host applications developed in-house. Because Platform as a Service is primarily geared toward developers, it is beyond the scope of this article, but I wanted to at least mention it because Microsoft does provide a certification path for those who want to prove that they have Platform as a Service knowledge.

Infrastructure as a Service can mean a lot of different things depending on who you ask. As a general rule however, Infrastructure as a Service refers to virtualized servers or virtualized storage that is accessible either in a public or in a private Cloud. For IT pros who want to become “Cloud certified,” Infrastructure as a Service should be a primary area of focus.

Software as a Service can be thought of as a software subscription. In practice this means that rather than purchasing software licenses and installing the software on servers or desktops, the software is leased (usually on a monthly or yearly basis). The software is hosted by the vendor and accessible via the Internet. Because the software is hosted in the Cloud, it is not installed locally.

Cloud Certifications

Even though Microsoft does not offer “Cloud certifications” per se, they do offer Cloud-related certification tracks. These tracks are based on the three types of Clouds that were previously described. For each Cloud track, Microsoft divides the certification path into two different areas, including “build your skills” and “obtain new skills.”

The “build your skills” certifications are designed primarily to those who are either new to Microsoft products or who might have experience with Microsoft products, but lack certifications. The “obtain new skills” certifications are geared toward experienced IT pros who need to adapt their existing skill set to the Cloud.

Software as a Service Certifications

Being that Software as a Service is really nothing more than leasing access to hosted software rather than installing it locally, it might seem at least a little bit strange for Microsoft to offer a Software as a Service certification path.

Right now, Microsoft has three main “build your skills” recommendations for those seeking a Software as a Service certification. The first recommendation it to earn the Microsoft Certified IT Professional (MCITP): Exchange Messaging Administrator 2010 certification by passing the following exams:

  • Exam 70-662: TS: Microsoft Exchange Server 2010, Configuring
  • Exam 70-663: Pro: Designing and Deploying Messaging Solutions with Microsoft Exchange Server 2010

In some ways this recommendation makes sense. Exchange Server 2010 was the first Microsoft product that was designed to run either in the Cloud, on premise, or in a combination of Cloud and on-premise deployments.

Microsoft’s second recommendation for those seeking Software as a Service related certifications is to earn the MCITP: SharePoint Administrator 2010 certification by passing the following exams:

  • Exam 70-667: TS: Microsoft SharePoint 2010, Configuring
  • Exam 70-668: Pro: Microsoft SharePoint 2010, Administrator

In spite of this recommendation, the Microsoft website concedes that although both of these exams are currently available, they do not yet include testing for Cloud related skills. Even so, Microsoft states that the exams will be updated within the next year to include Cloud specific content.

Microsoft’s third recommendation for those looking to build their skills and earn a Software as a Service related certification is the Dynamics CRM 2011 certification. However, this certification is only available to Microsoft Dynamics CRM customers and partners, not to the average IT professional.

As mentioned previously, Microsoft’s Cloud certification paths offer recommendations to those who are looking to build new skills. Microsoft’s recommendation for those who want to build new skills around Software as a Service is to earn the MCITP: Lync Server 2010 Administrator certification, which requires candidates to pass the following exams:

  • Exam 70-664:TS: Microsoft Lync Server 2010, Configuring
  • Exam 70-665: Pro: Microsoft Lync Server 2010, Administrator

It is curious that Microsoft would consider Lync Server to be a new skill since it has been around for a while.

One additional observation is that Exchange Server, SharePoint Server, and Lync Server are all included in Microsoft Office 365. Presumably there will eventually be a Microsoft Office 365 certification track, but until then, passing these exams is the next best thing.

Infrastructure as a Service Certifications

Earlier I stated that Infrastructure as a Service was the area that IT Pros should focus on the most. Personally, I tend to think of Exchange, SharePoint, and Lync as infrastructure products. I suspect that Microsoft has only listed them among the Software as a Service track because they do not yet have a SaaS edition of Microsoft Office and there is no official Office 365 certification track. But I digress.

In spite of what I might think about the differences between the Software as a Service and the Infrastructure as a Service certification tracks, Microsoft does make distinctions between the two. Microsoft’s “build your skills” recommendation for those seeking Infrastructure as a Service related certifications is to earn the MCITP: Server Administrator certification. This certification requires candidates to pass the following exams:

  • Exam 70-640: TS: Windows Server 2008 Active Directory, Configuring
  • Exam 70-642: TS: Windows Server 2008 Network Infrastructure, Configuring
  • Exam 70-646: Pro: Windows Server 2008, Server Administrator

Microsoft also has two “obtain new skills” recommendations for those who are interested in Infrastructure as a Service related certifications. The first of these recommendations is to earn the MCITP: Virtualization Administrator certification. To earn this certification, candidates must pass the following exams:

  • Exam 70-669: TS: Windows Server 2008 R2, Desktop Virtualization
  • Exam 70-693: Pro: Windows Server 2008 R2, Virtualization Administrator

And either:

  • Exam 70-659: TS: Windows Server 2008 R2, Server Virtualization

Or

  • Exam 70-652: TS: Windows Server Virtualization, Configuring

Microsoft’s other recommendation for those who are interested in earning Infrastructure as a Service related certifications is to earn the MCTS: Microsoft System Center Operations Manager 2007, Configuring certification. This certification only requires candidates to pass a single exam:

  • Exam 70-400: TS: Microsoft Systems Center 2007, Configuring

Conclusion

As you can see, Microsoft has a slew of certification recommendations for those who are interested in becoming “Cloud certified” even though they technically have no real Cloud certification program. As such, one has to ask the question of whether these certifications are really valuable to those seeking to prove their Cloud expertise, or if Microsoft’s recommendations are merely a marketing ploy.

In my opinion, all of these certifications are valuable in their own way. For instance, there is little denying that the MCITP: Exchange Messaging Administrator 2010 certification is valuable to those seeking to prove their Exchange Server expertise. However, I think that it is a stretch to say that earning most of these certifications demonstrates a deep knowledge of the Cloud.

The one big exception is Microsoft’s MCITP: Virtualization Administrator certification. Public and private Clouds are built on server virtualization technology and earning a virtualization related certification is a great way for an IT pro to prove that they have the skills required to build a private Cloud.

Of course setting up a private Cloud environment is only the first step. Once the private Cloud is in place, organizations will likely want to run applications such as Exchange and SharePoint and this is where those types of certifications come into play. Hence, I believe that all of the certifications outlined here are valuable, even if I think that it may not be entirely fair to simply slap the word Cloud onto most of the certification tracks.

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