Tag Archive for Microsoft Certification

The Self Study Era

study

I was prompted to write this article after the release of the new VMware Certified Associate (VCA) exam.

One of the most interesting and and best things about the VCP programme is the barrier to entry. Unfortunately in this age of brain dumps, it is all to easy to be a “paper MCSE”, having simply memorised all the answers to a load of exams and passed them without actually knowing the subject matter. Individuals like this usually become unstuck pretty quickly, and it makes a bit of a mockery of the whole process.

In this age of austerity, doom and gloom, employers won’t or don’t want to pay for professional training, which means this barrier can be pretty high! Gone are the days where companies may have the budget to send people on multiple training courses per year. I was extremely lucky at the start of my career to get the opportunity to attend all the courses for my MCSE (about 8 IIRC!) in the space of a couple of years! At many companies today, employees are lucky if they are sent on a single one in that time.

Fortunately it’s not as bad as it sounds, because gone are the days where there used to be only the official course books or in-person training available. Thanks to the wonders of the interweb, today we have many many more resources available to us, including:

  • Many free online community-generated resources. It never fails to impress me how people are willing to give up their free time to generate this content and help complete strangers improve their knowledge and skills.
  • Inexpensive virtualisation at home using VMware Workstation, GNS3, etc allowing you to virtualise and create an entire lab for whatever it is you’re studying. For most technology you can get away with as little as 8-16GB RAM in an old PC, as long as it has a CPU with VT-X extensions you’re golden! This for me is the best way to learn any product – lab it, lab it, lab it!
  • Free online labs from many vendors such as VMware’s http://www.projectnee.com/HOL and Microsoft’s http://technet.microsoft.com/en-us/virtuallabs/ so even if you cant afford to have a home lab yourself, you can still get your hands on the tech.
  • If you work for a vendor partner you can often get access to their “Partner University” content for free.
  • Free practice exams from many of the vendors on their learning pages.

If your employer has minimal budgets for training, there is no point moping about it. Invest in yourself (be it financially or in time) and meet them half way.  Embrace the fact that you have joined one of the fastest moving industries in the world, show some initiative and study in your own time!

VMware Certified AssociateSo how does this relate specifically to the VCA I hear you ask? Well if I were starting my career again from scratch, the first thing I would be doing is passing the VMware Certified Associate exam of my choice, based on the free VCA training from VMware, and all of the free resources above. If you pull your finger out, you can even get 50% off the VCA exam for a limited time.

Once you have this one in the bag, then is the time to approach your employer and ask for them to fund your VCP course. They will know you’re serious as you have invested your own time, effort and money (for the exam), and they should already be starting to see the benefits in your additional skills.

At that point, considering the time and effort you have put into your development, if your employer isn’t willing or able to match that investment by paying for either exams or further training / materials, then maybe they’re not the right employer for you. Take your newly learned skills and put them to good use! :)

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

Private_Cloud_New_Path_Step4_MCSE_Logo

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

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