SharePoint MCSE

If you haven’t done so already, read my introductory post (above) to this series on passing the 70-410 exam, as I’ll reference much of the same content.

After a brief hiatus in my quest to get MCSE: SharePoint knocked out, I’ve finally taken and passed the next exam 70-411, Administering Windows Server 2012. Although there is no requirement from Microsoft to take these exams in a specific order, it practically makes sense as the content gets progressively more advanced after 70-410. Before getting to some of the details, I’d like to start by saying that this exam was pretty difficult for me to prepare for. This exam is very heavy on the networking side of things. I am admittedly not a networking guru, nor do I particularly care to be one. I do feel better about my overall knowledge of advanced networking capabilities in Windows Server 2012, as it had been a very long time since I’ve brushed up on the subject. Regardless of my disdain, if you can barely contain your excitement when thinking about remote RADIUS server groups, then this is the exam for you!

Microsoft has begun incorporating Windows Server 2012 R2 questions into the exam. The fundamentals are the same as previous iterations, but you should understand what’s new in 2012 R2 before taking the exam. Read more

Study Resources:

    • Study Guide – Unfortunately I didn’t find a suitable study guide that I really liked, so I would recommend using the beastly Windows Server 2012 Inside Out book. It clocks in at over 1,500 pages, and it literally has everything you need to know about Windows Server 2012. Sure it’s overkill, but you can use this for all the MCSA exams and as a general desk reference. At this point, I would not recommend investing in a study guide for 70-411. There is already an updated guide coming out in January 2014 for the changes in R2.
    • TechNet – This time around, TechNet was my go to source for deep reference. There is no other written source available that dives as deep into these topics than TechNet. You should be joined at the hip from here on out to complete MCSA 2012.
    • CBT Nuggets – If you’re serious about learning the material and passing the exam, then I highly recommend these videos. If you read my previous post, you know that I’m really high on CBT Nuggets for real learning. The trainer, James Conrad, does a great job yet again at making a rather dull set of topics easier to swallow. If you watched everything, you’d be committing around 20 hours of your time. In my opinion, this is time well spent.
    • Practice Exams – Don’t walk into the test center without having at least one go at a practice exam. There are so many practice exam providers out there, that it can be difficult to get an idea of which provider is the best. One key thing to look for is whether or not the provider will guarantee that you pass your exam. This at least gives you added value, so you can get your money back under certain circumstances, assuming that you didn’t pass the exam on the first take. I am a fan of Transcender, and I would recommend starting there. You can also try MeasureUp and Boson.
    • Virtual Lab – If you’re a pretty seasoned Windows person, then chances are you can skip this for the 70-410 exam. But for 70-411, I highly recommend building your own lab that you can reference for these advanced concepts. It’s going to be difficult to simulate some of the really deep networking stuff, but I think it’s critical to be able to know where everything is laid out in the GUI. Half the battle in these exams is simply knowing where things are. I’ve found that walking through the interfaces before the exam really helped me remember how to approach answering certain questions.

The below list comprises some of the hot topics that are worth focusing on. Again, this exam is much more difficult than 70-410. It’s really important to get deep on these subjects, because many of the questions do just that. Conversely, there were some questions that I felt could have easily been featured on the 70-410 exam. Without further ado, I give you the battle royale of technical acronyms!

    • Network Policy Server (NPS) – Welcome to my least favorite topic of all time.  Did I mention I wasn’t a networking guy? I may be biased on this one, but I felt like I needed to spend the most time on this one. NPS has a LOT of depth to it, and you really need to have a well-rounded understanding of the capabilities. The CBT Nuggets supplemented with TechNet is probably your best bet here.
    • RADIUS/NAT/VPN/NAP/SHVs – Why am I lumping these all together? One to support my stance on the overabundance of acronyms, but also because they are related. As you can imagine these topics are all about remote access and remote authentication to a degree. RADIUS is something that needs to be fully understood before taking the exam. There are lots of areas covered in 70-411 that require a good sense of RADIUS and it’s capabilities. If you watch the CBTs, you’ll see how to create NPS policies and manage RADIUS templates, which was incredibly helpful to me. Lastly, System Health Validators (SHVs) were completely new to me. In a nutshell, SHVs are a way to define connection requirements for NAP clients. Out of this bunch, learning how to configure SHVs were the most interesting to me.
    • Group Policy – Building on fundamentals learned in 70-410, you’ll now be expected to understand the more advanced side of GPOs. The CBTs have a total of 7 videos dedicated to GPOs, so as you can imagine, it’s kind of a big deal. This is another topic where you absolutely need a real lab. Some keys things to know are the details on WMI filtering, using PowerShell cmdlets for import/export, the logic of how precedence is applied and blocking inheritance. At this point, Microsoft is expecting you to know the basic/intermediate GPO capabilities and how to work with them. So if you’re rusty, don’t skimp on this topic.
    • BitLocker – Microsoft has built on the concept and manageability of BitLocker that was introduced in 7/2008. If you’ve got some experience with BitLocker, then I suggest reading What’s New in BitLocker for Windows 8 and Server 2012.
    • Windows Deployment Services (WDS) – Quite a bit of this exam covers WDS. It’s important to understand the key components of the various imaging methods, editing images and everything related to Discovery images. For those who have used WDS before, TechNet has a great table comparing WDS features in 2012 with previous versions of Windows Server.
    • Windows Server Update Services (WSUS) – For this topic, I found it necessary to really understand the basics as well as the more advanced functionality that is driven through PowerShell cmdlets. The functionality has greatly improved over the years since I had initially dabbled with it years ago, when it was SUS. Understanding the WSUS server hierarchy is also important.
    • DFS/FSRM – Let’s be honest, this topic is kind of “meh”. Basically you need to know how to create and manage DFS namespaces, which is more than likely something you’ve already done before. For FSRM, it’s important to know how to work with quotas, file screening management and storage reports.
    • Kerberos – Here’s one topic that most SharePoint admins should know very well. If you’ve never dealt with Kerberos security before, I suggest learning this and actually using this regularly in the real world. Out of all the topics covered in this exam, this one has the most broad applicability to server admins.

And voila, you’re one exam away from having the MCSA 2012 cert! If you’re following my path, you’ve still got three more exams to go, so don’t get too excited.

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