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Microsoft, along with the other major cloud providers, offers vendor-specific certifications that are desirable to many employers looking to hire IT staff.
Microsoft shifted to a role-based certification approach in 2018. This model tailors certifications to specific jobs and responsibilities. Role-based certifications are categorized into three skill levels -- Fundamental, Associate and Expert.
As part of this shift, Microsoft is retiring its older certifications. On January 31, 2021, all remaining exams for the Microsoft Certified Solutions Associate (MCSA), Microsoft Certified Solutions Developer (MCSD) and Microsoft Certified Solutions Expert (MCSE) will no longer be available. As the older certifications phase out, IT professionals considering an Azure certification must determine the path that best fits their career goals within the role-based framework.
In this article, we'll focus on those certifications that are most useful for someone pursuing a career as an Azure administrator. We'll look at the requirements and the skills needed to get started. We'll also explore other certifications that can advance the career of an admin with more qualifications and expertise. Learn about the objectives of each credential with this breakdown on Azure certifications for administrators.
Start with the basics
IT professionals hoping to become certified Azure administrators should start with the basics, before jumping into associate and expert-level certifications. The recommended starting point is the Microsoft Certified: Azure Fundamentals certification. This introductory certification covers basic cloud concepts and foundational Azure elements, without getting too in-depth into technical topics. This is a useful place to begin for candidates that are new to Azure and want to better understand the platform. The Azure Fundamentals certification requires candidates to pass the AZ-900 exam. The exam fee is $99.
Passing the basic AZ-900 exam is not an official prerequisite to become a more advanced certified Azure administrator. However, it's a suggested course for anyone beginning their Microsoft role-based certification path. You can use this exam to prepare for more advanced Azure certifications.
Microsoft Certified: Azure Associate Administrator
To be recognized as an officially certified Azure administrator, you must achieve the Microsoft Certified: Azure Associate Administrator certification. This is the standard role-based certification for Azure administrators. Candidates should have at least six months of hands-on experience with administrator responsibilities within an Azure environment prior to pursuing this certification.
Candidates must pass the AZ-104: Microsoft Azure Administrator exam to attain this certification. This exam assesses the ability to manage, monitor and implement cloud-based techniques and workloads in Microsoft Azure environments. The exam requires robust understanding of the main Azure cloud services. Candidates must demonstrate skills in areas such as storage, compute, provisioning and governance. The registration fee for AZ-104 is $165.
The skills measured in AZ-104 can be broken down into five main objectives. Each objective makes up a particular percentage of the exam coverage. The objectives covered in AZ 104 are:
- Manage Azure identities and governance (15% to 20%);
- Implement and manage storage (10% to 15%);
- Deploy and manage Azure compute resources (25% to 30%);
- Configure and manage virtual networking (30% to 35%); and
- Monitor and back up Azure resources (10% to 15%).
In addition to passing the AZ-104 exam, certified Azure Associate Administrators must demonstrate expertise with PowerShell, Azure Command Line Interface, Azure portal and Azure Resource Manager templates.
Microsoft Certified: Azure Solutions Architect Expert
After completing the required Azure Associate Administrator certification, Azure administrators can pursue higher-level certifications. One advanced certification to consider is the Microsoft Certified: Azure Solutions Architect Expert certification.
Those who pursue this certification should have administrative, development and IT operations expertise. A certified Azure Solutions Architect needs experience implementing compute, network, storage and security strategies in Azure environments. The responsibilities of someone with this role-based certification typically involve advising stakeholders and understanding how cloud-based decisions affect the overall business strategy.
This certification requires candidates to pass two exams -- AZ 303: Microsoft Azure Architect Technologies and AZ 304: Microsoft Azure Architect Design. Both exams have $165 registration fees and at time of publication are in beta. This means Microsoft is still evaluating the questions in these exams. Beta exams can be accessed at discounted rates, but it can take up to 16 weeks, versus the usual two to three weeks, to get your score back.
The first exam for this certification, AZ 303, assesses the candidate's technical abilities to implement and manage infrastructure, security, applications and data platforms. The three main objectives that make up this exam are:
- Implement and monitor an Azure infrastructure (50% to 55%);
- Implement management and security solutions (25% to 30%); and
- Implement solutions for apps (10% to 15%).
The second exam, AZ 304, focuses on the candidate's cloud architecture design skills. This requires knowledge and experience designing infrastructure, identity, storage, security and business continuity strategies. The five main objectives covered in this exam include the following:
- Design monitoring (10% to 15%);
- Design identity and security (25% to 30%);
- Design data storage (15% to 20%);
- Design business continuity (10% to 15%); and
- Design infrastructure (25% to 30%).
Microsoft Certified: Azure Security Engineer Associate
Another useful Azure certification for administrators is the Microsoft Certified: Azure Security Engineer Associate certification. This certification proves an administrator's ability to implement security controls, use Azure security products, respond to issues and vulnerabilities, manage threat detection and maintain overall security posture of Azure cloud environments.
Candidates for this exam should have experience with cloud security responsibilities for standard public cloud and hybrid cloud environments. They should demonstrate familiarity with Azure security tools and products. Microsoft also recommends that those who pursue the Security Engineer certification have expertise in scripting and automation.
The exam for this certification is AZ-500: Microsoft Azure Security Technologies. The AZ-500 exam fee is $165. The skills tested consist of three main objectives:
- Manage identity and access (30% to 35%);
- Implement platform protection (15% to 20%); and
- Secure data and applications (20% to 25%).
After determining which certification to pursue, establish a plan to prepare for the exam. There are various exam guides, training programs and courses from both Microsoft and third-party providers. Microsoft offers free online courses, as well as instructor-led training certification for a price.