Microsoft finally has a new certification (sort of) for Windows server administration
Posted on
April 12, 2022
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This feature first appeared in the Spring 2022 issue of Certification Magazine. Click here to get your own print or digital copy.

As with a lot of other things in life — just about any popular TV character/series, or soda flavor experiment, for example — just because an IT certification is taken off the market, that doesn’t mean we’ll never see it again.

Nearly two years ago, Microsoft announced the retirement of a laundry list of long-lived certifications, including nearly all of its remaining Microsoft Certified Solutions Architect (MCSA), Microsoft Certified Solutions Developer (MCSD), and Microsoft Certified Solutions Expert (MCSE) credentials.

Originally, almost all of the credentials slated to exit stage left were scheduled to retire on June 30, 2020. Then the global COVID-19 pandemic erupted and Microsoft pushed back its final farewell to MCS-all-of-that until Jan. 31, 2021.

Many people, including myself, anticipated a follow-up announcement about the replacement of these certifications. At least initially, however, the only news from Microsoft was a recommendation for IT professionals to focus on certifications related to its popular Azure and Microsoft 365 platforms — there was no word on Server 2019.

Everything stayed quiet until the Windows Server Summit in September 2021, when Microsoft surprised everyone by announcing a new certification: Microsoft Certified: Windows Server Hybrid Administrator Associate. This certification can be earned by passing two exams:

AZ 800: Administering Windows Server Hybrid Core Infrastructure

AZ-801: Configuring Windows Server Hybrid Advanced Services

The beta exams were launched in December 2021. I took both exams almost as soon as they became available. Since they are beta exams, results are not immediately available upon completion of the exam — but I do expect my score any day now.

Second verse, same as the first?

So, what exactly are these exams about, who are they for, and what do they cover? It appears that Microsoft has done a bit of back-pedaling since they retired the certifications that covered Server 2016 and then announced that there would be no on-premises certifications for Server 2019.

When I first downloaded the Skills Covered documents, I immediately recognized that these new exams are not for the beginner IT technician. The document states that candidates for these exams should have extensive experience working with Windows Servers. AZ-800 and AZ-801 are not exams strictly about on-premises servers, nor are the exams all about Azure, and the cloud. They are a combination of the two.

MCSA: Windows Server 2016 vs Windows Server Hybrid Administrator Associate

Let’s take a moment to review the terminology associated with the MCSA: Windows Server 2016 certification and its now-retired exams. There were three exams required to earn this certification:

70-740: Installation, Storage, and Compute with Windows Server 2016

70-741: Networking with Windows Server 2016

70-742: Identity with Windows Server 2016

A simple comparison reveals that there is a lot of common ground between the retired MCSA: Windows Server 2016 certification and the new Windows Server Hybrid Administrator Associate certification and its two required exams. Look at the skills for the two exams required to earn this new certification:

AZ 800: Administering Windows Server Hybrid Core Infrastructure

Deploy and manage Active Directory Domain Services (AD DS) in on-premises and cloud environments

Manage Windows Servers and workloads in a hybrid environment

Manage virtual machines and containers Implement and manage an on-premises and hybrid networking infrastructure

Manage storage and file services

AZ-801: Configuring Windows Server Hybrid Advanced Services

Secure Windows Server on-premises and hybrid infrastructures

Implement and manage Windows Server high availability

Implement disaster recovery

Migrate servers and workloads

Monitor and troubleshoot Windows Server environments

Maybe it’s not totally déjà vu all over again. But there are a whole lot of similarities.

AZ 800: Administering Windows Server Hybrid Core Infrastructure

Let’s take a high-level look at the skills measured in the AZ 800: Administering Windows Server Hybrid Core Infrastructure exam.

Deploy and manage Active Directory Domain Services (AD DS) in on-premises and cloud environments — 25-to-30 percent

The first skill, Deploy and manage Active Directory Domain Services (AD DS) in on-premises and cloud environments, impacts between 25 and 30 percent of the questions. This skill requires the application of many of the skills from the retired 70-742 exam.

Some of the skills that are new involve deploying and managing domain controllers in Azure. Several new skills apply to syncing on-premises Active Directory with Azure Active Directory. Group Policy used to consist of between 25 and 30 percent of the retired 70-742 exam, but there’s only a fraction of that in the AZ-800 exam.

Manage Windows Servers and workloads in a hybrid environment — 10-to-15 percent

The second skill for AZ-800 is managing Windows servers and workloads in a hybrid environment, affecting between 10 and 15 percent of exam content. This skill gets into a lot of new topics, such as managing Windows Server with tools such as Windows Admin Center. It also covers the management of Windows Servers using Azure services. There’s not a whole lot carried over here from the retired Windows Server 2016 certification.

Manage virtual machines and containers — 15-to-20 percent

Managing virtual machines and containers are combined skills on the AZ-800 exam and make up 15 percent to 20 percent of the exam. On the 70- 740 exam, this was two separate skills covering Hyper-V and containers. Many of the previous skills remain relevant, and several new skills are required to manage Azure virtual machines that run Windows Server.

Implement and manage an on-premises and hybrid networking infrastructure — 15-to-20 percent

The fourth skill on AZ-800 is implementing and managing an on-premises and hybrid networking infrastructure. This skill affects between 15 and 20 percent of the exam content. This skill includes on-premises and hybrid DNS resolution, but I feel it somewhat misses the mark, as it lacks all the basics about implementing DNS in a Windows Server that were part of the retired 70-741 exam.

Topics about IPAM and DHCP were brought over from the old exam, but not in nearly as much detail. The new topics requiring coverage are on-premises and hybrid network connectivity. With the exception of site-to-site VPNs, most of these skills are new to this exam.

Manage storage and file services — 15- to-20 percent

The final skill for the AZ-800 is Manage storage and file services. This topic applies to between 15 and 20 percent of the exam. Existing topics on Windows Server files shares and Windows Server storage are basically the same as the retired 70-740 exam. The new topics pertain to Azure file sync.

As you can see, Microsoft brought over skills from all three of the retired exams from the MCSA: Windows Server 2016 certification.

AZ-801: Configuring Windows Server Hybrid Advanced Services

Now let’s take a high-level look at the skills measured in the AZ-801: Configuring Windows Server Hybrid Advanced Services.

Secure Windows Server on-premises and hybrid infrastructures — 25-to-30 percent

The first skill is securing Windows Server on-premises and hybrid infrastructures, affecting between 25 and 30 percent of content. This is a new skill made up of some new topics and some existing topics. New topics include protecting Windows Server using Windows Defender Application Control and Credential Guard.

These are new to the Windows Server certifications, but do show up in the MD-101: Managing Modern Desktops exam. Other topics relate to securing and protecting Active Directory exist from the retired 70-742 exam. Other security topics relate to networking, storage, and Azure services are all mostly new.

Implement and manage Windows Server high availability — 10-to-15 percent

The second skill, Implement and manage Windows Server high availability, affects between 10 and 15 percent of the exam. This skill includes many topics that were on the 70-740 exam. Familiar topics include failover clustering and storage spaces. Some new topics relate to Azure and Windows Admin Center are scattered within a lot of the existing topics.

Implement disaster recovery — 10-to-15 percent

The third skill is implementing disaster recovery, which applies to between 10 and 15 percent of the exam. This skill is mostly new, but was combined with High Availability on the retired 70-740 exam. It primarily deals with using Azure for disaster recovery methods and protecting virtual machines.

Migrate servers and workloads — 20- to-25 percent

Migrate servers and workloads affects between 20 and 25 percent of exam content. This skill includes bits and pieces from all three former exams, plus new topics using Azure. Some of the topics include migrating roles from older Windows Server to Windows Server 2022, such as Internet Information Services, Active Directory, and Dynamic Host Configuration Protocol (DHCP).

What is missing from the new certification is how to initially install and configure some of these tasks.

Monitor and troubleshoot Windows Server environments — 20-to-25 percent

Finally, test-takers must know how to monitor and troubleshoot Windows Server environments, which affects between 20 and 25 percent. In the retired 70-740 exam, maintain and monitor server environment was between 10 and 15 percent of the exam, so there is much more emphasis on this topic now. As with most of the skills, Azure tools will be on the exam, but there are still a lot of on-premises topics, such as monitoring Active Directory.

Test takers beware

I discussed a lot of the things that are included in the new certification that were covered in the retired MCSA 2016 certification, but I did not mention some of the omissions. The big three, to me, are content related to DNS, TCP/IP, and DHCP. There’s essentially nothing left here of what was covered in the earlier exams.

Perhaps Microsoft feels these skills should have been obtained previously by someone taking the exams for this new certification. Based on that assumption, I would not consider Windows Server Hybrid Administrator Associate an entry-level certification. There’s a lot of ground that exam candidates will need to cover elsewhere before stepping up to the plate.

I’m happy that Microsoft revisited on-premises servers in this certification. It still dips into an important and valuable IT niche that will remain essential even as it is overshadowed by widespread cloud services adoption. Just bear in mind that not everything has carried over from the old exam to its not-quite-direct offspring. There’s still a huge gap in required skills for someone that needs to manage Windows servers on a local network.

About the Author

Dana Fellows is an instructional designer at TestOut Corporation.

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