MJFChat: Get Ready For The New Windows Server Hybrid Certification

  • Podcasts
  • MJF Chat
  • MJFChat: Get Ready For The New Windows Server Hybrid Certification
We’re doing a twice-monthly interview show on Petri.com that is dedicated to covering topics of interest to our tech-professional audience. We have branded this show “MJFChat.”

In my role as Petri’s Community Magnate, I will be interviewing a variety of IT-savvy technology folks. Some of these will be Petri contributors; some will be tech-company employees; some will be IT pros. We will be tackling various subject areas in the form of 30-minute audio interviews. I will be asking the questions, the bulk of which we’re hoping will come from you, our Petri.com community of readers.

Readers can submit questions via Twitter, Instagram, Facebook and/or LinkedIn using the #AskMJF hashtag. Once the interviews are completed, we will post the audio and associated transcript in the forums for readers to digest at their leisure. (By the way, did you know MJFChats are now available in podcast form? Go here for MJF Chat on Spotify; here for Apple Podcasts on iTunes; and here for Google Play.)

Our latest MJFChat is focused on the just-announced Windows Server Hybrid certification from Microsoft. My special guest is Microsoft Principal Cloud Operations Advocate Orin Thomas, who was instrumental in getting this new credential on the books. In our chat, Orin talks about the hows and whys behind the new certification, as well as how IT pros can get ready to take the two exams that will be required for it.

If you know someone you’d like to see interviewed on the MJFChat show, including yourself, just Tweet to me or drop me a line. (Let me know why you think this person would be an awesome guest and what topics you’d like to see covered.) We’ll take things from there…


Mary Jo Foley (00:01):
Hi, you’re listening to Petri.com’s MJFChat Show. I am Mary Jo Foley, AKA your Petri.com community magnate. And I am here to interview tech industry experts about various topics that you, our readers, and listeners want to know about. Today’s chat is going to be all about Microsoft’s recently announced Windows Server Hybrid Certification. And my special guest for this chat today is Orin Thomas, Microsoft Principal Cloud Operations Advocate, who was instrumental in the creation of this coming certification. Hi Orin, thank you so much for coming back on MJFChat and talking with me about this today.

Orin Thomas (00:48):
G’day Mary, it’s absolutely wonderful to be back.

Mary Jo Foley (00:51):
Hey, there he is. I hear that accent, I know it’s you.

Orin Thomas (00:57):
It’s not that strong.

Mary Jo Foley (00:59):
A little, a little. Okay, let’s start out from the very beginning. I would love to hear your take on the backstory of how the idea for this certification came about. What’s the thinking about the need for this and why now?

Orin Thomas (01:17):
Okay, so the cloud advocate’s role is to advocate to, and behalf of a specific audience. And one of those audiences is Windows Server IT Pros. And Windows Server IT Pros as you’re well aware have always had a really strong tie to certification. Most Windows Server admins have one or more certifications. Most of the books I’ve written have been certification focused with a heavy emphasis on Windows Server. So as a cloud advocate for that audience and someone who’s written a lot of books on the topic and courses and so on, it’s always been clear to me that it’s really, really important for that audience, that Microsoft has some sort of certification offering. Now, if we go back to 2019, Ignite 2019, hybrid as a steady state was bought up by several execs during their keynotes at Ignite 2019. And one of the things that meant is there really being an articulation that Microsoft is data to support customers with whatever balance they choose to find between on-prem and cloud.

Orin Thomas (02:19):
And a suite of technologies was announced, including Azure Arc, that really reinforced and supported this message. So at that point, it was really clear that a path forward for Windows Server admins was adopting hybrid technologies where they are appropriate. So cloud advocacy partnered with marketing, the Windows Server product team, worldwide learning, other parts of developer relations, and other parts of Microsoft to design and build MS Learn, instructor-led training, and Ignite sessions that covered all of these existing on-prem and the new cloud and hybrid technologies. The key being that what we needed to do is to teach everybody out in that audience about how these technologies worked so they could understand them and then start to adopt them if they found them relevant. But we also realized that at that specific point in time, in 2019, these technologies hadn’t been around long enough to be a legitimate core component of anybody’s job role.

Orin Thomas (03:20):
It was just too new. So, one of the focuses of role-based certification is how does someone in this role, solve a specific set of problems or tasks? And you can’t really do all that stuff, it’s all in beta or it’s all newly released. And one of the things about role-based cert is that they tend to avoid the pitfall that some certs a few decades fell into, which was, you need to know absolutely everything about this new technology that only three blokes and their dog have put into production. On some, accelerator program from the beginning. So, the path we took is let’s get some Microsoft Learn stuff out there. Let’s create some instructor led training, let’s do conference sessions, and let’s wait for these hybrid technologies to reach a point where it’s reasonable to ask people questions on a certification exam about how to solve problems with them.

Orin Thomas (04:13):
So we spin forward to right now, and we have Azure hybrid technologies that are mature enough, that it makes sense to address them in a role-based cert, because people are using them. And then we’ve got the release of Windows Server 2022, and with the release of Windows Server 2022, it makes sense because rather than hybrid really being bolted on as a separate thing, it’s integrated, you can do a bog standard file server and do replication with Distributed File System. Or you could take it to the next level by integrating Azure File Sync. So with all of those necessary sort of learning bits and pieces in place with the technologies reaching a certain level of maturation and the release of Windows Server 2022 coming up, it was about the right time to say, Hey, let’s come back and do a Window Server certification, but let’s also talk about hybrid.

Mary Jo Foley (05:03):
Hmm. I was going to, so you’re bringing up something I was going to ask you specifically about, which is Microsoft said to me, they considered Windows Server 2022 to be the first version of Windows Server to actually be designed as a hybrid platform. And so I was curious when they said that, what they meant? If it was more of a marketing kind of, you know, marketing speak, or if it actually is the first version of a platform to be designed that way, and if you could explain a little bit more about that?

Orin Thomas (05:37):
So that’s a bit of a raw shark. Where I would go with that is obviously Windows Server 2022 does a lot of what Windows Server 2019 and 2016 before.

Mary Jo Foley (05:48):

Orin Thomas (05:49):
But one of the things that we’ve really talked about a lot with Windows Server 2022 is, let’s go with Windows Admin Center. Windows Admin Center is sort of meant to be your admin experience for Windows Server rather than going into the consoles. Some of which have been there for 20 years. And if you go into Windows Admin Center, one of the first things you see that you’re able to light up is not only that you’re managing these roles and features using this particular technology, but all the ways that you can click in and extend these roles and features with hybrid technologies. So it’s more a matter of at this point in time, there’s all of these extra technologies to plug in.

Orin Thomas (06:31):
And there’s a really good hybrid story there. Now, a lot of these technologies might plug in to Windows Server 2019. But at the release of Windows Server 2019, a lot of these technologies hadn’t reached that level of maturity. So it’s a bit about that Windows Server 2022’s come out and that these things are ready to work with it. And you could get it to work with all the versions of Windows Server if you want. But, it really gives us a chance to sort of highlight this at the release of the operating system, because one of the weird things you see, people sort of remember, oh, this got released and this feature was available. And a feature might’ve been back ported or might be available for previous versions, but they only remember it sort of, with the new version.

Mary Jo Foley (07:13):
Got it. Okay. So I’ve had a few people ask me, is this coming new certification meant to replace the ones that were taken away a couple of years ago? Like MCSD, MCSE, MCSA, is it like a one-to-one replacement for this? Or is there any kind of overlap with those older certifications that were retired?

Orin Thomas (07:39):
So, the MCSE, and MCSA, and MCITP were very different sorts of certifications. They were focused on specific products. So Windows NT 2000, 2003, 2008, so on and so forth. And when I was writing books and doing courses to help people prepare, it was often about giving them the information that would allow them to remember that the exams tested you on your knowledge of that specific technology rather than what the job role was. So you might have to remember how do we implement united network access protection or something like that, and all the different functionalities and the different modalities of that. The best way I can explain the shift from product based certification to role-based certification is that with the old certs, you needed to know what the product did and how it did it. And for the most part, that meant staying within the lines of what it did.

Orin Thomas (08:31):
So if you covered firewalls, it’s here’s Windows Firewall rather, and for the most part, you wouldn’t go and say, talk about ISA Server or Forefront, unless you were doing an exam specific to ISA or Forefront, when those products were available. Whereas role-based certs are built around a set of tasks associated with the job role, which means you can color outside the lines a bit. You just don’t use one technology, but a suite of technologies to solve problems associated with that role. So for example, if we’re talking about securing on-prem Active Directory, we’re not only going to talk about, Hey you know, let’s configure least privileged to solve this particular problem, but let’s go and integrate Azure Defender for Identity as an attack detection mechanism, as part of my sort of broad spectrum approach to protecting Active Directory. Now with this new certification, one of the other differences between the old versions, which were tied to a very specific product and the new version is with this new certification, you’re prompted to renew for free about, I think it’ll be one or two years after you’ve taken the cert, and you take an online test, that’ll allow the certs to carry on.

Orin Thomas (09:44):
And this renewal process allows you to continue into the future. And it would eventually address the next version of Windows Server. So whereas, with an MCSA or an MCITP, you got it for 2012, and then the 2016 version came out and then you had to go and get a new cert and turn up at the testing center and do your three or four exams for that. Now you’ll be certified as a Windows Server Hybrid Administrator Associate, and then periodically you’ll get sent an email where you go and renew, and then you certs valid for another period of time. And the renewal itself will test you on whatever’s changed in the exam objectives. As hybrid technology becomes more prominent, or we decide to add something to the certification. You’ll just be tested on that Delta, but it’ll be a living cert rather than the one that’s very limited to a point in time.

Orin Thomas (10:40):
I just did my renewal for AZ104, which is Azure Admin cert, I got 90 days notice on it. I was provided with a list of MS Learn modules that would help me with revision. And you can take the renewal once a day for all of those 90 days, if you want until you pass. Though, in my case, I got the renewal, I looked at what was in the revision, I went well, I know that let’s just have a go at the renewal exam and then bang I was automatically renewed. First time it was straightforward and very easy. So that’s a real difference here, is that in the past, they were very tied to a specific version of the product. Now you’ll notice it does say Windows Server Hybrid Administrator, it doesn’t say Windows Server 2022 Hybrid Administrator.

Mary Jo Foley (11:26):
Got it. Okay. That’s good. So there are two exams that people are going to have to take to become a Server Hybrid Administrator Associate. One is AZ800, the other is AZ801. Can you just talk at a high level about what people are going to have to know for those respective exams? Like at the highest level, somebody who already knows some things about on-premises servers, what are they going to need to learn in addition to that?

Orin Thomas (12:00):
Okay. So the way to think about it is that AZ800 sort of covers your core stuff. That means it covers Active Directory management tools, networking, storage, virtualization. AZ801 covers security, high availability, disaster recovery, migration, monitoring, and troubleshooting. Now each one of these functional groups includes how you do it on-prem and all the stuff you need to know about how you do it on-prem and where appropriate, where that extends out into hybrid and where it works when you’re running it purely as a VM in the cloud. So it’s not just a matter of saying, oh, well, there’s a separate hybrid component. It’s that hybrid is sort of another layer of the hamburger that fits into these functional group areas that already existed. For example, you might be with identity thinking about how you do Active Directory, how you promote a domain control, or how you manage users and groups, how you do group policy, how you do organizational units, how you do forest trust, but you’d also be thinking about how do you extend Active Directory out.

Orin Thomas (13:08):
So if you’re running workloads in Azure, be they virtual machine workloads, be they software as a service, how you integrate your on-prem identity and with Azure, how do you get, for example, group policies to run against your virtual machines that are running in Azure? How do you make sure that those environments sort of work with one another, or when you’re thinking about troubleshooting an on-premises network, it’s not just what on earth has gone wrong with DNS, and how do I diagnose it, but how do I troubleshoot a wider area network? How do I troubleshoot connectivity to workloads that are running on-prem and in the cloud? So in terms of the exams themselves, they are very recognizable to anybody who has taken, who understands those core subject areas, but understanding those subject areas in the context of not only how do you do it with all of the basic traditional stuff that you do, but how you extend that and increase the functionality by adopting the relevant bits of the cloud.

Orin Thomas (14:16):
And that was one of the things that really in my own journey on understanding where the cloud fitted into all of this was understanding that the cloud is sort of an extension of on-prem, that you can approach the cloud, or you can approach hybrid from a top-down, where you’re just managing it and you’re training everything on-prem as just an endpoint. Or that you’re thinking about the cloud as something that’s really extending what you can do with your on-prem network with your, Azure File Sync is one of my favorite technologies simply because one of the biggest problems you’ve got as a file server administrators is these fileshares just filling up all the time. As people create new files and you had to go in and muck out the file server, you turn Azurer File Sync, and then suddenly all of this stuff is tearing up to the cloud. It’s just a little extension that you add on, but that makes your on-prem network a whole lot better than just you know, trying to figure out the complicated ways of managing the storage.

Mary Jo Foley (15:17):
Mm, got it. Okay. I’m gonna ask a couple of questions that we got from listeners on Twitter. And the first one is from XORDX. His name is quite complicated, XORDXDX.

Orin Thomas (15:39):
So something Elon Musk would name his child.

Mary Jo Foley (15:42):
I’m like, okay. And we already talked about the two exams, the AZ800 and 801, but he asked what are the available certification tracks in Windows Server. So I’m not sure if he’s asking something beyond beyond that, about those two exams or if there’ll be other certifications in the future beyond the Server Hybrid Administrator.

Orin Thomas (16:08):
Well, at the moment, it’s the two exams. AZ800 and AZ801 that lead to Windows Server. These exams are very focused on configuring, administering, and managing server on-prem and hybrid and in the cloud. Now, if the exams turn out to be insanely popular and I’m hoping that they will. There might be other certifications. I can’t announce anything cause I don’t know. So this is all Orin being speculative, but maybe there’s other server hybrid roles and maybe a specialist on advanced scenarios covered by Azure Stack HCI, for example, where you’re doing some increasingly different ways of approaching hybrid, where you’re bringing some as Azure services down to on-prem and so on and so forth. But it all really depends on is this, look, I believe absolutely that this is something that Windows Server administrators, and a lot of on-prem people have been crying out for. But, and if it works, obviously there is a, you know, we can definitely see that there is this evolution of the job role and there’s more job roles we can identify. But what we’re trying to do is identify the job roles and then bring the certs that support those job roles rather than saying, Hey, we’ve got a particular technology that we want to promote. Let’s go and put an exam on it.

Mary Jo Foley (17:22):
Okay. James Auman said, he’s a little confused about what the certification covers, even though you’ve just talked about a lot of that. He said, well, let’s say that he is certified to do a certain thing for a certain OS and certain configuration. Or if someone is quote, “only an admin of on-premises servers, is there a different path that you’d recommend for that person to get certified?” So I guess he’s trying to figure out beyond just the bare bones explanation of what this is like, how do you fit in if you’re an on-prem guy?

Orin Thomas (18:04):
So look, there’s an easy way to think about this and that’s to remember that every certification covers a broad range of tasks. And what we’re trying to do is create a superset of coverage for what most people do in the role. And if you’re coming in taking any cert, most people only do maybe 60, maybe 80% of the things that are involved in the certs to solve problems that they have on a day to day, or a month to month, or a year to year basis. It’s just, every candidate has a different group of things that they do out of that superset that’s relevant to their role. So just because you don’t use a specific technology in your current role also doesn’t mean that you won’t use it in your next role. Sometimes someone says, Hey, I work on an oil rig. I don’t need this.

Orin Thomas (18:52):
And then suddenly six months later, they’re working at a bank and yes, they do. I know in my own case, I learned about technologies and certification that I wasn’t using. And then suddenly two weeks later, a scenario or a problem comes up and it’s like, oh, I know exactly the thing I need to do to solve that particular problem. So role-based search being listed built from a list of tasks that subject matter experts have identified as relevant to a subject area’s role. Now, old technology focused search, we’re more likely to test you on features and functionality of a specific product. So with a role-based cert what we’re doing is we’re saying there’s all of these tasks that are associated with the role there, and there’s going to be no one where every task on the exam describes what they do on a day-to-day basis. So yes, there’s going to be some people who sit there and go, well, I don’t use hybrid. I’m only on-prem. And it’s like, yes, well, we’re asking you to know some hybrid stuff and there’s going to be some people who say, well, I don’t need to know networking because that’s all handled by our networking team. And it’s not like we’re going to rip networking out of the exam either.

Mary Jo Foley (19:58):
Got it. Okay. So right now we’re in October. What can people do at this point to prepare for the certification? And I’m asking that because another listener, Mohd Hisham asked, what courses should I take now to enable me to take this test confidently?

Orin Thomas (20:18):
Okay. So at the moment there are some instructor-led training courses in market, and there will be, I assume, I can’t announce anything, versions that will be conversant with the new exam and also for Windows Server 2022. Because the courses that we worked on at the moment, well, we worked on in the last few years were Windows Server 2019. I have published on the ITOps Talk Blog, two study guides. And what those study guides have got is they’ve got links to all of the relevant Microsoft Learn modules and importantly, all of the relevant docs.microsoft.com documentation that is associated with each objective point in each exam. So that’s sort of your source material. If you wanted to just go and read that and take those Learn modules, that would be one method of preparing. And we got that out, right when we announced these exams.

Orin Thomas (21:13):
The beta doesn’t come out, I think it’s in December, is when you can take the beta. But we wanted to sort of get right ahead of it and say, Hey, everybody knows it takes a couple of months to prepare for a certification exam. So if you want to just use the raw material right now, you could do that. Or you could wait for partners like LinkedIn Learning, or ITProTV, or Pluralsight, or A Cloud Guru, and others who I’m quite sure at this moment, in fact, I know at this moment are already in the process of offering courses and preparation guides to support these exams. So you can either use the source material or you can go and get a pre-packaged product at some point in the future. And they’ll obviously want to launch as close as, as quickly as they can to use that. So in terms of preparing, it’s always a good idea as a student of exams to figure out what preparation materials work for you.

Orin Thomas (22:11):
There’s some people who absolutely love diving into the documentation. There’s other people who like using Learn modules there is, and I’ll send you the links of the study guides that I’ve got published and you can post them (Aka.ms/az-800studyguide, Aka.ms/az-801studyguide), but figure out what your modality is. You might like the presenters on Pluralsight, you might like the ones on ITProTV. And you go and use your set of tools to prepare. And then I’m sure that partners like MeasureUp will be going and creating practice exams so that you can do all of that to figure out what gets the information into your brain, so that you’re prepared as best you can be on test day.

Mary Jo Foley (22:53):
So it’s a beta that is going to be available in December. Do we know when the, I don’t know what you would call it, the RTM version would be out?

Orin Thomas (23:04):
I think that that’s the case. I’m not a hundred percent certain, and all of this will be announced on the MS Learn Blog.

Mary Jo Foley (23:10):
Oh, good.

Orin Thomas (23:10):
But generally what happens is that they do the beta, depending on how many people, and obviously a bunch of people go and take the questions. And then they go and look at the questions and they figure out, is this a good question set? So that that’s the filter and that process, I don’t know how long it takes. I think it varies between exams. But once that question set is then finalized, there’ll be another announcement saying, Hey, you can now go and book at your testing center provider of choice. Or even now you can do exams at home. There’s a whole lot of conditions where you can do an at home exam and you’ll be able to book in the exam, take the exams, get the cert.

Mary Jo Foley (23:48):
Nice, nice. So, anything else you want to bring up that we haven’t already talked about that people might want to know who are interested in the coming exams and certification?

Orin Thomas (24:00):
I really recommend that what people do is that they spin up an Azure trial account and that go and get an evaluation version of Windows Server 2022. And they play around with, they have a look at the stuff in the study guides. And the study guides will often lead to how-to articles on how to do things, because if they’re not already using these products, they should have hands on experience. We do focus this at someone who’s used it, but if you’re in an environment where you’re not yet using Azure File Sync, go and spin up your own lab. And, you know, don’t do it on your production network or at your organization. Go up and spin up your own lab. And then with a trial account, go and see how it works, go and figure out how it works. You’re going to learn a lot more by doing than you are by reading. And remember that will kind of stick in your head a lot more. And you’ll be thinking, when you get that question on an exam, you know, you’ve got this problem where you’re running out of storage on your file servers. What do you do? That’s when it lights up in your head, oh, you know what I need to do? I need to go and light up this particular hybrid technology.

Mary Jo Foley (25:09):
Hmm. Got it. Okay. Well, thank you so much for doing this chat today. That was really great. And I’m sure a lot of our listeners are going to be very interested in this certification.

Orin Thomas (25:19):
Thank you very much for having me on.

Mary Jo Foley (25:22):
Great. For everyone else, who’s listening right now or reading the transcript of this chat. I’ll be posting more soon about who my next guest is going to be. Once you see that you can submit questions directly on Twitter using the #MJFChat. In the meantime, if you know of anyone else or even yourself who might make a good guest for one of these chats, please do not hesitate to drop me a note. Thank you very much.