The introduction of Windows Server 2003 has brought a slew of new certification exams. About one half of the exams in the new certification track went live August 14, with the remaining ones scheduled to appear soon after. Exam 70-291, Implementing, Managing, and Maintaining a Microsoft Windows Server 2003 Network Infrastructure, figures prominently in the required path for Microsoft Certified System Engineer (MCSE) and Microsoft Certified System Administrator (MCSA) certification.
The complete list of objectives for this exam on Microsoft's site is divided into the following five major categories:
- Implementing, Managing, and Maintaining IP Addressing
- Implementing, Managing, and Maintaining Name Resolution
- Implementing, Managing, and Maintaining Network Security
- Implementing, Managing, and Maintaining Routing and Remote Access
- Maintaining a Network Infrastructure
In this article, we won't go through each objective but rather focus on six of the most important things to know to be prepared for Exam 70-291. But first, let's take a minute to determine whether you need to tackle the exam at all.
Do you need to take this exam?
Exam 70-291 is intended to verify networking knowledge and skill with Windows Server 2003 for those new to higher-level Microsoft certification. If you already hold a networking certification from Microsoft above the MCP (Microsoft Certified Professional) level, you may be able to bypass this exam altogether.
If you are certified as an MCSA, you can skip this exam as well as 70-290, Managing and Maintaining a Microsoft Windows Server 2003 Environment, and just take exam 70-292, Managing and Maintaining a Microsoft Windows Server 2003 Environment for an MCSA Certified on Windows 2000. Taking only exam 70-292, you can upgrade your MCSA from Windows 2000 to Windows Server 2003 in just one test.
If you are certified as an MCSE, you can also bypass 70-290 and 70-291 by taking 70-292, but you need to add exam 70-296, Planning, Implementing, and Maintaining a Microsoft Windows Server 2003 Environment for an MCSE Certified on Windows 2000. These two exams work together to upgrade your certification and save you time in the testing center.
Tip one: Think conceptually
Yes, this is an exam in the Windows Server 2003 track, but it probably focuses more on concepts, as opposed to products, than any other exam in the track. The IP Addressing category expects you to know and understand IP addressing (which is essentially the same as it has been for many years) and DHCP. The Name Resolution category focuses on DNS, which has not changed much since Windows 2000.
The Network Security category concentrates on security concepts with a required knowledge of some of the oldest tools in the Microsoft arsenal—Event Viewer and Network Monitor, to name two. When Windows NT became Windows 2000, "Remote Access" became "Routing and Remote Access" (RRAS vs. RAS), and little is new in the fourth category: You must understand the principles of TCP/IP routing. The final category, Maintaining a Network Infrastructure, requires commonsense knowledge of service dependencies (which are the same in almost every operating system) and some Microsoft tools—Network Monitor and System Monitor as well.
You do need a working knowledge of Windows Server 2003 to pass this exam. Far more important, though, is a knowledge and understanding of the concepts of networking and interacting with the Internet as an administrator.
Tip two: Buy the Resource Kit
As with every Microsoft exam, a dozen publishers will be putting out training guides and study guides and exam prep guides—so many that your head will spin just looking at the bookshelf. Those books are all helpful in studying for a test, but much of the same material used in question creation overlaps content used in one of the most definitive book series that Microsoft Press releases for each operating system. This started with Windows 95 and has become truer with each successive operating system and Resource Kit release, climaxing with Windows 2000. (You almost had to have the Resource Kit to pass the exams.)
As of this writing, the Microsoft Windows Server 2003 Resource Kit (ISBN: 0735614717) is not yet available but is expected to be soon. Although the list price is $299.99, you can already find it greatly discounted at many online retailers. When you factor in the cost of failing an exam or two, along with the fact that this kit can be used to study for every one of the Windows Server 2003 exams, you can see that the money it costs is a great investment.
Tip three: Think 70-216
I know that I am not alone in saying that exam 70-216, Implementing and Administering a Microsoft Windows 2000 Network Infrastructure, is one of the most difficult that Microsoft's psychometricians ever conjured up. After sailing through exam 70-210 (Windows 2000 Professional) and 70-215 (Windows 2000 Server), I confidently took 70-216 without much study. "How hard can an exam on networking basics be?" I thought.
I don't mind saying that I failed the exam on more than one occasion. I honestly believe that the pass rate on this exam was so low that it served as an impetus in Microsoft's decision to create the much easier 70-218 exam, Managing a Microsoft Windows 2000 Network Environment.
If you look at the title of exam 70-291, you'll note that it uses "Network Infrastructure" (from 70-216) instead of "Network Environment" (from 70-218). If you look closely at the objectives, you'll see that they mirror many of the counterparts on 70-216. Although the number of objective categories has shrunk from 70-216 to 70-291, the difficulty level has not. This is not an exam you can sail through just because you've been working with networking concepts since the days when Peter Frampton had hair.
Tip four: Know that simple things can be difficult
Tying in with the last tip, you need to mentally acknowledge before taking the exam that some easy things can be made more difficult than they should be and be prepared for this. It is no secret that exam questions often focus on minutiae, and that is difficult enough when taking a test. But be ready for question formats—not just content—that try your nerves.
Brace yourself for marathon-length multiple-choice questions that list lots of possible answers and ask you to "choose all that apply." The problem with this format is that you still only get the question right or wrong. If there are seven possible choices and three that are correct, you don't get partial credit if you only chose two and the two that you chose are among those correct. You missed the question. Miss enough of them, and you can plan on taking the exam again, and again, and….
Microsoft has also added a new type of question that divides the information among three screens that you have to maneuver and scroll through. There are not a lot of these questions yet, but enough to make things frustrating. Before signing up for this test, I would recommend calling the testing center of your choice and asking what size monitors they administer the exams on; the bigger the better for these questions.
Tip five: Focus on the Microsoft angle
The concepts are universal—networking, DHCP, etc.—but spend some time concentrating on anything that Microsoft does with these items that make them sales bullets for the company. For example, DNS has been around since the days when it became apparent that scaling HOSTS files was impossible, but you need to know how Microsoft intertwines Active Directory with DNS. In other words, don't just know DNS, but know Microsoft's take on it.
Read the overview of DNS posted on the Microsoft site, then delve deeper into selections about understanding, installing, and securing.
Other items to similarly focus on include all the tools and utilities related to the networking functions. Add ipconfig to the list and know all the parameters/options that can be used with it.
Tip six: Spend some time with IAS
Microsoft's Internet Authentication Service (IAS) is its implementation of Remote Authentication Dial-in User Service (RADIUS), and it forms a large component of RRAS. Knowledge of this topic is crucial to passing the Implementing, Managing, and Maintaining Routing and Remote Access portion of the exam.
For studying, start with the overview, and then read how the Network Access Quarantine Control works with Windows Server 2003. After reading that information, get as much experience with it as you possibly can.
The 70-291 exam is a step you must take to become MCSA or MCSE certified on Windows Server 2003 if you don't hold those certs for Windows 2000. It is a much more difficult exam than you would think, given the subject material. If you can avoid taking it—and you can, if you're already MCSA/MCSE certified—that is the best way to handle it.