MCSE upgrade: Keeping pace with the latest platform

Don't lose your MCSE certification. Learn about the changes that will affect your upgrade path and your options for bringing your certification up to date.

Over the past three years, the Microsoft Certified Systems Engineer (MCSE) certification has undergone a revolutionary change—and it's a process of change that has yet to be completed. IT pros who hold an MCSE based on Windows 2000, especially those obtained in the year 2000, must seriously examine the changes made to this certification to ensure that they're not stripped of the MCSE label. Here are some things to consider as you plan to upgrade your certification.

Option to swap the 2000 exam for the XP exam
The Windows 2000 MCSE is based on five core exams and two electives. The five core exams consist of four operating system (OS) exams and one design exam, which you select from a list of four options. You can choose your two electives from a list of more than 25 exams. Originally, all four of the OS exams focused on the Windows 2000 family (Professional, Server, Network Infrastructure, and Directory Services). However, with the release of the Windows XP Professional exam (70-270), you can swap out your Windows 2000 Professional exam (70-210) for the new client exam.

Retirement for NT and W2K?
When the Windows 2000 MCSE certification path was announced, Microsoft publicized the retirement date of the Windows NT MCSE. Certification holders were granted a limited time in which to upgrade; if they didn't, they'd lose their MCSE status. The NT-to-2000 MCSE upgrade process offered two options: take a single exam (70-240) or take all seven required exams. Fortunately, Microsoft eventually repealed the Windows NT MCSE retirement plan, but the 70-240 single upgrade exam was retired after being active for less than a year. Although the Windows NT MCSE is still a valid certification today—even in Microsoft's eyes—all of the exams required to obtain Windows NT MCSE have been long retired.

The move to Windows 2003 MCSE promises a limited time for the quick upgrade via two upgrade exams (70-292 and 70-296). Microsoft has yet to announce formal retirement dates for either the Windows NT or Windows 2000 MCSE.

From my perspective, it seems Microsoft finally understands that most organizations are still using operating system technology that's two to six years old, and the efforts to migrate to newer technology are slow. Expertise on legacy systems is sometimes more important to maintaining productivity than obtaining knowledge for new cutting-edge operating systems.

Traveling the revised path
The Windows Server 2003-focused MCSE requires six core exams and one elective exam. The six core exams include four networking system exams, one client operating system exam, and one design exam. (Note: not all of these exams are currently available. Most should be available by the end of 2003.) The four networking system exams are:
  • Exam 70–290: Managing and Maintaining a Microsoft Windows Server 2003 Environment
  • Exam 70–291: Implementing, Managing, and Maintaining a Microsoft Windows Server 2003 Network Infrastructure
  • Exam 70-293: Planning and Maintaining a Microsoft Windows Server 2003 Network Infrastructure
  • Exam 70-294: Planning, Implementing, and Maintaining a Microsoft Windows Server 2003 Active Directory Infrastructure

The supported client operating system exams are:
  • Exam 70–270: Installing, Configuring, and Administering Microsoft Windows XP Professional
  • Exam 70-210: Installing, Configuring, and Administering Microsoft Windows 2000 Professional

Notice that these are the same client exams supported by Windows 2000 MCSE. The supported design exams are:
  • Exam 70-297: Designing a Microsoft Windows Server 2003 Active Directory and Network Infrastructure
  • Exam 70-298: Designing Security for a Microsoft Windows Server 2003 Network (no link is available at the time of this writing)

There are currently seven supported elective exams:
  • Exam 70–086: Implementing and Supporting Microsoft Systems Management Server 2.0
  • Exam 70-227: Installing, Configuring, and Administering Microsoft Internet Security and Acceleration (ISA) Server 2000, Enterprise Edition
  • Exam 70-228: Installing, Configuring, and Administering Microsoft SQL Server 2000 Enterprise Edition
  • Exam 70-229: Designing and Implementing Databases with Microsoft SQL Server 2000 Enterprise Edition
  • Exam 70-232: Implementing and Maintaining Highly Available Web Solutions with Microsoft Windows 2000 Server Technologies and Microsoft Application Center 2000
  • Exam 70-297: Designing a Microsoft Windows Server 2003 Active Directory and Network Infrastructure
  • Exam 70-298: Designing Security for a Microsoft Windows Server 2003 Network (no link is available at the time of this writing)

If you are already a Windows 2000 MCSE with a client operating system exam of 70-210 or 70-270, you can opt to take two upgrade exams rather than seven new exams. The two upgrade exams are:
  • Exam 70-292: Managing and Maintaining a Microsoft Windows Server 2003 Environment for an MCSA Certified on Windows 2000
  • Exam 70-296: Planning, Implementing, and Maintaining a Microsoft Windows Server 2003 Environment for an MCSE Certified on Windows 2000

In fact, if you still hold a Windows NT MCSE, you are offered an upgrade opportunity as well. However, unless you have already made significant progress toward upgrading to a Windows 2000 MCSE, you will be taking all seven of the new exams. The details about the Windows 2003 MCSE requirements are available on the Microsoft Training and Certification Web site.

What it takes to upgrade
Personally, I will need to pass the two upgrade exams or take at least six new Windows 2003-focused exams. If your certification paths are as driven by time and money as mine, pursuing two exams is much more appealing. So what does it take to upgrade? Well, the simple part is that your client, design, and elective exams for Windows 2000 MCSE satisfy the minimum requirements for Windows 2003 MCSE, so you need to take only the two upgrade exams to satisfy the core networking system requirements.

Tackling the upgrade exams
The most important part of passing any Microsoft exam is to thoroughly know the operating system. Fortunately, Windows Server 2003 is not significantly different from Windows 2000 Server. As a result, you can leverage much of your existing knowledge and expertise. I highly recommend obtaining a copy of Windows Server 2003 and installing it on a system. If you can't afford to purchase a full version, obtain a trial version from a free CD or via download.

Explore every tool, dialog box, and configuration. Take note of all the differences between Windows Server 2003 and Windows 2000 Server. A thorough working knowledge of the operating system will give you a solid foundation upon which to build the more esoteric aspects of certification knowledge, such as design, infrastructure, and management.

In my long history of achieving certifications, I've found two key focus points essential to passing exams:
  • Know the objectives or skills list items thoroughly.
  • Take lots of practice exams.

Print the skills list for each exam. Obtain the self-paced training kits from Microsoft Press or a study guide from a third-party publisher. Keep studying until you are well versed in every individual skill listed for each exam.

Take as many practice exams as you have time for and can afford. Numerous certification Web sites will send out free questions via e-mail lists. Many sites also collect and post practice exams, which you can obtain for free or for a fee. If you need help in locating MCSE 2003 certification resources, enter one or more of these keywords in any search engine: MCSE, 2003, and certification.

Don't forget that Microsoft offers a wealth of free information. To get it, you just need to do a bit of intelligent directed searching. Most of the Windows Server 2003 documentation and technical details are already posted online. You can view this material on the Windows Server 2003 home page and on this TechNet page. I'd take a few days to read every document accessible via the first link. Then, as you need further clarification or detail, use the TechNet page to search for additional information.

Focus on developing a thorough knowledge
Yes, I'm recommending a broad study technique here. I think your certification efforts should focus on being able to work in a real production environment, not just on the specific issues covered by questions on an exam. Odds are, you'll never actually encounter most of the scenarios presented in the exam. But if you have a thorough knowledge of the OS, its systems, and its documentation, you'll nearly always be able to figure out problems or discover documentation to address an issue.

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