Windows Server 2008 will be released early next year. That’s right…I said it, another major server OS will be released with undoubtedly more to learn! However, with this release, Microsoft is also rolling out major changes to its certification program. All of us old MCSEs are in for some big changes.

For example, the MCSE we’re all familiar with is going away. Yep, you heard it, completely going away! Instead, new certification titles, like MCTS, or Microsoft Certified Technology Specialist: Active Directory Configuration or Application Platform Configuration, will be the certification de jour.

Here’s an overview of the new Windows Server 2008 certification program. Specifically, it will address:

  • New changes in the Windows Server 2008 certification program
  • What you need to do to transition your Windows Server 2003 MCSE skills to 2008
  • What you need to do to go from Windows 2000 MCSE to 2008
  • Learn practical tips on what you can do now to start planning

The world’s most popular certification is going through a major remodel-are you ready?

[Note: The MCP and MCSA have been excluded from this article with the focus being only on the MCSE.]

First look: What’s changed?

After years of complaints about the MCSE being far too ordinary and too generic, Microsoft is taking a new approach to its certifications. Instead of offering a more generically themed program (like the traditional MCSE), Microsoft is creating certifications that are more tightly focused on specific roles and skill sets. These changes are part of a larger effort to revamp the entire certification program (which includes more than Windows Server 2008). However, for traditional MCSEs, Windows Server 2008 is where we’ll see the most changes.

These new tracks are referred to as the Technology Series and the Professional Series.

Technology Series–Microsoft wants to provide a means for cert holders to demonstrate proficiency in a specific technology area, like configuring the Active Directory or Vista. These certifications are known as Microsoft Certified Technical Specialist (MCTS) and are very technologically focused.
Professional Series-Here, there are two focus areas: IT Professional and Professional Developer. I’ve excluded the Developer series from this article, as most traditional MCSEs will likely not be on the Developer track. Professional certifications allow a person to demonstrate they can perform a job like Server Administrator. A person who earns a Professional certification will be known as a Microsoft Certified IT Professional, or MCITP.

They also require earning the equivalent technology certification (MCTS) in the corresponding Microsoft product. Each focus area has generally one to three exams. For most MCSEs, there are two Professional Certifications that will likely be right in your wheelhouse. I list them below, and include the necessary exams. The “TS” next to each exam number denotes an MCTS exam, while the “Pro” denotes an MCITP exam.

Server Administrator

  • 70-642: TS: Windows Server 2008 Network Infrastructure Configuring
  • 70-640: TS: Windows Server 2008 Active Directory, Configuring
  • 70-646: Pro: Windows Server 2008 Administrator

Enterprise Administrator

  • 70-620: TS: Configuring Microsoft Windows Vista Client or 70-624: TS: Deploying and Maintaining Windows Vista Client and 2007 Microsoft Office System Desktops
  • 70-643: TS: Windows Server 2008 Applications Platform, Configuring
  • 70-642: TS: Windows Server 2008 Network Infrastructure Configuring
  • 70-640: TS: Windows Server 2008 Active Directory, Configuring
  • 70-647: Pro: Windows Server 2008 Enterprise Administrator

The theory with these new programs is that they allow for more specificity by creating very tightly focused certifications and emphasizing actual real world job roles, thus making it easier for prospective employers to judge abilities and talents. I’m already having nightmares about the alphabet soup that the already lengthy signature blocks will become. We may be seeing something like this:

John Smith, Network Engineer, MCSE (NT 4.0), MCSE+I (Windows Server 2000 and Windows Server 2003), MCSA (Windows Server 2000 and Windows Server 2003), MCTS: Windows Server 2008 – Active Directory Configuration, MCTS: Windows Server 2008 – Network Infrastructure Configuration, MCTS: Windows Server 2008 – Application Platform Configuration, MCITP: Enterprise Administrator…and so on…

Good Grief!

And finally, in a move that not only keeps technologists current, but, coincidentally, also generates consistent revenue for Microsoft, the new MCTS certifications expire. In fact, they expire when the specific technology expires. The MCITP also requires re-certification-every three years! However, in most cases, MCITP re-up will be a single exam, and it will probably be the latest MCTS exam.

Transition your Windows Server 2003 MCSE to 2008

If you’re a Windows Server 2003 MCSE (W2k3MCSE), the path to achieve certification depends on what your goals are. Because the MCSE doesn’t exist in Windows Server 2008 you have to “transfer” your certification skills, as a Microsoft calls it, to the new MCTS track (and then if you’d like, tack on the applicable MCITP certification).

Microsoft has created a new exam entitled “70-649: TS: Upgrading your MCSE on Windows Server 2003 to MCTS on Windows Server 2008.” When you pass it, you will earn three MCTS qualifications in one swoop:

  • MCTS: Windows Server 2008 – Active Directory Configuration
  • MCTS: Windows Server 2008 – Network Infrastructure Configuration
  • MCTS: Windows Server 2008 – Application Platform Configuration

A W2k3MCSE who isn’t interested in such a large exam could take individual MCTS exams in each of the aforementioned technology areas. However, if you’re looking for a less circuitous route and you don’t mind taking the daunting single exam, the 70-649 is probably the better approach.

It’s important to note that Microsoft is transitioning folks to the TS level, but there’s no transition plan to move people directly to the Professional level. You can still get there, but you have to transition to the TS level first, and then take the remaining exams at whatever professional level you are seeking, just like any other MCITP seeker.

For example, if you’re a W2k3MCSE and you want to be a MCITP Enterprise Administrator you’d have to:

  1. Take 70-649 to transition your skills to the new MCTS
  2. Select a desktop MCTS (70-620 or 70-624)
  3. Take the 70-647 Enterprise Administrator Professional Exam

If you only wanted to obtain the MCITP Server Administrator, you’d have to:

  1. Take 70-649 to transition your skills to the new MCTS certifications
  2. Take the 70-646 Server Administrator Professional Exam

As I mentioned before, I’ve left the MCSA out of the discussion here, but you will find a similar, if slightly less difficult, path to upgrade a Windows Server 2003 MCSA to Windows Server 2008. Check out the following link for more information on MCSAs:

Going from Windows 2000 MCSE to 2008?

If you’re a Windows 2000 MCSE or, for that matter, any non-W2k3MCSE (NT 4.0), you’re out of luck. There’s no transition path from Windows 2000 (or anything earlier) to Windows Server 2008. Instead, depending on how far along you are with your Windows Server 2003 MCSE, you have two choices:

  1. Complete your upgrade to Windows Server 2003 (thus making your transition to Windows Server 2008 a bit shorter), or
  2. Start fresh with Windows Server 2008

It actually may be easier to upgrade to Windows Server 2003 MCSE in order to make for an easier transition to Windows Server 2008.

[REMINDER: The two exams a Windows 2000 MCSE needs to take to upgrade to Windows Server 2003 (without taking the long route), 70-292 and 70-296 are currently scheduled for discontinuation on March 31, 2008.]

Start planning now!

The time to get your plans in order is now, what with the W2k3MCSE upgrade exams set to expire in March 2008. If you’re a Windows 2000 MCSE, consider the upgrade path to W2k3MCSE first-it may make your Windows Server 2008 transition much easier.

If you’re already a W2k3MCSE, start looking at the new Windows Server 2008 technology. There are already some beta examinations available. Microsoft has also indicated that final versions of the exams will be released shortly after the technology’s Release-To-Market date:

  • TS Exam Goals Release Date: 30 days post RTM
  • Pro Exam Goals Release Date: 60 days post RTM