How is the new Microsoft MCSE different from the old Microsoft MCSE? How challenging is to learn the new MCSE? Is it worth it?

Back in the mid-1990s, I had to decide whether to pursue a technology MBA or work on earning a Microsoft Certify Systems Engineer (MCSE) on Windows NT. I decided to earn an MCSE because it was faster to obtain, less expensive, and it aligned to my work objectives at the time. While some people may argue at my consideration of the MCSE as to be the equivalent of earning a master’s degree, getting the MCSE on Windows NT was one the best decisions I have ever made. To stay relevant working in the IT field, one must become a lifelong learner. I renewed my MCSE certification on Windows 2000 Server and Windows Server 2003 to keep up with the changes on these operating systems.

The arrival of Windows Server 2008 marked the end of the Microsoft MCSE program. Microsoft embarked on a new certification strategy and the Microsoft Certified Information Technology Professional (MCITP) certification came to replace the long-standing MCSE. Early on, I was involved with several Windows Server 2008 projects so I decided to upgrade to the new MCITP to validate my skills on the new Windows Server operating system.

MCSE Training – Resources (Intense)

However, with the introduction of Windows Server 2012 Microsoft announced the extinction of the MCITP; there is no MCITP on Windows Server 2012, and there will be no more MCITP certifications awarded after July 31, 2013. The news from Redmond was that a new, reinvented MCSE program would replace the MCITP certification that was associated with Windows Server 2008. Again, I started testing some Windows Server 2012 pilot projects and decided to dive into the new MCSE certification to find out the good, the bad, and the ugly.

This new MCSE (Microsoft Certified Solutions Expert) is quite different from the old MCSE (Microsoft Certified Systems Engineer). The differences go well beyond the acronym definition. The old MCSE required seven exams, five of which were mandatory, including one client operating system exam, and two additional exams to specialize in certain areas like security or messaging. The MCSE+ Internet option was also available after passing an elective Internet Information Services (IIS) test.

The old Microsoft Certified Systems Engineer (MCSE) was server-oriented; it was about administering Windows Servers and their related features and functionally in a network environment. Once you earned the certification, there was no need to recertify again, unless you wanted to obtain a new MCSE certification for the newest Windows Server Operating system.

The new Microsoft Certified Solutions Expert (MCSE) is service-oriented; it is more about administering IT services in the designing and building of technology solutions. Core technologies related to data centers, cloud computing, virtualization, clustering, and storage management are at the very heart of this new MCSE program, making the certification structure and requirements very different from the old MCSE. There is no client operating system prerequisite. The new MCSE has a three-year life cycle. That’s right; recertification is obligatory every three years to ensure that MCSE certificate holders keep abreast with the rapid changes in the IT world.

Besides the required competence in managing Windows Server 2012 services, the new MCSE program embraces a wide range of Microsoft technologies and enterprise software applications including System Center, Exchange Server, SharePoint, SQL, etc. This broader and deeper approach challenges IT professionals to develop the expertise necessary to manage complex IT operations on-premises and in the cloud.

Microsoft has identified eight different MCSE tracks. For each track, a candidate must pass a number of prerequisite exams to become a Microsoft Certified Solutions Expert. I will briefly describe these tracks and then will share with you more details in upgrading to the new MCSE.

MCSE: Server Infrastructure

The server infrastructure track concentrates on network management of data centers, including image deployment, virtualization, identity solutions, directory services, group policy management, and other core networking services.

MCSE: Desktop Infrastructure

This is all about virtualization technologies, comprising implementation and maintenance of desktop virtualization solutions, remote desktop services, and application virtualization. Because many of these solutions include access from outside the company premises, security and compliance are seriously stressed on the exams.

MCSE: Private Cloud

This MCSE credential requires expertise using Windows Server 2012 and System Center to implement, maintain, and monitor private cloud solutions. Virtualization, automation, resource monitoring, security, storage fabric, redundant services, and disaster recovery are all combined in an environment where System Center plays a pivotal role.

MCSE: Data Platform

The MCSE data platform certification requires a deep understanding of SQL and related services and components. That covers managing data, implementing security and high availability, designing databases, creating and modifying database objects and programming objects, managing queries, managing reports, building data quality solutions, and designing and implementing data warehousing solutions. As with the other tracks, these skills must be applied on-premises and in cloud environments.

MCSE: Business Intelligence

Using Microsoft SQL to provide enterprise data management solutions is the mantra of this track. There is some overlapping between the MCSE data platform and the MCSE business intelligence, but the business intelligence certification emphasizes some unique enterprise database management skills. These skills include building and analyzing services database, managing, maintaining, and troubleshooting SSAS databases, building a reporting with SQL server reporting services, and planning and designing business intelligence infrastructures.

MCSE: Messaging

Exchange Server and the underlying Windows Server 2012 platform form the backbone of this certification. It goes from designing an Exchange infrastructure and optimizing the different Exchange server roles to advanced design and implementation of an enterprise messaging solution. It requires practical knowledge of configuring, managing, and migrating unifying messaging; designing, configuring, and managing site resiliency and security; configuring and managing compliance, archiving, and discovery processes. The ability to manage hybrid configurations by establishing coexistence with Exchange online is also expected.

MCSE: Communication

This new track is specifically designed to validate individual proficiency in using Windows Server 2012 and Microsoft Lync as an enterprise communication platform. You must be able to design and implement a communications solution that provides a dependable user experience that integrates presence, voice, and video, instant messaging, and online meeting.

MCSE: SharePoint

Millions of businesses and organizations around the world use Microsoft SharePoint to manage content, share information, and produce collaborative work. The MCSE SharePoint certification aims at IT professionals who develop the skills to design, implement, and manage SharePoint farms in an enterprise environment. Among the advanced business solutions that a candidate must be able to provide are planning business continuity management, upgrading and migrating SharePoint environments, create and configure service applications, managing business intelligence and implement systems integration.

Out of these eight tracks, I have already upgraded my credentials to the MCSE: Server Infrastructure and MCSE: Desktop Infrastructure. So for the rest of this article I will go into more details regarding these two credentials.

For the MCSE: Server Infrastructure, Microsoft requires that a candidate pass five exams:

Exam Number Exam name
70-410 Installing and Configuring Windows Server 2012
70-411 Administering Windows Server 2012
70-412 Configuring Advanced Windows Server 2012 Services
70-413 Designing and Implementing a Server Infrastructure
70-414 Implementing an Advanced Server Infrastructure

However, not everybody needs to take these five exams one by one. You may qualify for an upgrade to the MCSE: Server Infrastructure, if you already hold any one of the following certifications:

  • MCSA: Windows Server 2008
  • MCITP: Virtualization Administrator on Windows Server 2008 R2
  • MCITP: Enterprise Messaging Administrator 2010
  • MCITP: Lync server Administrator 2010
  • MCITP: SharePoint Administrator 2010
  • MCITP: Enterprise Desktop Administrator on Windows 7

Upgrading requires a qualified candidate to pass the following three exams:

Exam Number Exam name
70-413 Designing and Implementing a Server Infrastructure
70-414 Implementing an Advanced Server Infrastructure
70-417 Upgrading Your Skills to MCSA Windows Server 2012

When I decided to upgrade to the MCSE: Server Infrastructure, I knew that the majority of the exam questions and case studies would be focused on this new multi-disciplinary approach, which consists of using different Microsoft enterprise software operating systems and applications to provide IT solutions to businesses. Indeed, the majority of the exams focus on new technologies used to manage IT services across groups of servers and server farms in data centers.

One area that I saw frequently tested was the new IP Address Management (IPAM) functionality on Windows Server 2012. The IPAM framework allows systems administrators to control and monitor multiple DHCP and DNS servers, providing a unified console view of the IP address space distribution throughout the organization. But this is just one example; you will find a battery of questions and case studies on new features that apply to different network services, i.e. virtualization, clustering, file and print services, DNS, DHCP failover, failover clustering, identity services, remote desktop services, security policies, security auditing, network access, automation with PowerShell 3.0, and more.

For the MCSE: Desktop Infrastructure, Microsoft requires that a candidate pass five exams:

Exam Number Exam name
70-410 Installing and Configuring Windows Server 2012
70-411 Administering Windows Server 2012
70-412 Configuring Advanced Windows Server 2012 Services
70-415 Implementing a Desktop Infrastructure
70-416 Implementing Desktop Application Environments

As with the MCSE: Server Infrastructure, there is an upgrade path to the MCSE: Desktop Infrastructure. The same certifications that qualify for an upgrade to the MCSE: Server Infrastructure also apply to the MCSE: Desktop Infrastructure upgrade. (See the qualifications mentioned earlier in this article)

Upgrading requires a qualified candidate to pass the following three exams:

Exam Number Exam name
70-415 Implementing a Desktop Infrastructure
70-416 Implementing Desktop Application Environments
70-417 Upgrading Your Skills to MCSA Windows Server 2012

The MCSE: Desktop Infrastructure entails a high level of expertise managing the whole portfolio of Microsoft virtualization products to deliver solutions that increase worker productivity and simplify IT management. Besides Windows Server 2012 proficiency, this track demands experience working with System Center 2012, specially the virtual machine manager component. Also important for this credential is having working knowledge and a good understanding of the Microsoft Desktop Optimization Pack (MDOP) group of applications, including Microsoft Application Virtualization (App-V), Microsoft Enterprise Desktop Virtualization (MED-V), Microsoft Advanced Group Policy Management (AGPM), Microsoft User Experience Virtualization (UE-V), and others.

Because managing virtualization has become a critical area for many data centers, a deep understanding of the new Hyper-V capabilities is critical to earn either the MCSE: Server Infrastructure or the MCSE: Desktop Infrastructure.

There have been many changes and upgrades to the new version of Hyper-V Server 2012 and Microsoft really tests these new functionalities in detail. We need a separate article just to talk about the changes in the new version of Hyper-V Server, but for these exams you can expect to be tested on areas like the new Hyper-V client, Hyper-V Replica, resource metering, Single Root I/O Virtualization (SR-IOV) support, storage migration, storage on SMB 3.0 file shares, Virtual Fibre Channel, Virtual NUMA. These are all new features designed to be implemented on new enterprise virtualization solutions.

The old MCSE was highly popular because it rose with the IT euphoria of the late 1990s, at a time in which Microsoft was rapidly expanding its footprint into corporate America. It is very different these days: we are at the beginning of a new era. Cloud computing, virtualization, and big data are combined with other forces of change like social media and the consumerization of IT, driven by the use of personal consumer electronics at work, i.e., smart phones and tablets.

Certifications remain or grow in importance when they truly reflect a high level of skills and know-how on a technology that is relevant in the marketplace. If that technology is being adopted, espoused and implemented by a wide range of businesses and organizations, then having the skills and the credentials that validate your expertise in that field is worth it. That’s why once highly-regarded IT certifications like Novell CNA and CNE lost their luster. After all who wants to get certified on typewriting equipment?

Coming from behind and playing catch-up at times, Microsoft has become a formidable competitor adapting to the tidal waves of changes swaying IT organizations today.

However, it is still early to gauge how successful these new credentials will be. If Microsoft can stay competitive and continue expanding in the enterprise software market, the new MCSE certification would be more attractive to IT professionals and their employers.