Microsoft Azure is the fastest growing cloud provider. Azure’s revenue grew an incredible 76% in the last quarter of 2018. As more and more businesses move their IT infrastructure to Microsoft’s cloud platform, the demand for Azure professionals keeps rising. Since there are relatively few people with extensive Azure experience, many employers rely on certifications as evidence that a candidate has the required knowledge and skills.
Up until the end of 2018, Microsoft had 3 primary exams to test Azure knowledge: 70-532, 70-533, and 70-535. All of those exams have now been retired. Why? Microsoft received a lot of feedback that those exams were too broad, covering a range of skills that few IT professionals would have. So, Microsoft researched how people in different roles use Azure, and then they completely overhauled their certifications.
The result is that Microsoft now has a larger number of role-based Azure certifications. The roles include Administrator, Developer, Architect, DevOps Engineer, and Security Engineer, with more to come.
Cloud Architect is a key role that’s in high demand. So what do cloud architects do? Here’s a quick summary from Cloud Roster, the job roles matrix from Cloud Academy:
“A Cloud Architect is responsible for converting the technical requirements of a project into the architecture and design that will guide the final product.”
The Microsoft Azure Solutions Architect certification has more specific requirements:
“Candidates should have advanced experience and knowledge across various aspects of IT operations, including networking, virtualization, identity, security, business continuity, disaster recovery, data management, budgeting, and governance. . . . Candidates must be proficient in Azure administration, Azure development, and DevOps, and have expert-level skills in at least one of those domains.”
Wait a minute. That’s an incredibly wide range of topics. Didn’t Microsoft say that its new certifications would be narrower than the previous ones? Well, that’s true for the Associate-level certifications, such as Administrator and Developer, but not for Expert-level certifications like Solutions Architect.
To obtain the Azure Solutions Architect certification, you need to pass two exams: AZ-300 and AZ-301. You do not need to pass any Associate-level exams before taking these ones. The AZ-300 exam focuses on Azure technologies, and the AZ-301 exam focuses on design.
Here are the topics covered in the AZ-300 exam and the relative weight of each section:
- Deploy and Configure Infrastructure (25-30%)
- Implement Workloads and Security (20-25%)
- Create and Deploy Apps (5-10%)
- Implement Authentication and Secure Data (5-10%)
- Develop for the Cloud and for Azure Storage (20-25%)
The first section is the biggest, and it covers a wide variety of topics, including storage, virtual machines, networking, and Azure Active Directory. You have to know these topics in great depth for the exam. For example, in addition to knowing how to create a virtual machine, you also need to know how to make it highly available and how to automate VM deployment using Azure Resource Manager. In the network area, you need to know how to connect virtual networks together using VNET peering and virtual network gateways. In the Azure Active Directory area, you need to know how to synchronize Azure AD with an on-premises Active Directory server and also enable single sign-on.
The next section is on implementing workloads and security. You need to know how to connect your on-premises network to an Azure virtual network and how to migrate your on-premises servers to Azure using Site Recovery. Once you have applications in Azure, you’ll usually want to implement load balancing, which helps improve both performance and availability, so that’s an important topic, too. In the security area, you have to be able to make it harder for hackers to get in by using multi-factor authentication, and you also need to know how to limit each user’s access level to only as much as they need by using role-based access control.
The third section is one of the shortest. It covers creating and deploying apps using either Azure App Service or Azure Container Service.
The fourth section is also short, and it covers two main topics. The first is how to implement authentication using a variety of different methods. One especially important concept is Managed Identity (which used to be called Managed Service Identity). This makes it easy to authenticate an application so it can access other services. The second major topic in this section is how to encrypt your data. One of the most important concepts in this area is how to use Azure Key Vault, which is where you can store your cryptographic keys.
The final section covers how to develop for the cloud. One of the greatest features of the cloud is autoscaling. Instead of having to provision enough compute power to handle peaks, you can just tell Azure to add and remove compute resources based on the demand. You have to be careful how you configure autoscaling, though, because if you don’t set up the rules correctly, it could have a big impact on your application’s performance and cost.
Another great feature of Azure is how easy it is to set up messaging between your applications. Azure has messaging services for every need, including Event Grid, Service Bus, Relay Service, Event Hub, and Notification Hub. You need to know all of them for the exam.
Here are the topics covered in the AZ-301 exam:
- Determine Workload Requirements (10-15%)
- Design for Identity and Security (20-25%)
- Design a Data Platform Solution (15-20%)
- Design a Business Continuity Strategy (15-20%)
- Design for Deployment, Migration, and Integration (10-15%)
- Design an Infrastructure Strategy (15-20%)
In my opinion, AZ-301 is more difficult than AZ-300 because you need to apply a deep knowledge of IT architecture to Azure solution designs. This is especially true of the first section of the exam, which expects you to have some general knowledge of a wide variety of subjects about designing IT environments, such as capacity planning, governance, and maintainability. The more Azure-specific topics in this section are optimizing Azure costs and designing a monitoring strategy.
The second section is on designing for identity and security. Not surprisingly, the focus is on how to use Azure Active Directory. In a large organization, there are many identities to manage. This includes not only users but also applications. To manage them effectively and securely, you need to design a proper identity management system. You also need to set up authentication for all of these identities, usually including single sign-on for your users. After a user or application is authenticated, it needs to be granted the right level of authorization to access Azure resources.
The third section is on designing data solutions. Azure includes many different data services, including relational databases, non-relational databases, data warehouses, data lakes, and many other related services. You’ll need to know when to choose each of the data services, how to size them, and how to design for data protection, availability, consistency, and durability. You’ll also need to know how to design and document how data flows between the various services.
The fourth section is on designing a business continuity strategy. The two most important concepts are high availability and disaster recovery. You can design for high availability using various levels of redundancy. For disaster recovery, the two most important services to know are Azure Site Recovery and Azure Backup.
The fifth section is one of the smallest. The subject is how to design for deployment, migration, and integration. It’s about migrating from an on-premises environment to an Azure environment, designing a repeatable way to deploy Azure resources, and integrating your applications using services such as Azure API Management.
The final section is on designing an infrastructure strategy. You have to know how to design strategies for storage, compute, and networking. In each of these areas, you need to choose the right solution, design secure access to the solution, and recommend appropriate management tools.
Preparing for the Exams
Considering the breadth of topics covered in the exams, you will almost certainly be unfamiliar with some of the parts of Azure that you need to know to pass the exams. For example, most people have not had to configure Azure Active Directory Connect, virtual network peering, NoSQL databases, and Azure Event Grid all in the same job.
To fill in the gaps and to review all of the other topics, I recommend taking self-paced courses, getting hands-on experience in a few key areas of Azure, and taking practice exams. The easiest way to do that is to go through Cloud Academy’s AZ-300 and AZ-301 Exam Preparation learning paths. Both of them include video-based courses and a practice exam. The AZ-300 learning path also includes hands-on labs in compute, storage, networking, and security.
Watch this short video for an overview of the AZ-300 Exam Preparation:
The AZ-301 learning path, which focuses on concepts rather than configuration, includes additional mini-exams for the compute, data, and networking areas.
Watch this short video for an overview of the AZ-301 Exam Preparation:
Good luck with the exams!
New on Cloud Academy: AWS Solution Architect Lab Challenge, Azure Hands-on Labs, Foundation Certificate in Cyber Security, and Much More
Now that Thanksgiving is over and the craziness of Black Friday has died down, it's now time for the busiest season of the year. Whether you're a last-minute shopper or you already have your shopping done, the holidays bring so much more excitement than any other time of year. Since our...
Understanding Enterprise Cloud Migration
What is enterprise cloud migration? Cloud migration is about moving your data, applications, and even infrastructure from your on-premises computers or infrastructure to a virtual pool of on-demand, shared resources that offer compute, storage, and network services at scale. Why d...
Kubernetes Services: AWS vs. Azure vs. Google Cloud
Kubernetes is a popular open-source container orchestration platform that allows us to deploy and manage multi-container applications at scale. Businesses are rapidly adopting this revolutionary technology to modernize their applications. Cloud service providers — such as Amazon Web Ser...
New on Cloud Academy: AZ-900 Exam Update; MS-100 Exam Prep; PRINCE2 Foundation; Azure, Kubernetes, and Google Hands-on Labs; and Much More
This month, our Content Team really kicked it into overdrive with tons of new content. If you're Team Azure, then you'll be amazed at the number of Azure Courses and Hands-on Labs we published this month alone! At any time, you can find all of our new releases by going to our Training ...
How to Get Hands-on Experience on AWS, Azure, and GCP: Lab Challenges
Meaningful cloud skills require more than book knowledge. Hands-on experience is required to translate knowledge into real-world results. We see this time and time again in studies about how kids and adults best learn — doing the actual learning task is key. Hands-on Labs and Lab Challe...
Which Certifications Should I Get?
As we mentioned in an earlier post, the old AWS slogan, “Cloud is the new normal” is indeed a reality today. Really, cloud has been the new normal for a while now and getting credentials has become an increasingly effective way to quickly showcase your abilities to recruiters and compan...
New on Cloud Academy: ITIL® 4, Microsoft 365 Tenant, Jenkins, TOGAF® 9.1, and more
At Cloud Academy, we're always striving to make improvements to our training platform. Based on your feedback, we released some new features to help make it easier for you to continue studying. These new features allow you to: Remove content from “Continue Studying” section Disc...
Cloud Migration Risks & Benefits
If you’re like most businesses, you already have at least one workload running in the cloud. However, that doesn’t mean that cloud migration is right for everyone. While cloud environments are generally scalable, reliable, and highly available, those won’t be the only considerations dri...
Google Cloud Functions vs. AWS Lambda: The Fight for Serverless Cloud Domination
Serverless computing: What is it and why is it important? A quick background The general concept of serverless computing was introduced to the market by Amazon Web Services (AWS) around 2014 with the release of AWS Lambda. As we know, cloud computing has made it possible for users to ...
New on Cloud Academy: CISSP, AWS, Azure, & DevOps Labs, Python for Beginners, and more…
As Hurricane Dorian intensifies, it looks like Floridians across the entire state might have to hunker down for another big one. If you've gone through a hurricane, you know that preparing for one is no joke. You'll need a survival kit with plenty of water, flashlights, batteries, and n...
How to Unlock Complimentary Access to Cloud Academy
Are you looking to get trained or certified on AWS, Azure, Google Cloud Platform, DevOps, Cloud Security, Python, Java, or another technical skill? Then you'll want to mark your calendars for August 23, 2019. Starting Friday at 12:00 a.m. PDT (3:00 a.m. EDT), Cloud Academy is offering c...
Content Roadmap: AZ-500, ITIL 4, MS-100, Google Cloud Associate Engineer, and More
Last month, Cloud Academy joined forces with QA, the UK’s largest B2B skills provider, and it put us in an excellent position to solve a massive skills gap problem. As a result of this collaboration, you will see our training library grow with additions from QA’s massive catalog of 500+...