MCSA - Still the Route to Windows Server Administration learning?

MCSA - Still the Route to Windows Server Administration learning?

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My Introduction to Server Administration

I have talked on this blog about the many consultancy jobs and work I have experienced in my IT career. However, I have not gone into much detail on the blood sweat and tears of the training aspect and keeping your skills "up-to-date". We all know in the technical world how fast things move, when I first started in IT cloud computing was a "Buzz" word and platforms like Azure were starting to mature, Windows 2012/R2 was in full swing with 2016 on the horizon. Naturally, my training plan with my employer began with MCSA Windows 10 (banged this out in about a month) I was keen to move away from "client" and get into the nitty gritty of server administration. MCSA Windows Server 2016 and MCSE were next on the agenda.

Just to add extra context to my humble beginnings, I had just graduated from University in Computer Networking and Security. My skill set involved configuring Cisco switches and routers and I had CCNA to my name. I had never touched a Windows server in my life, I didn't even know what a VM was. I was in this bubble with just a console cable I used to configure network devices. I planned to take my networking to the next level with CCNP and get some experience under my belt, (not how my plan turned out). As far as networking goes, ironically, today I work on more HP Aruba (I will also save this for another day).

So, enter Microsoft Windows Server. I got hooked and my next goal was MCSA Windows Server 2016, 3 exams to certification. I passed this and progressed onto MCSE (I will save this for another day). Microsoft shortly after changed their certification tracks to role-based ones that fit in with their Azure cloud. Sadly server certifications disappeared completely which left a lot of angry "on-premise" users complaining there was nothing to validate their skills since the deprecation of the MCSA Windows 2016.

Angry Mob Pitchforks Stock Photos, Pictures & Royalty-Free Images - iStock

Fast forward another 2-3 years and Microsoft has now released AZ800-801 Hybrid Server certification. I took these in the beta formats passing AZ800 but flopping AZ801 marginally. Not bad considering there was only a hazy blueprint and experience to go off. Now while the AZ800 exams do fill a void that was left I still feel there is a hole in the server infrastructure subject.

Now I know a lot of server infrastructure is moving to a hybrid focus or completely cloud. But on-premise server infrastructure is not going to just disappear overnight but some skills have.

MCSA 2016 Coverage

Let us look at the MCSA 2016, 3 exams to pass, that cover the following subjects:

  • 70-740 Installation, Storage and Compute - Learn to install OS manage Storage technologies such as ISCSI, Storage Spaces Direct, Hyper-V virtualization and failover clustering (Huge subjects on their own).

  • 70-741 Networking - DNS, DHCP, IPAM, NAT, RAS, VPN, NPS and SD-WAN.

  • 70-742 Identity - Active Directory, Group Policy, Certificate Services, Federated Services, Rights Management (Again Huge Topics).

(you can purchase these books as a bundle or the individual books can be purchased on Kindle if that's more your thing! )

Windows Server 2016 - Official Study guide bundle (Paid link)

70-740 Installation, Storage and Compute (Kindle) (Paid Link)

70-741 Networking (Kindle) (Paid Link)

70-742 Identity (Kindle) (Paid Link)

while a bunch of these topics has managed to find a place in AZ800-801 they have been seriously condensed. You take all the above and then squeeze it further to add all the cloud hybrid elements.

I felt the AZ800-801 covered a fraction of this and felt slightly....rushed. Don't get me wrong the hybrid element is a great addition.

Lets now take a look at AZ800-801

AZ800-801 Coverage

The learning materials for 800-801 have been condensed into two books this time around. So like I said taking all the core concepts covered in MCSA (where applicable) and then squeezed in the hybrid elements on top. It's probably easier for me to cover the subjects that seemed to be missing when I did the BETA

  • Certificate Services (ADCS)

  • Federated Services (ADFS)

  • DFSR

  • Data Deduplication

  • Rights Management

  • certain DNS/DHCP topics


  • Load balancing

  • Storage Spaces Direct

  • NPS

It does seem some are now included to some degree within the later blueprint which is a good start. They also have course material on Microsoft Learn. While the subject books are great I still feel there is a lot of worth and depth still in the old MCSA books that these new books don't cover (excluding Hybrid elements).

Again I still recommend the study guides paired with the old MCSA guides in the previous section you can't go wrong. The added hybrid element will also supplement your cloud journey as well.

(I have linked to the AZ-800/801 guides below if you are considering picking a copy up).

AZ-800 Administering Windows Server Hybrid Core infrastructure (Paid Link)

AZ-801 Configuring Windows Server Hybrid Advanced Services (Paid Link)

Recommended Learning approach

I often have colleagues come to me and ask what exam should I do. And I ask them, well what do you want to achieve? Do you want to work with server infrastructure? Do you want to be an expert in the Azure cloud? Do you want to be a network engineer?

A recent colleague said they were interested in the server infrastructure side of things, what do I study for?

Now, yes, newcomers looking to move into consultancy if they want to validate their skills in server administration I point them toward the AZ800-801 exams. If they want to master Azure go look at AZ-104. However, I strongly advise as MANDATORY LEARNING you go pick up the following texts for the MCSA Server 2016 as the materials and what you learn for server administration is still paramount I can't stress this enough.

Validating skills

I will often ask the following on their learning journey:

  • Can you effectively install ADDS and promote the server to a domain controller?

  • Can you demote a domain controller and remove ADDS?

  • Can you name all FSMO roles?

  • can you migrate all FSMO roles?

  • Do you know how to migrate domain controllers?

  • Do you fully understand how DNS works Internally and Externally?

  • Can you work with DHCP Server role, can you configure failover?

  • Can you work with File server shares/NTFS permissions?

  • Can you migrate a file server/ cut over shares and permissions and data?

  • Can you work and understand DFSR?

  • Can you set up PKI infrastructure (Certificate Services)? Single and multi-tier?

  • Can you configure a failover cluster and perform live/storage migrations?

  • Can you implement SAN storage into a failover cluster?

  • Can configure Storage spaces direct in a failover cluster?

  • Can you work with ISCSI/MPIO?

  • Can you use RRAS to create VPN endpoints/NAT?

  • Can you configure and work with Hyper-V and virtual Machines/V switches?

  • Can you effectively work with Group Policies, and understand computer and user policies and how to target and apply them?

Key topics not covered by these books but also frequently dealt with:

  • Remote Desktop Services (RDS) - can you deploy understand all the roles and publish out?

  • Direct Access

  • Always on VPN - I see this as the paramount understanding of a lot of the above roles this technology covers

    (see my blog post on this): Always On VPN (

Please note, this is not to be cruel, I'm talking about individuals that can stand up a server in Azure, Can deploy Intune and manage endpoints and deal with Azure services every day but when it comes to getting serious about server administration and knowing your roles, they can't yet configure or understand the intricacy of a domain controller at a basic level and I find it quite sad as the departure of MCSA left this skills gap which is slowly being reversed by AZ800-801 thankfully. The ironic thing is all this is still needed to manage Windows servers in the cloud anyway! Bonkers!


So this is my opinion on what you should strive to do or commit to on your learning path for server administration and MCSA materials are still gold.

While it's great Microsoft is filling the void with the new hybrid server exams on the AZ800-801. PLEASE PLEASE PLEASE go back in time and make time to read and make the MCSA 2016 materials part of your study process for more in-depth coverage. It will solidify your server skills and even make taking the AZ800 exam easier. More to the point it will make you a better Server infrastructure engineer/Consultant overall. I still have these on hand today for refreshing my knowledge on certain aspects. Also, remember practice practice practice utilize Hyper-V build and Lab your configurations virtually and you will do well.

Let's not also forget these skills also carry over into the cloud as you still need to do it on the servers in the sky.

Have you done MCSA Windows Server 2016 or previous exams, how would you compare them to AZ800-801? What does your learning experience look like when it comes to server administration? What advice would you give to newcomers to the field? Let me know in the comments.

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