Category Archives: 13192

An Open Letter to Microsoft Learning

Yesterday I was notified of a new video touting how Microsoft Learning is revamping its Exchange 2013 exams and certification requirements for Exchange 2013 SP1. As someone who has worked with Microsoft to help rewrite exams for Exchange 2010 SP1, I was interested to see what @MSLearning had to say. I was met with great disappointment when I was greeted with the following video (since removed, but still found on YouTube).






In response I tweeted on Twitter, “One more reason that customers need the MCM program. I weep for our future.




As a Microsoft Certified Master and someone who takes great pride in the 77 Microsoft certifications I hold, I take Microsoft certifications seriously. As a Microsoft Gold Partner ExtraTeam does, as well, and makes its mark in the professional services industry by hiring the the most highly certified consultants and engineers in the industry.



Judging by the feedback I received to my tweet, I know that other IT Pros share my sense of frustration and dismay about the direction of Microsoft Learning.



Veronica Wei Sopher of Microsoft Learning responded to my tweet, genuinely asking for my feedback – so here it is:



  • Take yourself seriously. “Sesame Street” style videos have no place in a professional certification program. As one person wrote, “The costumes? No names? This needs to feel more work related if the sound is muted.” How do you think this looks to hiring managers? I can’t imagine anything like this coming from the Cisco or CCISP certification programs.

  • Be respectful and show ownership. Many IT Pros, such as myself, have invested significant amounts of time preparing for, taking exams, and maintaining their Microsoft certifications. Many do it on their own time and with their own money. It’s embarrassing and insulting to all IT Pros to be associated with a program that makes fun of certifications and the process.

  • Have integrity. Like other MCM candidates, I spent 21 days in Redmond learning 24×7 about Exchange in the MCM program and I’d do it again in a heartbeat. It was one of the best learning experiences of my life. That’s why it was so disappointing when Microsoft Learning canceled the MCM program without any notice, even to the Exchange product group. When Tim Sneath canceled the program in September 2013, he told us that Microsoft Learning was looking into ways to revamp the program. It’s been nearly a year later and we have heard absolutely nothing. At this time, the highest level of certification that IT Pros can achieve is an MCSE, which is pretty much worthless due to cheating and brain dumps. There has to be a better top-tier certification for Microsoft products than what is available now.



4th Generation Hyper-V 2012 R2 Server for Around $1,200 USD – Parts List and Video!

In honor of the release of Windows Server 2012 R2, I’ve updated my latest server build using the latest components. You can use this home Hyper-V server to create your own private cloud, prototype design solutions, test new software, or run your own network like I do . Nothing provides a better learning tool than hands-on experience!



My last build used a third-generation Intel I5-3470S Ivy Bridge Quad-Core CPU. My G4 build uses a fourth-generation Intel I5-4570S Haswell Quad-Core CPU and a larger faster 360GB SSD to run active Hyper-V virtual machines. The new components result in a super-fast 7.5 second boot time!



My Design Requirements

This design is a little less cost-focused so I can use the latest Intel processor, faster SSD drives, and a sleek high-performance micro-ATX case. These new components currently add about $200 to the base $1,000 price, but as usual for high-end technology, those costs will go down.  You can probably build it for less even now.

  • Minimum of 4 cores
  • Windows Server 2012 R2 capable. Hyper-V for Windows Server 2012 R2 requires hypervisor-ready processors with Second Level Address Translation (SLAT).
  • 32GB of fast DDR3 RAM
  • Must support SATA III 6Gb/s drives
  • Must have USB 3.0 ports for future portable devices
  • Low power requirements
  • Small form factor
  • Budget: Around $1,200 USD

The processor I chose is the new Intel I5-4570S Haswell Quad-Core CPU. Even though all four cores run at a quick 2.9 GHz, it only uses 65W. The beautiful aluminum heatsink and fan included with the processor keep the CPU running at a cool 25° Celsius (77° F) at room temperature.



As before in my previous builds, RAM requirements drove most of this design. Memory is single most important component in a Hyper-V host. Pairing up a super-fast processor with quick reliable RAM is the key to a good design.



Gigabyte Motherboard – Durable enough to cut a steak on it! J

Overclocking is not longer only used by gearheads and has moved to the mainstream. Most desktop motherboards include self tuning overclocking to get every gram of power out of their rig. I don’t use any of these features, even though they’re available. I prefer stability over speed – and this server is plenty fast enough!



I’ve also found that while all SSD are fast, some are faster. Drives with high IOPS provide a noticeably faster computer especially during bootup and long drive operations, like copying ISOs and VHDXs.



This build is more stylish than previous builds, using a sleek high quality Rosewill Slim MicroATX case. Most µATX cases are designed for desktops and, as such, they usually have small 250W-300W power supplies. The included Rosewill 300W µATX power supply works just fine for my build since all the components have low power requirements. Peak power requirements for this build is only 186W, giving me plenty of power to spare. This PSU is also designed to keep the case cool by exhausting warm air at the back along with another built-in 80mm on top of the case.



I ordered everything from Amazon because they had the lowest prices. And with Amazon Prime it was all delivered in just two days. Gotta love that! You can even join Prime for free for 30 days and cancel if you want after you get your gear.



Here’s the entire parts list for this server:



QuantityItemDescription
1

Intel Core i5-4570S Quad-Core Desktop Processor 2.9 GHZ 6MB Cache- BX80646I54570S

This is a 4th generation Haswell Intel processor. It includes the newest Intel HD graphics and runs at a very low 65W. 3 year limited warranty.
1Gigabyte GA-B85M-D3H LGA 1150 Intel B85 HDMI SATA 6Gbps USB 3.0 Micro ATX DDR3 1600 Intel Motherboards GA-B85M-D3H

I chose this LGA 1150 Micro ATX motherboard over Intel because it has 4x SATA 6Gb/s and 2x SATA 3Gb/s connectors. It also uses the Intel B85 Express chipset, has an UEFI BIOS, has 2x PCI and 2x PCI-Express slots, and USB 3.0 ports. 3 year limited warranty.
2Corsair Vengeance 16GB (2x8GB) DDR3 1600 MHz (PC3 12800) Desktop Memory (CMZ16GX3M2A1600C10)

1.5V 240-pin dual channel 1600MHz DDR3 RAM with built-in heat spreaders. Lifetime warranty. 10-10-10-27 CAS Latency. Great RAM at a great price. Each package contains 2x 8GB DIMMs (16GB). Be sure to buy two packages.
1Kingston Digital 120GB SSDNow V300 SATA 3 2.5 (7mm height) with Adapter Solid State Drive 2.5-Inch SV300S37A/120G

120GB SATA 6Gb/s (SATA 3) SSD used for the Windows Server 2012 R2 operating system. 85,000 IOPS 4KB random read / 55,000 IOPS 4KB random write. 3 year warranty.
1Corsair Force Series GS Red 360GB (6Gb/s) SATA 3 SF2200 controller Toggle SSD (CSSD-F360GBGS-BK)

360GB SATA 6Gb/s (SATA 3) SSD used for active VMs (the VMs I normally have running, like a domain controller, Exchange servers, Lync servers, etc.). Toggle NAND for up to 90K IOPS random write speed. 3 year limited warranty.
1
2.5-inch SSD/Hard Drive to 3.5-inch Bay Plastic Tray Mount Adapter Kit

Plastic mounting kit for 2.5″ SSD drives. Holds two SSD drives, stacked on top of each other in the left drive bay.
1WD Green 2 TB Desktop Hard Drive: 3.5 Inch, SATA III, 64 MB Cache – WD20EZRX

2TB Western Digital Green (low power) SATA 6Gb/s (SATA 3) drive. Used for storing ISOs, seldom used VMs, base images, etc. I usually configure this drive to sleep after one hour to save even more power. 2 year warranty.
1Lite-On Super AllWrite 24X SATA DVD+/-RW Dual Layer Drive – Bulk – IHAS124-04 (Black)

Great quality DVD burner. It’s cheap, too. I connect this to one of the SATA2 ports on the motherboard. 1 year limited warranty.
1TRENDnet 32-Bit Gigabit Low Profile PCI Adapter, Retail (TEG-PCITXRL)

The Gigabyte motherboard includes one gigabit NIC. It’s best practice to add another gigabit NIC for Hyper-V so you can separate host and VM traffic.
1C&E CNE11445 SATA Data Cable (2pk.)

I need 4x SATA cables for this build. The Gigabyte motherboard comes with two black 18″ SATA cables. Flat (not L shaped) connectors work best for this build. FYI there’s no technical difference between SATA2 and SATA3 cables.
2StarTech 6in 4 Pin Molex to SATA Power Cable Adapter (SATAPOWADAP)

The micro ATX PSU in the Rosewill case has four power connectors for drives, which is just enough — 2x SATA and 2x Molex connectors. Use these adapters to convert the two Molex connectors to SATA. Be sure to buy two.
1Rosewill Slim MicroATX Computer Case with ATX12V Flex 300W Power Supply, Black/Silver R379-M

Sleek mirror-finished micro ATX case with removable drive bay cage for easy access. Includes quiet 300W PSU, 80mm cooling fan on top, 2x front USB 2.0, and audio ports. Excellent quality.



It took about 90 minutes to assemble everything and take these pictures. The following slideshow shows how I put it all together. Click the slideshow to open the hi-res slideshow in a new page.






The first thing you’ll need to do after building your server is install the Windows Server 2012 R2 operating system. This will take a total of about 8 minutes from DVD. Amazing!

Windows Server 2012 R2 will install default drivers for all the server components. Next, you’ll want to update the BIOS to the latest version and install the optimized drivers available for some components. The Gigabyte GA-B85M-D3H motherboard includes a utilities and drivers disk. Pop the disk in and run setup.exe in <DVD Drive>:\Utility\GIGABYTE\AppCenter.  This will install the Gigabyte AppCenter utility on Windows Server 2012 R2.

Use AppCenter to download and install the latest drivers and utilities. AppCenter can be accessed using the icon in the notification area near the clock. Select Live Update and choose the following updates:

First half of the utilities and updates to install.

Second half of the updates to install.

It will take a few minutes to download and install the software and updates. You may need to restart a couple of times to complete the installation. Live Update in AppCenter makes it a lot easier to install the necessary utilities and drivers to keep your hardware up to date.

Installing utilities and updates.
My motherboard shipped with version F4 of the BIOS. At the time of this article, the latest BIOS version is F7. The @BIOS utility in AppCenter was unable to download the latest version for some reason, so I went to http://www.gigabyte.com/products/product-page.aspx?pid=4567#bios and downloaded the F7 BIOS manually, then used the @BIOS utility to install it from the file.

Updating and flashing the BIOS.
Now you can run Windows Disk Management to initialize, format, and label your Corsair 360GB SSD and Western Digital 2TB drives. Be sure to check my article about Windows Server 2012 deduplication to increase your Hyper-V server density. Now you’re ready to install the Hyper-V role and start making VMs!

Here’s a short video of the beast in action!




I’ll be doing a demo of this home Hyper-V server at the MVP Showcase at the MVP Summit, November 17th, 2013.  If you’re an MVP and will be going to the Summit, please drop by the MVP Showcase to see the server in action.

As usual, if you have any questions or comments please leave them below. I hope you enjoy reading about these server builds and take the opportunity to make this investment in your career.



Once an MCM always an MCM

I received the following email last night from the Advanced Certification group.  This saddens me in more ways than I can say.



We are contacting you to let you know we are making a change to the Microsoft Certified Master, Microsoft Certified Solutions Master, and Microsoft Certified Architect certifications. As technology changes so do Microsoft certifications and as such, we are continuing to evolve the Microsoft certification program. Microsoft will no longer offer Masters and Architect level training rotations and will be retiring the Masters level certification exams as of October 1, 2013. The IT industry is changing rapidly and we will continue to evaluate the certification and training needs of the industry to determine if there’s a different certification needed for the pinnacle of our program.

As a Microsoft Certified Master, Microsoft Certified Solutions Master, or Microsoft Certified Architect, you have earned one of the highest certifications available through the Microsoft Certification program. Although individuals will no longer be able to earn these certifications, you will continue to hold the credential and you will not be required to recertify your credential in the future. You will continue to have access to the logos through the MCP site, and your certifications will continue to show in the appropriate section of your transcript, according to Microsoft technology retirement dates. If you are a Charter Member, you will continue to hold the Charter Member designation on your transcript.

Also as a Microsoft Certified Master, Microsoft Certified Solutions Master, or Microsoft Certified Architect, you are a member of an exclusive, highly technical community and you’ve told us this community is one of the biggest benefits of your certification. We encourage you to stay connected with your peers through the main community distribution lists. Although we won’t be adding more people to this community, you continue to be a valued member of it. Over time, Microsoft plans to transition the distribution lists to the community, and, with your consent, will include your information so that it can continue to be a valuable resource for your ongoing technical discussions.

Within the coming weeks, you will receive invitations to an updated community site. This community site will require you to sign in with a Microsoft Account and will replace the need for a Microsoft Partner account as is required today. From this site, you will be able to manage service requests for the Masters and Architects communities – such as ordering welcome kits and managing your contact information for the distribution lists and directory – and accessing training rotation and other community content (if applicable).

If you have not ordered your Welcome Kit, the last day to do so is October 31, 2013. To order your Welcome Kit, please contact the Advanced Cert team at advcert@microsoft.com.

We thank you for your commitment to Microsoft technologies.

Respectfully,

Shelby Grieve

Director, Certification Product Management
Developer & Platform Evangelism


I have invested countless hours and untold effort into Microsoft certifications for my career.  It is very disheartening to see Microsoft discontinue this level of certification.



There are a lot of really smart folks out there with MCSE certifications, which is now the “top tier” certification available.  But there are also a lot of “paper” MCSEs who gained their certifications using “brain dumps”.  Those folks are easily weeded out when the rubber hits the road, but they still cheapen the certification.



One of the most important aspects of the MCM certification program is that we spent three weeks in Redmond training directly with the product group, 7 days a week, 12-20 hours a day.  This was followed by a grueling 3 hour written exam and an 8 hour qualification lab.  Even after all that training, the pass rate was less than 30%.



I will miss not having the opportunity to upgrade in the future, but at least we still have contact info for each other and we still have access to each other through the MCM DL.



And I can still say I’m a Microsoft Certified Master.


I’m a Five Time MVP Award Winner!




I’m pleased to say that Microsoft awarded me the Microsoft Most Valuable Professional award for the fifth year in a row.



Dear Jeff Guillet,

Congratulations! We are pleased to present you with the 2013 Microsoft® MVP Award! This award is given to exceptional technical community leaders who actively share their high quality, real world expertise with others. We appreciate your outstanding contributions in Exchange Server technical communities during the past year.

The Microsoft MVP Award provides us the unique opportunity to celebrate and honor your significant contributions and say “Thank you for your technical leadership.”

Mike Hickman
Director
Community Engagement
Microsoft



I’m honored to be in league with other notable IT professionals.  I’m also proud of the fact that I’m one of the few Microsoft Certified Masters with MVP status in the world.



A large part of this award goes to all the readers of this blog, which celebrated its 2 millionth visitor last week.  Thank you!!



I feel GREAT!








I’m an MCSA

As widely reported by others, those with MCITP certifications will automatically earn the new Microsoft Certified Solutions Associate (MCSA) certification.



This evening I received an email from Microsoft Learning, congratulating me on earning my Microsoft Certification:



Congratulations on earning your Windows Server® 2008 Core certification! We hope you enjoy the benefits of your certification and of membership in the Microsoft Certified Professional community.

WHAT IS NEXT?

Visit the MCP member site (www.microsoft.com/mcp) to download your new logo, certificate, view and share your transcript, and access additional MCP resources. 

. . .

Congratulations once again,
The Microsoft Certification Program Team



I’m not quite sure what the “Windows Server 2008 Core” certification is, but when I checked my transcript I see that I earned the MCSA certification today.



I only need two more exams to earn the MCSE: Private Cloud certification.  I scheduled the first exam for this Friday.  I’ll let you know how it goes.

—-

On a side note, the logo builder on the MCP site added a new logo to profile, Microsoft Certified Systems Administrator.  I hope they get that fixed soon.  I already have one of those.


New Microsoft Certifications Will Expire

In my earlier post today, I wrote that Microsoft’s certification program is being reinvented – Again.  One important fact was briefly mentioned in the video below, taken from the Microsoft News Center website: The new MCSE and MCSD certifications will expire.







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At 1:07 the video explains, “Those holding an Expert certification are required to recertify every 2-3 years.”  The Expert tier is the new MCSE and MCSD certification.  This is supposed to ensure that their skills are always up to date.



It’s unclear whether “out-dated” certifications will simply expire or whether they will completely drop off the transcript altogether.  I hope it’s the former.  In my career as a consultant, I work with many customers with systems that are not “current” and are out of extended support.  It’s important for these customers to know that I’m certified on their old (and new) platform when performing a migration.



I can also imagine hiring managers for companies with older platforms would be interested in hiring IT Pros with certifications on what they run, not just the latest and greatest.



What do you think?  Leave a comment below.


Microsoft Reinvents Certifications – Again

Everything old is new again.  Today Microsoft announced that it has reinvented its certification program to directly address technology’s evolution to the cloud.  According to their surveys, “Top of mind for companies today is making sure they have the right skills and people in place to help them fully realize the benefits the cloud has to offer.”



To that end, Microsoft is reinventing their certification programs to help hiring managers find people who have the skills they expect in their IT environments, now and in the future.  The revamped program is a completely new approach to ensure certified individuals have the skills required to oversee an organization’s journey to the cloud.  Everyone wants to go to the almighty cloud, right?  Microsoft is betting on it.








According to Microsoft News Center:

The new certification framework has been streamlined to three skill levels to make it easier to navigate:
  • The Associate Level comprises the Microsoft Certified Solutions Associate (MCSA) certification, which provides a clear starting point for job seekers early in their technology career. Candidates must prove they have the required skills to hit the ground running. This level represents a foundation and is the prerequisite certification necessary to earn an MCSE.
  • The Expert Level comprises the Microsoft Certified Solutions Expert (MCSE) or its developer equivalent, Microsoft Certified Solutions Developer (MCSD), and is Microsoft’s flagship certification for individuals who want to lead their organization’s transition to the cloud. These certifications recognize IT professionals and developers with broad and deep skill sets across Microsoft solutions.
  • The Master Level is the Microsoft Certified Solutions Master (MCSM) certification that differentiates the select few from their peers and represents the highest bar of knowledge and skills validation.
Microsoft is calling MCSE its flagship credential because it is the level that most people will aspire to, says Don Field, senior director of product management for Microsoft. It validates an individual’s ability to design and build solutions that may integrate multiple technologies, versions and products. These are the new kinds of skills that are needed for the cloud.


Microsoft had to ditch the MCSE (Microsoft Certified System Engineer) certification in 2009, due to several countries and municipalities having a problem with the term “Engineer”.  In some locations “Engineer” has a very distinct meaning and is regulated by their governments.  The MCSE certification was replaced with the MCITP (Microsoft Certified IT Professional) certification series and a plethora of very targeted certifications (MCTS).  


This added a ton of confusion, especially for those like me who invested for years in the MCSE certification.  Microsoft Learning went so far as to publish an article, “The MCSE is dead, its time to move on“.  Now that they’re bringing the MCSE back, I can imagine the new level of confusion this might bring, especially for all those hiring managers.  “Are you a new MCSE or an old MCSE?”

This will undoubtedly cause issues for those who are already on the MCITP track, which can be as many as 7 exams and take a long time to complete.  Microsoft hasn’t announced how that transition will happen, or how grandfathering might work.  There are other changes in the new certification tracks that I’m not at liberty to talk about.  Those details will be released by Micosoft later.

As an IT professional who made my career around Microsoft certifications, I have a vested interest in how this all works out.  I have been an MCSE since 1999 with Windows NT4 and followed every twist and turn that Microsoft Learning has thrown my way.  I upgraded all my MCSE and MCP certs to MCITP and MCTS over the years.  I became a Microsoft Certified Master (MCM) Exchange Server just last year.  Now I’m looking at re-branding myself all over.  Again.

What are your thoughts?  Stay tuned for more details…

Congratulations 2012 Microsoft MVP!




I am pleased to say that Microsoft has re-awarded me Microsoft MVP status again for 2012!  This is my fourth consecutive MVP award, this year for Microsoft Exchange.  I’m very proud of this award, as it is given to exceptional technical community leaders who actively share their high quality, real world expertise with others.


My Exchange MCM Plaque




I was surprised to receive an Microsoft Certified Master plaque today via UPS.  It was accompanied by a letter from Christina Yoshida, Director of Advanced Certifications for Microsoft Learning.



The welcome letter says, “Congratulations on earning your Microsoft Certified Master certification! Enclosed in thei Welcome Kit are tools to acknowledge your new level of certification, the highest level of technical certification currently granted by Microsoft.”



It includes a number of MCM benefits, those most important of which is access to the MCM community distibution list.

Who are the Exchange MVPs and MCMs?

Legendary Exchange guru Tony Redmond wrote an article on Windows IT Pro magazine about Exchange MVPs.  You can read his article here.



Tony is also an active Exchange MVP and has been for many years.  He discusses the number of MVPs (Exchange and others), demographics, and what it takes to be an MVP.  It’s an interesting read.  I knew that the number of Exchange MVPs was shrinking (used to be around 300 at it’s peak I’ve been told), but didn’t know it’s down to 106.



If you’re interested in seeing who my fellow Exchange MCMs are, visit the Meet the Microsoft Certified Masters and Microsoft Certified Architects site.