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Microsoft cloud certifications Windows admins should pursue

The surge in remote work means admins with skills with Microsoft's cloud technologies are in demand. You can prove your proficiency by acquiring these Microsoft certifications.

With so much of the world's labor force now working from home, the sky's the limit for IT professionals with skills related to the cloud.

Administrators with limited experience beyond Windows management had to expand their cloud-based skills quickly when the coronavirus pandemic struck. This was especially true of offerings such as Microsoft Teams, a product specifically geared toward remote work. Microsoft offers several cloud-related certifications to help admins demonstrate their skills to their employers as part of a career development path and also to showcase their expertise to other companies.

Microsoft made a major change to its certification program in February 2020 when it announced the retirement of its Microsoft Certified Solutions Associate (MCSA), Microsoft Certified Solutions Developer (MCSD) and Microsoft Certified Solutions Expert (MCSE) certifications. The company said it was shifting away from these monolithic certifications and moving to a role-based focus, meaning Microsoft certifications would now align with specific job roles such as DevOps engineer, developer and administrator. Administrators who want to show their abilities in newer technologies can pursue several Microsoft cloud certifications by passing exams that have been tailored to specific job roles.

AZ-104: Microsoft Azure Administrator

One of the first exams to consider when pursuing a Microsoft cloud certification is AZ-104: Microsoft Azure Administrator. The Microsoft Azure cloud platform is a natural area for a traditional on-premises Windows administrator to shift their focus. Azure features several offerings designed to replace longstanding products based in the data center, such as Windows file shares.

Passing the AZ-104 exam lets IT professionals prove they can implement, manage and monitor resources within the Azure cloud, such as identity management, governance and virtual networks. The skills measured by this exam include:

  • Manage Azure identities and governance.
  • Implement and manage storage.
  • Deploy and manage Azure compute resources.
  • Configure and manage virtual networking.
  • Monitor and back up Azure resources.

Many of the certifications that Microsoft offers require that IT pros pass multiple exams. However, you can earn a Microsoft Certified Azure Administrator Associate certification by passing the AZ-104 exam.

MS-700 Managing Microsoft Teams

With such a large number of employees continuing to work remotely, Microsoft Teams skills are in high demand. Another cloud-related exam to consider is MS-700: Managing Microsoft Teams.

Passing the MS-700 exam shows a proficiency with how to plan, deploy and manage the various Microsoft Teams components, including chat, apps, audio and video conferencing, calling and devices certified for Microsoft Teams. The specific skills the exam measures include:

  • Plan and configure a Microsoft Teams environment.
  • Manage chat, calling and meetings.
  • Manage Microsoft Teams and app policies.

Passing the MS-700 exam earns the Microsoft 365 Certified Teams Administrator Associate certification. No additional exams are required for this certification.

MS-100: Microsoft 365 Identity and Services

Another exam that should be on your short list of Microsoft cloud administrator certifications is MS-100: Microsoft 365 Identity and Services. This exam focuses primarily on tenant management tasks related to the Power Platform, user identities, security and compliance. According to Microsoft, IT professionals will need to have a background in basic enterprise networking technologies, such as DNS and DHCP, PowerShell and Active Directory to pass this test. The skills that are measured on this exam include:

  • Design and implement Microsoft 365 services.
  • Manage user identity and roles.
  • Manage access and authentication.
  • Plan Office 365 workloads and applications.

The MS-100 exam counts as credit toward the Microsoft 365 Certified Enterprise Administrator Expert certification.  

MS-101: Microsoft 365 Mobility and Security

The MS-101 exam covers the deployment, management and migration of Microsoft 365 services. As is the case with the MS-100 exam, this test places a heavy emphasis on identity management, security and compliance. Microsoft also expects administrators who take the exam to have a solid foundation with essential IT areas such as PowerShell and Active Directory, server management and enterprise networking fundamentals, including DNS and DHCP.

The exam measures the following skills:

  • Implement modern device services.
  • Implement Microsoft 365 security and threat management.
  • Manage Microsoft 365 governance and compliance.

Like the MS-100 exam, the MS-101 exam counts as credit toward the Microsoft 365 Certified Enterprise Administrator Expert certification.

This certification also requires one of the following certifications:

  • Microsoft 365 Certified Modern Desktop Administrator Associate;
  • Microsoft 365 Certified Security Administrator Associate;
  • Microsoft 365 Certified Messaging Administrator Associate;
  • Microsoft 365 Certified Teams Administrator Associate; or
  • Microsoft Certified Identity and Access Administrator Associate.

Once you have acquired one of the prerequisite certifications listed above, you will need to pass the MS-100 and MS-101 exams.

Where to find study resources for certification exams

Regardless of the exam, it doesn't hurt to use as many study resources as possible. Microsoft offers two primary options for exam preparation.

First, sign up for an instructor-led training course. These classes are specifically designed to help you to pass a particular exam and are based on Microsoft-authorized curriculum. These courses used to be taught in person but have mostly switched to an online-learning format.

The other option is self-study by using whatever helpful resources you find including books, tech articles, YouTube videos or third-party training resources.

Microsoft Learning site on GitHub offers links to free hands-on labs to practice the skills measured by the exam.

Another resource is Mindhub, which offers official Microsoft practice exams for each certification. Microsoft provides links to these practice exams on its certification pages. There are other vendors who offer training tests, but Microsoft guarantees that Mindhub exams cover all the test objectives in depth.

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