The Microsoft Certified Systems Administrator (MCSA) credential is the latest addition to Microsoft’s list of certification options. It’s also the most controversial and has caused quite a bit of confusion among individuals who are already certified, as well as those seeking certification. For those of you who are new to the certification game, let me explain.
Microsoft has offered the Microsoft Certified Systems Engineer (MCSE) credential for several years. That credential is largely about networking with Microsoft products. It’s a grueling course of study, and candidates must pass seven rigorous exams to achieve certification. MCSA is also about networking with Microsoft products. However, candidates need only pass four (or perhaps fewer) equally rigorous exams to become certified.
Many existing MCSEs are concerned that candidates with the MCSA credential will be competing for their jobs and will be willing to accept less pay. However, it’s important to bear in mind that the two credentials actually reflect two different types of jobs within an IT organization. Whereas the MCSE qualifies its holder to design new networks from the ground up, the MCSA is all about managing existing Windows 2000 and .NET server networks.
According to Microsoft, recent research has shown that there’s a “demand gap” in organizations between the number of Microsoft Windows 2000 systems administrators needed and the number of skilled individuals available to do the job. The MCSA certification covers the job skills defined by the National Workforce Center for Emerging Technologies (NWCET) for the positions of network administrator, network technician, technical support specialist, systems administrator, information systems administrator, network engineer and IT engineer. The MCSA credential was developed to help close the gap between the number of people needed to fill those jobs and the number of people currently available to do so. Microsoft claims it is committed to informing hiring managers of the differences between MCSE and MCSA, so those managers can better determine which individuals are best suited to specific jobs within the organization.
Who Qualifies for MCSA?
Microsoft suggests that MCSA candidates should have six to 12 months of experience implementing and administering a desktop operating system and network operating system and managing clients and servers in networking environments that have most of the following characteristics and requirements:
- From 200 to 26,000 supported users.
- From two to 100 distinct physical locations.
- Typical networking services and resources including messaging, file and print sharing, database access, proxy servers or firewalls, client computer management and remote access.
- Connectivity will include intranets, such as connecting branch offices to a corporate network, as well as connecting corporate networks to the Internet.
Of course, the experience part always presents something of a catch-22. If you can’t get the credential without the job experience, and you can’t get job without the credential, how are you going to get either one? Fortunately, one can acquire an MCSA credential without on-the-job experience. That’s not to say that the exams are easy. In fact, the MCSA exams are as rigorous as the MCSE exams. But the student only needs to pass four exams for the MCSA, as opposed to seven for the MCSE.
The four exams that the candidate must pass to qualify for the MCSA cover skills and concepts that can be learned by study coupled with some hands-on experiencewith actual hardware. But that hardware need not be part of a production network in a large corporate environment. A small personal or classroom network can provide sufficient practice needed to pass all four exams. This allows younger students, and those with existing jobs outside of IT, the opportunity to get certified and accepted for a job within the IT industry.
MCSE vs. MCSA
Candidates seeking certification in Microsoft networking can achieve the MCSA first and apply credits earned during that course of study to acquiring the more advanced MCSE credential. There are some advantages to going for the MCSA first, as summarized below:
- MCSA is more readily attainable because the certification can be achieved with as few as four exams, as opposed to the seven exams required for MCSE.
- MCSA focuses on the modern Internet TCP/IP networking standards used in Windows 2000 and the .NET server products. Legacy systems, such as NetBIOS found in Windows NT, are de-emphasized in the MCSA track. So the student is ensured she is learning about technologies that have a long future ahead of them.
- The MCSA credential will show potential employers that the job applicant has sufficient knowledge to administer existing Windows 2000 and .NET TCP/IP networks, which in turn opens the door to getting a job and the additional experience needed to get the more advanced MCSE certification.
So, in the long run, the MCSA credential is good for employers and employees alike.
The widespread acceptance of the Internet as an industry standard has made TCP/IP the networking protocol of choice. This acceptance is clearly reflected in the MCSA certification, which focuses on the Windows 2000 and .NET server products. Unlike the Windows NT product line, which relied on NetBIOS and a whole slew of Microsoft vendor-specific protocols, Windows 2000 and .NET adhere strongly to the Internet standards defined in the Internet Engineering Task Force (IETF) Request for Comments (RFC). Of course, MCSE candidates can also focus on TCP/IP networks in their studies. But for the certification “newbie,” the built-in focus on TCP/IP helps the student stay focused on current and emerging technologies automatically.
Achieving the MCSA credential is no small feat. The candidate must pass one Client Operating System exam, and two Network System Exams:
Client Operating System Exams
- (one required)
- Exam #70-210: Installing, Configuring and Administering Microsoft Windows 2000 Professional
- Exam #70-270: Installing, Configuring and Administering Microsoft Windows XP Professional
Network System Exams (two required)
- Exam #70-215: Installing, Configuring and Administering Microsoft Windows 2000 Server
- Exam #70-275: Installing, Configuring and Administering Microsoft Windows .NET Server
- Exam #70-218: Managing a Microsoft Windows 2000 Network Environment
- Exam #70-278 Managing a Microsoft Windows .NET Server Network Environment
Elective Exam (one required)
- Exam #70-028: Administering Microsoft SQL Server 7.0
- Exam #70-081: Implementing and Supporting Microsoft Exchange Server 5.5
- Exam #70-086: Implementing and Supporting Microsoft Systems Management Server 2.0
- Exam #70-088: Implementing and Supporting Microsoft Proxy Server 2.0
- Exam #70-216: Implementing and Administering a Microsoft Windows 2000 Network Infrastructure
- Exam #70-240: Microsoft Windows 2000 Accelerated Exam for MCPs Certified on Microsoft Windows NT 4.0
- Exam #70-224: Installing, Configuring and Administering Microsoft Exchange 2000 Server
- Exam #70-227: Installing, Configuring and Administering Microsoft Internet Security and Acceleration (ISA) Server 2000, Enterprise Edition
- Exam #70-228: Installing, Configuring and Administering Microsoft SQL Server 2000 Enterprise Edition
- Exam #70-244: Supporting and Maintaining a Microsoft Windows NT Server 4.0 Network
- CompTIA A+ and CompTIA Network+ or CompTIA A+ and CompTIA Server+
Certain candidates can use existing credentials as proven competence within an area of expertise.