Monday, August 18, 2014

My Road to MCSA Series | 70-410 Edition, PT. 2 - Lab Setup

The Lab

I've completed setting up a small test lab using a few tools that are my personal favorites. Below is a sample of what that lab looks like from a 10,000 ft. view:

As you can see from the above configuration, this is a really simple setup. This configuration appears to be sufficient enough for now based on what I'm reading and learning. I have configured one VM guest as a core instance and the other as a full GUI instance, a fully functional, enterprise grade firewall router virtualized, which properly segments and isolates my physical network from my virtual network.

Something that has never worked well for me in the past with Virtualbox has been networking. This is where VMware Workstation shined for so long. Well, I can setup a robust lab using Virtualbox and pFSense. It took me only a few minutes literally to have this setup and configured, the ISO is less than 100Mb, and with it being FreeBSD based, there's really not a lot of overhead or resource demand.

I like to have remote access to these VM guests too so I can study with them even when I'm not in the lab. That's where Pertino comes in. Each VM guest has (and will have) a connection to my Pertino SDN. This will enable RDP access, and even RSAT access from my Windows 8.1 testing laptop.

To build this lab environment for yourself, here's a great guide to follow (has to be the best, most complete guide to setting up a virtual lab than I have seen in a long time!). You will want to obtain the following software / tools:

As of this evening, my lab is setup and ready for activities.

My Road to MCSA Series | 70-410 Edition, PT. 1

I'm starting out on my very first Microsoft Certification path. I've chose to pursue the MS 70-410: Installing & Configuring Windows Server 2012 R2. This is a very big deal for me, as I've been waiting for too long to get this certification, and it's the first certification I have pursued since I last obtained my CompTIA Security+ certification. That was sometime in 2009.

The reason I chose to to pursue a track focusing on Server 2012 R2 is because it's my favorite Microsoft server OS, mostly because I enjoy PowerShell and Hyper-V 3.0.  At one point, I was dabbling in MS 70-680 (Server 2008 R2) but that OS is getting long in the tooth, and I didn't see much value in pursuing it any further. I still have the book, use it for reference at work because I still have a Server 2008 R2 system in production but all new servers I have deployed in the past 6 months have all been Server 2012 R2.

So, you may be wondering, "Well, what are you using and what is your plan to get this certification?".

I'll tell you.

After much consideration, I decided to drop $234 + shipping on the CD + Voucher option that Transcender offers. The reason why I chose this as an option was because I'm used to practice drills coupled with reading and labs. I also wanted to save a few dollars on the Prometric voucher, and, something that is a huge plus for me since I've never attempted a Microsoft exam before, is that they have a 6-Months Pass the First Time Guarantee. I didn't see any other vendors offering that kind of guarantee. I don't expect to have to use it but it's reassuring to say the least. Obtaining the material was smooth, as I did not have to wait long after purchasing it to begin using the practice questions. Transcender allows you to download them after purchase.


As far as books go, I've seen great debates and conflicting reviews on which books to get. Here are the two books I'm sourcing from:

You can still use the 2012 books you have, there's no need to go out and buy new books. Some people will say you must do this, but here's the dirty little secret. Head over to TechNet, and look at this list. Once you have done that, head over to the Microsoft Virtual Academy and watch this series. Which brings me to my next couple of resources:

Video Training

I'm a huge fan of Pluralsight videos. This is the same company that used to have the old TrainSignal training series. The videos are of high quality and easy to follow. There are a couple of other resources, CBT Nuggets being one of them, which also have high quality series. QuickCert offers training with labs too, but are considerably more expensive. It's a great choice though if you don't have the ability or access to equipment and software to study for this exam.

The next resource I strongly recommend taking a look at if you are on a budget, are the high quality resources of are those of The Microsoft Virtual Academy. This is a hidden gem, not only for certification review but for everyday IT from topics geared towards the new tech to more advanced topics geared towards refreshing skills of the seasoned IT pro. Another hidden gem that can be of use is the MSDN Virtual Labs resource on TechNet.

Additional resources

If you haven't already done so, obtain trial media for Server 2012 R2 from DreamSpark or directly from TechNet Evaluation Center. DreamSpark gives you a substantially longer time to build labs and TechNet limits you to 180 days. This is where virtualization can be helpful. Build a single image, take a snapshot, then all you have to do is just get a new key. Makes building a lab much faster and easier. Also, LEARN 2 POWERSHELL!! Just going through the first few questions in my practice deck contain a lot of powershell cmdlet based questions. Get-Help [cmdlet] -showwindow , do it now!

Training Regime

My goal is to hit at least 10+ questions a few times a day on each domain, and in a few weeks start going through practice exams. I will slowly build up while also reading material and practicing concepts on my few virtual machines and an old box I have at home. I haven't scheduled my exam yet but being optimistic, I would like to take it mid-November. 

Final Thoughts Before I Begin This Journey

I think I may post regular updates and make this a series of sorts, document what topics I'm struggling with and what I have learned along the way. The test may not be as hard for me as I'm thinking, but again, I have not sat for a Microsoft exam before. This is truly a new frontier for me and I hope that it opens some new doors in my career. This is something I have been meaning to do for a long time now but have had too many excuses. Some have been just plain fear of failure, others have been time and lack of funds. Recent life events have removed that last excuse from the equation, and now all I have left to overcome is the fear of failure. 

I will not fail.