How the SQL 2012 MCSA changes everything

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SQL 2012 is an advanced cloud-ready, big-data capable and high-performance database platform. Microsoft has already made it clear that it can compete as a top database vendor with SQL 2008 and have been vigorously capitalizing on that and solidifying its position with each release.

Back in the SQL 2008 days

As a sysadmin who has always been responsible for managing many systems that rely on SQL back ends like SharePoint, System Center, Kaspersky Antivirus Admin Server and now VMware vCenter, I have made sure that I can handle those databases. So a couple of years ago, I got certified as MCTS: Microsoft SQL Server 2008, Implementation and Maintenance, by passing a single exam that is focused on administration tasks that were almost all done through the SQL Management Studio GUI and with little need to understand or practice T-SQL.

Moreover, if I wanted to become a trained MCITP in Database Administration 2008, I only needed to pass one additional design exam also focused on the same administration concepts, but from a designer perspective. Having a higher SQL credential like the MCITP with little knowledge of T-SQL did not sound right to me. I was concerned that it may be a disadvantage in job interviews as interviewers tend to expect much more with the higher certificate, so I opted to not take it.

Back then there were other SQL MCTS and MCITP certificates focused on database development and business intelligence that required a deep level of T-SQL skills and knowledge. Since I am not a developer, I had little interest to explore those options. That caused me to miss taping into a great source of power.

Then, SQL 2012 MCSA changed everything

With the revamped MCSA and MCSE certification, Microsoft did a much better job of mapping certification requirements to job roles and insuring that even on the MCSA level in SQL 2012 you can demonstrate the essential skills in developing and maintaining mission-critical environments based on SQL databases.

To earn the MCSA: SQL Server 2012 certification you need to pass three exams:

This means that you cannot become an MCSA in SQL Server 2012 without being able to write T-SQL queries or without a good understanding of SQL Server's business intelligence capabilities. This implies that transitioning from MCTS/MCITP on SQL 2008 to MCSA/MCSE on SQL 2012 will not be an easy task.

Upgrading certifications to SQL 2012

If you have any MCTS on SQL Server 2008, you need to pass two exams to earn your MCSA: SQL 2012:

Before I move to my experience with those exams, I want you to know that if you have an MCITP on SQL 2008, you may want to consider one of the following exams after passing to the two listed above to upgrade your MCITP to an MCSE in SQL 2012:

  • Exam 70-459: Transition Your MCITP: Database Administrator 2008 or MCITP: Database Developer 2008 to MCSE: Data Platform
  • Exam 70-460: Transition Your MCITP: Business Intelligence Developer 2008 to MCSE: Business Intelligence

My upgrade experience

It took me more than a month of hard study to feel confident enough to attempt 70-457 and 70-458 exams as I had very little skill in T-SQL querying, and almost no knowledge about business intelligence. Even worse, I had no interest in knowing about business intelligence before I started. But that soon changed when I understood how simple and elegant it is.

The first thing you need to understand is that 70-457 and 70-458 are two parts of one whole!! 70-457 is half querying and half administration, while 70-458 is half administration and half data warehouse. It escapes me why would Microsoft decided to include the administration part in the two exams instead of simply requiring one administration exam (70-462), and a two-part exam divided between querying and data warehouse.

In addition, I am almost sure that I did get some repeated exam questions in the administration parts of both 70-457 and 70-458. I cannot be 100 percent sure that they were the same. However, since I have done both exams in 24 hours, I am pretty sure that some of the material was repeated and common to both.

I am definitely sure that I got a lot of high availability and clustering questions in Exam 70-457, while they're only listed under the objectives of Exam 70-458 on the Microsoft website! Personally, this was to my advantage as I have already implemented high availability and clustering in real life and I have studied to do both exams at the same time. However, if you were a student following the stated objectives as a guide, you'd have a nasty surprise.

My most important advice is to study for both exams before you attempt them. Not only because the administration parts overlap, but also because you'll need to rely heavily on T-SQL to perform many administration tasks in the 2012 MCSA exams.

Both exams have the newer interactive type questions designed by Microsoft. Although I was not asked to write queries, I had to build many queries during order-list questions by choosing the relevant parts and ordering them in a meaningful way. Active screen questions were also common and even many multiple choice questions involved exhibits and lines of code with slight differences in them. Those exams are not easy and you sure need to know your T-SQL before you attempt them.

Why two exams in order to upgrade?

Actually, it did not sound right to me at first that I needed to take two exams to transition from SQL 2008 to SQL 2012. I only needed one exam (70-417) to transition from Windows Server 2008 to Windows Server 2012. 70-417 is a three-section exam with each section covering one of 70-410, 70-411 and 70-412 exams' objectives. It covered everything well, I did not need to take leave off work a couple of times, and I only needed to pay for one exam as opposed to two.

A three-part exam with 15 questions on querying and 15 questions on data warehouse while the rest is dedicated to Administration would have made more sense than repeating about five questions in the administration section of both exams and would have done the trick.

So, why are there two exams?

I am sure that making more money in exam fees is not the reason although many may believe so. I believe that the real reason is an attempt to guard the value of the MCSA certificate. To explain, I need to use some simple arithmetic:

As stated earlier if you have no prior certificates, you need three exams to become an MCSA. That applies to both MCSA Windows Server 2012 and MCSA SQL Server 2012.

If you want to upgrade to MCSA Windows Server 2012, you will need to start from an MCSA Windows Server 2008 or a Server MCITP. This means a minimum of two exams plus the upgrade exam.

However, for MCSA: SQL Server 2012 Microsoft is giving us the chance to upgrade from an MCTS. As you may remember MCTS requires passing only one exam. If Microsoft created a one-exam upgrade path, they will be creating a shortcut to MCSA by passing only two exams. This is a shortcut that new candidates may abuse.

Anyway, an MCSA in SQL Server is indeed valuable and the knowledge I had to acquire in T-SQL has definitely helped me in my administration role.

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Ashraf Al-Dabbas

is vExpert, VCP, 3xMCSE, MCITP, CCNP, ITIL v3 Certified and an MBA holder. He has 10+ years of diverse experience working in a large organizations in systems infrastructure support, leading corporate wide IT initiatives, organizing and conduction projects and social activities.

For Ashraf, IT is a passion not a profession. He is self-motivated, persistent and full of positive attitude. Exploring new technologies, learning new knowledge, visiting new places and meeting new people are the things that drive him forward. He likes to write, share ideas and interact with different people. As part of his upbringing in the Jubilee School for gifted students (Amman, Jordan), Ashraf learned to understand, accept then debate all points of view objectively and respectfully.