Exam Reviews

Practical Management

This core exam for the new MCSA certification runs broad rather than deep on many of the concepts you need to understand to administer Windows 2000.

The MCSA has been portrayed by some as just another marketing campaign to bolster the MCP program. There’s probably some truth to this, but it also happens to address a real issue in the day-to-day management of IT systems. This practicality will mark the success of this new certification. The MCSA certification has the distinct possibility of numerically overshadowing the MCSE in that there’s a larger market for network administrators than network engineers. It also clarifies a valid distinction: The operation of an information system takes a different mind set and skill set than the design and deployment of an information system. By formalizing this distinction through the certification program, Microsoft has ensured that HR departments throughout the world will have comparison guidelines to measure potential candidates to fill relevant positions. On the other side of the fence, it also provides IT professionals a roadmap with more options to pursue their interests and to plot their personal career path.

The live version of 70-218 consists of the usual number of questions within the usual time period (unless it’s delivered in the adaptive format). What struck me about the test was that the questions were clearly written, and the options for the questions weren’t esoteric or confusing. It’s a good test. If you understand the material, then the correct answers will rise from the page. The only problem I had was a technical one with the delivery of the test itself. Near the very end, my machine crashed. I was a little disturbed at the prospect of spending a few more hours retaking the exam (the beta exam provided four hours to cover the extra questions, as a beta always includes), but the auditor rebooted my machine. When I logged into the test, it brought me right back to the question I was on.

But what to study? After this article, the preparation guide at www.microsoft.com/train cert/exams/70-218.asp is the next best step. If you feel comfortable with the topics listed in the “skills being measured section,” by all means go for it. If there are areas in which you know you’re deficient, hit the books. With that seemingly obvious understanding in mind, let’s take a look at the following areas you should self-evaluate before you plunk down your $125 or the voucher your company gave you.

MCSA Exam (70-218)

Reviewer’s Rating
“What struck me about the test was that the questions were clearly written, and the options for the questions weren’t esoteric or confusing. It’s a good test. If you understand the material, the correct answers will rise from the page.”

Exam Title
Managing a Windows 2000 Network Environment.

Current Status
Live as of January 2002.

Who Should Take It
Candidates working in medium to large computing environments that use Windows 2000 network and directory services. Candidates should have at least six months of experience administering and supporting Win2K server and client operating systems that use Active Directory. Core credit for the MCSA certification. Also serves as an elective credit for the MCSE.

What Courses Prepare You
2126: Managing a Microsoft Windows 2000 Network Environment. Five days.

What happens when you add a user to multiple groups and then add different permissions to each group as they’re applied to a resource? What’s the best or most efficient way to apply permissions to a resource? There are quite a few of these types of questions, as there should be. Be able to deal with the nuances of NTFS and FAT, along with the behavior of encrypted files in each environment and what happens to the characteristics of files as they move to and from each file system.

Tip: Be able to recognize the various methods of how to recover an encrypted file when the original owner of the file is no longer available to help with the task. The technical details aren’t as important here as the fundamental concepts.

Subnet Masking
Oddly enough, there’s quite a bit of subnetting in the exam. This is surprising because the certification is aimed at administration, not design. However, you need to know if a network addressing configuration will work and which hosts are valid on a given subnet. While it’s important to understand the basics of IP architecture and configuration, an argument could be made that it goes too far here. However, I’ve never heard of a test-taker winning an argument with a test, so you’d better understand how to balance the number of hosts and networks within a given network. The examples are quite straightforward, but if you don’t understand how the bits should fall behind a subnet mask, you won’t even know where to begin.

Tip: Break out your Windows calculator and convert your decimal notation to binary.

What Makes an MCSA?

The linchpin of the new Microsoft Certified Systems Administrator credential is, of course, exam 70-218, Managing a Microsoft Windows 2000 Network Environment. In addition, you need to pass two other tests:

70-210, Installing, Configuring and Administering Windows 2000 Professional.

70-215, Installing, Configuring and Administering Windows 2000 Server.

Understand the purpose of a default gateway and where the configuration occurs. Be able to locate the configuration when displayed with tools (such as ipconfig) and know the implications if any of the entries are incorrect at the client. The other important concept to understand is how the route command works. You don’t need to know the syntax of the command, as is the case with other tests, but you do need to know how an entry in a route table affects communication between multiple networks. You also need to know which changes in the route table will resolve the problem in the question. For example, the network you want to reach through a router should be associated with the address of the router interface.

Tip: Get up to speed on tools such as tracert and how to use the results to troubleshoot communication problems.

Organizational Units
You need to know when to break people into different Organizational Units and how this affects the delegation of administrative permissions. Expect scenarios with multiple OUs between which you delegate administrative permissions in the directory. You’ll be expected to know the most efficient and restrictive method for applying specific administrative permissions through the application of policies. Understand the implication of blocking upstream policies and how policies flow through the directory tree.

Tip: Know how to create accounts and troubleshoot the implications of their inclusion into specific groups. Keep in mind the scope, type and nesting implications of groups.

Remote Access
As more people work on the road and at home, remote access continues to grow as an important administrative area of network management. This is reflected in the exam. Make sure you know how to provide permissions to remote connections, as well as understand how to give users access to resources across the remote connection. For example, under what circumstances would you use a VPN? How would you configure it?

Tip: Be familiar with the basic configuration of NAT, ICS and Terminal Services. For example, which of the two NICs do you configure for ICS or NAT? It doesn’t get much deeper than this in each of these areas, but you need to know the broad landscape.

System Monitor
As a network administrator you must deal with performance issues over time, and the exam reflects this. Understand the relationships between the disk, NIC, memory and the CPU. When do you add one of these resources over the other?

Tip: You need to be able to read the results of the system monitor, both in a table and a graph, and be able to determine which resource is the bottleneck in each scenario. For example, under which circumstances would you add more memory over a new CPU?

Web Services
Know the differences and relationships between FTP services and Web services. How do you apply permissions to users of FTP and Web services? What are the ports necessary for these services to function, and which port is associated with each service?

Tip: Make sure you know when and why to add a virtual directory or virtual server.

Name resolution is a critical aspect of Windows 2000 functionality. You need to understand the effects of DNS placement and know what happens when DNS isn’t providing the proper name-to-IP address mappings. Know how to read the results of nslookup and when to use it and be sure to understand the difference between DNS and WINS and under which circumstances WINS is necessary to provide name resolution on the network. Make sure you can tackle questions on DHCP that cover server placement, the implications of the bootp protocol, and when to use relay agents.

Tip: Brush up on how to authorize a DHCP Server and what the implications are if you bring an unauthorized DHCP server up on a Win2K network. And, yes, you may even have to understand what an LMHOST file will do for you. (Will NetBIOS never die?)

10 Things to Practice

1. Assign and Publish resources in Active Directory.

2. Create a software deployment share.

3. Edit and link a GPO.

4. Create a virtual directory and virtual server in IIS.

5. Configure and give access permissions to the FTP service.

6. Work on some subnetting problems.

7. Study Route Tables.

8. Configure NAT and ICS.

9. Create shares and assign permissions to these resources.

10. Set up relay agents for DHCP and WINS.

Odds and Ends
The other basics covered are how to install hardware and software. This means you must know how the hardware wizard works and whether to create separate service pack and hotfix packages for machines already deployed. When would you use the Recovery Console rather than Safe Mode? How should you manage Win2K updates? (This is an important issue for administrators in light of how many Win2K hotfixes are posted on the Web.)

The test is really a broad amalgamation of existing exams. Microsoft recommends that candidates have six to 12 months of experience working with the desktop and network infrastructure. This isn’t really a great deal of time and, in many companies, you may find yourself so specialized that you might not have a chance to work on all of the areas covered on the exam. The reality is that, with each individual, there will be some paper certification in some areas of the test. A key point is that it covers a lot of topics, but none too deeply. Understanding the basic concepts and how to apply them will go a long way in helping you pare down the options and find the correct answers.

An MCSE should be able to pass this test, but it’s questionable if the purpose of the MCSA is really in an MCSE’s best interest. There are always those who like to have as many acronyms behind their names as possible; if this is you, then by all means add another one. However, if you’re relatively new to the certification world or haven’t reached the MCSE plateau yet, this is a good place to be and may create the distinction that you’re looking for in today’s marketplace. Besides, if you’re among the first 5,000 candidates to complete this certification, you’ll receive a special-edition Charter Member MCSA wallet card and a special certificate you can use to impress your friends. I know more than a few competitive people who would love to add this gem to their collection.

Additional Information

You can find objectives and guidelines for 70-218 at www.microsoft.com/traincert/exams/70-218.asp.

Check out Microsoft Press’ MCSA Self-Paced Training Kit: Managing a Microsoft Windows 2000 Network Environment, ISBN 0-7356-1581-0, $59.99 and MCSA Managing a Microsoft Windows 2000 Network Environment Readiness Review, ISBN 0-7356-1636-1.

Bragging rights aside, the one good reason for you to take this exam is to move your professional peg one step higher and increase the odds that you’ll stand out from the pack vying for that Win2K administrator’s job. Good luck.


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