Inside the Microsoft MCSA Certification: 2015 Edition

The Microsoft MCSA certification dates back to 2002, when it was first introduced as the Microsoft Certified Systems Administrator for Windows 2000. I can recall this information nugget without consulting a search engine, because I was a charter member of the original MCSA army — that is, I was one of the first 5,000 people worldwide to earn MCSA certification.


MCSA 2002 ID card SIZED


Needless to say, the MCSA program has changed significantly since I earned that first version. Originally, the MCSA was focused on mid-level IT professionals responsible for the day-to-day administration of networks based on Windows 2000 servers and clients.


Today, the "SA" of MCSA stands for Solutions Associate, which still represents the knowledge and skills held by a middle-tier IT professional. However, the MCSA program has diversified, offering candidates more specialized versions of the credential based on a larger set of Microsoft's technology solutions.


Some MCSA tracks also serve as a prerequisite for the more advanced Microsoft Certified Solutions Expert (MCSE) certification. Like the MCSA, the MCSE program has also diversified into a number of specialized tracks ... but that's a subject for another article.


There are seven unique tracks in the MCSA program as it exists today. Some of these tracks are getting pretty long in the tooth, and will likely be replaced in the not-too-distant future. For now, however, all of the MCSA tracks covered in this article are active and available.


Let's take a closer look at each of the MCSA certification tracks, and which type of IT professional each track is meant for.


MCSA: Windows 7

Windows 7 is still a very popular operating system, in spite of its age. Although you can no longer purchase retail copies of Windows 7, some computer vendors (notably Dell) are still selling desktops and laptops pre-loaded with this OS.


To earn the MCSA: Windows 7 certification, candidates need to pass the following exams:


? 70-680: Windows 7, Configuring
? 70-685: Windows 7, Enterprise Desktop Support Technician


The MCSA track for Windows 7 is meant for desktop support professionals who are responsible for installing and supporting Windows 7, primarily in a Microsoft networking environment.


MCSA: Windows 8

Windows 8 was unable to achieve traction with consumers and businesses, mostly due to its new user interface elements. The fact is, behind Windows 8's controversial Start screen and modern design is a very robust operating system, with several security and performance improvements over Windows 7.


The MCSA: Windows 8 certification has similar requirements as the Windows 7 version. Candidates must pass two exams:


? 70-687: Configuring Windows 8.1
? 70-688: Supporting Windows 8.1


Like the Windows 7 version, the MCSA: Windows 8 is aimed at desktop support technicians who install, configure, and maintain Windows 8 clients in a Microsoft-based network.


MCSA: Windows Server 2008

This MCSA track is likely closing in on its retirement announcement. However, there are still a fair number of Windows Server 2008 servers out in the wild. And since the next version of Windows Server won't be released in 2015, this track should live for another year or so.


To earn the MCSA: Windows Server 2008 certification, candidates must pass the following exams:


? 70-640: Windows Server 2008 Active Directory, Configuring
? 70-642: Windows Server 2008 Network Infrastructure, Configuring
? 70-646: Windows Server 2008, Server Administrator


This MCSA track is for network admins who install and configure Windows Server 2008 servers, set up and maintain Active Directory services, and manage network services and protocols.


MCSA: Windows Server 2012

This MCSA track represents today's current version of Windows Server. Even when the next version of Windows Server is released in 2016 (if Microsoft's stated timeline holds true), the MCSA track for WS 2012 should remain viable for a number of years.


The MCSA: Windows Server 2012 certification is made up of these exams:


? 70-410: Installing and Configuring Windows Server 2012
? 70-411: Administering Windows Server 2012
? 70-412: Configuring Advanced Windows Server 2012 Services


Like the Windows Server 2008 track, this MCSA track is for mid-level network admins who install and manage WS 2012 servers, and who are responsible for managing Microsoft networking services.


MCSA: SQL Server 2008

Gone are the days of the MCDBA (Microsoft Certified Database Administrator). Instead, Microsoft Learning has split SQL Server into two separate medium-level MCSA tracks based on the 2008 and 2012 versions.


The MCSA: SQL Server 2008 track consists of the following exams:


? 70-432: Microsoft SQL Server 2008, Implementation and Maintenance<
? 70-448: Microsoft SQL Server 2008, Business Intelligence Development and Maintenance


Of all the current MCSA tracks, SQL Server 2008 is closest to retirement age. Why? Because of the release of SQL Server 2014 last year. As Microsoft generally only certifies the current and last previous versions of its products, expect the SQL Server 2008 track to be retired sooner rather than later.


MCSA: SQL Server 2012

The MCSA track for SQL Server 2012 is expected to be the last one based on Microsoft's database product. The Microsoft Learning website explains why:


"SQL Server 2014 certifications will only be offered at the MCSE level. The new product features focus on performance tuning and high availability and are best suited for the MCSE level."


To earn the MCSA: SQL Server 2012 designation, candidates must pass these exams:


? 70-461: Querying Microsoft SQL Server 2012
? 70-462: Administering Microsoft SQL Server 2012 Databases
? 70-463: Implementing a Data Warehouse with Microsoft SQL Server 2012


This certification is aimed at SQL Server 2012 database developers and analysts. It is expected that the SQL Server 2012 track will be available for quite some time.


MCSA: Office 365

This is the odd duck of the MCSA program. Office 365 is the software as a service (SaaS) version of Microsoft's popular office productivity suite. The MCSA track for Office 365 is primarily based on its cloud administration aspects, and its interaction with other Microsoft components such as SharePoint Online and the Lync messaging service (soon to be renamed "Skype for Business").


The MCSA: Office 365 track is made up of the following exams:


? 70-346: Managing Office 365 Identities and Requirements
? 70-347: Enabling Office 365 Services


As mentioned, the MCSA: Office 365 track is a bit odd. It is primarily aimed at the applications administrator job role, but it also requires decent networking skills in order to understand the management of user rights and cloud identities.



Microsoft's MCSA has definitely evolved since its introduction in 2002. From its origin as a mid-level network administrator credential, the MCSA has become a more diverse and specialized certification that has several product-based tracks for desktop support techs, network admins, database analysts, and application admins.


Would you like more insight into the history of hacking? Check out Calvin's other articles about historical hackery:
About the Author
Aaron Axline is a freelance technology writer based in Canada.

Aaron Axline is a technology journalist and copywriter based in Edmonton, Canada. He can be found on LinkedIn, and anywhere fine coffee is served.