Customer asks: Is now the time to study for Windows Server 2008 certification, or Server 2012?

September 27, 2012 at 1:39 pm | Posted in Certification Paths, Microsoft, Study hints | 40 Comments
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Editor’s note: Exam retirements are subject to change without notice. Please go to the official Microsoft Retired exams list to confirm or deny a specific test’s retirement date.

In response to a recent post, blog reader Zappy asked,

I am new to Windows Server certifications and I currently hold none. I am thinking of getting certified but I am not sure if I should begin with Windows Server 2008 or Windows Server 2012. I have a fair amount of experience in 2008. What would you suggest?

The knee-jerk response is “Forget 2008; study for the cert that will have the longest shelf life.” However, there are a few factors to consider before writing off a 2008 certification entirely. Those factors are:

  • the number of exams required to earn a certification
  • the desired time frame for earning a certification
  • the user’s level of experience with 2008 versus 2012
  • how soon the user can expect 2012 to be the standard in his or her particular industry

For the sake of demonstration, I’m going to look only at Windows Server certifications, and not specialties such as Lync, .NET, SharePoint, or Exchange. (You can find more information on those certification paths here.) I’m also going to stick with entry-level and mid-level certs, since you’d be earning those anyway as you blaze towards the MCSE or MCM.

(Remember: These recommendations are for someone who, as of late 2012, has not yet taken any Microsoft exam and needs to factor exam retirement dates into a certification strategy.)

Do it now: Be off like a shot

No matter which path you decide to pursue, do it now. The perfect time to buy your first Microsoft exam voucher is during the Second Shot promotion. That means that if you take an exam between now and May 30, 2013 and fail it, you can sit for a free retake. You can buy Second Shot assurance for a single exam or for a multi-exam voucher pack (which typically earns you a bulk discount on exam fees as well).

It only takes one

Remember that passing one certification exam, even if it’s part of a multi-exam certification track, earns you the Microsoft Certified Professional (MCP) credential. As a member of the Microsoft Certification Program, you have access to MCP Flash emails from Microsoft, and you can share your transcript with others to show your progress towards a specific certification.

Single-exam certs: testing the Microsoft waters

In the “need a cert now” category, you can obtain a Microsoft certification with just one test — and it will count toward a higher-level certification, should you choose to pursue one. However, one-test certs are only offered for Windows Server 2008. The three server specializations are:

Remember that these exams include Windows Server 2008 R2 material, so you absolutely must be familiar with R2 before sitting an exam.

Our recommendation: if you’ve never sat for any Microsoft test and don’t know what to expect, combining Second Shot with a one-test cert might be the perfect low-stress entrance strategy, even if it “only” earns you an MCTS Server 2008 credential. If you go this route, choose either the 70-640 or the 70-642, since these also count toward the newly fledged MCSA in Server 2008 (more on that in the next section).

70-643 alone is not relevant to the MCSA 2008, so look at the exam’s objectives, and only choose it if you need this certification in your current job (and your boss is paying).

Three to five exams: not all middle-tier certs are created equal

Things get a bit murky as you move up the Server 2008 certification ladder. Having divided Generation 2008 certifications into five MCTS (entry level) and three MCITP (mid level) exam tracks, all covering different job roles and skills, Microsoft recently collapsed the varied tracks back into a revised MCSA, and added the upper-tier MCSE options. However, the MCITP tracks are still active. Depending on the track, each MCITP will either be phased out in July 2013 or rolled into the new generation of certifications.

You can obtain an MCITP in a Windows client or in Server 2008 R2 by taking three to five exams. The three server paths are Enterprise, Server Admin, and Virtualization Admin.

Earning the MCITP: Server OR the MCITP: Enterprise automatically snags you an equivalent MCSA: Windows Server 2008. However, Server can be earned in only three exams, while Enterprise takes five. A MCSA: Server 2008 plus the 70-417 upgrade exam can then earn you the MCSA: Server 2012.

The MCITP: Virtualization also allows you to upgrade to MCSA: Server 2012 — but, confusingly, you can’t upgrade it to an MCSA: Server 2008. Microsoft has dropped it from this list of current MCITP tracks; also see this blog post.

Our recommendation: If you go the MCITP route, focus on time limits and cert upgradability. While Enterprise is upgradeable to MCSA, you’ll need to knock all five tests out in ten months. You can earn Server or Virtualization with three exams. However, if you go for Virtualization, you’ll have to pass three tests before July, and then take a fourth test to end up with a non-expired certification (MCSE in Server 2012). By contrast, going for Server earns you the low-hanging fruit (MCTS) plus the currently relevant MCSA: Server 2008, and you do not have to pass all three by July 2013.

Regardless of the path chosen here, you’ll have until July 31, 2014 to upgrade a relevant MCITP to a MCSA: Server 2012.

The case for the direct run: When to start with 2012

So as I’ve demonstrated, one exam will earn you an MCTS; an additional two well-chosen exams will earn you the MCSA: Server 2008; one past that (to be taken at your leisure) will upgrade you to MCSA: Server 2012. However, you could also choose to go straight to a MCSA: Windows Server 2012 in three exams (not required, but HIGHLY recommended, that you take them in this order):

Three is less than four, so this should be the logical choice, correct? Well, not always. This is where we get into the really subjective criteria: the user’s time frame, the user’s level of experience with 2012, future certification paths, and the degree to which the user expects 2012 to be the standard in his or her slice of industry.

According to the most recent FAQ, an MCSA credential will never expire. Given how long hiring managers were asking for 2003 MCSAs — even after Microsoft axed the program — it seems safe to say that earning either the MCSA: Server 2008 or MCSA: Server 2012 is going to boost your job potential for years to come. Nor is the MCSA: Server 2008 a dead-end path. Here are the various ways to take a MCSA: Server 2008 certification to the next level:

MCSA: Server 2008 + Two exams (246, 247) = MCSE: Private Cloud
MCSA: Server 2008 + One exam (417) = MCSA: Server 2012
MCITP: Virtualization Administrator + One exam (417) = MCSA: Server 2012


MCSA: Server 2012 + Two exams (246, 247) = MCSE: Private Cloud
MCSA: Server 2012 + Two exams (413, 414) = MCSE: Server Infrastructure
MCSA: Server 2012 + Two exams (416, 415) = MCSE: Desktop Infrastructure

If you need a certification to put on your resume in the next few months, or if your certification efforts are self-funded, then going for a one-test MCTS may be a perfectly valid choice. By contrast, starting with the 70-410 puts you weeks to months out from your eventual MCSA. Only you can decide whether time is of the essence.

How much have you worked with Server 2012? Taking a practice test can, of course, help you gauge your comfort level in a given technology with a much lower entrance fee (and stress factor) than a live exam. If you don’t administer or work with Server 2012 in your current job, you can download review copies or take advantage of Microsoft’s extensive library of free training videos and virtual labs. A skilled user can bring him or herself up to speed at home.

Whether your industry will have a pressing need for 2012 certification is the third fudge factor. Before you laugh, a friend of mine who manages IT for a multinational firm recently went on a search-and-confiscate mission aimed at the highly insecure Windows 2000 laptop squirreled away by an executive who didn’t want to learn a new OS — ever. (My friend had to explain to another executive that no, Microsoft would not make a “personal exception” and keep supporting Windows XP solely on that firm’s behalf.)

If you’re in a company that has a largely remote employee base, handles a lot of BYOD employees, or develops for cutting-edge technologies, then you are going to end up in Server 2012 eventually, so you may want to start there right off the bat. You can earn the 2012 certification in three exams. Conversely, there are many industries where change is slow to occur, tech budgets are stingy, and business may run to the ragged edge of the support cycle. Nor is cloud the be-all, end-all wave of the future, as concerns about data security and privacy weigh heavily in industries such as government and healthcare IT. My point is that many businesses, having upgraded software and hardware to support Windows 7 and 2008 R2 and lacking a pressing need (or funds) to upgrade to the mobile, cloud, or touch-screen capacities of Windows 8, may well keep today’s systems operating until the absolute end of their support cycle, and require engineers to keep them going.

Look at the candidate requirements for jobs you’d like to have. Are they already asking for an MCSE?

Final recommendations

If you have never taken a Microsoft exam, then starting with the 70-640 or 70-642 will earn you an immediate certification that can be rolled up to an MCSA: Server 2008 without any time limits.

Starting with another of the MCITP paths will also earn you a solid certification, but you’ll be working with Microsoft’s looming retirement dates for most of the relevant exams. Only consider these if you can pass all of the tests by July 13, 2013. (For more information, read this previous post on exam expiration.)

Starting with the 70-410 will let you gauge how ready you are to certify in Server 2012. Pick this if your 2012 skill set supports it, and if you think your industry will be demanding the most current versions of certifications in job candidates.

Again, I want to emphasize that if you’ve already started on a Server 2008 certification path, then exams other than the ones mentioned here are still relevant, and the certifications will add value to your resume for years to come. Regardless of which path you choose, you can’t go wrong adding a Microsoft certification to enhance your already valuable job experience.

Hope this helps!

–Ann & the Cert Prep team


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  1. Thank you for an *excellent* discussion regarding recent changes in the Microsoft certification program.

    • Thank you! We’ve got a couple more articles planned, since Microsoft keeps adding to the program (MCSA in Windows 8, the new MCSD, and tiered certification expirations). Those should be out in the next few weeks. Appreciate the readership!

  2. Thanks for explaining this in plain english.

    • Thanks for justifying my English degree. :-)

  3. When can we exepect the transcenders to be released for SQL Server 2012? I heard the October / November timeframe – but it’s hard to prep for the exam without your material.

    • We’re in the process of producing the 70-462 practice test and will release it by the target date of mid-November. Which particular exam are you going to be taking first?

  4. When will the Transcenders be available for the Server 2012 exams?

    • We’re in the final stages of producing the 70-462, so look for that exam to hit our shelves soon. Thanks for reading!

  5. Explained in English, as one of your responders said! Thank you for the invaluable advice!

    • We appreciate your readership!

  6. This really helped me out to sort out on what to do next. Thanks HEAPS !!!!

    • Thanks for the feedback! :)

  7. Hi,

    “The MCITP: Server Administrator requires three exams. None of these exams is scheduled for retirement in 2013.”

    According the link, these exams will be retired on be retired on July 31, 2013 too

  8. […] post belongs to our ongoing series about the new generation of Microsoft certifications. See also Customer asks: Is now the time to study for Windows Server 2008 certification, or Server 2012?, Don’t wait to finish your MCTS or MCITP: Microsoft retiring exam tracks, and Everything old is […]

  9. thanx for the article, i would like to know for someone with just A+ AND N+ is it a good idea to jump to server 2012 with no server work experience and also some colleges offer this course for 20day is it good for someone like me or not

    • Bob, when you say you have no server 2012 experience, do you mean you’ve never handled the software at all? I would definitely get some hands-on training before sitting for the exam.

  10. “By contrast, going for Server earns you the low-hanging fruit (MCTS) plus the currently relevant MCSA: Server 2008, and you do not have to pass all three by July 2013.”

    -I don’t get it. MCTS? I thought SERVER with 3 exams means i still get MCITP status? Sorry, real newbie here with no certification. I’m planning to go MCITP:Server route..

    • Aaron, it is a bit confusing because Microsoft is merging their old exam lines into the new MCSA. I’ll just cut and paste from the most recent information on their site:
      When you pass Exam 70-640: Windows Server 2008 Active Directory, Configuring, you complete the requirements for the following certification(s):
      Microsoft Certified Technology Specialist (MCTS): Windows Server 2008 Active Directory, Configuration
      Exam 70-640: Windows Server 2008 Active Directory, Configuring ALSO counts as credit toward the following certification(s):
      Microsoft Certified IT Professional (MCITP): Enterprise Administrator
      Microsoft Certified IT Professional (MCITP): Server Administrator
      Microsoft Certified Solutions Associate (MCSA): Windows Server 2008
      The entire exam path is laid out here:
      Hope this helps!

  11. When will the practice test for 70-410 be available?

    • Hi there, our 70-410 practice test is scheduled to release at the end of March. The 70-411 & 70-412 practice tests will follow shortly. Thanks for asking & best of luck on your studies!

  12. Here is a question for you. I have already passed 70-646 and 70-647 and am taking 70-643 this weekend.

    I plan to take 70-648 next month. What will happen if I don’t take 70-680 until after July 31? Will I lose all of the EntA stuff or will they grant the MCITP EntA upon completion of the Win7 Exam?

    • Congratulations; you have stumped me! I don’t know if they will retroactively grant the MCITP if you take the exam after the 31st. I would go to the Born To Learn blog and direct this question right at the Microsoft certification staff – and I’ll be watching for their answer too, because I want to know. Best of luck on your exams.

  13. […] 2008 or 2012 […]

  14. This was a Great article, I had been looking for deeper explanation on this very topic for a while. Question for you; I am finishing up my MCSE 2003 (I know it’s 2014 already but I was a procrastinator) and am planing to jump right in for my 2008 by taking 70-647, 70-649 and finely 70-680. with this series of tests I believe I will be awarded MCSE 2008 (or MCITP: ESA) but will this also grant me MCSA 2008 (MCITP: SA)?
    and Lastly my plan after 2008 is to take 70-417 (which will grant me MCSA 2012…Correct?

    • The 70-649 (the composite for 70-640, 70-642, and 70-643, only available to those who hold a 2003 MCSE), plus the 70-647 and the 70-680, will earn you the MCITP:EA and the MCSA: 2008 – not the MCSE 2008. There isn’t actually a MCSE certification for 2008 technology. Also, you would still need to take and pass the 70-646 to earn the MCITP: SA. However, you are correct that taking the 70-417 would upgrade your MCIPT:EA / MCSA 2008 to a MCSA 2012. I hope this helps!

    • You could, if you wanted, choose to take the 70-649 plus the 70-646 and earn the MCITP: SA / MSCA 2008, then the 70-417 to jump to the MSCA 2012. You would not be earning the lengthier MCITP:EA with this route, but it’s one fewer exam to get you to the same MCSA.

  15. I am fresher to network field can anybody help me if i did MCITP or any other certification what would be the job opportunity in future…?

  16. […] Customer asks: Is now the time to study for Windows Server 2008 certification, or Server 2012? […]

  17. Hi, i am a fresher and just stumbled on your site..You are doing a great job. My dream is to be an IT Security expert and launch an IT security company.I intend to sit for the 3 MCITP Exams before July 31st 2013. Can you advice me on a career path to achieving my security goal? I did be grateful to get a feed back from you. Micky.

  18. I am Raju C , window server 2012 I need single exam available or not available please reply

    • Raju, do you mean you are looking for a practice exam, or do you mean that you are looking for a way to obtain a Windows Server 2012 certification by taking only one exam? I’m afraid there is not a one-exam 2012 certification available from Microsoft. Or do you mean that you only have one exam left in your certification series? I’d be happy to respond after some clarification! Thanks.

      • Dear Blog mistress Ann,
        I am interested and new to do Microsoft windows Server 2012, i had not done any courses but i have only experience of installation and managing server, can you help me to get free tools and training materials link to get me ready for giving exams. Kindly Advice…thanks for your sharing your information and knowledge in Internet.

        • Sorry for the lateness of my reply, but there are a lot of FREE resources that you can use. I suggest starting with the Microsoft Prep guides, virtual labs, and TechNet.

          Virtual Labs
          I highly recommend the The labs have step-by-step instructions. I actually recommend that you ignore them the first time around. The beauty of these VMs is that you do not have to perform the lab by the directions. You can use the lab to experiment with the software and test different features.

          Microsoft Prep Guides
          These are the classic pre-certification resource: the objectives and sub-objectives that you must master to pass the test. For example, the prep guide for the 70-410 exam, Installing and Configuring Windows Server 2012, can be located at Here’s a tip: you can change the last number in the URL to match your specific Microsoft exam to find the prep guide for that exam.

          The prep guide pages have four tabs: Overview, Skills Measured, Preparation Materials and Community. The Overview tab describes the audience profile for the exam and any certifications associated with the exam. The Skills Measured tab lists tasks that you must master to be successful on the exam. The tasks are broken down by objective and each objective’s weighting percentage for the exam. The Preparation Materials tab displays the officially Microsoft sanctioned training materials. By now you might be reading along and saying, “Gee, George, I already checked there, and it was a dead end!” I feel your pain. Generally, there is not a lot of preparation information listed for a relatively new exam, and what is listed usually isn’t free. So I encourage you to check out the Community tab which has links to newsgroups that can give you a better perspective on training and possible offer some reviews on just-released instructional materials, so I find them a better resource for new technologies.

          The Skills Measured tab lists the tasks Microsoft recommends that you know for the exam. I would suggest that you don’t limit your knowledge or experience to the items on this list. In my recent experience with Microsoft exams, the Skills Measured tab contains about 95% of what you will be asked on the exam. The other 5% will be the kinds of questions you can only answer from experience (which is where the virtual labs come in handy). Remember, Microsoft is moving away from the standard fact-based multiple choice question types, and weighing their exams more heavily toward question types that emphasize hands-on knowledge — such as Build List and Reorder, Extended Matching, and Case Studies. This is why you need to have a lot of practical knowledge of Windows Server 2012 to pass the exam.

          Despite what is listed, there probably is a Transcender practice test available or SOON TO BE AVAILABLE for most of these exams. Check the Transcender web site regularly over the next few months for the availability of the practice test.

          To successfully pass a Microsoft exam and not spend a dime on additional training is possible, and I have done it, but you have to dedicate some time to it. You should go through each task in the prep guide for the exam. Learn all you can by searching for the task in the books online, and then perform the task in the virtual labs. This will enable you to update your existing knowledge of administering older versions of Windows Server and translate those concepts into 2012.
          It is not hard or expensive to learn Windows Server 2012, but it is time consuming. Block out some time in your schedule and use the free resources that are available to master the skills required to gain your certification.

  19. I’m annoyed/confused by the expiration of titles but not the exams.

    It’s great that they seemed to have extended the date you can take the following exams (below) to January 31, 2014 but what’s the point of taking certain tests if they don’t add credentials to your transcript ?

    680, 647, 649* (which is the 640, 642, and 643) *Available if you already have an MCSE 2003

    Note that the 680 is Windows 7 chosen as the elective workstation exam, there are others.

    You have to pass all of these by July 31, 2013 to get the MCITP: Enterprise Administrator 2008 credential.

    Which made sense (at least within Microsoft world) because the server tests were expiring simultaneously.

    Now I could take the above combination on August 1st, 2013 and earn…a wallet that is $450 lighter.

    Yeah, they will continue to offer MCSA 2008 that requires

    680+646+648* (which is the 640 and 642)*Available if you already have an MCSA/MCSE 2003

    Enterprise > Server.

    I have a feeling that if I cram and take/re-take these tests under the wire (July 31, 2013) that Microsoft will change the damn title expiration date if there is more money to squeeze out of this certification path.

    Yeah. I know, ‘Why didn’t you finish these earlier ?’

    My employer/client requires certain certifications to be updated every three years and reimburses after the fact for the cost of the tests (if passed only) but otherwise doesn’t reward it’s employees a god damn thing for the effort.

    Incentive is very low. It’s all stick and no carrot.

    Also, another person asked, why not skip to 2012 ? Because every online job application is keyword driven and HR tends to be ignorant of all things technical. You have to be an *exact* fit in order to get pass the screening process.

    Nevermind that you need 15-20 years experience in “Windows Fictional” to get to the step after that…

  20. Please Help ,I want to do a Certification in Microsoft, If I do one exam of Mcitp will it earn me MCP certificate from microsoft. Iam into Network field having 2 year experience in WIndows OS. I want to have atleast One certification from Microsoft no title needed for applying for a JOB.

    • well even if u give the lowest paper (Configuring win7) u will get the tag of MCTS, but for MCP atleast on paper of 2008 is required.and there u go, i suggest u can go for 70-642…but u haven’t got much time bro….so hurry up

  21. Hi my problem is rather unique,i did an IT diploma 8 years,worked in a couple of ither fields till now.I have no server experience whatsoever and am dying to get back into IT by doing Comptia A+ N+ and MCSA Server 2008 or would you proopse i go about this matter cause am running into my mid 30s now.

  22. […] still rolling out changes to these tracks. Be sure to check Microsoft Learning, Born To Learn, and our blog for the most current information on MCSA and MCSE. Because exam retirements are subject to change […]

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