What's the difference between the AZ-303 and AZ-304
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AZ-303 vs AZ-304: Breaking down the Azure Solutions Architect Expert

Mark Mikula
Mark Mikula

It’s time again for more updates in the Microsoft Azure certification track! If your Microsoft Azure certification path leads you to the Microsoft Certified: Azure Solutions Architect Expert role, take note.

In September 2020, Microsoft retired the AZ-300 and AZ-301, the two exams required for the Microsoft Certified: Azure Solutions Architect Expert role. These were replaced with the shiny new AZ-303: Microsoft Azure Architect Technologies and AZ-304: Microsoft Azure Architect Design, respectively. (Both exams were updated further at the end of November 2020.)

So what’s new with the AZ-303 and AZ-304 exams for those looking to advance their Azure skills? Like the originals, acing these two exams proves that you are an subject matter expert in technologies related to the design and implementation of critical Azure technologies for an enterprise.

But what are the differences between the AZ-303 and AZ-304 exams? Which exam should you take first? And how do each of them ensure you have the knowledge of an expert Azure architect? Let’s take a look at both of them in more depth.

What are the differences between the AZ-303 and AZ-304?

Implementation versus design

If the AZ-303 and AZ-304 were related to construction worker roles, the worker with the AZ-304 in their toolbelt would design the architectural blueprint; the worker with the AZ-303 would implement the building project.

  • The designer (AZ-304) will be focusing on capturing business needs using real-world examples, constraints, and business objectives, and selecting solution implementations based on the requests of an organization.
  • The implementer (AZ-303) takes those solutions and ensures that they are properly built, implemented, or migrated.

Should you take the AZ-303 or the AZ-304 first?

Many Azure architects elect to take the AZ-303 exam first before moving on to the AZ-304. This is because once you’ve proven that you understand the ins and outs of Azure services in the AZ-303, the AZ-304 exam helps you solidify your conceptual knowledge of architecting Azure solutions.

AZ-303 and AZ-304: Breaking down the exams

Here’s what to expect around the different areas of Azure on each exam.

Infrastructure

Infrastructure for the certification is focused on Azure resources like virtual machines, networks, apps, and Azure Resource Manager (ARM) templates.

The implementor will have knowledge in configuring and deploying resources and templates, where the designer will have to choose how to provision those resources — as well as which compute technology to select and any potential automation opportunities.

Both the implementor and the designer will also have knowledge in app services, web apps, logic apps and functions, and container-based applications like Azure Kubernetes Service.

Monitoring

Monitoring encompasses logging, metrics, reporting, and alerts.

The implementor proves their knowledge in direct monitoring, like performance capacity, service health, and spend, as well as configuring logging and alerts.

The designer will determine solutions for cost minimization, monitoring tools, and procedures like event routing and escalation. Design would also envelop the decision making for what metrics would be important based on the business needs.

Management

Management has multiple areas surrounding business continuity, identity, and security, as well as migration from other infrastructures, namely on-premises datacenters.

For identity and security, the designer would direct blueprinting single-sign on and authentication with hybrid and multi-factor options, authorization like role-based access control and assignments, governance strategies using Azure Policy and Azure Blueprint, and finally security solutions like Azure Key Vault.

The implementor will have knowledge of deploying these complex solutions in a new or existing Azure environment.

Business continuity is all about keeping the lights on no matter what. This comprises of backup and disaster recovery, load balancing, and replication or other distribution of apps and data across all relevant regions of the business.

Migration is another key piece to management, with the implementer able to migrate workloads using Azure Migrate and the designer able to assess and interpret on-premises servers, data, and applications, then coming up with a plan for migrating each workload to the cloud.

Data Platforms and Storage

Data platforms and storage are incorporated into the same basic idea: store your ones and zeros for your app delivery and analytics for better business decisions. It starts with storage accounts, and moves into Azure SQL databases or CosmosDB, and even further into Data Lakes and Azure Synapse Analytics. It will also cover the movement and transformation of data with services like Data Factory and Azure Data Bricks.

The implementer will be able to configure storage accounts and data platforms, perform data mapping and transformations, and execute analytics options. Designers are focused on storage tiers, access, and tool selection. This includes selecting which data platform, as well as devising solutions for sizing, scalability, and encryption. Designers also elect data integration like Azure Data Factory, Data Bricks, Data Lake, and Azure Synapse Analytics (previously Data Warehouse).

Prepare for the Microsoft Certified: Azure Solutions Architect Expert exams

You might be wondering if there’s a better certification exam between the two. Some people prefer planning, some prefer doing. There’s no difference in the quality of each exam, just the focus.

Azure cloud skills are in demand, with many Azure certs regularly landing spots on the list of top-paying cloud certifications. Each one is a fantastic extension of your résumé and experience. However, if you’re wanting the Azure Architect Expert badge, you’re going to need to be comfortable doing both.

Get technical training to develop your Azure skills

Prepare for the AZ-304 with A Cloud Guru’s AZ-304: Microsoft Azure Architect Design course. And, for the other half of your Azure Solutions Architect Expert quest, we offer a four-part series of AZ-303 courses that will arm you with the Azure skills you need to advance your career and ace the AZ-303.

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