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New Azure exams: Nothing’s cert-tain in life but Azure change

Lars Klint
Lars Klint

Spring is a time for transformation. Caterpillars turn into butterflies. Semi trucks transform into bipedal robots. The AZ-103 turns into the AZ-104? While it’s summer in Australia, it feels like spring at Microsoft, with big changes announced and underway for many Azure certifications. For those keeping score at home, that’s the third change in 18 months, and I’d venture a guess it won’t be the last we’ll see. (You could say it’s pretty much … Azure thing.)

Looking for a quick-and-dirty TL;DR version? Behold this amazing table.

azure-table2There you go, short and sweet. Want to know more about each exam and certificate, and what the changes are? Read on. It’ll be worth it. Go on. Go!

Breaking down the Azure exam updates

Rather than cover each certificate, I’ll cover each exam — because that makes more sense to me. The name of each associated certificate will remain the same in these changes. I’ve made my best effort to pull out any changes I can find, but it is possible I’ve missed something. Apologies in advance for that.

AZ-104 – Microsoft Azure Administrator

This exam has been (mistakenly) regarded as the entry-level Azure certificate. While the level is listed as Associate, there’s a boatload of assumed knowledge you need to know to pass. For that reason, Microsoft has updated the audience the exam is aimed at. Primarily, candidates for the exam now should have a minimum of six months’ worth of Azure hands-on experience. It’s a smart change that makes sense and will help ensure newcomers don’t get their AZ handed to them.

Other changes to the exam include:

Added 

+ Blob storage lifecycle management
+ Using AZCopy with Azure storage
+ Creating and configuring containers

Removed 

– Creating and configuring Azure Functions, Logic Apps, and Event Grid
– Application Security Groups, DDos 
– Traffic Manager 
– FrontDoor and PrivateLink

In addition, a whole new section on monitoring and backup Azure resources has been added. Much of the backup and logging knowledge is now collected in a single section. Similarly, identity and governance have been combined into a single section.

Overall, the AZ-104 feels like a more focused exam than AZ-103, and it certainly seems to cover fewer content areas.


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AZ-204 – Developing Solutions for Microsoft Azure

Dedicated developer exam the AZ-203 will become AZ-204. Development on Azure is as much about the services on the platform, and how you integrate them in your application, as it is about actual syntax and programming languages. In particular, the new AZ-204 exam stipulates candidates must have at least 1–2 years’ experience with development and Azure development. You also have to know an Azure supported language: C#, PHP, Java, Python, or JavaScript.

Added 

+Creating Cosmos DB containers

Removed 

– VM Disk Encryption 
– Python-based Azure Functions 
– Creating Azure Functions in Visual Studio 
– Managing blob leasing 
– Develop solutions that use storage tables 
– Develop solutions that use a relational database 
– Authentication by using certificates, forms-based authentication, or tokens 
– Multi-factor or Windows authentication by using Azure AD 
– CBAC (Claims-Based Access Control) authorization 
– RBAC (Role-Based Access Control) authorization 
– Autoscaling rules and patterns
– AKS scaling strategies 
– Integrate Azure Search within solutions

As you can see, much has been removed to make AZ-204. This should make the exam less daunting. We’re still waiting to find out if the range and types of questions for this exam will change. I could imagine there might be more focus on API functionality than on pure coding syntax.

This exam will be the first of the bunch to come available. It’s scheduled to post on Feb. 24, and Microsoft already has a dedicated page up for it.

AZ-303 – Microsoft Azure Architect Technologies

Microsoft now recommends this certificate for expert level, rather than merely “proficient”. This is in line with the classification level of Expert for the exam. The following topics have been added and removed:

Added 

+ More details around monitoring, including networking, service health, logging, and alerts 
+ Azure Bastion 
+ Azure Blueprint 
+ Azure Firewall 
+ Web Application Firewall 
+ App Service Deployment Slots

Removed 

– Log Analytics query 
– Virtual Network: Gateway, IP address, routes, subnets, and interfaces 
– Event Grid 
– ExpressRoute 
– Virtual WAN 
– App Service Webjobs 
– All message-based integration architecture topics 
– Autoscaling

This is one of the exams with the most changes when it comes to topics added and removed. A lot of the content has been moved implicitly to AZ-104, such as Virtual Network–related topics. The exam has been aligned better to an Expert-level expected knowledge, using services such as Bastion and Blueprint.

AZ-304 – Microsoft Azure Architect Design

This is the second exam needed to achieve the Azure Solutions Architect certification. Where AZ-303 focuses on Azure technologies and how to configure them, this exam focuses on the design of the Azure solution. Like AZ-303, this exam now focuses on expert-level students and content.

Added 

+ More focus on governance and the services to support it, such as Azure Blueprint 
+ KeyVault 
+ Azure Data Bricks, Azure Data Lake, Azure Synapse Analytics

Removed 

– Accessibility requirements 
– A lot of the information and requirements gathering topics 
– Most identity management design topics 
– Vendor and contractor agreements 
– Alerts 
– Data caching strategies
– Design of deployment strategies

In general, many areas have been cleaned up and made more succinct. Instead of spelling out multiple areas of, say, designing data storage, the outline now merely says “select an appropriate data platform based on requirements” — which both opens up the exam to include everything, but also gives more freedom to show your experience.

AI-102 – Designing and Implementing an Azure AI Solution

Unfortunately, there have been no changes published about this exam other than saying there will be changes. When we know more, I’ll update this post.

Studying for the soon-to-be-nixed exams? 

If you’re currently studying for any of the outgoing exams, don’t panic! Just plan and study accordingly. The current exams (the soon to be retired ones) will remain available for 90 days after each new exam comes into effect. Mark it on your calendar and use the timeline as a fire under you to get out there and get certified

If you’re feeling confident — and flexible — you might also consider sitting the new exams for a snazzy 80% discount. (Or take all five new exams for the price of one old exam. Math!) The 80% discount is only offered for a short time while the brand-new exams are in beta, so be ready to spring into action when Microsoft releases the exams.

What does this mean if you’re already certified? Nothing. If you’ve already passed any of the outgoing exams, your certification is still valid. However, come recertification time, you’ll be tested on the new skills. So you have that to look forward to.

Got other questions? You’re not alone! It probably won’t answer all of them, but dig into Microsoft’s full post for more info straight from the horse’s mouth. 

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For the latest on all things Azure, stay tuned to my weekly series Azure This Week — and cozy up for deep dives into the minds of the brainiest Azure experts in the biz with Azure Fireside Chats.

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