The entry-level fundamentals certification exam to the Microsoft Azure universe of fluffy cloud computing is the AZ-900. Yes, it isn’t 100 or 101, because everyone knows 900 is the lowest level of knowledge. (Blame it on the confusing naming convention of Azure exams and certifications.) But I digress.
Should I take the AZ-900?
If you’re plotting your Microsoft Azure certification path or planning which Azure certifications you should get, the AZ-900 is the ideal first stop for everyone aboard the cloud certification train. (If you’ve spent time in the land of AWS and are curious about how things work in Azure world, check out this guide on Azure for AWS users and this course for AWS admin.)
What’s new on the updated AZ-900?
Even though the fundamental knowledge of Microsoft Azure doesn’t change a great deal over time, changes are still needed as new products emerge and the industry trends skew slightly.
It’s like your favorite pizza place that has the classic menu: supreme, pepperoni, capricciosa, and margherita. (And no, Hawaiian is not a classic.) From time to time, they need to follow trends and offer the vegan option, the new type of crust, and that weird Aussie version with bacon and egg. Sure, they appeal to some people and they’re good to know about, but the classics are still just as popular.
In late 2020, my favorite cloud shop, Azure, made some changes to its AZ-900 exam. While there wasn’t anything major changed (they even stuck with the AZ-900 name), it’s still worth going through what did change. (Don’t worry. This new slice of cloud pie meets any and all dietary restrictions.)
Exam Sections – More is More
The previous exam was split into four parts, and now there are six. Does it have any significance for the exam? Not really, to be honest. The main reason is to make the exam align better to the Microsoft Learn content for the fundamentals learning path, which makes sense. Don’t worry. It doesn’t mean that you now have to learn 50% more Azure tricks for the exam. Microsoft just added all the topics into a big hat, shuffled it a bit, and split it out into six piles instead of four.
With that major “non-change” out of the way, let’s look at the new additions to the AZ-900 menu.
Working with Azure requires the right tools. There were already some of them included, such as the Azure CLI and PowerShell. The new revision adds the iOS and Android mobile apps for Azure management on the go, as well as ARM templates. I like these additions, as they give an introduction to two more tools that are used by Azure professionals every day.
Packaged neatly with the DevOps section we also now need to know about GitHub and GitHub Actions. They’re tools for using Azure services and have got renewed focus as the main deployment and code management tools.
Shared Responsibility Model
Even though migrating to the cloud means handing over a bunch of boring maintenance tasks, such as looking after hardware and networks, it doesn’t mean you can wipe your hands completely of any responsibility. The shared responsibility model dictates which parts Microsoft needs to keep an eye on and which parts you do.
Going back to our favorite local pizza shop from before: they’re responsible for making the pizza and cooking it properly, but you need to tell them what toppings to put on it and find the plates, cutlery, wooden plank, or whatever else you need to eat it.
Windows Virtual Desktop
The massive move to working from home has made many companies scramble to find connections, environments, licenses, and everything that remote workers need to work (and to work remotely and securely). Part of a solution can be Azure VDI (Azure Virtual Desktop formerly known as Windows Virtual Desktop), which brings an entire Windows 10 experience to any internet-connected computer. For the AZ-900 exam, you need to know about this and which scenarios it can be used in. No pizza included.
For the networking part of the curriculum, you now have ExpressRoute to know about. This is a dedicated physical link from your on-premises infrastructure directly into the bowels of Azure.
Depending on how deep your pockets are, you can dial up the bandwidth and speed. If your pockets are deep enough, you can swallow up most of the internet, I reckon. ExpressRoute (yes, that is the correct spelling) also provides a secure and private transfer mechanism of data to and from Azure.
Single Sign-On in Azure
You know that blue Facebook button you can use to sign in to everything on the Internet? Yeah, the one that links your Facebook credentials to an account on the site you are visiting. That’s a form of single sign-on, or SSO. That means using a single set of credentials to log into multiple different applications or services. It’s a key part of many cloud applications and therefore it’s now in the AZ-900 exam too.
One of the areas with a lot more focus in the new exam version is security. There are three main areas, starting with Azure Sentinel. This is a whole security information and event management (SIEM) tool, which offers 4,233,951 different features, or thereabouts. It’s a huge tool, and it provides analysis of vast volumes of data, security recommendations, rules, AI learning, and a ton more. Don’t worry. You don’t need to know all that for the exam, just that Sentinel exists and has your back.
Defense in depth refers to the principle of having multiple layers of security, and not just rely on a single wall, gate, or moat. This critical security architecture pattern is native to Azure and you can build on it, which is why it’s included as a foundational piece of knowledge.
For those of you that don’t like sharing hardware with other users in the Azure datacenters, you can use Azure Dedicated Hosts. This service provisions a full physical server to you with the guarantee no one else will have any data or services on it. Perfect for when you don’t play nice with other kids.
Some minor changes to the general Azure solutions include the addition of the Azure Sphere IoT service, renaming artificial intelligence to machine learning, and adding a bit more about the Azure Bot Service. None of this is groundbreaking, but Microsoft obviously thought you needed to know about these services.
Azure Pricing and Governance
Everybody’s favorite topic of pricing and governance (super exciting, I know!) has added the Spot VM feature, which is a virtual machine you can get super cheap when there’s excess Azure compute capacity. The flipside is that Microsoft can take that capacity back whenever they need it.
The cloud adoption framework is a part of cloud governance to make sure you don’t mess up your very first cloud architecture. Azure will give you a hand in getting it right with lots of documents, best practices, advice, and more.
Azure Exam Rumors
Finally, we do need to talk about the exam too. I sat the AZ-900 exam in August 2019, and it has changed only a bit since then. It’s still an 85-minute event that contains 40–60 questions. That’s quite a lot of questions in a short period of time, and most of the feedback I get is 40–50 questions.
So far, so good. I have also heard several people getting questions for topics not in the curriculum. While unconfirmed, these seem to be beta questions that Microsoft is trialing, either to see if the level is right or how much extra knowledge students have when taking AZ-900. In either case, it doesn’t seem these questions count towards your score for the exam.
Of course, I have also updated my AZ-900 course on A Cloud Guru with these changes, and you can go check them out right now. Go on. Onwards to cloud magnificence!
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