Steps to Becoming an Azure Administrator: How to Pass the AZ-104 Exam
In this article, I will tell you how to take and pass the AZ-104 Microsoft Azure Administrator exam.
What is Microsoft Azure?
Microsoft Azure is one of the fastest-growing cloud platforms, and that means that millions of companies around the world are looking for skilled employees to help them manage their servers and services in the Azure cloud.
One group of people who play a key role in helping those companies set up and maintain their services are Azure Administrators. Some companies call this their operations team, and others just “IT.” Regardless of what you call them, they have the important role of implementing, managing, and monitoring applications running in the cloud.
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So what does an Azure Administrator do on a typical day? They are responsible for implementing, managing, and monitoring:
- Azure identity services, including Azure Active Directory
- Azure governance services, including Policy and Blueprints
- Azure storage services, including blobs, data lakes, and databases
- Azure compute services, including virtual machines, web apps, and functions
- Azure networking services, including virtual networks, caching, and security
Modern web applications are constantly evolving. There is no such thing as a final product in application development. Application updates deploy often. The load on these applications will grow over time as more people use them. This means that modern businesses need administrators who can set up a constant deployment workflow, monitor and adjust resources, and provide new resources when an application needs them. They will also have to respond to challenging issues such as application errors and downtime.
The AZ-104 Microsoft Administrator Exam
The Microsoft Certified: Azure Administrator Associate certification was designed to recognize the wide range of skills and abilities required to fill this role. Candidates who can get this certification can be proud of having their skills recognized after passing an advanced-level exam.
In order to get this certification, a candidate must pass the AZ-104 Microsoft Azure Administrator exam. Here is a breakdown of the exam.
Time Limit: 120 minutes (150 if you include the surveys before and after)
Question Types: Multiple Choice, Case Studies
Experience Level: Intermediate
Certificate Expires: Requires renewal every year
This exam is quite technical, and you should only consider it if you have worked in Azure. Part of the preparation must include hands-on experience across a wide range of Azure services. If you want to pass, you need a plan. Even with Azure expertise, you will need to study to pass the exam. Azure consists of hundreds of services, and chances are that most applicants will not be an expert in all of them.
Microsoft is known for making frequent updates to its exam content. You can expect minor changes to the exam every few months, and major changes every year or so. So my first suggestion is to verify the current status of the exam, as outlined in the official Microsoft exam objectives. If the exam will be updated soon, that page will tell you.
This page also outlines the exam requirements, and if you go to the exam objectives section, you can download a PDF that describes the exam in more detail.
Microsoft breaks the exam up into five sections:
- Manage Azure identities and governance (15-20%)
- Implement and manage storage (10-15%)
- Deploy and manage Azure compute resources (25-30%)
- Configure and manage virtual networking (30-35%)
- Monitor and back up Azure resources (10-15%)
As you can see, the largest two sections of the exam deal with networking and compute. These two topics make up around 60% of the exam, while the other three areas make up the final 40%. I suggest that you start your studies by focusing on these two areas.
Creating a virtual machine using the Azure Portal is one of the most basic tasks an administrator can do. Knowing how to make a single VM is a step in the right direction, be prepared for the compute section of the exam to cover more elaborate tasks as well.
Microsoft is more concerned about your ability to perform more complex tasks, such as making a solution highly available. Can you configure a virtual machine solution using availability sets, availability zones, load balancers, and several regions? This is a more demanding test of your skills, which you will likely encounter in the exam.
As you know, there is more to compute than just virtual machines. Azure has become the leader in Platform as a Service (PaaS) offerings such as web apps. You’ll have the same challenge with making web apps highly available as you did with compute, with slightly different solutions. You should know what web apps can do in this area and what their limitations are.
And of course, containers are used by development and admin teams everywhere, and Azure offers container solutions for most of its compute services. You can run containers in virtual machines, in web apps, using Kubernetes services, Service Fabric, and even as stand-alone container instances. You need to know all of these container options and why you would choose one over another.
In the networking space, VNETs are the glue that connects everything in Infrastructure as a Service (Iaas) inside Azure. Security is a massive concern, and you should expect the exam to test your security knowledge. Do you know that Azure has a private DNS zone that can handle private, internal IP addresses? That’ll be something you’ll need to know for this test!
Connectivity between a company head office and Azure, and all satellite offices, is one of the concerns companies have when moving to the cloud. You’ll need to be familiar with the pros and cons of using Network Gateways, compared with ExpressRoute and other methods. Since these things require physical hardware and can be expensive, it’s not practical to say you must have experience with them in order to take the exam. But you should know what to look out for.
Storage, Monitoring, and Backup
Knowing Azure compute and networking can only take you so far with this exam. You definitely need to know some of the other topics, such as monitoring resources, backups, disaster recovery, and storage configuration. These topics count for fewer points on the exam, but every little bit counts.
One important, but sometimes overlooked, area of Azure is the governance services.
Governance is the process by which a company automatically enforces its policies using Azure. Azure Policy and Blueprint are services in Azure that you can configure to ensure your company policies are being followed – either by restricting certain tasks within Azure or simply auditing and monitoring the tasks.
The last topic you should brush up on for the exam is managing Azure identities. Azure Active Directory or Azure AD manages and monitors identity in the Azure cloud. Before taking this exam, you should understand how Azure AD handles users and groups. You should go through the process of setting up a new tenant and configuring different access levels for different roles. It doesn’t cost anything to do this and is well worth practicing to get a complete understanding of how Azure treats identity and role-based access control (RBAC).
It’s important not to take this exam for granted. It’s an associate-level exam designed to challenge advanced skills. But with a solid plan, you can prepare to take and pass this test. My AZ-104 video course on Udemy can guide you along this path, detailing the features of Azure you might not have been exposed to before. Almost 90,000 students have taken that course, and every day I hear from students who have used it to successfully pass the exam.
I suggest you give yourself about 4-6 weeks to prepare for the exam, depending on how deep your current Azure skillset is. As I mentioned before, get lots of hands-on practice to reinforce the concepts of Azure at the practical level.
If you’re still at the beginning of your Azure learning path, you might want to consider the AZ-900 exam. You can find everything you need to know to pass the fundamental test in our blog. Alternatively, those looking for an expert-level certification should check our guide on the AZ-303 and AZ-304 exams.
Whichever exam you decide to take — good luck, and please let me know when you pass!
Last Updated January 2020
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