Exam Reviews

70-693 PRO: Windows Server 2008 R2, Virtualization Administrator

Microsoft's virtualization IT Pro certification covers a very wide area, so don't take it with gaps in your knowledge.

Exam 70-693 PRO: Windows Server 2008 R2, Virtualization Administrator is the IT Pro exam that ties together 70-659 TS: Windows Server 2008 R2, Server Virtualization and 70-669 TS: Desktop Virtualization -- that is, all three are needed to achieve Microsoft Certified IT Professional: Windows Server 2008 R2, Virtualization Administrator status. (You can also substitute 70-652 TS: Windows Server Virtualization, Configuring, for 659).

Exam 70-693 is aimed at IT professionals whose main areas of responsibility are virtualization and who have experience with Hyper-V and Systems Center Virtual Machine Manager.

(The big mystery is the absence of Exam 70-403 TS: System Center Virtual Machine Manager 2008, Configuring in the lineup of required exams for Microsoft's "premium" title for virtualization professionals. According to Microsoft, the 70-652 and 70-403 had lots of overlap, so the Virtual Machine Manager content was incorporated into 70-659. This wasn't my experience when I took the 70-659 in beta in early December 2009, but it's been a while ... Inscrutable are the ways of Microsoft.)

I took this exam in beta form, which gave me over three hours to complete 78 questions. Expect the final exam to have around 60 questions, with a time limit of about two hours.

Let's get on with the review of the exam at hand; you'll need to be knowledgeable about the following subject matter areas prior to tackling 70-693:

  • Designing a Virtualization Strategy
  • Designing the Physical and Virtual Infrastructure
  • Designing a Highly Available Virtual Environment
  • Designing a Deployment Strategy
  • Designing a Management Strategy
  • Designing a Virtualization Strategy

Microsoft has a smorgasbord of virtualization technologies: server virtualization (with distinct differences between Windows Server 2008 and 2008 R2), virtual desktop infrastructure (VDI), Application Virtualization (App-V), Remote Desktop Services (RDS) and Enterprise Desktop Virtualization (MED-V), as well as Virtual PC.

The trick is to have enough understanding of all of them to see where each would be the best choice to solve a presented business problem. Don't forget that SCVMM integrates with VMWare ESX 3 and 4 through Virtual Center/vSphere.

For a complete VDI solution from Microsoft, you need a broker such as Citrix XenDesktop Server 2.0, along with Hyper-V on the server side to host the desktops and SCVMM to manage it all. Also be aware of the Virtual Centralized Enterprise Desktop (Windows VECD) license which covers running Windows desktops in a VDI solution (regardless of the VDI technology actually used).

Another thing to be aware of with licensing is that Windows Server Standard comes with one "free" VM license, whereas Windows Server Enterprise comes with four VM licenses. Windows Server Datacenter allows you to run an unlimited number of licensed VMs.

Designing the Physical and Virtual Infrastructure
This area of the exam is a bit more tangible, covering resource requirements as far as CPU, memory and disk space goes. One new technology to be aware of in Windows Server 2008 R2 is Core Parking (load is shifted to other cores and idle ones are put to sleep; in Nehalem processors the whole socket can be put to deep sleep). Another is Second Level Address Translation (SLAT), called Extended Page Tables on Intel processors and Nested Page Tables (or Rapid Virtulization Indexing) by AMD. SLAT essentially moves the process of mapping the memory in guest VMs and then mapping memory in the parent partition into hardware, allowing the CPU to take care of the mapping for VMs. In earlier versions of Hyper-V this double mapping could be quite CPU intensive, especially in scenarios with many VMs on one host.

On the networking side, read up on how to configure VLANs in Hyper-V and the three new features in R2: TCP chimney, jumbo frames and Virtual Machine Queue (VMQ). The latter is disabled by default, and you have to make sure your particular NICs support the feature. VMQ essentially maps incoming network packets directly into the memory of guest VMs, greatly enhancing network throughput.

Understand the different types of disks available in Hyper-V (dynamic and fixed, differential and pass-through), as well as the concept that what the VM sees as one type of disk can actually be mapped to a totally different type of physical disk outside of the VM.

Exam tip: Adding storage to a VM while it's running requires a virtual SCSI controller in the VM. The Integration Components must also be loaded.

Snapshot technology is great in a lab environment, allowing you to "roll back" to an earlier point in time. Be aware that many applications (Exchange and AD, for instance) don't support Hyper-V snapshots in production. Read up on how snapshots are implemented under the hood and the potential issues that may arise (see Resources later on in this article).

Exam tip: Pass-through disks aren't visible to the parent partition; hence, the only way to back up data is from within the VM. Only consider pass-through if you need disks larger than 2040GB (the limit of VHDs).

Designing a Highly Available Virtual Environment
The big new feature here is Clustered Shared Volumes (CSV), allowing you to store multiple VHDs from several VMs all on the same LUN in a SAN. Remember that Hyper-V is the only technology currently supported on CSV.

Hands-on experience is valuable here. Set up two physical boxes as Windows Server 2008 R2 Enterprise Hyper-V hosts and a third box as an iSCSI SAN. Starwind software offers a free iSCSI target (limited to 2TB), and if you have a TechNet Plus subscription you can access Windows Server 2008 Storage server that includes an iSCSI target. Try Quick migrations and Live migrations between hosts in your cluster.

Exam tip: Exporting VMs from one host and importing them on another has been improved in R2 (see Resources) and can only be performed on a shut down or saved VM.

SCVMM has another type of migration, SAN migration, which requires that the VDS hardware provider for your SAN is loaded. There's also Quick Storage Migration (QSM) to move VMs from one SAN to another with minimal downtime.

Exam tip: To enable Network Load Balancing (NLB) between VMs in Windows Server 2008, you had to manually assign the MAC address to each VM; in Windows Server 2008 R2, simply enable the option to spoof the MAC address.

Designing a Deployment Strategy
A good understanding of static versus dynamic provisioning in a VDI scenario is required. In a static deployment, each VM desktop on the server is a self-contained unit with applications and configurations ready for a user. In a dynamic environment the base image is the same for all users and customization and applications are incorporated at runtime using App-V.

The Self Service Portal in SCVMM is an integral part of "bringing VM management to end users" and, as such, it's important to know how to set it up and configure permissions for different sets of users.

Exam tip: For branch office implementations of App-V, only a Streaming Server (also known as a Light Weight Server) needs to be installed.

Read up on App-V, its components and how to implement it in large environments, and, if possible, set up a couple of virtual servers in your lab and configure the sequencer, the management server and a streaming server, along with a client. If possible, try out App-V for RDS as well.

Exam tip: Encrypting File System (EFS) isn't recommended for use in a Hyper-V environment, whereas BitLocker can be used (in the host, not in VMs) only on stand-alone Hyper-V hosts but not in clustered settings.

Designing a Management Strategy
A cursory knowledge of Systems Center Operations Manager and how it's used to monitor Hyper-V hosts is useful, as is knowing about the Offline Virtual Machine Servicing Tool, which allows patching of offline VM machines at scheduled intervals.

Monitoring performance of VM guests and the host itself is complicated by the fact that each VM is isolated from the others. Nevertheless, there are a number of counters that can be used to understand what's going on with your CPU, memory, disk and network usage. See resources for a comprehensive overview of what and where to monitor performance.

Understand the permissions model in Authorization Manager (the built-in security model in Windows Server 2008 Hyper-V), as well as what happens when SCVMM, is added to the mix (SCVMM 2008 totally replaces AzMan's permissions; SCVMM 2008 R2 incorporates changes made to permissions).

Exam tip: Use the New-V2V PowerShell cmdlet to convert a VMWare virtual machine to a Hyper-V VM.

Remember that clustered Hyper-V hosts cannot be located in a DMZ and managed from within the domain by SCVMM. Stand-alone Hyper-V hosts can.

Must-Know Tips Before Taking an Exam

If this is your very first IT exam, or at least your first Microsoft exam, there are some things you should know:

The price for each Microsoft exam in the U.S. is $125.

You are allowed to take any exam as many times as needed to pass.

Take advantage of Second Shot offers, which can give you a second chance at an exam you failed the first time. You need to register into the program before attempting an exam. Details on the latest offer is here.

Free exam vouchers may be available through your company based on their membership in the Microsoft Partner Network or Software Assurance or Enterprise licenses.

You will receive an onscreen pass or fail indicator at the completion of the exam.

You will also receive a printed score report upon exiting the exam booth.

You will receive a certificate, wallet card, congratulations letter and Microsoft Certification number after you have requested the certification package from Microsoft's Web site. (Don't forget to give a valid e-mail address when registering for your exam.)

You can take any IT exam at any Thomson Prometric testing center.

One more tip while you're taking the exam: You will be able to move forward and backward through the exam question set. Very often, a later question can help you answer an earlier one for which you may not have been absolutely certain of your answer. You should, however, always choose an answer for each and every question before moving forward, since you may run out of time, and any unanswered questions are scored as incorrect.

You can mark questions you are unsure of and return using the back button, or by using the review screen at the end prior to scoring.

(This information is current as of Feb. 10, 2011.)

 

Resources:

Official exam home page with exam objectives:

Hyper-V snapshots FAQ

Managing Hyper-V snapshots

Overview of different types of VM migrations in Hyper-V R2 and SCVMM

The difference between export/import in Hyper-V R1 and R2

Systems Center Operations Manager management pack for Hyper-V

Monitoring performance in Hyper-V

App-V overview


Virtualized to the End
This is a hard exam (as it should be), not because you have to be an expert in a particular technology, but because you need a fair bit of technical depth in numerous technologies. Just getting hands-on experience in a lab with all these separate products is going to take a considerable amount of time.

Good luck on your exam!

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