Book Reviews

MCSE Core Four

A thorough guide for an essential foundation

The Microsoft Windows 2000 MCSE certification is one of the most sought-after programs by employers and systems administrators. To answer this demand, Sybex has continually produced an exhaustive library of study aids to assist students in achieving their certification goals. The "core four" box set from Sybex offers the foundation material for any serious Windows administrator.

Windows 2000 Professional and Server
Lisa Donald and James Chellis put a lot of effort into the first two books of this box set. It was apparent that the early stages of this book involved outlining the published objectives for the exam, breaking down the material to closely related subject matter and segregating the material into easily digested chapters. Equal attention was paid to each objective, resulting in a body of work that covered all aspects of the exam in excruciating detail. Each chapter contained a fair number of exercises designed to provide hands-on knowledge that pertains to each test objective. Although I was pleased with the technical detail of the material as a whole, I found the real-world scenarios and side-notes lacking a degree of deeper experience and insight when compared to other technical training material. These two books were difficult to read for long stretches at a time due to the lack of right-brain stimulation and dry, strictly technical coverage of the material.

When I took the Win2K Professional test (70-210), I was expecting a much higher-level and difficult test than was presented. I felt as if the book improperly weighted the coverage of each objective in comparison to the real test. While taking the Win2K Server exam (70-215), I was pleased with the coverage of the objectives. I was caught off-guard by a few of the questions, but I completed the exam with no concern of failing.

Windows 2000 Network Infrastructure Administration
Organized in much the same manner as the previous two books, the Network Infrastructure Administration study guide does an excellent job covering the exam material. Sprinkled with excellent visual aids and light-hearted jokes, this book was much easier to read. Due to the informal tone found in several side notes and asides throughout, I felt as if I was sitting at a table next to the author and he was demonstrating and explaining all the information. With a heavy background in networking, I was able to grasp the material very quickly. However, it was clear to me that Paul Robichaux and James Chellis meant for the study guide to be useful to the novice and expert alike.

After taking the Network Infrastructure exam (70-216), I was pleased with the quality of the study guide. Although the material still presented the problem of improper weight given to each objective, I was adequately prepared for the exam and passed with ease.

Windows 2000 Directory Services Administration
The final study guide in the set, by Anil Desai and James Chellis, was very well organized. With no real experience managing an Active Directory environment, I was able to gain the knowledge necessary to understand the usefulness and methods of AD management to confidently pass the exam. Although I traditionally am a slow reader, I was able to traverse the 12 chapters in only four days. Unlike the previous book, I found the Directory Services Administration material was presented in a slightly more formal manner. Rather than sitting next to the author while learning the material, I imagined myself in a classroom listening to lectures. The real-world scenarios and side notes were adequate to provide a deeper level of understanding.

The Win2K Directory Services Administration exam (70-217) was more difficult than I anticipated. Again, I felt as if the study guide improperly weighted the importance of each objective. However, I was adequately prepared and passed the exam was some room to spare.

Everything else
Also included in this box set was a bonus book called Windows 2000 4-in-1 Core Requirements, as well as companion CDs with each book. The bonus book was little more than a summarized review of the material covered in the study guides. Divided along exam lines, this book provided a handy tool for students wishing to run through a quick review before taking the exam or for identifying areas of weakness for more experienced administrators that don't find it necessary to read through the entire study guide.

The companion CDs provide the shining star of the entire box set. With a plethora of practice tests, flashcards for the PC and Palm, electronic versions of each book and excellent simulation movies, the CDs elevate an otherwise adequate box set. I encourage you to explore the CDs to find out what they have to offer before starting to read the book or planning your study path. It would be time very well spent.

Overall, I was very pleased with the study guides. After fulfilling the necessary requirement of preparing me for each of the core four exams, these books have already begun to serve me daily as useful reference guides for administration of my Win2K network. Despite the recurring problem with inappropriate weighting of the exam objectives, this material provides more than sufficient coverage to prepare you for your exams. I wish you the best of luck in your MCSE pursuit.

About the Author

T. Brian Granier, CCNA, MCSE, MCP+I, A+, has been working in the computer industry since 1995. After receiving a degree in computer engineering technology from the University of Houston in 1999, Brian worked with Zebec Data Systems Inc. where he currently serves as the information security architect. His current projects involve major infrastructure revisions and technical security improvements in accordance with federal HIPAA regulations.

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