Saturday, January 29, 2011

Adventures in Certification

Seeing as I don't really have any regular weekend posts I thought I might do some bits, partly for myself, on the certification process I am currently going through. While I have been a systems administrator for four years I have not really bothered with any certifications beyond the CompTIA Network+. I never needed them from a job perspective. Now I have decided to pursue an MCSE certification.

For those of you not familiar, and as a tip for those of you interested in an IT career, the MCSE (Microsoft Certified Systems Engineer) is based on gaining four Microsoft certifications from three fields plus one elective. I am going for the MCTS (Microsoft Certified Technology Specialist) for Windows 7.

Preparing for preparing has been the biggest hurdle so far. You need equipment and operating systems. Microsoft provides evaluation copies of Windows 7 that you can download and run for 90 days for free. Other equipment may be necessary for the lab work. I needed a 4GB thumb drive (I have not used thumb drives for years) as well as PCs to install on. Two PCs that you can blow away, or two hard drives to install in two PCs was not a problem as I can use the lab at work, but if I was only able to work at home I would have needed to buy a really beefy computer which would run multiple copies of the operating system; one as the primary, and two as virtual machines. This could have been a large outlay of cash, as you need a really beefy system to get three operating systems running simultaneously.

The first labs are pretty basic; install/upgrade to Windows 7. If you have ever installed an operating system, then you know how to do a basic installation of Windows 7, with a few differences, mainly dealing with your hard drive. If you are installing to a brand new, blank hard drive, the default setup will create a small recovery partition and a primary partition that takes up the remainder of the drive. If you look closely, however, you see an "advanced" option that lets you create multiple partitions. I did notice that a disk with no partitions already created were not recognized by the setup. I was running ERD Commander and deleted the partitions from two hard drives, then attempted a Windows 7 install. I got an error with both disks, even using several machines. Windows XP would allow you to create/format partitions from an unpartitioned disk, and Windows 7 will let you delete partitions and make new ones, but not (it seems) create them from scratch.

Another part of the labs was to create an install disk from an ISO image, and then transfer it to a thumb drive. The thumb drive procedure was new to me. If you use Vista or 7 you can create one with the DISKPART utility. Remember, this will erase your thumb drive. Steps:
  1. Plug in thumb drive and open an elevated command prompt ("Run as Administrator")
  2. Enter DISKPART
  3. Enter LIST DISK (shows you the disks installed and their sizes)
  4. Enter SELECT DISK X (X = thumb drive number)
  5. Enter CLEAN
  7. Enter FORMAT FS=FAT32 QUICK (skip the "quick" if you want to do a full-scale format)
  8. Enter ACTIVE
This thumb drive will not be bootable by itself, but once you copy the installation disk to it and configure your computer to boot from USB it will.

So far I have only had minor problems. Much of it me not paying attention, such as our lab computers being set to PXE boot first, or forgetting to let it reboot to the hard drive and inadvertently starting the install process again. I am skipping the upgrade labs, but will definitely go over the user migration bits.


Kal said...

To read your explain what you do I am reminded what my dad used to say - "Sometimes it's best to get someone to do the work for you. It will be cheaper in the long run." I remember the beginnings of home computing when you almost needed a degree in computer science to do anything but play Oregon trail. I am glad there are smart guys like you around.

Darius Whiteplume said...

I tend to think of techs as glorified car mechanics. Anyone could likely learn the job, but without training you can make problems for yourself. Also, like a mechanic, access to equipment is the key. Only us IT nerds tend to have extra computers to play with. You certainly wouldn't want to dick around with your only machine - I don't ;-)

Mickey Glitter said...

All of that's making my head hurt, but I don't know if it's because I don't get it or if it's sympathy pain for you! :-\

Darius Whiteplume said...

Meh, I don't need sympathy, I need to get off my ass ;-) I should have done this two years ago, but am a lazy bastard in a lazy job! Thanks though :-)

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