The fundamentals of Azure certification


May 7, 2021 - At a time when cloud computing is more popular than ever, my curiosity has drawn me deeper into Azure over the last few weeks, so their base level certification, Azure Fundamentals, seemed like an appropriate place to acquaint myself with what the platform has to offer.

For a number of years, I have wanted to dedicate some quality time to learn more about Microsoft Azure. I use Azure to host some web applications and databases, but I have never invested much time to dig deeper into the ubiquitous cloud computing platform. After pondering this for some time, I decided that a good starting point would be the Azure Fundamentals certification. This involved studying for a single exam, AZ-900, which covers the foundational knowledge of Azure. Armed with the official book and the relevant Pluralsight courses, I spent around two weeks learning about the six main skills measured in the exam, which are:

  • Describe cloud concepts
  • Describe core Azure services
  • Describe core solutions and management tools on Azure
  • Describe general security and network security features
  • Describe identity, governance, privacy, and compliance features
  • Describe Azure cost management and Service Level Agreements

The concepts of infrastructure-as-a-service (IaaS), platform-as-a-service (PaaS), and software-as-a-service (SaaS) come up regularly in the book and the courses. Being able to distinguish these and identify the benefits of each is crucial, along with understanding which of Azure's services belong to which service type and why.

Cloud providers offer many benefits to the companies who host in the cloud, and the exam expects you to know what features of Azure are in place to achieve these benefits. This includes learning about high availability, scalability, fault tolerance, and disaster recovery, and the extent to which services can be configured to take advantage of these features. Privacy and governance is a recurring theme, particularly around what tools are available within Azure to help users comply with regulation (eg, GDPR) and information security standards (eg, ISO 27001).

A large chunk of the learning materials cover the core architecture services offered by Azure - for example, virtual machines, app services, storage accounts, and database services. In addition, the materials cover the services built on top of this infrastructure, such as Azure IoT Hub (used to connect to and manage IoT (Internet of Things) devices), Azure Synapse Analytics (used to perform analytics of big data), and Azure DevOps (used to track project tasks, manage source control, and perform build and release activities).

The Azure portal is a central component of Azure, so it's no surprise that this is covered in the books and courses. From the portal, you can create and configure the services available in Azure, and the exam expects you to have good awareness about which features would be used for which tasks. Given the size of the portal, I was concerned that I would be expected to know the exact commands needed to accomplish a certain task, but the practice questions I completed before the exam were high level and more focused on the main areas of the portal, rather than diving into the specifics.

Earlier this week, I took the exam and passed. It was strange doing the exam from home - you are required to supply four photos from all around your workspace to make sure there are no hidden notes or reference materials to hand during the exam. You need your webcam and microphone on, and there are obviously restrictions on who else can be in the room with you (clue: no-one!). Many of the questions in the exam had come up in the practice questions I completed before the exam, but there were plenty of questions which I hadn't come across before, particularly around Azure Security Center and Azure Sentinel.

With this certification under my belt, my journey will continue towards the Azure Solutions Architect Expert certification. This consists of two exams and undoubtedly far more study than the two weeks needed for the Azure Fundamentals certification, but the knowledge I've gained by doing this first certification has been opened my eyes further to the benefits of what Azure offers and how solutions can be designed to take full advantage of this.

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© 2021 Nick Borrett