Microsoft Azure Certification Path in 2021

Microsoft Azure
As enterprises continue to deploy their operations to the cloud, the demand for cloud services has continued to witness a significant increase in 2021. Microsoft Azure, a top cloud services provider offers a range of scalable cloud services including analytics, compute, storage, and networking that users can leverage to launch new or run their existing applications. Azure offers more than 600 cloud services within the four types of infrastructures including infrastructure as a service (IaaS), platform as a service (PaaS), software as a service (SaaS), and serverless services. An advantage that Microsoft Azure boasts of is that it supports both Microsoft-based and third-party systems.

Microsoft offers various Azure certifications that professionals can earn through the different paths to demonstrate their knowledge and competence in delivering Azure-based solutions. In 2018’s Ignite Conference, Microsoft announced some changes that it would make within its certification paths based on the feedback received over the years. With this announcement, new certifications were introduced and some previous ones were to be dropped by the end of that year with the aim of making Azure certification more role oriented to give professionals flexibility and clearer pathways as they carve their career paths. However, the Azure fundamentals certification AZ-900 still remains the entry point to Azure certification career paths.

The year 2021 brought with it further changes in the Azure certification expiration and renewal procedures that we shall look at in this article. Also, as you will see, some courses were introduced and others retired the same year.

Here is an up-to-date overview of the latest Azure Certifications updates.

The role-based Microsoft Azure Certification paths

The introduction of role-based certifications has seen Microsoft offering its certifications through a simplified three-level pathway from the fundamental level, associate level, to the expert, and the specialty levels. Each level of certifications is designed to prepare one to undertake specific roles in the next level including the administrative, data scientist, data analyst, AI, or developer roles.

The new Microsoft Azure certification pathway is structured as follows:

Fundamental certifications

The fundamental courses are designed to introduce professionals to the fundamentals and key concepts of the Azure platform, cloud services, and functionalities.

A-900 - Microsoft Certified Azure Fundamentals: A foundational certification intended to provide an overview of the fundamentals and implementation of Azure-based cloud services. It is designed for beginners in non-technical roles like administration and those who are looking to set their foot in the field. There are no prerequisite courses for the A-900 exam and it is optional depending on one’s aspirations. However, basic cloud computing knowledge will come in handy.

AI-900 - Microsoft Certified Azure AI Fundamentals: This certification is designed for those who intend to pursue the AI Azure role-based certifications. It is a foundation certification that demonstrates an individual's knowledge of common artificial intelligence and machine learning concepts and their implementation on the Azure cloud. A background in general programming is recommended.

DP-900-Microsoft Certified Azure Data Fundamentals: This certification is designed for professionals who desire to pursue data-related roles on the Azure cloud. With its content updated in 2021, professionals will be equipped with knowledge of core data concepts, working with relational and non-relational data on Azure cloud, and data analytics. This course prepares individuals for the database administrator, data scientist, and data engineer roles.

Azure Associate Certifications

At the associate certification, professionals begin to pursue specific Azure roles and will consequently work towards developing competency for the roles that they are pursuing.

DP-100 - Microsoft Certified Azure Data Scientist Associate: A data science intermediate level certification with a focus on implementing ML on the Azure platform. It is designed for data scientists who should first consider taking the DP-900 Azure Data Fundamental certification course.

AI-102 - Microsoft Certified Azure AI Engineer Associate: This certification demonstrates a professional’s ability, working together with solution architects, to build, manage, and deploy Azure-based AI solutions specifically leveraging Azure Cognitive Services, Azure Cognitive Search, and Microsoft Bot Framework. Proficiency in C#, Python, or JavaScript languages, use of REST-based APIs and SDKs, as well as completion of the AI-100 (retiring June 2021) or AI-200 - Designing and Implementing Microsoft AI solutions (released February 2021) courses are the requirements.

DP-203 - Microsoft Certified Azure Data Engineer Associate: This exam replaces the DP-201 and DP-202 certifications which will be retired by June 2021. DP-203 is an associate-level certification that equips professionals for the Azure-based engineering role in which they demonstrate knowledge of integrating, transforming, and consolidating data from various sources to build analytics solutions. Knowledge of SQL, Python, or Scala is a prerequisite.

AZ-204 - Microsoft Certified Azure Developer Associate: This developer role certification prepares professionals to design, build, test, and maintain cloud applications and services on the Azure platform. Requirements for this certification are 1-2 years of professional software development experience, experience working with Azure, and knowledge of programming languages supported by Azure.

AZ-104 - Microsoft Certified Azure Administrator Associate: This administrator role associate certification demonstrates professional competence in implementing, managing, and monitoring an organization’s Microsoft Azure environment which encompasses identity and access, governance, networks, storage, and compute among others. The requirements for this certification are six months of Azure administration experience.

DP-300 - Microsoft Certified Azure Database Administrator Associate: An associate database administrator role is involved with the implementation and management of the Azure cloud-based data platform solutions that are built with SQL Server and Azure data services. The prerequisite for this certification is an in-depth understanding of the concepts covered in the DP-900 Microsoft Azure Data fundamentals certification course.

AZ-500 Microsoft Certified Azure Security Engineer Associate: This certification is designed for security engineers to demonstrate their ability to implement security controls, threat protection, identity and access, and data protection solutions across cloud applications, resources, and networks.

Azure Expert Certifications

Just as the name suggests, the expert certification level displays seasoned experience and expertise in specific Azure roles.

AZ-303 - Microsoft Certified Azure Solutions Architect Expert: At the expert level, Azure solutions architects should demonstrate expertise in designing and implementing end-to-end Azure architectures including network, compute, storage, and security aspects. The requirements for this certification are that individuals possess intermediate-level Azure administration, Azure development, and DevOps processes.

AZ-400 - Microsoft Certified: DevOps Engineer Expert: This certification designed for DevOps engineers to gain expertise in managing people, processes, and technologies to continuously deliver business value. For this course, a DevOps engineer is required to have taken either the Azure developer associate course or the Azure administrator associate certifications.

Azure specialty certifications include

● AZ-220 - Microsoft Azure IoT Developer Specialty

● AZ-120 - Planning and Administering Microsoft Azure for SAP Workloads Specialty

2021 Microsoft Certification Expiration and Renewal Changes

Previously, the Microsoft role-based certifications were valid for two years upon which one was required to retake the exams and get certified again to renew them.

However, from June 2021,

● All certifications will be valid for only one year

● Renewal will be done within a window period of six months prior to their expiration.

● Renewal is done online and is done free of charge.

● To renew the certification, one will be required to successfully complete a free assessment.

● Upon renewal, certifications are valid for another one year counted from the previous (initial if it is the first) expiration.

● Current certifications qualify both for the two-year validity period and free online assessment for renewal up to June 2021.