Containers vs. virtual machines: How to tell which is the right choice for your enterprise

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There’s a lot more to it than just how many apps you can put in a box

Name a tech company, any tech company, and they’re investing in containers. Google, of course. IBM, yes. Microsoft, check. But, just because containers are extremely popular, doesn’t mean virtual machines are out of date. They’re not.

Yes, containers can enable your company to pack a lot more applications into a single physical server than a virtual machine (VM) can. Container technologies, such as Docker, beat VMs at this part of the cloud or data-center game.

VMs take up a lot of system resources. Each VM runs not just a full copy of an operating system, but a virtual copy of all the hardware that the operating system needs to run. This quickly adds up to a lot of RAM and CPU cycles. In contrast, all that a container requires is enough of an operating system, supporting programs and libraries, and system resources to run a specific program.

What this means in practice is you can put two to three times as many as applications on a single server with containers than you can with a VM.

In addition, with containers you can create a portable, consistent operating environment for development, testing, and deployment. That’s a winning trifecta.

If that’s all there was to containers vs. virtual machines then I’d be writing an obituary for VMs. But, there’s a lot more to it than just how many apps you can put in a box.
Container problem #1: Security

The top problem, which often gets overlooked in today’s excitement about containers, is security. As Daniel Walsh, a security engineer at Red Hat who works mainly on Docker and containers puts it: Containers do not contain. Take Docker, for example, which uses libcontainers as its container technology. Libcontainers accesses five namespaces — Process, Network, Mount, Hostname, and Shared Memory — to work with Linux. That’s great as far as it goes, but there’s a lot of important Linux kernel subsystems outside the container.

These include all devices, SELinux, Cgroups and all file systems under /sys. This means if a user or application has superuser privileges within the container, the underlying operating system could, in theory, be cracked.

That’s a bad thing.
Now, there are many ways to secure Docker and other container technologies. For example, you can mount a /sys file system as read-only, force container processes to write only to container-specific file systems, and set up the network namespace so it only connects with a specified private intranet and so on. But, none of this is built in by default. It takes sweat to secure containers.

The basic rule is that you’ll need to treat containers the same way you would any server application. That is, as Walsh spells out:

Another security issue is that many people are releasing containerized applications. Now, some of those are worse than others. If, for example, you or your staff are inclined to be, shall we say, a little bit lazy, and install the first container that comes to hand, you may have brought a Trojan Horse into your server. You need to make your people understand they cannot simply download apps from the Internet like they do games for their smartphone.

OK, so if we can lick the security problem, containers will rule all, right? Well, no. You need to consider other container aspects.

Rob Hirschfeld, CEO of RackN and OpenStack Foundation board member, observed that: “Packaging is still tricky: Creating a locked box helps solve part of [the] downstream problem (you know what you have) but not the upstream problem (you don’t know what you depend on).”
Breaking deployments into more functional discrete parts is smart, but that means we have MORE PARTS to manage. There’s an inflection point between

To this, I would add that while this is a security problem, it’s also a quality assurance problem. Sure, X container can run the NGINX web server, but is it the version you want? Does it include the TCP Load Balancing update? It’s easy to deploy an app in a container, but if you’re installing the wrong one, you’ve still ended up wasting time.

Hirschfeld also pointed that out container sprawl can be a real problem. By this he means you should be aware that “Breaking deployments into more functional discrete parts is smart, but that means we have MORE PARTS to manage. There’s an inflection point between separation of concerns and sprawl.”

Remember, the whole point of a container is to run a single application. The more functionality you stick into a container, the more likely it is you should been using a virtual machine in the first place.

So how do you go about deciding between VMs and containers anyway? Scott S. Lowe, a VMware engineering architect, suggests that you look at the “scope” of your work. In other words if you want run multiple copies of a single app, say MySQL, you use a container. If you want the flexibility of running multiple applications you use a virtual machine.

In addition, containers tend to lock you into a particular operating system version. That can be a good thing: You don’t have to worry about dependencies once you have the application running properly in a container. But it also limits you. With VMs, no matter what hypervisor you’re using — KVM, Hyper-V, vSphere, Xen, whatever — you can pretty much run any operating system. Do you need to run an obscure app that only runs on QNX? That’s easy with a VM; it’s not so simple with the current generation of containers.

So let me spell it out for you.
Do you need to run the maximum amount of particular applications on a minimum of servers? If that’s you, then you want to use containers — keeping in mind that you’re going to need to have a close eye on your systems running containers until container security is locked down.

If you need to run multiple applications on servers and/or have a wide variety of operating systems you’ll want to use VMs. And if security is close to job number one for your company, then you’re also going to want to stay with VMs for now.

In the real world, I expect most of us are going to be running both containers and VMs on our clouds and data-centers. The economy of containers at scale makes too much financial sense for anyone to ignore. At the same time, VMs still have their virtues.

As container technology matures, what I really expect to happen, as Thorsten von Eicken, CTO of enterprise cloud management company RightScale, put it is that VM and containers will come together to form a cloud portability nirvana. We’re not there yet, but we will get there.


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Samsung profits drop in wake of iPhone 6 rollout

The company is banking on new tech and services to attract customers to new smartphones

Samsung Electronics registered its sixth straight quarterly decline in profits in the first three months of this year as competition bit into its key smartphone and display businesses.

The company said net profit during the January to March quarter fell 39 percent on the same period last year to 4.6 trillion won (US$4.3 billion). Revenue was 47 trillion won, down 12 percent, in line with guidance issued earlier in April.

Samsung is under fierce pressure in the smartphone sector, where low-cost Chinese rivals are eroding sales at the low-end while Apple is winning customers at the high end.

The company doesn’t disclose precise smartphone sales figures, but it said it sold 99 million phones of all types during the quarter. Of those, the share of smartphones was in the “mid 80s percent,” it said in a conference call with investors.

Revenue in its mobile division during the quarter was down by a fifth while operating profit in the division collapsed by 57 percent year-on-year to 2.7 trillion won.

The runaway success of the iPhone 6 and iPhone 6 Plus, detailed when Apple reported its earnings on Monday, has made it even more important that Samsung scores a hit with the Galaxy S6, it’s newest flagship handset that went on sale recently.

Apple is riding high on the success of the new phones, the first from the company to come close to matching the large screens found on Samsung’s flagship handsets, and winning customers in China where demand easily outstripped supply.

Looking ahead, Samsung said it expects earnings to improve thanks to increased high-end sales as the Galaxy S6 rolls out worldwide although low- and mid-end smartphone sales are expected to be largely unchanged.

Sales are expected to remain around the same as the first quarter, although the average selling price of each phone is expected to jump a little from the $200 recorded during the first quarter.

Samsung said it plans to focus on new technologies, such a wireless charging, and new services, such as Samsung Pay, to drive demand for its phones.

Its device business, which is a major manufacturer of flat-panel displays and memory chips, saw sales rise 10 percent on the year and operating profit surge 81 percent thanks to strong demand for chips for servers and large-size TV panels.


 

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VCP510 VMware Certified Professional 5 – Data Center Virtualization


QUESTION 1
Which VMware solution uses the security of a vSphere implementation and provides linked-clone
technology to virtual desktops?

A. VMware ACE
B. VMware View
C. VMware Workstation
D. VMware ThinApp

Answer: B

Explanation:
Reference:http://www.vmware.com/files/pdf/VMware-View-4-Composer-DS-EN.pdf(page 1, last
paragraph)


QUESTION 2
An administrator has recently upgraded their Update Manager infrastructure to vSphere 5.x.
Several hosts and virtual machines have not been upgraded yet.
Which vSphere component when upgraded will have the least impact to the existing environment?

A. Virtual Machine Hardware
B. ESX Hosts
C. VMFS datastores
D. VMware Tools

Answer: D

Explanation:
VMware Tools isn’t a single application but a set of drivers, services and user processes that’s
installed in a guest operating system. They add a wide assortment of functionality to VMware
infrastructures — everything from improving color depth and video resolution in the vSphere Client
to memory optimization.
Typically, an outdated version of VMware Tools doesn’t have an immediate impact. But with every
update to vSphere, you’ll likely have to update VMware Tools on every virtual machine.


QUESTION 3
An administrator is using Update Manager 5.x to update virtual appliances in a vSphere
environment. The environment is using the vCenter Server Virtual Appliance (vCSA).
What would cause the remediation to fail?

A. Updating of the appliance can only be done if the vCenter Server Virtual Appliance (vCSA) has
been put into Maintenance Mode.
B. Remediation must be configured on the Appliance Administration page before use.
C. Remediation of the vCenter Server Virtual Appliance (vCSA) with Update Manager is not
supported.
D. Remediation requires the hosts to be connected to vCenter using an IPv4 address.

Answer: D

Explanation:
Update Manager 5.0 does not support virtual machine patch baselines.If a host is connected to
vCenter Server by using an IPv6 address, you cannot scan and remediate virtual machines and
virtual appliances that run on the host.


QUESTION 4
An administrator is working to update the hosts and virtual machines in a vSphere 5.x deployment
using Update Manager Baselines.
Other than host patches, which three items require a separate procedure or process to update?
(Choose three.)

A. Operating system patches
B. Virtual Appliance updates
C. Virtual Machine Virtual Hardware upgrades
D. VMware Tools on machines without VMware Tools already installed
E. Application patches within the virtual machine

Answer: A,D,E

Explanation:
Operating system patches are related to operating system so they need a separate procedure
altogether. Same is the case with VMware tools and applications patches because applications
are stand alone pieces of code that need separate procedure to apply a patch.


QUESTION 5
A series of Auto Deploy ESXi 5.x hosts, which utilize vSphere Standard Switches, are unable to
boot. In prior testing, all of the hosts were able to boot successfully.
Which two conditions might cause this issue? (Choose two.)

A. The Hosts are unable to connect to the SAN.
B. The TFTP server is down.
C. The DNS server is down.
D. The DHCP server is down.

Answer: B,D

Explanation:
If the TFTP server is down, ESXi will not boot because it needs TFTP to get the information.
Similarly, when DHCP is down, it will not assign the IP addresses and ESXi needs IP address to
boot properly.


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Lessons from Altoona: What Facebook’s newest data center can teach us

How can Facebook’s data center design apply to your data center plans?
Over the past year, Facebook has thrown some interesting wrenches into the gears of the traditional networking industry. While mainstream thinking is to keep most details of your network operations under wraps, Facebook has been freely sharing its innovations. For a company whose business model is built on people sharing personal information, I suppose this makes perfect sense.

What makes even more sense is the return Facebook gets on their openness. Infrastructure VP Jason Taylor estimates that over the past three years Facebook has saved some $2 billion by letting the members of its Open Compute Project have a go at its design specifications.

But what really turned heads was last year’s announcement of Wedge, an open top-of-rack switch developed with the OCP community. Wedge was followed eight months later by 6-Pack, a modular version of Wedge purposed for the network core. Added to these bare-metal switches is FBOSS, an open Linux-based network operating system (well, not exactly an operating system – more on that in a later post), and OpenBNC for system management.

Why this openness matters to the rest of us is that all of this is not just a mad-science project within Facebook’s lair. You can soon buy Wedge through Taiwanese switch manufacturer Accton, bringing switches into your data center for a fraction of the cost of proprietary switches with integrated operating systems. And you’re not locked in to running FBOSS on the switch either. You can shop around, choosing the NOS that makes the most sense to you, such as Open Network Linux, Cumulus Linux, Big Switch Switch Light, and possibly others such as Pica8’s PicOS or even Juniper’s JUNOS. If you have an intrepid team of developers with time on their hands you can even build your own.

I’ll write more about open switches and open software in subsequent articles, but for now I want to focus on what Facebook has been sharing about their innovations in data center network design and what it means for you. Last November, between the announcements of Wedge and 6-Pack, Facebook opened its newest data center in Altoona, Iowa. And as it has done with its other network innovations, Facebook openly shared its new design.

It turns out that there are some valuable takeaways from the Altoona design that can be applied to data centers of any size.

Hyperscale Misconceptions
Say “hyperscale data center” to most anyone who keeps up with such things, and they’ll reflexively name Facebook, Google, and Amazon. And because of this association, people think of hyperscale as something that applies only to mammoth data centers supported by an army of developers.

In reality, hyperscale just means the ability to scale out very rapidly. A hyperscale data center network might be small, but it can grow exponentially larger without changing the fundamental components and structures of the network. You should be able to use the same switches and the same interconnect patterns as you grow – just more of them. You do not need to throw out one class of switches for another just to accommodate growth.

You can have a data center consisting of just a few racks, and if the network is designed right it is a hyperscale data center. Hyperscale is a capability, not a size.

Another misconception about hyperscale data centers is that they are optimized for one or a relatively few applications at massive scale across the entire data center. This stems particularly from the Facebook and Google associations. Hyperscale designs are in fact ideal for very heavy east-west workloads, but hyperscale design principles can apply to an average enterprise data center, supporting hundreds of business applications just as easily as it supports a single social media, big data, or search app.

Hyperscale also conjures up images of do-it-yourself networks built from the silicon up by a cadre of brilliant young architects commanding salaries far out of reach of the average network operator. That might be true of the innovators, but because Facebook has laid its work right out on the table, mere mortals like you and I can put their design principles to work in our own data centers.

To appreciate the significance of the Altoona network, let’s first have a look at the network architecture Facebook is using in its earlier data centers.

Good is not good enough: Facebook’s cluster design
Figure 1 shows Facebook’s pre-Altoona aggregated cluster design, which they call the “4-post” architecture. Up to 255 server cabinets are connected through ToR switches (RSW) to high-density cluster switches (CSW). The RSWs have up to 44 10G downlinks and four or eight 10G uplinks. Four CSWs and their connected RSWs comprise a cluster.
041415 figure 1

Four “FatCat” (FC) aggregation switches interconnect the clusters. Each CSW has a 40G connection to each of the four FCs. An 80G protection ring connects the CSWs within each cluster, and the FCs are connected to a 160G protection ring.

This is a good design in several ways. Redundancy is good; oversubscription is good (generally 10:1 between RSWs and CSWs, 4:1 between CSWs and FCs); the topology is reasonably flat with no routers interconnecting clusters; and growth is managed simply, at least up to the 40G port capacity of the FCs, by adding new clusters.

But Facebook found that good is not good enough.
Most of the problems with this architecture stem from the necessity of very large switches for the CSWs and FCs:

With just four boxes handling all intra-cluster traffic and four boxes handling all inter-cluster traffic, a switch failure has a serious impact. One CSW failure reduces intra-cluster capacity by 25%, and one FC failure reduces inter-cluster capacity by 25%.
Very large switches restrict vendor choice – there are only a few “big iron” manufacturers. And because these few vendors sell relatively fewer big boxes, the per-port CapEx and OpEx is disproportionately high when compared to smaller switches offered by a larger number of vendors.
The proprietary internals of these big switches prevent customization, complicate management, and extend waits for bug fixes to months or even years.
Large switches tend to have oversubscribed switching fabrics, so all ports cannot be used simultaneously.
The cluster switches’ port densities limit the scale and bandwidth of these topologies, and make transitions to next-generation port speeds too slow.
Facebook’s distributed application creates machine-to-machine traffic that is difficult to manage within an aggregated network design.

The individual pods are connected via 40G uplinks to four spine planes, as shown in Figure 3. Each spine plane can have up to 48 switches. Key to this topology is that the fabric switches each have an equal number of 40G downlinks and uplinks – maxing out at 48 down an 48 up – so the fabric is non-blocking and there is no oversubscription between pods. Bisectional bandwidth, running to multi petabits, is consistent throughput the data center.

The diagram in Figure 3 shows the color-coded connections between fabric switches and their corresponding spine planes, but doesn’t do justice to how it all ties together. And something that surely strikes you is that there are a lot of links between fabric switches and spine switches. Optics and cables can become expensive, so it’s important to manage the distances between pods and spine planes. (If you’re interested in learning more about Facebook’s architectures, here are the source documents I used for cluster architecture (PDF) and the Altoona architecture.)

If you rotate the pods and line them up, the way the 48 racks of each pod would be arranged into rows in the data center, and then do the same with the spine planes – but lining them up perpendicular to the pods – you get the three-dimensional diagram shown in Figure 4, with the fabric switches becoming part of the spine planes. Distance between fabric switches and spine switches are reduced. Note that there are also edge pods, which provide external connectivity to the fabric.

Facebook network engineer Alexey Andreyev describes the fabric this way: “This highly modular design allows us to quickly scale capacity in any dimension, within a simple and uniform framework. When we need more compute capacity, we add server pods. When we need more intra-fabric network capacity, we add spine switches on all planes. When we need more extra-fabric connectivity, we add edge pods or scale uplinks on the existing edge switches.”

If you want to hear Andreyev describe the Altoona architecture himself, here’s an excellent video:

Altoona Takeaways

You might be wondering by now what any of this has to do with you and your data center. After all, Facebook is supporting more or less a single distributed application generating machine-to-machine traffic spanning its entire data center. You probably don’t. And while a 48-rack pod is a scale-down from their earlier clusters, most enterprise data centers in their entirety are smaller than 48 server racks.

So why should you care? Because it’s not the scale. It’s the scalability.
The fundamental takeaways from the Altoona design are the advantages of building your data center network using small open switches, in an architecture that enables you to scale to any size without changing the basic building blocks. First look at the switches. You don’t have to wait for Wedge or 6-Pack to go on the market (Accton will be selling Wedge soon). You can pick up bare-metal switches from Accton, Quanta, Celestica, Dell, and others for a fraction of the cost a big-name vendor will charge. For example, a Quanta switch with 32 40G ports lists for $7,495. A Juniper QFX5100 with 24 40G ports lists for a little under $30,000. Is that a fair comparison? That JUNOS premium gives you a pretty awesome operating system, but the bare-metal switch gives you a bunch of options for loading an OS of your choice.

As for the pod and core design, that can be adjusted to your own needs. The pod can be whatever size you want; while the “unit of network” is a wonderful concept, it’s not a rule. You can create a number of pod designs to fit specific workflow needs, or just to start a migration away from older architectures. Pods can also be application specific. As your data center network grows, or you adopt newer technologies, you can non-disruptively “plug in” new pods.

The same goes for the core part. You can build it at layer 2, or at layer 3. It all depends on the workflows you’re supporting. Using a simple pod and core design you can manageably grow your data center network at whatever rate makes sense to you, from a new pod every few years to an explosive growth of new pods every few months.


 

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What’s behind Microsoft’s not-so-crazy startup spending spree

CEO Nadella’s influence, platform-agnostic approach cited

Microsoft so far this year has been the most acquisitive company in enterprise IT, snapping up at least four firms on top of four others that it bought in the last two months of 2014. And while the buyouts might at first glance appear scattershot – we’re talking text analysis, calendaring and digital pen startups among others — there does seem to be a grand plan here.

Our regularly updated Enterprise Networking & IT Acquisition Tracker shows through the first calendar quarter that Microsoft has announced more than twice as many buyouts as any other company (not that all acquisitions are immediately made public and taking into account that our tracker is focused on enterprise-related acquisitions — Google has bought at least four consumer-oriented companies).

Microsoft (NASDAQ: MSFT) is starting its 40th year on a real buyout tear, fleshing out its mobile, cloud and big data/analytics offerings through acquisitions as it moves forward on big initiatives such as Windows 10 and its new Spartan browser. According to the company’s own Acquisition History chart — see a condensed and sortable version at the very end of this article — Microsoft has not gobbled up five companies in a quarter since 2008 when it bought 9 firms, not many of which most people would recall. Caligari or Credentica anyone?

Of the hundreds of TED talks available online, many are geared toward helping people view life in a new
Microsoft finished 2008 with 16 announced buyouts, the most of any year included in its Acquisition History tracker, which goes back to 1994. Wikipedia keeps a list that dates back to 1987, but few purchases were made between then and ’94. Other than for its largest deals, Microsoft is cryptic about how much it pays for companies, requiring those interested to ferret through its SEC filings for clues.

So, Microsoft is on a record-breaking M&A pace for calendar year 2015 — its fiscal year starts in July and ends in June — and all of the deals so far have possible enterprise IT implications. The rundown: LiveLoop is involved in PowerPoint collaboration; Equivio makes text analytics/e-discovery software that could bolster Office 365; and open source company Revolution Analytics promises to bring R programming to more IT shops. It has also been widely reported that Microsoft is buying Israel’s N-trig, which sells digital pens for devices like the Surface Pro 3 tablet (If the N-trig deal is in fact true, three of Microsoft’s last nine deals would have involved Israeli firms). One other deal, Microsoft’s acquisition of iOS/Android calendaring app maker Sunrise, is a consumer-focused pact on the surface but an investor says Sunrise had business use cases in mind.

Microsoft is also rumored to be a front-runner to buy social news reader Prismatic, which would not appear to be an enterprise-related buy.

As Fortune wrote recently, “Microsoft is buying startups people love…”
We reached out to Microsoft a week ago to discuss the spending spree with their M&A personnel and we will either update this article or create a new one if they do get back to us. In the meantime, we got feedback from industry watchers and investors, all of whom credit CEO Satya Nadella and his “new” Microsoft for heading aggressively down the acquisition path.

“Right now is a great time for Microsoft to be buying startups,” says Forrester VP and Principal Analyst J.P. Gownder (@JGownder). “Companies in some of these fields, like machine learning (Equivio), are solving really specific problems in computational intelligence, and would require Microsoft to staff up big teams to catch up. In other cases, the company purchased is already a key partner [such as heavily reported but unconfirmed N-trig buyout]. And in yet other cases, they are receiving IP that applies to their cross-platform strategy to deliver iOS and Android apps (as with Sunrise). These are all well-considered, smart acquisitions.”

CEO Nadella has indeed been a force behind Microsoft’s approach, Gownder says.
“Satya Nadella is driving a new Microsoft forward: One that is more agile, more attuned to customer needs, and less entrenched in the platform wars. He wants to deliver an experience for Windows that customers will ‘love’ (not tolerate), in his words, while also empowering Microsoft to deliver software and services on non-Windows platforms. To accomplish these goals, he needs the traditionally contemplative, slow Microsoft organization to move more quickly. So these acquisitions flow naturally from the new mindset, and bode well for Microsoft’s future (even if a lot of work remains to be done).”

Rob Go (@RobGo), co-founder and partner at Sunrise investor NextView Ventures, concurs.
“Microsoft has had a history of growing its product and talent base for many years. But under Satya Nadella, what we are seeing is a company moving with renewed strategic focus and conviction. One major theme that ties together many of these

acquisitions is a newfound respect for the ecosystem that surrounds the company’s software and hardware products. From an ethos that was much more protective and silo-ed, Microsoft is making major moves in extending their software onto other companies’ platforms (leading productivity apps on IOS and Android like Sunrise and Acompli, a platform-agnostic file viewing service like LiveLoop, third-party integrations with Dropbox, etc).”
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Six TED Talks that can change your career
Jack Gold (@jckgld), principal analyst and founder of J. Gold Associates, describes Microsoft’s moves as both offensive and defensive, and a good use of a cash hoard that hovers around $90 billion even if the company is just scooping up qualified professional staff additions.

“Nadella has refocused Microsoft on becoming innovative again, after a significant number of years where it mainly coasted,” he says. “The acquisitions signal a willingness to go outside for tech it doesn’t have, but thinks it needs to be competitive long term with Google, Apple, IBM, Samsung, etc. Further, it signals that it’s full blown into going to the cloud, after its lukewarm thrusts under the previous management. That’s the offensive side.”

Defensively, look for Microsoft to consume valuable startups and other companies going forward before Google, Apple and others do, Gold says. “As for what this means for enterprise, I see Microsoft’s newfound willingness to go after tech outside its four walls as a refresh of its earlier years where it was an innovator” with Office, Exchange and Windows, he says.

While none of Microsoft’s latest deals would be characterized as blockbusters – unlike billion-dollar-plus transactions in recent years for Nokia’s phone business, Skype and even Minecraft maker Mojang – the startups being stockpiled could pay big dividends for the company and its customers.


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Acer Chromebook 15 review: Massive display, with mixed results overall

I used the Acer Chromebook 15, which boasts the largest screen of any Chromebook, and I’m not entirely sure how I feel about it yet.

Over the past few months I’ve had the opportunity to review two laptops. Both of them being… rather beefy: the Chromebook Pixel and the Dell M3800. These two machines are powerhouses – sporting extremely high-resolution screens and high-end processors – with price tags to match. But then, this past week, the delivery man dropped off an entirely different category of laptop: the Acer Chromebook 15.

The model I have here is the CB5-571-C09S, sporting a 15.6-inch display (with a 1080p resolution), an Intel Celeron CPU (at 1.6GHz), 4GB of RAM, and a 32GB SSD. All of which costs $350 retail.

I’m going to come right out and say it – I’ve had a difficult time figuring out exactly how I feel about this laptop.

On the one hand, it has a huge display, the biggest of any Chromebook ever made. It may not come even close to the resolution of Google’s Pixel, which rocks 2560×1700, but the Acer’s 15.6-inch screen makes the Pixel’s sub-13-inch screen look tiny by comparison. This is a big freaking laptop screen.
See also: A Linux user tries out Windows 10

The screen quality, it should be noted, is pretty nice. The viewing angles aren’t quite as good as the Pixel (or the Dell M3800’s 4K display), but it’s not bad either. And, considering the massive price difference between the Acer and those other laptops ($350 for the Acer vs. over $2,000 for the Dell and over $1,000 for the Pixel), that reduction in quality is actually not as dramatic as you might expect.

The guts of the machine (CPU, RAM, and hard drive) are all excellent… for a $350 machine. If you sit down and compare the specs of this relatively gargantuan-sized Chromebook against a Pixel, you will be disappointed. But when you remember that you can buy three of these Acer laptops for the cost of a single Pixel, things start to look (a lot) more interesting.

Is the Acer Chromebook 15 a speed demon? No. It isn’t exactly decked out with the latest and greatest i7 processor. But it’s no slouch, either. In fact, I very rarely experienced any sluggishness with this machine. Even with a large number of tabs open and Google Play Music streaming some tunes in the background, the entire system was peppy and responsive.
See also: Dell’s Ubuntu-powered M3800 Mobile Workstation is a desktop destroyer

And, let’s be honest, in a Chromebook that’s really what you care about: lots of Chrome tabs, background audio, and playing either a YouTube or Netflix HD video clip. This little Acer (did I just call this mega-sized laptop “little”?) can handle all of that without slowing down in the slightest.

The battery life is pretty solid as well. Acer claims around nine hours of battery life. I drained the battery (from completely charged down to nothing) in around eight hours. But that was fairly heavy usage with music playing in the background the majority of the time (one does want to rock out while reviewing hardware, after all). Eight hours of battery life on a gigantic 15.6-inch screen seems really solid to me.

So, what’s the problem? It sounds like I’ve just described a pretty doggone great laptop at a super low price. If I stopped right there, purchasing this Chromebook is a no-brainer.

But, instead of stopping there, let’s talk about the build quality for a minute.

When I first unpacked the box, and pulled out this large white laptop, I was struck by something… profound.

This machine is… profoundly plastic.

The model I have here is white. Solid white. With a subtle crisscross embossing patterning covering the entire outside.

The plastic isn’t the fancy kind of plastic, either. It’s the kind of plastic that many of my toys from the 1980’s were made with. The kind where, when you tap on it with your fingernail, it makes that distinct “just tapped on a plastic toy” sound. In other words: it feels cheap.

When you open the lid and look at the keyboard, the initial impression is a positive one. The keyboard is certainly full laptop-sized. Typing on the keys feels good… for the most part. Typing aggressively on the keyboard – which I tend to do – results in a sound not unlike banging on a small plastic drum. Or, if you had an original Nintendo Entertainment System, the sound when you knocked on the top of it. That “hollow plastic shell” sound. That’s the sound that banging on this keyboard makes. It’s not loud, and it’s not obnoxious, by any means. But it sounds cheap.

That’s a weird thing to say in a laptop review, I know. “It sounds cheap when you tap on it.” But it’s true. And it’s noteworthy. And it begins to make me realize why this laptop is available at such a cheap price.

Also… the screen bends. A significant amount. And rather easily. If you open the laptop (lift the screen up) and put just a small amount of pressure on the bottom of the bezel around the screen, it bends noticeably. This issue seems to pertain mostly to the display half. The keyboard half feels far sturdier and doesn’t seem to suffer from any bending or rigidity issues.

Interestingly, there are two things that do not feel quite as “cheap.” The trackpad (which has a good feel and a distinctive “click” to it when pressed) and the speakers (which are large, with visible plastic grating covering them, that produce quite decent sound for this price range of a laptop). Two components that, often, even expensive laptops don’t do well. So big high-five to the Acer crew there.

So, to sum up: on the one hand, this laptop sports the largest screen on any Chromebook and packs enough muscle to stand toe-to-toe with most other Chromebooks. But, on the other hand, the build quality reminds you that you only paid a fraction of the price that you would for a “premium laptop.”

Would I recommend this laptop to someone? You know what… yes. Yes, I would.

If you want a Linux-powered Chromebook with a big freaking screen… this is the Chromebook for you. I can literally put a Chromebook Pixel in front of the Acer’s screen and it doesn’t even come close to blocking the view.

It’s also an incredibly good deal. For $350, I could lug this laptop around with me and not worry too much about banging it up. I could break one and buy an identical replacement, and still have save several hundred dollars over buying a Pixel.

So, yes. The Acer Chromebook 15 is a good machine with an interesting place in the market. I’m glad Acer is making it and I can think of some people who would truly enjoy using it for the price.

But what would really interest me is if Acer were to come out with a premium version of this Chromebook. Made with metal instead of plastic. With a beefier processor and more storage. But still, of course, keeping a huge (for a laptop) 15.6-inch screen, I could see that machine really turning some heads (including mine). Even if it cost two to three times as much.


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7 things we want to see in the Surface Pro 4

Perhaps a “Surface Pro 4” will debut at the same time or soon after Windows 10 launches. Here’s what we’d like to see in the Surface Pro 4.

Surface Pro 4
Microsoft’s Surface Pro 3 has become a surprise hit, bringing in more than $900 million in revenue, according to industry analysts, and generating such enthusiasm that fans are looking forward to the next version. The Surface Pro 3 was designed to present Windows 8.1 at its best, so it’s expected that its successor will serve as a showcase for Windows 10, which could come out as early as this summer. Perhaps a “Surface Pro 4” will debut at the same time or soon after Windows 10 launches. Here’s what we’d like to see in the Surface Pro 4.
031615 surfacepro4 2

A better camera.
In our review of the Surface Pro 3, we found that its rear camera was unable to focus on objects within a few feet of it. That’s unfortunate because it means you cannot use it to capture an image of a sheet of paper with text on it. For the Surface Pro 4, we hope it has an improved rear camera that would easily let us do this. This would make the tablet even more appealing in an office environment or for work-related tasks if you can use it to quickly snap images of documents

Another keyboard option.
Generally, we like the Type Cover: Surface Pro 3’s keyboard (sold separately) that also serves as a protective cover for the tablet. However, the keys can feel slightly mushy if you don’t type with your fingers curved and wrists raised. For the Surface Pro 4, Microsoft may want to consider offering a second keyboard with keys more like a traditional notebook. The design should have sturdy hinges so that the Surface Pro 4 can attach to it (perhaps by strong magnets) without the need for propping the tablet up by its built-in kickstand, which is what has to be done now with the Surface Pro 3 when using the Type Cover.

A (slightly) larger screen
Speculation has it that the Surface Pro 4 might come in two screen sizes, possibly 8 inches and 14 inches. Microsoft considered releasing a 7 inch Surface Pro 3, but cancelled it. For the fourth Surface, the company may be wise to repeat this strategy.
 We like Surface Pro 3’s 12-inch diagonal size and 3:2 aspect ratio, because it approximates the dimensions of an 8.5-inch-by-11-inch sheet (though just a bit smaller). To continue making the Surface appeal to the business market, the Surface Pro 4 should have a screen that’s perhaps a little bit larger to match the size of a standard business letter.

Processors that run cooler.
The Surface Pro 3 is available running an Intel i3, i5 or i7 processor, but there have been reports of the i7 model running too hot and therefore glitching out. Fortunately, it’s likely that the Surface Pro 4 will use the new Intel Core M line — powerful processors which were designed for slim, mobile devices, and they don’t use fans.

Continued compatibility with Windows desktop apps
The first two generations of Surfaces were available in two varieties: with processors that could run standard Windows desktop applications (the Surface Pro), and ones that could only run only Windows Store apps (Surface.) This was certainly confusing to customers, so Microsoft wisely didn’t release a “Surface 3.” This made the Surface Pro 3 a unique item onto itself, lessened brand confusion, and met buyers’ expectations. So the fourth generation Surface should not include a “Surface 4.”

More software for the digital pen
The Surface Pen is great; sketching and writing with it on the Surface Pro 3’s display conveys a close sensation of using an ink pen on paper. The tablet doesn’t include much software specially designed for it, except for the OneNote app which implements a UI to make using it with the Surface Pen easier. So we’d like to see more applications for the Surface Pen, such as a tool that can take your PDFs or Word documents and let them be signed by someone using the Surface Pen.

Finally, don’t mess with its good looks.
We really like the Surface Pro 3’s case — its smooth flat surfaces machined from magnesium feel cool to the touch, and even the hinge mechanism of its kickstand gives a sense of solid mechanical design when you pop it out to prop up the tablet. Perhaps the Surface Pro 4 will be slightly thinner and lighter (the Surface Pro 3 is 0.36 inches thin and weighs 1.76 pounds), but overall we see little that needs to be improved.


 

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Microsoft prepares Windows 10 for panoply of sensors

With the Microsoft’s HoloLens headset, users can view virtual 3D images within the everyday real world.
Credit: Microsoft

A unified sensor interface will allow Windows 10 devices to support a slew of new environmental, biometric, proximity and motion sensors

Windows 10 devices in the future could be measuring temperature, environmental pressure and carbon dioxide levels, as Microsoft provides an interface to support a wide range of sensors.

Microsoft is building a unified sensor interface and universal driver for Windows 10 that will support a slew of environmental, biometric, proximity, health and motion sensors, the company said last week at the WinHEC trade show in Shenzhen. Microsoft is also providing the building blocks for Windows 10 to support sensors that haven’t yet been released.

With support for more sensors, Microsoft hopes to bring “new functionality” to PCs, smartphones, tablets, gadgets and electronics running Windows 10, according to a slide from a presentation.

Microsoft is putting Windows 10 — which is due for release later this year — in PCs, tablets, smartphones, smart devices, wearables, gadgets and Internet of things devices. The company has also shown the future-looking HoloLens holographic headset working with Windows 10; together, the OS and the headset could act as a launchpad for new sensor applications.

Device makers could add barometer, pollution, ultraviolet, temperature, altitude and other sensors to Windows 10 devices. Also through the drivers, motion detection sensors will be able to track activities such as the number of steps users take in a day, and exchange data easily with other Windows 10 devices. The motion detection sensors will also take into account where devices are — on pockets, in hand or in bag — to ensure accurate measurements.

Microsoft is also using sensors to improve the way users interact with Windows 10 devices.
For example, a major attraction of Windows 10 is its ability to automatically switch between tablet and PC modes, which is made possible by sensors in hinges that detect the position of a laptop. Through a feature called Windows Hello, Microsoft is also using sensors to bring biometric authentication to Windows 10 PCs and tablets.

Windows 10 is friendlier to sensors than predecessor operating systems, Microsoft and Hewlett-Packard officials said at a press gathering last month.

But sensors need to be identified and supported by the OS, much like other hardware components. The universal driver is designed to let device makers could plug a variety of sensors into Windows 10 devices and not worry about driver development. Microsoft will also provide a separate development kit for those who want to develop independent sensor drivers to expand the functionality of hardware.

Sensors are ubiquitous across devices, and a unified driver interface could aid Microsoft’s effort to put Windows 10 in more gadgets, appliances and other data-collecting instruments, said Jim McGregor, principal analyst at Tirias Research.

Supporting more sensors in Windows 10 is also a key part of Microsoft’s plans to expand into the Internet of Things market, which revolves around data-collecting instruments feeding telemetry to Microsoft’s Azure cloud service, McGregor said.

Device makers could put sensors in mobile devices, but some sensors such as temperature and pollution monitors are more likely to go in street lamps or traffic lights. As part of Microsoft’s “mobile-first, cloud-first” strategy, data from such sources could be fed to Azure for further analysis, McGregor said.

“You have to be able to support the broadest array of applications, and the sensor data is critical,” McGregor said.

Microsoft is trying to unite disparate mobile, PC and embedded Windows operating systems under the Windows 10 umbrella. The company is encouraging the development of Windows-based devices via boards like Raspberry Pi 2 and Qualcomm’s DragonBoard 410c, which will be able to run a custom version of Windows 10 called Athens. Makers — do-it-yourselfers — have developed sensor-packed robots, drone, health monitors, gadgets and wearables with those boards.

In a separate presentation at WinHEC, Microsoft said it would also bring Windows 10 to its own Sharks Cove and Intel’s MinnowBoard Max board, which are used to prototype electronics, appliances and devices with sensors. The devices have low-power ports such as GPIO, SPI, I2C, and UART to which a variety of motion, imaging and other sensors can be attached.


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Future-proof your IT career: 8 tech areas that will still be hot in 2020

It’s prudent for IT pros to cultivate skills that are in high demand. Even better are skills that will stay in demand. Here are eight key technology areas that show no signs of falling out of favor.

Wanted: Programmers, security experts, cloud capacity managers
More than 90% of U.S. companies are using some form of cloud computing, according to CompTIA’s most recent Trends in Cloud Computing study. Moreover, the November 2014 report found that companies are moving infrastructure or applications between private and public clouds. IT leaders predict that movement will accelerate in the future, which will generate a host of cloud-centric jobs, including cloud security.

A related position will be dedicated to cloud capacity management. “We expect many [organizations] will operate in a hybrid environment, a mix of private and public cloud, so the question becomes how to dynamically switch demand for compute and storage from private and public clouds,” says Mike Sutcliff, group chief executive for Accenture Digital. “That’s going to require new techniques and disciplines that many IT organizations don’t have in place today.”

Programmers skilled in Perl, Ruby, Ruby on Rails and Python, Java and JavaScript, as well as those comfortable with API development and a DevOps environment, will also be in high demand, because cloud technology depends heavily on those disciplines. (See 10 hot cloud computing skills for details.)

Wanted: Data architects, integration experts, Hadoop pros
Cliff Justice, leader of KPMG’s Shared Services and Outsourcing Advisory practice, says organizational needs around analytics will be huge, driven partly by the sheer volume of data collected but also by the increasing number of applications (such as robotics) fueled by analytical output. As a result, companies are adding and creating IT positions to handle the work.

According to Barry Brunsman, principal in KPMG’s CIO Advisory Management Consulting practice (pdf), you’ll see roles like these: Data architects, who design the structure to support emerging needs; data integration engineers, who ensure that data solutions and analytics from any number of sources can be integrated; and IT planning analysts, who aggregate and analyze data from many internal and external sources to help IT know what its business partners are likely to need in the future.

Technical titles that are and will remain hot include Hadoop developer, data engineer, big data software architect and enterprise data architect, says Christian P. Hagen, a partner with the Strategic IT Practice at management consulting firm A.T. Kearney.

At the same time, organizational demands around analytics will create a new batch of leadership positions tasked with understanding how to use analytics to achieve goals and objectives. “Analytics won’t mean just working with tools. Companies will need someone out in front, someone who can get at how analytics will transform the company and IT as well,” Hagen says.

Hagen says leadership positions emerging in this field are chief analytics officer, chief data officer, chief digital officer, head of business analytics and vice president of enterprise data.

Wanted: “Digital artisans”
The pressure to be more than a pure technologist will continue in the upcoming years – and that means more than adding one or two business skills to your resume. Tech pros who successfully navigate the changes roiling the industry will be able to demonstrate business acumen across the spectrum, says R “Ray” Wang, founder and principal analyst with Constellation Research Inc. He calls these new specialists “digital artisans,” explaining that they’re “those who can balance right brain and left brain skills.”

Middle-of-the-road products, services and solutions aren’t enough to sustain companies in an increasingly competitive landscape, Wang says. To thrive in the next five to 10 years, organizations need to seek out talent “that can think outside of the box but execute within the system,” he says. To deliver that kind of strategic value, IT pros need to be authentic, relevant, transformation-minded, intelligent, speedy, artistic and non-conformist. (Get it? A-R-T-I-S-A-N.)

Wanted: Hardware, software, analytics experts
The 2014 PwC report The Wearable Future (pdf) sees a world where wearable devices will be used to train new employees, speed up the sales process, improve customer service, create hands-free guidance for workers and improve the accuracy of information collected to serve the growing analytics movement at companies everywhere.

Jack Cullen, president of IT staffing firm Modis, predicts the move to wearables could spur as much, if not more, new development as did the move to smartphones. “By the time 2020 rolls around, wearable devices could be as common as the iPhone today, and that creates all new opportunities,” Cullen says.

Cullen expects that organizations of all kinds will identify workers and processes that could benefit from wearables, which it turn means IT departments will seek out technologists with the ability to deploy, manage and maintain hardware as well as experts who can develop, customize and support the applications and analytics programs that will make wearables useful within their specific organizations.

Wanted: In-the-weeds tinkerers and big-picture thinkers
Research firm IDC predicts in its Worldwide and Regional Internet of Things 2014-2020 Forecast that the global IoT market will grow from $1.9 trillion in 2013 to $7.1 trillion in 2020.

“Technology is being built into almost everything we have,” says David Dodd, vice president of IT and CIO at Stevens Institute of Technology. That means a bright future for technologists who understand the underpinnings of this kind of connectivity. Indeed, IoT could breed a new specialist who can combine skills in hardware, engineering, programming, analytics, privacy and security.

Dodd, though, believes the IoT skill most in demand will be in understanding what value comes from all this connectivity. Organizations are realizing it’s not enough to simply connect items and gather data, they need to know how those connections and the data they generate can solve problems or advance organizational goals. Companies “want people who can understand and formulate the future of IoT,” he says.

Position yourself for long-term growth
Smart companies have a corporate roadmap that spells out where they’d like to be three, five and 10 years out, how they’re going to get there, and how technology fits into that vision. As a smart IT professional, can you say how your skills and position figure into your company’s plans — or the industry’s as a whole?

Sure, organizations will still need programmers and developers, but they’ll want (and pay better salaries to) programmers who know how to work with robots and developers who know how to apply their craft to wearable devices. So, yes, while labor market experts expect that IT as a whole will continue to add good jobs through 2020 and beyond, savvy tech pros are taking pains to ensure their personal roadmap is steering them towards concentrations with maximum longevity.

What follows are some specialties worth pursuing to future-proof your tech career.

Wanted: Tech experts to lay the groundwork for enterprise AI/robotics
Artificial intelligence and robotics have already moved from science fiction to reality, and soon they’ll be coming to a business near you. According to a 2014 Pew Research Center report (pdf), these technologies “will permeate wide segments of daily life by 2025, with huge implications for a range of industries such as healthcare, transportation and logistics, customer service and home maintenance.”

Not surprisingly, technologists skilled in this area will be in high demand, says KPMG’s Justice. He notes that IT professionals will have roles to play in programming, integrating and building out the infrastructure for organizational applications of AI and robotics.

Wanted: Programmers to tap internal, external power of APIs
There’s already plenty of buzz around application program interfaces (APIs) — the sets of routines, protocols and tools that specify how software components should interact and facilitate access to Web-based applications.

Software vendors have been providing API for years, and now companies of all disciplines are making theirs public so other developers can design applications that interact with their original software. For that reason, the importance of APIs is about to explode. Companies will require more and more APIs to tap the power of emerging technologies, such as the Internet of Things, robotics and artificial intelligence, as well as maximize value for existing tech-driven trends such as mobile connectivity.

IT shops will need professionals to actively develop and manage APIs for use within the organization and to connect with outside users, Accenture’s Sutcliff says. These technologists need to have strong development skills as well as an understanding of data sources, data structures and the organization’s applications portfolios. Sutcliff notes that this position won’t be about one specific language or API, but more about assembling pieces together.

Wanted: Broad and deep security chops
The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics anticipates a 37% growth in information security analyst positions between 2012 and 2022 for good reason — all these emerging technologies are requiring, and will continue to demand, even more attention from an organization’s security program.

“For all the great opportunities that social and mobile and cloud and analytics and the Internet of Things are going to bring, any economic gains that will be realized by all these new technologies can be undercut significantly if there aren’t really robust security programs and protocols in place,” says Matt Aiello, a partner in the Washington office of Heidrick & Struggles, which specializes in recruiting CIOs and senior-level technology, engineering and operations executives. Aiello and others say the security expert of the future will need to ensure that security is embedded in all levels.


 

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The Big Question Rises How To Become Microsoft, Cisco, ComTIA Certified

The big question rises how to become the Microsoft certified , All Microsoft certifications are acquired by simply taking a series of exams. If you can self-study for said exams, and then pass them, then you can acquire the certification for the mere cost of the exam (and maybe whatever self-study materials you purchase).

You’ll also need, at minimum (in addition to the MCTS), the CompTIA A+, Network+ and Security+ certs; as well as the Cisco CCNA cert.

Microsoft Certified Technology Specialist (MCTS) – This is the basic entry point of Microsoft Certifications. You only need to pass a single certification test to be considered an MCTS and there are numerous different courses and certifications that would grant you this after passing one. If you are shooting for some of the higher certifications that will be discussed below, then you’ll get this on your way there.

Microsoft Certified Professional Developer (MCPD) – This certification was Microsoft’s previous “Developer Certification” meaning that this was the highest certification that was offered that consisted strictly of development-related material. Receiving it involved passing four exams within specific areas (based on the focus of your certification). You can find the complete list of courses and paths required for the MCPD here.

Microsoft Certified Solutions Developer (MCSD) – This is Microsoft’s most recent “Developer Certification” which will replace the MCPD Certification (which is being deprecated / retired in July of 2013). The MCSD focuses within three major areas of very recent Microsoft development technologies and would likely be the best to persue if you wanted to focus on current and emerging skills that will be relevant in the coming years. You can find the complete list of courses and paths required for the MCSD here.

The Microsoft Certifications that you listed are basically all of the major ones within the realm of development. I’ll cover each of the major ones and what they are :

Most people, however, take some kind of course. Some colleges — especially career and some community colleges — offer such courses (though usually they’re non-credit). Other providers of such courses are private… some of them Microsoft Certified vendors of one type or another, who offer the courses in such settings as sitting around a conference table in their offices. Still others specialize in Microsoft certification training, and so have nice classrooms set up in their offices.

There are also some online (and other forms of distance learning) courses to help prepare for the exams.

The cost of taking classes to prepare can vary wildly. Some are actually free (or very nearly so), while others can cost hundreds of dollars. It all just depends on the provider.

And here’s a Google search of MCTS training resources (which can be mind-numbing in their sheer numbers and types, so be careful what you choose):

There are some pretty good, yet relatively inexpensive, ways to get vendor certificate training. Be careful not to sign-up for something expensive and involved when something cheaper — like subscribing to an “all the certificates you care to study for one flat rate” web site — would, in addition to purchasing a study guide or two at a bookstore, likely be better.

If you want a career in IT, then you need to have both an accredited degree in same (preferably a bachelors over an associates), and also a variety of IT certifications. The MCTS is but one that you will need.

You should probably also get the Microsoft MCSE and/or MCSA. The ICS CISSP. And the ITIL.

There are others, but if you have those, you’ll be evidencing a broad range of IT expertise that will be useful, generally. Then, in addition, if the particular IT job in which you end-up requires additional specialist certification, then you can get that, too (hopefully at the expense of your employer who requires it of you).

Then, whenever (if ever) you’re interested in a masters in IT, here’s something really cool of which you should be aware…

There’s a big (and fully-accredited, fully-legitimate) university in Australia which has partnered with Microsoft and several other vendors to structure distance learning degrees which include various certifications; and in which degrees, considerable amounts of credit may be earned simply by acquiring said certifications. It’s WAY cool.

One can, for example, get up to half of the credit toward a Masters degree in information technology by simply getting an MCSE (though the exams which make it up must be certain ones which correspond with the university’s courses). I’ve always said that if one were going to get an MCSE, first consult the web site of this university and make sure that one takes the specific MCSE exams that this school requires so that if ever one later decided to enter said school’s masters program, one will have already earned up to half its degree’s credits by simply having the MCSE under his/her belt. Is that cool, or what?

I wouldn’t rely on them over experience (which is far and away the most valuable asset out there) but they are worth pursuing especially if you don’t feel like you have enough experience and need to demonstrate that you have the necessary skills to land a position as a developer.

If you are going to pursue a certification, I would recommend going after the MCSD (Web Applications Track) as it is a very recent certification that focuses on several emerging technologies that will still be very relevant (if not more-so) in the coming years. You’ll pick up the MCTS along the way and then you’ll have both of those under your belt. MCPD would be very difficult to achieve based on the short time constraints (passing four quite difficult tests within just a few months is feasible, but I don’t believe that it is worth it since it will be “retired” soon after).

No job experience at all is necessary for any of the Microsoft Certifications, you can take them at any time as long as you feel confident enough with the materials of the specific exam you should be fine. The tests are quite difficult by most standards and typically cover large amounts of material, but with what it sounds like a good bit of time to study and prepare you should be fine.

Certifications, in addition to degrees, are so important in the IT field, now, that one may almost no longer get a job in that field without both. The certifications, though, are so important that one who has a little IT experience can get a pretty good job even without a degree as long as he has all the right certs. But don’t do that. Definitely get the degree… and not merely an associates. Get the bachelors in IT; and make sure it’s from a “regionally” accredited school.

Then get the certs I mentioned (being mindful, if you think you’ll ever get an IT masters, to take the specific exams that that Strut masters program requires so that you’ll have already earned up to half the credit just from the certs).

If you already have two years of experience in working in the .NET environment, a certification isn’t going to guarantee that you will get employed, a salary increase or any other bonuses for achieving the honor. However, it can help supplement your resume by indicating that you are familiar with specific technologies enough to apply them in real-world applications to solve problems.

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