Microsoft recently announced some interesting new training and certification options for IT administrators working with Windows Server 2003, including the first-ever Microsoft Small Business Server (SBS) 2003 exam. These options will provide individuals with a variety of choices when completing the MCSE or Microsoft Certified Systems Administrator (MCSA) certification tracks for Windows 2003.

Aimed at individuals involved with designing and deploying Windows-based IT infrastructures, the MCSE designation has been around for years, although perceptions that the certification is too easy and an overabundance of certification how-to books have somewhat diluted its perceived value. However, with the changes Microsoft recently made to the certifications, such complaints are no longer valid. Now, MCSEs are expected to have at least 1 year of hands-on experience implementing and administering a network OS to pass the exams, and almost half of the items in the core certification exams involve troubleshooting skills that often require real-world, hands-on experience.

For the Windows 2003 MCSE certification, you'll need to pass six core exams (four networking system exams, one client OS exam, and one design exam), two upgrade exams, and one elective exam. Separate upgrade paths exist for those with Windows 2000 and Windows NT 4.0 credentials.

Launched during the Win2K time frame, the MCSA certification recognizes an individual's proficiency with Microsoft products and technologies. Whereas the typical skills of an MCSE are used during the planning, design, and implementation phases of a Windows technology rollout, MCSA covers the management and maintenance phases. For this reason, typical MCSA applicants include systems administrators, network administrators, and technical support specialists. For the Windows 2003 MCSA certification, applicants must pass three core exams (one client OS exam and two networking OS exams) and one elective exam. An upgrade path for those with Win2K MCSA credentials also exists.

Some exams are new to Windows 2003. For example, in December, Microsoft will release an exam called Designing, Deploying, and Managing a Network Solution for a Small- and Medium-Sized Business. This exam, an elective for the Windows 2003 MCSE track, concentrates on SBS 2003. In October, Microsoft will introduce the exam Implementing and Supporting Microsoft Windows Server 2003 Solutions in the Data Center. This exam is also an elective for the Windows 2003 MCSE track, and it concentrates on the unique problems surrounding managing the high-end hardware and software used in a data center environment.

Both the MCSE and MCSA designations are worthwhile goals, but Microsoft has recently added two specializations to each certification. Specializations help individuals identify a specific technology focus. For both MCSE and MCSA, the first specialization, predictably, was security (MCSA: Security on Windows 2000 and MCSE: Security on Windows 2000). With Windows 2003, Microsoft has added one more specialization to each certification--messaging--which shows experience with Microsoft Exchange Server 2003. Both the security and messaging specializations require you to pass additional exams. For example, the MCSE: Messaging on Microsoft Windows Server 2003 Certification requirements include the usual MCSE requirements plus two core messaging exams--Exam 70-284: Implementing and Managing Microsoft Exchange Server 2003 and Exam 70-285: Designing a Microsoft Exchange Server 2003 Organization. The security specialization for Windows 2003 includes three extra exams.

As an added bonus, if you're among the first 5000 administrators or engineers to be certified for Windows 2003, Microsoft will supply you with a special edition Early Achiever certificate and wallet card. If that doesn't inspire you to get trained and certified on Windows 2003, what will?

If you're not yet ready to commit to a certification program as extensive as the MCSE or MCSA, Microsoft also offers other certification credentials that might be of interest. Individuals who pass one certification exam, for example, are recognized as Microsoft Certified Professionals (MCPs) in that product. Microsoft offers an MCSD certification for enterprise Microsoft .NET developers, a Microsoft Certified Application Developer (MCAD) certification for .NET application and Web services developers, a Microsoft Certified DBA (MCDBA) certification for Microsoft SQL Server administration and design, a Microsoft Certified Trainer (MCT) certification for those who want to train others, and a Microsoft Office Specialist certification, which recognizes skills with Microsoft's desktop applications. All these certifications, to one degree or another, can help you prove your worth to current and potential employers.