Is the AZ-104 Worth It?
| certifications | cloud - Ross Heintzkill

Is the AZ-104 Worth It?

From massive multinational corporations to small local companies, Microsoft Azure is used by organizations all over the world. Despite their many huge differences, companies that use Azure have one thing in common: they all need IT staff to make their Azure run right. Microsoft offers an exam to prove whether or not an administrator is prepared to manage everything Azure is capable of, it's the AZ-104, and passing it earns an administrator Microsoft's associate-level Azure certification.

First and foremost, an Azure administrator keeps a company's entire Azure environment running smoothly. That takes managing users, configuring storage, deploying compute resources, and monitoring virtual networking resources. The AZ-104 tests an administrator's skill and knowledge with all those job responsibilities. Read on to learn whether or not the AZ-104 is worth your time, money and effort.

What is the AZ-104?

AZ-104 is the certifying exam for Microsoft's associate-level Azure certification. The exam's full title is
"Exam AZ-104: Microsoft Azure Administrator" and the full title of the certification is "Microsoft Certified: Azure Administrator Associate". The AZ-104 tests an administrator's ability to implement, manage and monitor an entire Azure environment.

Microsoft offers several certifications related to Azure administration, and Azure Administrator Associate isn't the most fundamental one. The Microsoft Certified: Azure Fundamentals is the beginner-level certification for IT professionals who're just getting their feet wet with Azure. AZ-104 and the Azure Administrator Associate are considered intermediate-level.

Many of the other Azure certifications focus on specialized knowledge like Azure Stack Hub operations or Identity and Access administration. Unlike those specialized certifications, the AZ-104 covers broad administrative knowledge of Azure. Someone with their Azure Administrator Associate is prepared to be an all-purpose member of an Azure administration team. A team of Azure administrators have many different responsibilities for a company's Azure environment, so the AZ-104 tests whether an administrator is ready for managing Azure identities, configuring storage, deploying Azure compute resources, implementing virtual networking, and backing up Azure resources.

What are the AZ-104 Exam Objectives?

The Microsoft Certified: Azure Administrator Associate certification has only one exam – the AZ-104. AZ-104 has five exam objectives:

  • Manage Azure identities and governance
  • Implement and manage storage
  • Deploy and manage Azure compute resources
  • Configure and manage virtual networking
  • Monitor and backup Azure resources

While each of those broad categories can get into highly detailed specifics, for the most part, it's plain to see that the objective of AZ-104 is to test whether or not an IT professional can step into the role of an Azure administrator and be proficient from day one.

How Much Does the AZ-104 Exam Cost?

The AZ-104 costs $165 to attempt. The AZ-104 is the only exam needed to earn the Azure Administrator Associate certification and there are no prerequisites, so $165 is the only hard cost for earning it. Of course, attempting the test without preparing probably wouldn't go well for most people, so the cost of training, courses and even books should get factored into that.

If your ability to keep a job or be hired was directly affected by the COVID-19 pandemic, you could be eligible for taking the test for free. This is a limited time offer and you should check Microsoft's AZ-104 page for more information.

What Experience Do You Need for the AZ-104?

The AZ-104 doesn't have a formal prerequisite, so you can technically attempt it at any time. But it's important to keep in mind what the certification is testing for: whether or not an administrator is ready to perform as a member of an Azure administration team. Azure administrators often work in teams where they're expected to be something of a jack-of-all-trades. Microsoft's promise to employers is that someone with this certification can do any associate-level administration or maintenance task on their Azure environments.

That's why Microsoft recommends that you have at least six months of experience with Azure before you attempt the AZ-104. Hands-on experience with the ins and outs of administering Azure will make sure you have a strong understanding of core Azure services as well as Azure workloads, security and governance you'll be working with. Outside of that, you should know how to use the Azure command line interface, the Azure portal, PowerShell, and Azure Resource Manager templates.

Who Should Take the AZ-104?

Systems administrators, network administrators and new IT professionals should seriously consider taking the AZ-104. If you hope or plan to work with Azure in your career, taking the AZ-104 is how you can demonstrate readiness to potential employers and managers.

Is AZ-104 Worth It for Systems Administrators?

The AZ-104 is definitely worth it for systems administrators, but only if the devices and networks you work on are powered by Microsoft Azure. Azure administration is highly similar to traditional, on-prem systems administration in a lot of ways, but if you don't work on Azure, the methods you'll be tested on in the AZ-104 won't apply to you.

On the other hand, if you've been working outside of Azure as a systems administrator and are trying to prepare for a migration to Azure, the AZ-104 is very worth it. Preparing for and taking the AZ-104 can show a systems administrator what the cloud service does automatically and where it differs from traditional administration.

Is AZ-104 Worth It for Network Administrators?

Just like with systems administrators, for network administrators whose networks use Microsoft Azure, the AZ-104 is absolutely worth it. Especially if you've spent some of your career working on networks that aren't connected to Azure, the prep work you'll do will show you how to combine your traditional skills with what Azure does automatically for a network.

If you plan to make a long-term career out of network administration, you should be looking for opportunities to explore virtual networking. The AZ-104 deals with virtual machines and virtual networking both, and mastering it early in your career can mean growing with the technology throughout your career.

Is AZ-104 Worth It for a Help Desk Analyst?

Yes, the AZ-104 is very worth it for Help Desk Analysts or other help desk personnel. In your work, you probably encounter opportunities to troubleshoot or debug issues with flowcharts or troubleshooting guides. If you want to advance into more advanced maintenance and monitoring responsibilities, the AZ-104 is how you can learn about Azure's functionality.

While at the help desk, your job may not extend far beyond writing and submitting tickets, but the AZ-104 is one way of demonstrating excellence and commitment to move you into teams of administrators who take up and close those tickets. If you support teams that use Azure in your position, passing the AZ-104 can be an important career step as you differentiate yourself and show that you're expanding in your position.

Is the AZ-104 Worth It?

For junior IT professionals who want to earn a certification that gives them a solid foundation in basic administration skills, the AZ-104 is well worth the time, energy and cost. Employers and managers with teams of administrators appreciate the confidence that comes with hiring someone who's passed Microsoft's basic exam of Azure administration.

Not only that, studying for and passing the AZ-104 can lead to work in many other fields of IT. From more advanced network administration to virtualization engineer, you might get the taste of different topics from the work you put in to earning the AZ-104.

Using AZ-104 to Learn Skills

For a junior administrator, the AZ-104 is practically a roadmap of all the skills and knowledge you're going to need to start your career on the right footing. Especially if you haven't even started your career yet – maybe you're still in school or you're thinking about transitioning into IT work – you could easily turn the AZ-104 into a checklist of everything you should know before applying for an Azure-related job.

The AZ-104 won't be useful in every single administration job – obviously a company that doesn't use Azure won't be eager to hire an Azure Administrator. But if you don't want to invest the time and energy into earning a broad certification like CompTIA's A+ and would rather spend a few months certifying on one piece of tech, the AZ-104 highlights the fundamental skills you should learn to get started.

Using AZ-104 to Validate Skills

If you've been working in an administration capacity for several years but you're worried you're not going anywhere, certifications are a proven way to advance your career. Passing the AZ-104 will show your manager and your employer that your skills are validated by Microsoft, but it'll also be appealing to competitors who might be willing to pay you more. Earning a certification can also provide a backstop for your career. After you earn the AZ-104, you can apply for more advanced and specialized positions.

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