Is the MS-101 Worth It?
Microsoft offers a host of certifications for its 365 workload, which includes Exchange, SharePoint, Skype for Business, and Windows as a Service. These offerings are incredibly popular. SharePoint alone boasts 190 million users across 200,000 organizations, and its popularity is only growing. Investing in Microsoft 365 accreditations can be a wise career move.
The highest certification in the 365 cert pathway is the Microsoft 365 Certified: Enterprise Administrator Expert. Earning this Enterprise Admin Expert cert requires earning one of four Associate-level certifications and passing two subsequent exams. Read on to find out if this cert is right for you.
What is the MS-101?
The full name for the MS-101 is Exam MS-101: Microsoft 365 Mobility and Security. It's one of two exams you must pass to earn the Microsoft 365 Certified: Enterprise Administrative Expert cert. You don't have to be an expert in all Microsoft 365 workloads; the Windows creator only advises that you should have been an administrator for one of the four primary areas.
Passing this test and the associated MS-100 exam validates that you can evaluate, plan, migrate, deploy, and manage Microsoft 365 services. This description crosses a broad spectrum of responsibilities, including “identities, security, compliance, and supporting technologies."
What Does the MS-101 Test?
The MS-101 exam tests general principles such as "networking, server administration, and IT fundamentals such as DNS, Active Directory, and PowerShell." MS-101 also validates that you can accomplish several technical tasks in each of the three main categories. These technical tasks are broken down into specific skill areas that include:
Implementing Modern Device Services: 30-35%
Implement Microsoft 365 Security and Threat Management: 30-35%
Manage Microsoft 365 Governance and Compliance: 35-40%
The MS-101 is an entry-level exam, so it tests these topics at the implementation, configuration and management skill levels.
How Much Does the MS-101 Exam Cost?
Before you can get to the MS-101 exam, you have to earn one of four Associate-level certs. These have one or two exams each, which cost $165 (USD) apiece. The MS-101 exam also costs $165. However, to get a certification out of the deal, you need to pass the MS-100 exam as well, so tack on another $165.
The final price tag for the exams you'll need to earn the Microsoft 365 Certified: Enterprise Administrator Expert certification is $495 to $660, depending on whether you take three or four exams total.
What Experience Do You Need for the MS-101?
You should have at least one year of experience as an administrator in one or more of the Microsoft 365 services. You'll also need to earn one of four prerequisite Associate-level certifications before you can sit for MS-101:
Microsoft 365 Certified: Modern Desktop Administrator Associate
Microsoft 365 Certified: Security Administrator Associate
Microsoft 365 Certified: Messaging Administrator Associate
Microsoft 365 Certified: Teams Administrator Associate
Both MS-100 and MS-101 were updated in 2020, as were the required certs. Previously, the Microsoft 365 Certified: Teamwork Administrator Associate and the MCSE Productivity Solutions Expert accreditations were on the list, but these were removed as Microsoft sharpened its focus within the 365 world.
The Microsoft 365 Certified: Modern Desktop Administrator Associate is the only one of the four certs in the list above that requires you to pass two exams (MD-100 and MD-101). Microsoft 365 Certified: Security Administrator Associate, Microsoft 365 Certified: Messaging Administrator Associate, and Microsoft 365 Certified: Teams Administrator Associate require you to pass a single exam for each respective certification.
The exam parameters are the same for all four Microsoft 365 Certified Associate-level tests. Sitting for the exam costs $165; you’ll be faced with 40 to 60 questions and have 120 minutes (2 hours) to complete it. A passing score is 700 points out of a possible 1,000, so a 70% success rate.
Who Should Take the MS-101?
Anyone who plans on an IT career that involves Microsoft 365 would benefit from earning the Microsoft 365 Certified: Enterprise Administrative Expert certification. However, some roles could see more of an advantage than others.
MS-101 for Systems Administrators
Systems administrators in the Microsoft 365 universe are the perfect candidates for Expert-level accreditation in Exchange, SharePoint, Skype for Business, or Windows as a Service. While these services are widely used, it isn't uncommon to encounter user frustration with some of the more advanced functions in each. Companies can also struggle with proper admin role delegation. Microsoft outlines 10 roles that can be used in Microsoft 365, but one of the most common problems in IT is inappropriately assigned permission levels.
Larger corporations know that they'll need qualified Microsoft 365 sysadmins to handle the tremendous workload that these systems process on a daily basis. Unless you’ve signed a lifetime contract with someone who will exclusively use macOS or Linux for the duration of their company’s existence, having the Microsoft 365 Certified: Enterprise Administrative Expert certification is a good career move as a systems administrator.
MS-101 for Network Administrators
Network administrators would likewise benefit from a Microsoft 365 Expert cert. One example revolves around on-prem versus cloud hosting. Organizations are almost equally split between how Exchange is hosted: in 2019, 48 percent of Exchange mailboxes were hosted in the cloud while 52 percent were housed in an on-prem data center. This nearly even split requires qualified network admins who not only know their core roles in the cloud and data center but also know Microsoft 365.
Earning an Associate-level certification would certainly benefit your career as a network administrator, but earning a Microsoft 365 Certified: Enterprise Administrative Expert certification really begins to set you apart from your peers.
MS-101 for Ethical Hackers
While hacking SharePoint or Exchange doesn’t sound incredibly sexy, think about all of the proprietary data housed on those servers. Ethical hackers aren't often called to dig into Microsoft 365 services, but consider the value that having a Microsoft 365 Certified: Enterprise Administrator Expert would add to any analysis.
This shouldn’t be a top priority certification for a penetration tester. However, if you have the time and are looking for your next accreditation to invest in, this might be worth consideration.
Is the MS-101 Worth It?
Generally speaking, passing the MS-101: Microsoft 365 Mobility and Security examis well worth it. The exams are some of the least expensive you'll find for a recognized certification, and the technology they cover is extremely prevalent in all areas of the economy. Even if you primarily work in a non-Microsoft 365 role, having that Microsoft 365 Certified: Enterprise Administrative Expert accreditation might be what gives you the edge over another candidate when competing for a job.
Using the MS-101 to learn skills
The process of working up to the MS-101 exam requires passing at least one other Microsoft test in a related area, so you’ll undoubtedly invest the training hours. Microsoft does an excellent job of centering the exam around real-world tasks and scenarios, so if you can pass the MS-101, you’ve demonstrated you know what you’re doing.
Using the MS-101 to validate skills
The MS-101 was made to validate expert-level skills in the Microsoft 365 world. You'll have a minimum of one other Microsoft cert before you can sit for the MS-101, so even scheduling the exam demonstrates that you've validated your skills to some degree.
Microsoft certification exams are priced so cheaply to encourage retakes; if you don't pass the MS-101 on your first attempt, review which of your skills need sharpening, then go back again. Passing the MS-101 (and the MS-100 so you can earn the Microsoft 365 Certified: Enterprise Administrative Expert certification) is an excellent validation of your skills.