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How to Prepare for the AWS SysOps Administrator Certification

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By: Shelby Welty

August 20, 2020

What students need to know before taking their AWS Sysops Administrator exams

The AWS SysOps Administrator certification is an associate-level credential offered by one of the world leaders in public cloud computing. It typically comes after the foundational credential of AWS Cloud Practitioner.

This certification goes beyond the fundamentals of working with AWS cloud environments to cover their actual operations and administration. Systems operators are tasked with keeping their application environments running at maximum performance at all times, thus helping end users perform optimally in their day-to-day tasks.

Taking this associate-level exam validates technical expertise in the following key areas:

  • Selecting AWS services based on compute power, data, and security requirements
  • Manual and automatic deployment of AWS instances, applications, and services
  • Migrating on-premises workloads and data to AWS systems
  • Monitoring and controlling the flow of data to and from AWS systems
  • Fortifying systems to maintain high availability and ensure operational continuity
  • Establishing and promoting the appropriate use of operational best practices
  • Estimation of usage costs and identification of cost control mechanisms

Amazon recommends individuals have at least one year of experience implementing solutions and resolving problems with AWS Cloud solutions.

Why become an AWS SysOps Administrator?

Obtaining an associate-level AWS certification is the obvious next step after at least a year’s experience of being an accredited AWS Cloud Practitioner. There are three associate-level certifications spanning architecture, operations, and development. Becoming an AWS SysOps Administrator is one of them, and it is one of the steps along the path towards becoming an AWS DevOps Engineer – a professional-level certification.

The main reason individuals work towards this certification is that it is one of the highest paying in the industry, with certificate holders commanding an average salary of over $130,000 in the US and Canada. Unlike many certifications, the AWS SysOps Administrator exam validates skills across a wide range of AWS services, which are used by over 76% of large enterprises, along with hundreds of thousands of smaller organizations.

How to prepare for the exam

To earn the AWS SysOps Administrator title, students are expected to demonstrate a deep understanding of the inner workings of the AWS platform. This includes extensive knowledge about storage, networking, and processing. The key AWS services and concepts covered by the foundational AWS Cloud Practitioner exam should already be second nature to anyone thinking of taking the exam.

Being prepared for the subject matter is not enough for taking the test. Students should also have a clear plan and a thorough understanding of what to expect and how much time they will need. The exam itself costs $150 and takes 130 minutes. Students can either sit the exam in a testing center or take it online with a proctor. As with all AWS exams, it follows the multiple choice, multiple answer format.

Start with the essentials

Students should already have a thorough knowledge of AWS services as a whole and, ideally, at least one year of hands-on experience working with AWS systems in a technical capacity. However, it never hurts to get a refresher, especially for individuals who are coming back to work after a long break or are nearing the time if they need recertify to preexisting credentials. Note that AWS certifications are only valid for three years.

The first step students should take to prepare for the exam should be a high-level overview of the core technical concepts of AWS:

  • Deploying AWS instances
  • AWS best practices
  • Automation of resources
  • Backup and disaster recover
  • Identity and access management (IAM)

Students can also take a free skills assessment to determine how knowledgeable they are in the fundamentals of AWS. After mastering the basics, they should move on to the specifics of systems operations in AWS environments. Reading Amazon technical whitepapers, as well as books on the subject, can help students develop a thorough grounding in preparation for the exam.

Study the exam blueprints

The AWS Certified SysOps Administrator exam blueprint is an essential resource for getting up to speed with the exam structure. Examinees will need to familiarize themselves with the 7 domains covered by the exam:

  • 1.0 Monitoring and metrics (15% of the examination)
  • 2.0 High availability (15%)
  • 3.0 Analysis (15%)
  • 4.0 Deployment and provisioning (15%)
  • 5.0 Data management (12%)
  • 6.0 Security (15%)
  • 7.0 Networking (13%)

Examinees will choose from at least four response options to answer a question or complete a statement. Some questions have multiple valid responses.

Build and test an AWS environment

There is no better way to prepare for a highly technical exam than with a hands-on experience. Virtual practice labs are a great way to start, and trainees can set up their own lab environment at home using the AWS Free Tier. This is specifically designed for individuals seeking practical experience with the AWS platform and its products and services from the comfort of home. This includes access to core services like Amazon Cloud Directory, Elastic Cloud Compute (EC2), Amazon RDS, and Amazon S3 storage infrastructures. While the amount of compute power and storage are limited with the Free Tier, it offers students ample opportunity to get to know AWS outside the office too.

Practice with a test exam

Once trainees have developed a reasonable level of confidence in their skills and their abilities to pass the exam, they should consider taking a practice run. All AWS certification exams offer a practice run costing $20. After passing the practice exam, most trainees should be ready to take the real exam with a decent chance of passing.

Where to go next

Most AWS career paths start with the entry-level Cloud Practitioner certification before moving on to an associate-level one and, finally, a professional-level one. While there are technically no prerequisites for any AWS certifications, it is highly recommended that trainees follow the recommendations regarding knowledge and experience before moving onto the next tier.

After passing the SysOps Administrator and Developer exams, trainees can work towards earning their DevOps Engineer certifications. This is a professional-level certification, which recommends two years of comprehensive experience using the AWS cloud.

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