A friend of mine had been out to the Microsoft Certified Architect site recently and noted that the Infrastructure and Solutions certifications are being discontinued. I went out and checked, and sure enough, those two competencies are no more. What's left are product specific technologies:
- SQL Server
- Active Directory
- Office Communications Server (forthcoming)
- Office SharePoint Server (forthcoming)
This is sad and I think a bad direction for the MCA program. When I think of an architect, I think of someone who can see the big picture and select the right technologies to build upon a complex solution. Some of those might be Microsoft-centric technologies. Some may not be. This is especially true on the infrastructure architecture side. For example, I may choose a Microsoft solution on the front end, such as Windows Storage Server, but that's not the entire solution. What SAN technology am I using? What am I using to archive older files off? What hardware is that? What software is that? That's the kind of thing I would envision an MCA: Infrastructure Architect handling. For a warehousing solution, sure, it might be Microsoft SQL Server on the back-end. But what about reporting? It could be Business Objects. Maybe a custom solution. How else is that data revealed? And by focusing strictly on specific Microsoft technologies, this original ideal behind the Microsoft Certified Architect is gone. In a PressPass round table, here's what Andy Ruth (then Program Manager) said to the question about certifying folks who focus in technologies other than MIcrosoft's:
And the architects I’ve met do not immediately talk about products; they talk about technologies and the qualities and capabilities they require for the environment they are working in. Architects who do not know what products and capabilities are available for their areas of expertise will not always provide the best solution for the customer, regardless of who sells the product.
To that same question, Tony Redmond said this:
We live in a heterogeneous world and most large customers have a variety of technologies that they work with. It’s certainly possible for technologists to successfully focus purely on Microsoft technology, but I think these people will struggle to design solutions for many of the business challenges that large customers face today.
The reality of today's world is that there are a lot of technologies out there besides just Microsoft, even in Microsoft-centric shops. For instance, for virtualization there is VMware and Citrix (XenServer), to name two. Many a Microsoft Windows server runs on those platforms. While Microsoft's Terminal Services technology has improved over the years, Citrix is still churning along right on top of it. There are other solutions, like Tarantella/ProPalms, as well. There are open source BI platforms like Pentaho that have continued to gain traction in the environment. On the Solutions side of things, shops with mainframes may be running DB2 and Websphere to present an interface to the client-server side. If you're interfacing with Oracle's PeopleSoft ERP suite you may be talking to BEA Weblogic, also with JSP. If you had SAP in, you might have a MaxDB back-end. Now, with the acquisition of Sybase by SAP, I wouldn't be surprised to see this packaged together.
The MCA as envisioned would have covered certifying folks who could look at all those products and solutions and make the right decision for their organizations. As a systems architect, I aspired to be able to attempt and earn an MCA: Infrastructure certification one day. The cost and time were the limiting factors for me, as that would have all come out of pocket. If I have the ability to achieve the MCM: SQL Server or MCM: Directory one day, I will certainly look at the MCA for that specific technology. But I will also lament that there is no longer an MCA: Infrastructure certification option available.