Azure Exam DP-200: Implementing an Azure Data Solution

For a while now the data engineering landscape in Azure has been changing but in 2019 it seems to finally feel a bit more grounded with so many Azure products maturing. As such, Microsoft released the Azure Data Engineer Associate Certification at the beginning of the year. The requirements for this are DP-200 Implementing an Azure Data Solution  and DP-201 Designing an Azure Data Solution.

Yesterday I passed DP-200 and wanted to share some of my thoughts. Existing material online around this course is still quite limited and those that have written up their experiences seem to have taken the Beta. After taking the exam, its format has changed and due to this I thought it was worth a quick post. While I obviously took one flavour of the exam, there’s nothing to say other flavours don’t exist so don’t read into this content word for word. A colleague of mine took it at a test centre and said he had no labs (probably due to how ancient their computers were) but as mine was proctored I can only assume I got a different flavour, either way be prepared! I’ve also tried to be quite candid around the questions and have instead opted to suggest topics to look at.

 

Exam Format

This exam is quite varied to others that I’ve taken but nothing too out of the ordinary. While the number of questions will probably vary between each instance of the exam, my version had 59 questions and was split accordingly:

  • Scenario Yes / No – 9 questions
  • Multiple Choice – Single/Multi Answer, Drag Drop Order, and Hot Area – 30 questions
  • Labs done within a Virtual Machine – 12 tasks
  • Case Study – Multiple Choice – 8 questions

You have a total of 210 minutes for this exam!! 30 minutes of this is for the NDA and feedback which means you have 180 minutes to answer all the questions. This equates to roughly 3 minutes per question/task. Its worth bearing this in mind since once you have been through some sections you can not return. This happens at least 3 times in this exam between the different sections. A clock is provided in the corner with the current question you are on to help you gauge where you are roughly.

I’ve focused on the labs section below, but other than this the experience is pretty much what you’d expect from multiple choice style questions. There is no need to write code for any of this.

I usually do my exams proctored through Pearson Vue and find the experience pretty good. They are sufficiently strict with the invigilating process which gives you confidence they cannot be cheated. Thankfully they have improved the exam release process and rather than scanning your room with your webcam which was slightly awkward to do on a laptop, you now have to take pictures through your mobile for workspace verification.

 

General Exam Tips

Before getting into the content, I thought it was worth calling out a few tips that apply to any exam you are taking.

Firstly, I would mark questions you are unsure for review and come back to these. Sometimes it takes a while for the brain to warm-up or future content to trigger thoughts related to previous questions.

Another tip which I often hear and is completely valid is around reading the answers before the question and the surrounding context. This helps set the scene when reading the detail and you will subconsciously be thinking in the background of the possible solutions.

And finally, if you have done Microsoft exams before – think Microsoft when answering questions and consider the terminology they use! If you think the question talks about something which can be achieved by 2 pieces of technology then work out what keywords you would relate to each and see how this is written in the question. The classic example of this is Azure Storage and Azure Data Lake Storage – there are keywords associated to both you need to look out for despite sharing very common principles.

 

Labs

Probably the sole reason for writing this blog was that I wasn’t expecting labs as part of this exam! As far as I can see its not mentioned anywhere on the official pages and as mentioned previously, the current reviews of the exam (which I used to prepare) seem to have been done in the beta state which obviously didn’t include this.

For the labs, you are given a Virtual Machine (VM) to login to with an Azure account provided for you. This follows a very similar environment to those that have been through Microsoft Learn courses which provide sandbox subscriptions for you to follow exercises. This is very much a practical hands on experience for the exam in which you need to follow tasks to build/configure Azure resource. This should not be particularly difficult given the complexity around other areas of the exam. Having said that, I spend quite a bit of time in the Azure Portal so know my way around.

Without alluding to too much in this area its worth noting a number of things:

  • The VM you are given seems to be setup under the American format, thus trying to login using an account with @ ends up  as ” using a UK keyboard. You can either change the keyboard layout in the VM or use the ” on a UK keyboard to generate the @ on screen. Not ideal for exam conditions 🙂
  • One or two of my tasks were quite vague and I wasn’t completely sure of the state in which the configuration needed to be for me to complete the task. This is a bit of a shame given there is no advice around this area from Microsoft. For instance I followed the steps but my data source had no data throughput. Was this my issue? Its not clear. I assume this is marked automatically somehow so the presence of what I created should be enough to of got me the marks.
  • Others were much more defined and I was confident I had completed the task.
  • There is no SSMS installed, so you need to find other ways to achieve its functionality via the portal. This felt a bit alien but I can see what they are alluding to here.
  • Read the resource names carefully in both the tasks and Azure. Unfortunately they need to name them to be unique per exam so you find that they are quite hard to read when the environment is new to you.
  • You are working with Azure so things take time to create/update and the VM is not particularly responsive compared to your desktop experience. You will need more time than you think to do some of the tasks even though you know what they are asking for.
  • If you encounter an error – which is entirely feasible, take a step back and see if what you are doing already exists. In some instances, I think I also found task errors but continued with what I thought the task was asking of me.
  • Finally, there’s not going to be marks for best practice so do not worry about naming conventions etc.

 

What’s actually covered?

As you might expect, its the Azure Data Stack, and all the ins/outs of the various configurations/concepts and use cases for the resources. As dull as it may sound I think reading the documentation for each resource from start to finish (using the hyperlinks below) would cover 100% of the content in some form or another. While this is not particularly interactive in terms of learning, I would skip over content which is familiar between resource. Generally they are interested in testing your understanding of the concepts and whether you would use it in certain scenarios, than understanding 100% of the detail behind a feature.

Azure SQL Database

  • Elastic Pools, Managed Instances, Purchase Models & Service Tiers (Hyperscale, etc).
  • Performance Monitoring (DMVs, Performance Recommendations, Query Performance Insight, Auto Tuning, Diagnostics Logging, etc).
  • Availability Capability (Backups, Geo-Replication, Failover Groups, etc).
  • Security & Compliance (Data Masking, TDE, Always Encrypted, Data Discovery, Threat Protection, Active Directory Integration, Auditing, etc).
  • On-Prem to Azure (Data Sync, DMS, etc).
  • Firewall Rules & Virtual Networks.

Azure SQL Data Warehouse

  • Distributions, Partitioning, Resource Classes, Polybase, External Tables, CTAS, Performance Monitoring (DMVs), Authentication & Security, etc.

Azure Stream Analytics

  • Cloud vs Edge, Inputs, Outputs, UDAs, UDFs, Window Functions, Stream vs Reference, Partitioning, Performance, Scaling.

Azure Data Factory

  • Pipelines & Activities, Datasets, Linked Services, Integration Runtimes, Triggers, Authoring/Monitoring Experience.

Azure Storage

  • Blobs vs ADLS Gen2, Data Redundancy, Security, Performance Tiers, Storage Lifecycle, Migration.

Azure Key Vault

  • Keys, Secrets, Certs, and Access Policies.

Azure Event Hubs

  • Use Cases in Architecture, Terminology, Availability, Consistency, Scalability.

Azure Event Grid

  • Sources, Topics, Subscriptions, Handlers, Use Cases in Architecture.

Azure IoT Hub

  • Use Cases in Architecture.

Azure Cosmos DB

  • Use Cases for APIs, Consistency Levels, Distribution, Partitioning.

Azure Databricks

  • Use Cases in Architecture, Clusters, Secrets, Connecting to Data Sources, Performance Metrics.

Azure Monitor

  • Application, Alerts, Log Analytics.

As documented in a recent update to the exam in June 2019 there seems to be very little requirement to understand the impact of HDInsight in architectures. This has been replaced by much more focus on Databricks which is good to see. You should still understand the basic use cases for this however.The same is true of Data Lake Store Gen1 which briefly makes an appearance but given its now generally been superseded by Gen2 I expect this to phase out.

If you have used any of the above resources for some time then the questions should feel fairly comfortable, i.e. I wouldn’t read the complete Data Factory documentation as I feel like I use it so much I know about all of its niches. Instead focus on tech that you might not use as much, i.e. IoT Hub, Streaming Analytics, Monitor, etc.

 

How do I prepare?

The first port of call for this exam is to cover the content on Microsoft Learn related to being a Data Engineer. This is a new portal that Microsoft have put together to replace the eDX training content that some may be familiar with over the years. The good thing about this portal is that it can be used by both complete novices to Azure and also those more experienced.

In my case, since I work day to day with the technology I quickly zipped through the Learning Paths below. Its suggested this takes about 46 hours to do properly, but without needing to do the exercises (there’s only so many storage accounts I want to create in my life time!!) and skim reading the areas that I was confident in knowing the detail already, I was through in about 3-4 hours. But why am I suggesting zipping through these paths if they are meant for novices? This is because Microsoft does a very good job about condensing the detail around the resources and configuration aspects of resources into only a few paragraphs in each page. The reason why this is good is for key words. If you start to understand how Microsoft pitches the services and functionality you will have a much better ideas when answering questions and they use the exact same language.

 

This initial approach will let you cover quite a bit of content but it does not go into too much of the Azure resource features. This is where I would suggest reading the Azure documentation above for gaps and further detail. Currently there is no book available for this exam – something which Microsoft usually publishes to help candidates prepare. I expect to see this resource appear soon and this would be preferable than going into so much detail in the documentation. Other than this there is the usual Pluralsight, eDX etc but I feel these are so broad and often only useful to get into a subject rather than concentrate on details.

In total I spent about maybe 10-15 hours preparing and reading around subject areas that I was not familiar with on a day to day basis. This combined with roughly 2-3 years experience in Azure seems to have done the job. I was lucky to have worked across pretty much all the resources questioned in the exam and pulled on this experience. If you have not used for instance Streaming Analytics, I would spin up the resource and start using it and doing exercises with it. There is no substitute for hands on experience with the technology, and you will find this much more useful to reference than trying to remember points made within a paragraph within the documentation.

 

Conclusion

For any aspiring data engineers, this exam is a fundamental Microsoft qualification to add to your profile. It brings together the Azure Data Stack nicely and gives you an appreciation for how the different services interact with one another and the use cases for one over the other depending upon requirements.

Please feel free to comment and I’ll keep the list of skills updated if I’ve missed anything. Hopefully this is a useful guide if not just for calling out the addition of labs!

 

** UPDATE **

A week after passing DP-200, I also passed DP-201.  It wasn’t worth creating a separate post as the cross over between DP-200 and DP-201 is huge. As expected the difference in format, is the lack of labs in DP-201 but the Yes/No scenarios and the Case Studies still exist. There were also less questions.

In terms of content, while the main focus of DP-200 is implementation (not surprising given the title), the main focus of DP-201 is on design. This means you will get a lot more scenario based questions with particular focus on architecture! i.e. when to use one service over another? In some instances, I managed to get the same question asked twice (around type of storage for a particular solution they were trying to build) which was interesting and in other scenarios in the latter set of questions even alluded to the storage in question for something else! If you are comfortable understanding the scenarios such as SQL DB vs SQL DW vs Cosmos DB etc you should be fine. There is nothing in particular which caught me out (unlike some other exams) but I’d probably suggest security needs the most revision since it has lots of niches which you probably would not implement day-to-day.

I’d argue if you have revised for DP-200, you should do DP-201 very soon after as it covers pretty much the same but with a design twist. Good luck!

26 thoughts on “Azure Exam DP-200: Implementing an Azure Data Solution

  1. Avatar
    Deepa says:

    Thank you so much for this article. It definitely will help. However, could you tell an example for Lab? What kind of questions were they?

    • Tristan Robinson
      Tristan Robinson says:

      If you can provision and configure the resources mentioned above you should be fine. For instance, configure ASA to read, query, output data or configure firewall rules, vnets, clusters, etc. If you work with Azure for your job and generally use those services, you will have no issue as they are all typical tasks done when working with the stack. Good luck!

  2. Avatar
    Briolette says:

    Thank you so much for this thoughtful blog post. I’ll be taking the DP-200 and 201 exams in the next couple of weeks and found your insight very helpful.

  3. Avatar
    vamshi says:

    Thank you so much in explaining, I have attempted yesterday with DP-200 the Lab questions took me to VM, however it could spin few resources so i called pearson guy so they asked me to stop the exam and came out, Now i am rescheduling the exam again.
    Few take outs from the exam:
    Lab questions are completely unexpected for me though they are easy to navigate through the blades (pages) in azure. Must have practical expose before attending this exam.

  4. Tristan Robinson
    Tristan Robinson says:

    Thank you for your comments. I had similar problems but didn’t want to stop the exam due to losing existing marks and rescheduling etc. I believe the questions could be out of sync with the VM but it should only effect 1-2 questions out of 12? Yes practical exposure is a most here.

    • Avatar
      vamshi singam says:

      cleared this exam today. Thanks for the inputs. Exam rescheduled for free and scenarios need some real good working knowledge.
      only one question was related to VM, and that is taken out in the second attempt

  5. Avatar
    Francisco says:

    Hi Tristan, thank you so much for your post. It is been really helpful for preparing the exam. Just one quick question, I have seen you cataloged the sections by services. For example with regard Azure SQL Database, would be enough checking all the main aspects covered by the technical overview? https://docs.microsoft.com/en-us/azure/sql-database/sql-database-technical-overview

    Or it would be necessary to go deeper in every aspect using the Microsoft documentation.

    I am also completing the Microsoft new learning path and most of this features are just mentioned in a few lines.

    Thank you so much for your work.
    FranciscoLuna

    • Tristan Robinson
      Tristan Robinson says:

      Glad it’s been useful. Yes you will need to understand the detail behind SQL DB, not just a high level overview – for instance I need to make sure my data is available in a regional outage, what options do I have? or I have some PII data in my database, how can the tool help manage this? The learning path should give you hints of the directions to go in but I would do some research into anything you are not comfortable in understanding from there. This can all be done via the MS documentation if you have the time to read. You should have a good feeling that you understand the depth of SQL DB since there is only so many options on the panels in Azure for configuration…

  6. Avatar
    Francisco says:

    Thank you for your reply Tristan.

    I have just realised that Azure has removed SQL Data Warehouse being now Azure Synapse Analytics from the 4th of November. Has anyone taken the exam recently, are there question relevant to SQL Data Warehouse or are they relevant to Azure Synapse Analytics instead?

    The learning paths have not been updated yet.

    • Tristan Robinson
      Tristan Robinson says:

      I didn’t come across any. I’m not sure Shell is part of the stack they are testing your knowledge on so doubt you would come across this.

  7. Avatar
    Senthilkumar says:

    Tristan, Thanks for your input. I will plan to write DP 200 on this week. Could you please share some more info about LAB question? Whether it could be scenario based or we need to create/configure any service in AZURE portal with security?

    Thanks in Advance,
    Senthil

    • Tristan Robinson
      Tristan Robinson says:

      Good luck! Its not scenario based – its mainly around creation/configuration of resources within the portal. If you are familiar with this from your job, it will be easy. If you don’t do this day to day it might trip you up as you need to understand where things are to start configuring them..

  8. Avatar
    Nate says:

    I am planning to take on DP-201 in January 2020. If anyone in this blog think will the format be changed in the sense will the labs be included by then?
    Tristan or anyone – any thoughts

    • Tristan Robinson
      Tristan Robinson says:

      Unless anyone has some more recent experience I’d guess they will be – they’ve basically created a way to test practical knowledge which most exams fail to address so I’d be very surprised if they started removing them back to multiple choice.

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