Server+ (SK0-004)

In May 2020, I took CompTIA’s Server+ exam. This certification is “good for life”, i.e. it’s not part of the CE program and I don’t have to recertify.

As with all of CompTIA’s exams, there are no formal prerequisites, but they advise you to have A+ first (or at least know the material that’s covered by the A+ certification) along with 18 months of IT experience. I found that there was quite a bit of overlap with the Network+ and Security+ syllabus, so I’d prefer to see it aimed at people who’ve already done those exams. That would reduce duplication in the training material, and allow for more depth on the topics that are server/storage specific. (This certification has absorbed the old Storage+.)

NB I did the SK0-004 syllabus, and the current syllabus is SK0-005. Based on the exam objectives, SK0-005 seems like an improvement, e.g. it goes into more detail about high availability clusters. However, I think that most of the information in this blog post will still be relevant.

I used the “All-In-One” study guide to prepare for this exam, which I’ve reviewed over at Goodreads. (There’s a new edition for SK0-005.) I’ve also been working with servers for more than 20 years so I relied on practical experience to supplement the textbook. Realistically, I probably could have passed the exam without even opening that book, but it did fill a few gaps in my knowledge, particularly on the Linux side. As per my Goodreads review, I found several errata; I submitted these to MH Education, but I don’t know whether they were ever listed on the official website, and the listing for the old edition has now been removed.

The book includes some exercises based on a home lab, and they specified 3 things:

  • VMware Workstation 10.x
  • Windows Server 2012 R2
  • Red Hat Enterprise Linux 7.1

I already had VMware Workstation 15.5 installed on my machine, so I used that instead. This basically worked fine, although the user interface is slightly different. E.g. the book says “In the navigation panel on the left, click Edit Virtual Machine Settings” but that button is now on the right. The main restriction I found is that I couldn’t take a snapshot or clone a VM; you need the Pro edition (paid) to get that functionality. I think that you would be able to do that during the initial 30 day trial, but I’ve been using the software for a lot longer. In any case, neither of those tasks are essential. In fact, after you clone the first Windows server, the cloned VM is never used again! I assume that they only point of doing the cloning is just to practice the technique, so as long as you know that it’s possible that’s good enough. When you create a Linux VM, VMware Workstation creates an NVMe hard disk by default (rather than SCSI); you can change this, but I don’t think it actually matters either way.

I used Windows Server 2012 as specified, based on the 180 day evaluation from the Microsoft website.

I couldn’t get RHEL 7.1, because it now requires an “active” (paid) subscription. However, you can get version 8 with a 30 day evaluation, so I did that instead. More specifically, I downloaded version 8.1, but it will be whatever the latest version is when you visit. For the most part, 8.1 worked the same way as 7.1, but I hit a few minor snags:

  • In exercise 5-2, service network restart didn’t work. Instead, use systemctl restart NetworkManager.
  • In exercise 6-5, I got a warning from openssl:
    *** WARNING : deprecated key derivation used.
    Using -iter or -pbkdf2 would be better.

    RHEL 8.1 comes with OpenSSL 1.1.1c. According to the knowledge base:
    “openssl on RHEL7 is originally based on openssl-1.0.1e but was rebased to openssl-1.0.2k with RHEL7.4”
    So, this warning probably didn’t appear in RHEL 7.1. There’s a discussion about this warning over at StackExchange; if you ignore it then the file still gets encrypted
  • In exercise 7-2, the iostat command wasn’t recognised; I’m not sure why.

Since I’m based in the UK, I ignored what the book said and configured the regional settings to match my location.

Some of the information in the textbook is also outdated now. For instance, it describes IPv6 transition technologies (Teredo, ISATAP, and 6to4), but they’ve all been deprecated. The exam objectives just list “IPv4 vs IPv6”, so I don’t think you need to bother with them.

I was originally going to take this exam at a test centre in March. However, the COVID-19 pandemic meant that all the test centres closed. Fortunately, all of CompTIA’s exams can now be taken online (in this case from home). I’ve done a few exams this way, and the process is definitely improving.

At a test centre, they give you scrap paper or a whiteboard; these can be useful when you’re working out subnet masks, for instance, then you hand them back to the invigilators at the end. Doing the exam at home, I wasn’t allowed to write anything down (presumably to stop people from cheating), but they do have a virtual scratchpad (a bit like MS Paint). I’ve seen some exams that supply a calculator, but this one didn’t; I found that typing into the virtual scratchpad was easier than working out sums in my head.

I found the real exam a bit more challenging than the test exam from the study guide, and I used most of the allocated time. You have 90 minutes to do 100 questions, and it took me an hour for my first pass (making an attempt at every question and flagging the ones I wasn’t sure about). I then spent 10 minutes reviewing the flagged questions, and a further 15 minutes doing a second pass through the whole exam. That left me with 5 minutes on the clock when I finished the exam.

One ongoing issue in IT is the ambiguity/confusion around units. Personally, I like to use SI units for powers of 10 (e.g. 1 KB = 1000 bytes) and IEC binary units for powers of 2 (e.g. 1 KiB = 1024 bytes). Other people use SI units for powers of 2, e.g. that’s how Microsoft displays file/drive sizes. The CompTIA exam objectives don’t explicitly define which side they take, which is a pity; if you come across those units in the exam, you’ll have to guess what they mean.

Speaking of guesswork, some questions were along the lines of “When you try this action, you get an error message. What’s the most likely cause?” However, it would be a lot easier if they’d tell you what the error message actually says! That would also be closer to what you encounter in real life, unless you’re the type of person who clicks “OK” without reading messages.

The pass mark was 750 out of 950, and I got 856, so I’m happy with that. Passing this exam also gave me a stackable certification: Network Infrastructure Professional (Network+ and Server+).

I finished the exam at 22:30 on Thursday. At 11:47 the following day, I received emails from Acclaim (now Credly) about my digital badges. Then at 20:34, I received corresponding emails from CompTIA, officially confirming my result. It’s interesting that CompTIA lagged behind; after I saw the emails from Acclaim, I logged into the CompTIA website and saw the new certification listed. So, I assume that they just send emails once a day, and I finished my exam after they’d already done the Thursday batch.

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