Amazon Web Services – Thriving in the Wild, Wild Web

Cloud computing is transforming the world of IT infrastructure architecture and Amazon is at the forefront. Even if you have no association with Amazon Web Services (AWS) nor any intention of becoming an AWS certified solutions architect, as a cloud computing professional, you should consider expanding your education in this area. Keeping abreast of the latest terminology, trends and best practices as related to the AWS platform is part of your world. Here is some advice for taking the exam to become an AWS certified solutions architect.

AWS Levels

First, understand that there are several levels. There are three types of AWS certification, each of which has two levels. Passing the Associate level exam is obligatory for taking the Professional level exam.

The first type is the AWS Certified Solutions Architect. This is probably the best place to start as it will ensure you have a foundation for the Developer and SysOps Administrator certifications. (Architect is more about understanding architecture rather than actively performing implementation.)In any case, your desired end state should be the ability to create solution plans and guidance in accordance with architectural best practices.

Preparation for the Exam

A prep course should give you some experience in designing and launching scalable, available, and fault-tolerant AWS distributed applications and systems. You should learn how to lift and shift from an existent on-premises application onto an AWS platform. Related to that, you should be able to transfer data to and from ASW, both of which require the ability to choose the appropriate AWS service on the basis of your requirements for data, compute, database and security.

Practically speaking, if you were to ever work in this framework, you should have some idea of how to estimate costs, set up cost control measures, and be up to date on AWS architectural best practices. Ideally, this means at least a year of practical experience creating available, cost-effective, fault-tolerant, scalable distributed systems.

Such a candidate would have a thorough understanding of a high-level programming language or two and experience in setting up hybrid systems with both AWS and on-premises systems. (The individual components of the AWS platform include the following: IAM, VPC, EC2, EBS, ELB, CDN, S3, EIP, KMS, Route 53, RDS, Glacier, Snowball, Cloudfront, Dynamo DB, Redshift, Auto Scaling, Cloudwatch, Elastic Cache, CloudTrail, and Security.)

Taking the Exam

If you have a firm grasp of the above, you are ready to start thinking about the exam, which is given at one of Amazon’s on-site testing centers. It costs $150 and is a 60-question mostly multiple choice test. You have 80 minutes to complete the exam and passing is 65%. It is a well-constructed test with no trick questions. Most questions ask for multiple correct responses (e.g. pick two out of five possible answers). Eighty minutes is more than enough time to complete a multiple-choice test of only 60 questions.

The best way to tackle a multiple-choice test is to quickly go through the test, answering the easy questions, then using your remaining time to go back and hit the hard ones, if the system allows it. This will give you maximal time to devote to the questions that need it most while keeping track of how many questions you have to get right in order to reach the minimum 39 correct answers to pass. (Sixty-five percent of 60 is 39.) You’re not going to know all the answers, but you don’t have to, so don’t waste precious time laboring over a hard question while leaving the easier ones unanswered.

In addition to questions about the details of single service, the greater part of the exam is scenario-based. In other words, you are asked to apply some set of services to a business case.

The exam consists of four sections:

  1. Designing highly available, cost efficient, fault tolerant, scalable systems (60%)
  2. Implementation/Deployment (10%)
  3. Data Security (20%)
  4. Troubleshooting (10%)

Passing the first section is crucial. This is where all the questions about constructing modern cloud-based systems in AWS are to be found. The writers of the exam tried hard to base this section on real-world cases which reflect the types of situations an AWS certified solutions architect would encounter. The other three sections are by far the easiest ones. The questions are about basic knowledge anyone with a little time using AWS would know. That said, the Data Security questions will be hard if you haven’t read up on security processes.

Recommendations that keep popping up by recent test-takers are to understand VPCs in depth, especially from the perspective of connecting Public and Private including on-premises systems linked to AWS. There seem to be a lot of question on S3/EC2 relative to designing highly available, cost-efficient, fault-tolerant and scalable systems. It is recommended you understand the difference with respect to settings in a given monitoring or troubleshooting service tool.


Here are the important resources available to you to prepare for the exam. First, get a copy of Amazon’s training and certification exam blueprint. Make sure it is for the appropriate level.

Get some practice exams, which you can find online. This will give you a more concrete idea of what the exam looks like and what taking it will feel like.

Amazon has an official test preparation site (Prepare for AWS Certification) you should not fail to visit.

Getting as much real-world exposure as you can before the exam is important, because the exam is scenario-based. The limit to that is that working in the field tends to funnel a person into a single type of scenario. Not everyone uses every AWS service, so look around for online courses and labs to make up the deficit.

Udemy’s “A Cloud Guru Online” course shows up a lot as one of the most recommended. It was put together specifically for the topics tested on the exam.

Amazon offers a practice exam for $20, but it’s no better than the plethora of practice exams available online for free.

Finally, surfing the blogs of recent exam-takers is time well spent.

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