AWS Training and Certification Blog

10 study tips for the AWS Certified Database – Specialty Certification

April 30, 2024 Update: The AWS Certified Database – Specialty certification is retired. Learn more in this blog.

I’ve worked in the IT industry for a little over 20 years. I began my career as a junior database administrator learning relational database administration skills from a group of seasoned professionals. At that time, relational database engines were the predominant technology for data processing, and I focused exclusively on commercial database engines from Oracle and Microsoft. Today, modern application architectures incorporate a broader set of database technologies aligned more closely to the data access and processing patterns required by the business functions they support.

The AWS Certified Database – Specialty certification validates a candidate’s expertise in the breadth of AWS database services. The AWS platform lets you choose from more than 15 purpose-built database engines, including relational, key-value, document, in-memory, graph, time series, and ledger databases. With many options, it’s important for you to pick the right tool for the job at hand. The AWS Certified Database – Specialty exam presents candidates with an opportunity to showcase their ability to design, recommend, and maintain the optimal AWS database solution for a use case, and their ability to analyze requirements and design appropriate database solutions. I recently prepared for and passed this exam. Having previously served in the role of database administrator, I found the exam preparation experience particularly interesting.

AWS Training and Certification offers a mix of free, on-demand digital courses and virtual/in-person instructor-led classroom training, as well as a dedicated database learning path that helps you prepare to pursue the certification. I encourage you to utilize the training as well as these 10 tips.

1. Understand which workloads are best suited to each of the purpose-built database services on AWS

When incorporating a new database solution into an architecture, it’s important to consider the nature of the data, such as its storage, usage, volume, and velocity. The database services on AWS can vary widely in terms of performance, scalability, and availability characteristics. Understanding the strengths of each service and being able to match workload characteristics to the different services is an important skill that’s heavily tested on the exam. Workload-specific database design currently comprises 26% of the exam composition.

Resources to consider:

 2. Understand strategies for disaster recovery and high availability

When deploying databases on AWS, it’s critical to understand how to configure database architectures to achieve recovery-point and recovery-time objectives. This topic is on the exam and covers high-availability and disaster-recovery configurations for a variety of the available database services. This subject area aligns closely to the Reliability Pillar of the AWS Well-Architected Framework.

Resources to consider:

3.       Understand how database solution deployments can be automated

A best practice for deploying AWS resources is to use a configuration system that treats your infrastructure as code. AWS CloudFormation is one way you can do this on AWS. Infrastructure as code is a key enabler of DevOps practices and brings developers and operations together to collaborate on automating application delivery at scale. Because databases are typically stateful components in your architecture, it’s important to understand how you can use CloudFormation to provision new resources and manage them throughout their lifecycle.

Resources to consider:

4.       Determine data preparation and migration strategies

The exam tests your knowledge of data-migration methods both into and within AWS. To address questions on this topic, it’s important to understand capabilities such as snapshots, database restores, and data-replication options. Ensure you understand which tools and services are most appropriate to maximize efficiency. Additionally, know how to prepare your data sources and targets and choose schema-conversion methods using tools such as the AWS Schema Conversion Tool.

Resource to consider:

5.       Determine backup and restore strategies

To ensure business data is protected, you need to determine appropriate backup and restoration strategies. Depending on the AWS database services being used, backup and recovery strategies will vary. Data-protection strategies may include the ability to take manual snapshots and leverage automated backups or continuous backups. Resource impact resulting from backup and restoration activities can also vary. Backup solutions for AWS database services, such as Aurora and DynamoDB, are designed to have little to no impact on performance and will not cause interruptions. In other cases, such as with Amazon ElastiCache, potential impacts depend on engine version, activity level, or configurations such as reserved memory. Consider performance and availability impacts and mitigation strategies.

6.       Manage the operational environment of a database solution

A number of AWS database services are provided as fully managed database services where AWS manages many aspects of database management on your behalf. For example, this could include applying patches to the database engine or its underlying operating system. Ensure you understand how individual database services handle updates and configuration changes, as there are some differences between services.

7.       Determine monitoring and alerting strategies

Additionally, you’ll need to be familiar with the monitoring capabilities of the AWS databases and understand how they interact with the additional AWS monitoring and alerting tools, including Amazon CloudWatch, AWS CloudTrail, and the collection of custom metrics.

Resource to consider:

8.       Understand how you can optimize database performance

For the exam, you’ll need to apply troubleshooting skills to database-performance issues, fine tune database design and performance, and identify AWS tools and services that are most helpful and cost effective for database scenarios. The approach for optimizing performance and costs varies across AWS database services. For example, in DynamoDB, design your application for uniform activity across all logical partition keys in the table and its secondary indexes.

Resources to consider:

9.       Encrypt data at rest and in transit

Encrypting data at rest is a key component of data protection on AWS. AWS database services are unique and often implement data protection in different ways. Understanding how to leverage AWS Key Management Service (AWS KMS) for encryption key management to create encryption keys and define the policies that control the use of these keys is a topic that you’re likely to encounter on the exam. Be sure to also spend some time reviewing options for the different database engines that support encryption of data in transit.

Resource to consider:

10.   Determine access control and authentication mechanisms

Authentication options vary by database service. Become familiar with the database services that support authentication via AWS Identity and Access Management (IAM). For configurations that rely on native-database authentication schemes, know how database credential management can be handled by using AWS Secrets Manager, which allows you to create secrets and use them in place of hard-coded credentials in your applications or infrastructure as code.

The value of AWS Certification

The AWS Certified Database – Specialty certification presents architects and IT engineering professionals with the opportunity to validate their knowledge and show they understand how to manage databases on AWS. Preparing for a certification exam is an excellent way to reinforce your knowledge of technologies. I hope you consider pursuing this exam. Don’t forget to take advantage of the learning resources available to you, including our free digital courses, free virtual webinars, and exam-preparation courses. If you haven’t done it yet, sign up for a training account and take the recommended courses. Best of luck!