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Understanding the Difference: AWS Certified Cloud Practitioner vs AWS Certified Solutions Architect Associate

Navigating the world of Amazon Web Services (AWS) certifications can be overwhelming. Among the various certifications offered, two of the most popular are the AWS Certified Cloud Practitioner and the AWS Certified Solutions Architect – Associate. While both certifications validate AWS knowledge, they cater to different professional needs and skill levels. Having passed both exams this past year, I’d like to share the differences between the two and the best strategies and resources I’ve found for passing both of them.


AWS Certified Cloud Practitioner Certification

The AWS Certified Cloud Practitioner certification is an entry-level certification designed to validate an individual’s overall understanding of the AWS Cloud. It is ideal for individuals who are new to cloud computing or AWS and want to understand the basic fundamentals.


Key Focus Areas:

  • Basic Understanding of AWS Services: It covers essential AWS services, their uses, and basic AWS architecture best practices.
  • Cloud Concepts: Fundamental knowledge of what the cloud is and how it operates, including security, pricing, and documentation.
  • AWS Cloud Economics: Understanding of cost, billing, and analysis principles in the AWS environment.


Who Should Take It?

  • Beginners in cloud computing.
  • Professionals seeking an overall understanding of AWS.
  • Non-technical roles such as sales, marketing, and legal who require a basic understanding of the AWS Cloud.


AWS Certified Solutidons Architect – Associate Certification

The AWS Certified Solutions Architect – Associate is a mid-level certification geared toward individuals who design cloud infrastructures and reference architectures using AWS services.


Key Focus Areas:

  • Complex AWS Solutions: Designing and deploying scalable, highly available, and fault-tolerant systems on AWS.
  • Data Security and Compliance: Deep understanding of AWS security measures, compliance policies, and risk management.
  • Cost-Efficient Systems: Ability to identify cost-effective solutions and optimize AWS service costs.


Who Should Take It?

  • Individuals with some experience in designing distributed systems.
  • Cloud architects and developers who want to enhance their AWS designing skills.
  • IT professionals looking to expand their knowledge in cloud architecture on AWS.


Comparing the Two Certifications

Cloud Practitioner Solutions Architect – Associate
Level Entry-level Mid-level
Target Audience Beginners, Non-tech professionals Experienced developers, cloud architects
Prerequisites None Some experience with AWS recommended
Exam Focus Basic AWS concepts and services Designing and deploying AWS solutions
Preparation Time Less (approx. 1-3 months) More (approx. 3-6 months)
Career Path Foundation for AWS journey Specialized roles in cloud architecture


Which Certification Should You Choose?

If You’re a Beginner:

Start with the AWS Certified Cloud Practitioner. It’s a great way to get familiar with AWS services and cloud concepts without being overwhelmed.


If You’re Seeking Specialization:

If you already have some experience with AWS and are looking to specialize in solutions architecture, the AWS Certified Solutions Architect – Associate is the right choice.


For Career Advancement:

Professionals looking to advance their careers in cloud computing or architecture should aim for the Solutions Architect certification.


Preparing for the Exams

AWS Learning Plans

Before concluding, it’s important to highlight some effective study resources. The AWS Learning Plans on the AWS Skill Builder are ideal for beginners, offering a clear and engaging introduction to AWS concepts at your own pace. However, they provide a broad overview rather than in-depth knowledge. A helpful supplement to the Learning Plans are AWS’s free live training sessions, though they often follow a similar depth as the Learning Plans.


Stephane Maarek Udemy Courses

For in-depth study, the “Ultimate AWS Certified Cloud Practitioner” and “Ultimate AWS Certified Solutions Architect Associate” courses on Udemy by Stephane Maarek are excellent. These courses are thorough and well-structured, encompassing all necessary exam topics. They include extensive lecture videos and full-length practice tests. These practice tests, mirroring the style of actual exam questions, are crucial for success. Repeatedly scoring 80% or higher on these tests significantly boosts your chances of passing the real exam, making these resources highly valuable for preparation.


Example Architecture and Questions

To provide a clearer perspective on the depth of knowledge required to successfully pass each exam, here is a standard AWS Architecture example accompanied by two illustrative questions. The first question is an example of a typical question on the AWS Cloud Practitioner exam and the second is an example of a typical question on the AWS Certified Solutions Architect exam.  Both questions revolve around the same topic – in this instance, the Auto Scaling Group – yet they distinctly highlight the varying degrees of complexity and understanding expected for each certification level.


In this basic AWS architecture diagram, we have 3 Amazon EC2 instances (or group of instances) running in a single EC2 security group in three separate Availability Zones. The EC2 instances are fronted by an Application Load Balance (ALB) and Auto Scaling Group (ASG). Everything exists in a single Virtual Private Cloud (VPC) in a single AWS Region.


For the AWS Certified Cloud Practitioner exam:

“Consider an AWS Auto Scaling Group. Which of the following best describes the primary purpose of an Auto Scaling Group in AWS?”

  • To distribute incoming application traffic across multiple targets, such as Amazon EC2 instances.
  • To automatically adjust the number of Amazon EC2 instances in response to the application load.
  • To manage user access and encryption keys for Amazon EC2 instances.
  • To provide a managed database service that makes it easy to set up, maintain, and scale a relational database in the cloud.


The correct answer is: b) To automatically adjust the number of Amazon EC2 instances in response to the application load.


For the AWS Certified Solutions Architect exam:

“You are designing a highly available web application on AWS. To ensure optimal performance and cost-efficiency, you decide to use an Auto Scaling Group. Which of the following strategies should you implement to ensure that the Auto Scaling Group dynamically adjusts the number of EC2 instances and maintains high availability? Choose the most effective strategy that aligns with best practices for scalability and high availability.”

  • Configure the Auto Scaling Group to create new instances in a single Availability Zone only when the CPU utilization exceeds 80%.
  • Set up the Auto Scaling Group to launch new instances across multiple Availability Zones based on average CPU utilization and network input/output.
  • Use a scheduled scaling action to add instances during peak usage hours and remove them during off-peak hours.
  • Implement a fixed scaling policy with a constant number of instances regardless of the load or time of day.


The correct answer is: b) Set up the Auto Scaling Group to launch new instances across multiple Availability Zones based on average CPU utilization and network input/output. This strategy ensures high availability by using multiple Availability Zones and scalability by adjusting the number of instances based on load.


Breaking these questions down, you can see the difference in complexity and depth of knowledge required for each – one from the Certified Cloud Practitioner exam and the other from the Certified Solutions Architect exam – is quite significant:


Level of Detail:

The Cloud Practitioner question is more straightforward and conceptual. It asks for a basic understanding of what an Auto Scaling Group is and its primary function. This reflects the foundational level of the Cloud Practitioner exam, which is aimed at individuals who need to demonstrate an overall understanding of the AWS Cloud without going into the technical details.

Technical Depth and Application:

The Solutions Architect question, on the other hand, requires not only an understanding of what an Auto Scaling Group is but also how it should be optimally configured in a specific scenario. This question tests the ability to apply knowledge in a practical context, a key aspect of the Solutions Architect exam. It requires an understanding of best practices, the ability to analyze requirements (like high availability and cost-efficiency), and knowledge of how different AWS services interact.

Scenario-Based Problem Solving:

The Cloud Practitioner question focuses on the ‘what’ of Auto Scaling Groups. In contrast, the Solutions Architect question is scenario-based, requiring the candidate to think about the ‘how’ – how to implement a solution effectively in a real-world scenario. This involves a deeper understanding of AWS services, their capabilities, and their limitations.

Decision-Making Skills:

The Solutions Architect question also tests decision-making skills under specific conditions (e.g., maintaining high availability, optimizing costs), reflecting the more advanced nature of the Solutions Architect role, which often involves designing and managing complex AWS environments.


Essentially, the Cloud Practitioner exam focuses on grasping the basic principles of AWS, whereas the Solutions Architect exam delves into the application of these principles in detailed, sophisticated, and frequently challenging real-world situations.



Both the AWS Certified Cloud Practitioner and AWS Certified Solutions Architect – Associate certifications are valuable in their own right. Your choice depends on your current skill level, professional background, and career aspirations. Whichever path you choose, AWS certifications are a great way to validate your cloud expertise and open doors to new opportunities in the fast-evolving cloud computing landscape.


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Curtis Kettler is an Associate UX Developer and AWS Certified Cloud Practitioner at Mindset Consulting. He entered the development world after fifteen years in music education as a conductor, teacher, and singer. Curtis is passionate about front-end development and exploring new ways of bringing web applications to life (including AWS!). He and his wife live in Minneapolis and, in their spare time, enjoy rock climbing and traveling as much as they can.

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