Office 365 (Small) Business Plans now on par with Enterprise

by Ed Sparks

Transport Rules in Office 365 Small Business 

Microsoft rolled out the consolidation and updates to their Office 365 plans back in October 2014, which was a huge step in the right direction for the service.

Not only did they simplify down to fewer plans (a rare move for Microsoft!), they also finally unified the administrative UI for all.  No longer will we have to remember obscure URLs (I'm looking at you Exchange Control Panel), or muddle our way through a mix of confusingly different admin sites.  On top of that, you can now have up to 300 mailboxes in the Business plans, and can mix and match Business, Enterprise and Standalone SKUs all in the same account.   FINALLY!

Somewhat lost in this news - but a very welcome change - is that the actual back-end infrastructure is now the same for all of the services.  That means Business customers now get virtually all the power as Enterprise customers.  Of particular interest is Transport Rules.  A glaring absence in previous Business plans, these are now fully available across the board.  You should drop everything and go enable a Transport Rule to "Block Executable Content" on ALL of your Office 365/Exchange Online domains.  This is a superb anti-malware step that makes every admin's life easier.

Now, in true Microsoft fashion, this transition couldn't be simple.  Everyone on an existing Small or Medium Business Plan will need to either manually force an upgrade to the new plans (and thus, we're assuming, get migrated behind the scenes to new infrastructure) or wait until October 2015!  

No problem, you say, we've got our old friend the Switch Plans Wizard. I like wizards!  Switch Plans will let you upgrade early, except when it won't.  Which seems to be most of the time.

Currently it won't work if there are ANY open service Incidents under the Service Status page. Additionally, upgrades to the new plans aren't available if you have more than one type of existing Plan.  Small Business and Small Business Premium? Nope.  Old P Plan mixed with newer Small Business Plan.  Nope.  

However, there does seem to be a workaround.  Pick your largest group of existing subscriptions and cancel the others temporarily  (i.e if you have 10 Small Business and 2 Small Business Premium subscriptions, keep the Small Business and cancel the Premium.)  Nothing will happen to your mailboxes or users.  The users and licenses will just temporarily go into a licensing holding pattern on Microsoft's side.   Users won't lose access or notice anything.  You will, however, get a temporary warning about license problems in the Admin Portal, though.

At this point the Switch Plans Wizard under the Billing section of the Portal should now allow you to upgrade your existing Small or Medium Business Plans to the equivalent Office 365 Business Essentials or Business Premium plans.

The New Plans

Just like that you'll be migrated and have a much more powerful and easy to administer service!  The bonus? They're cheaper, too.  Also - remember to then go back and purchase the equivalent new versions of the other licenses you cancelled.

Here's Microsoft's original blog post on the topic:


Update:  We've clarified this process with a recent transition, and it's still far more complicated than it needs to be.  Microsoft really needs to make this simpler.
When removing multiple types of license to temporary consolidate down to a single license type, it will still take 30 days by default before the license type is "deprovisioned" from Microsoft's systems. Only after that time has passed can the Switch Plans wizard be used.  

It is possible, however, to open a ticket with Microsoft to have an "Expedited Deprovisioning" performed on a license.  This happens within 3 days, and requires filling out a special form, and you must first ensure that you have temporarily assigned a different license to all active users first, or there is risk of the users and mailboxes being deleted.

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