NOTE: This particular article is the first in a two-part series and addresses the smaller to mid-range organization, meaning up to around 300 users. For the next blog we’ll take a look at the next step up; 300 to tens of thousands.
So. You’ve made the big decision. You have decided that all the constant replacement of server hardware and the capital expenditure, that the near-constant upgrades of server operating systems and server applications, is no longer going to be in your future. You have made your evaluations of cloud services. You have decided to introduce Microsoft 365. Great.
What does that mean in practice?
Your decision-making process means you have moved away from capital expenditure on a (usually three to four) yearly upgrade cycle in favor of a (probably) monthly invoice from Microsoft for your Office/Microsoft 365 services. However, the question remains: what do you need and what will it cost?
When it comes to Microsoft’s cloud-based products, it can be confusing trying to determine what you need. It becomes even more challenging determining the license level that you need, as different license levels give access do different feature sets. Let’s talk about a few of the most common.
Choosing the right Microsoft 365 license for your small or medium-sized enterprise
As mentioned in the lead-in, we’re going to assume that you’re running a smaller to mid-size business, and that your user base doesn’t exceed 300. This leads you nicely to the answer to the question about license level; Enterprise or Business licensing. Because your seat count is below 300, you’re going to be looking at Microsoft 365 Business licenses.
(We’ll also assume here that you’re a for-profit organization rather than a non-profit where costs are significantly lower in some areas. And while we’re on the subject, note that 1. Some of these license prices will vary depending on whether you decide to pay monthly or yearly, and 2. Microsoft has announced that many of these prices will be increasing in March of 2022. More information on this is available here.)
At the bottom of the services stack you can start with Microsoft 365 Apps for Business, then move up to Business Basic, Standard or Premium. The prices for these four license tiers are $8.25, $5, $12.50 or $20 per user, per month, for the four options respectively. It’s important to note that the ‘per user’ count is not simultaneous users, but the total number of named accounts with their own username and their own password.
With the Apps subscription ($8.25) you get a right to use desktop versions of Microsoft’s software suite but get no email service or access to SharePoint, but you do get 1TB of OneDrive storage for the files your users generate with your Word/Excel/PowerPoint software. This is ideal for customers who want the ability to run locally installed Office software but have no need for a Microsoft-hosted email service.
With the Basic subscription ($5.00) you actually take a step back in that you do not have the ability to download desktop versions of the Microsoft application suite, with the exception of Teams and OneDrive. What you gain however is a 50GB mailbox and SharePoint to bring some structure to your previously unstructured data in your file shares. This is where you will want to be if you need a mailbox but do not need Office installed on your computer.
Next up is the Standard subscription ($12.50) where you essentially bring Apps and Basic together. Your users get downloadable apps and email/SharePoint services. In addition, Standard license holders can host Webinars with registration pages and confirmations, etc. Standard also allows access to the increasingly popular Microsoft Bookings feature, which allows people outside your company to schedule meeting times with you based on your public calendar availability.
The final subscription in this section is Business Premium ($20). This is where there is a significant increase in included services. By far the biggest boost for the added cost is the inclusion of Advanced Threat Protection & Azure Information Protection, which is Microsoft’s version of anti-spam, phishing, malware and ransomware technology plus other features. In addition to the behind-the-scenes protection services like anti-virus you get the ability to extend the management of your data out to devices that you own and can control.
Another reason for using Business Premium is the ability to manage Windows 10 devices within the license subscription. The Intune service (now generally called Microsoft Device Management) is included within this subscription which, when purchased outside of Business Premium is called EMS3 (Enterprise Messaging and Security) and costs approximately $9.
The added protection features make Business Premium a great bump up in overall service at (essentially) no extra cost. Where before you may have purchased Business Standard and EMS3 together, now you only really need to purchase the one subscription of Business Premium.
Business Premium licenses let you take a long look at any external mail security measures you have purchased to look at email before it enters your Microsoft Exchange server. After doing this kind of features audit, many Microsoft 365 customers decide that they no longer need any external email security services.
A final thought: If you are in the process of making your on-premises environment much less complicated and moving other applications to cloud services, then perhaps also removing an on-premises Active Directory any more is now a valid option. Thus, as well as removing Exchange, SharePoint and file servers you may potentially retire your Active Directory installation as well. Retiring those assets will eliminate the cost of running these services on-prem. And, since Azure AD is provided within the subscription cost for Business Basic through Premium, there is no additional licensing cost involved.
Licensing is extremely complicated, and this is only a small guide of which commercial subscriptions you might choose, and why.
Anexinet has extensive experience in the ever-changing Microsoft licensing landscape in terms of new features added and existing features improved. Understanding exactly what you need is only the first part of the problem; keeping track of what licenses provide those features is just as important. Anexinet can help your business understand the options available, introduce you to lower-level subscriptions (which, depending on your business, might be all you need) and can help you make choices beyond the ones described here regarding additional services that are and become available. If you have any questions at all about these use cases, feel free to reach out and see how we can help.
In the second post we’ll address the higher user count above 300 where the license names change but the actual features are not a great deal different.
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