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On April 20th, 2017, Microsoft announced that it will make big changes regarding Office 365 ProPlusThe first part of the announcement detailed new system requirements, such as the need for all Office 365 ProPlus and Office perpetual in mainstream support to be connected to Office 365 services by 2020. However, the second part of the announcement created a much bigger stir among IT professionals: Microsoft has aligned the Windows 10 release schedules and support lifecycles with those of Office 365 ProPlus because customers have "asked us to simplify the update process and to improve the coordination between Office and Windows." 

Even though your organization most likely has a subscription to Office 365 Enterprise E3 or E5, you should be familiar with the recently announced ProPlus update model. E3 and E5 include the on-premise version of the Microsoft Office Suite with the regular 10-year support agreement. However, Microsoft is making continuous updates to its Office suite — putting enterprises more and more behind the eight-ball. Since this elongated lifecycle won't be a sustainable support strategy going forward, especially for those using a combination of local installs and browser based use, we believe these updates will eventually be carried through to other O365 versions. Therefore, you should start preparing now for what is surely to come in the next few years.

Office 365 ProPlus Update Management 101.png

Therefore, starting in September 2017, Microsoft is to implement the following changes to the Office 365 ProPlus (from now on referred to as Office 365 only) update model:

  • There will only be two updates per year. Microsoft is reducing the number of updates per year to two — targeted for March and September each year  — to align with its new semi-annual channel model for Windows 10 and Office 365 ProPlus.
  • Support timeline extends to 18 months after initial release. Microsoft will extend its support period for Office 365 ProPlus releases from 12 to 18 months to better accomodate the semi-annual channel cycles and allow IT pros to align deployment phases.
  • SCCM and Windows Server support aligns as well. While the original April announcement only mentioned that the System Center Configuration Manager (SCCM) will also align its update model with that of Office 365 ProPlus and Windows 10, Microsoft announced in July that Windows Server will join the club as well — making it easier to test, deploy and update all the products together.

Basic Office 365 Update Model Terminology & Concept

Before we dive into the support timeline and update lifecycle, let's define the basic terms and talk about the general concept of the Office 365 update model.

What is Office 365 ProPlus?

The software giant offers four enterprise plans: Office ProPlus, E1, E3, and E5. One of the more basic versions, Office 365 ProPlus focuses on the on-premise version of Microsoft's enterprise-ready productivity apps — including on-premise licenses for up to 5 devices per user for the Office Suite including Word, Excel, PowerPoint, Outlook, OneNote, Publisher, and Access.

It also includes some cloud-based services: Skype for Business and OneDrive for Business (1 TB of personal cloud storage), Office Online (Word, OneNote, PowerPoint, and Excel), and access to other Office 365 apps such as Sway (Digital Storytelling) or self-service Business Intelligence capabilities in Excel.

What Is The Office 365 Update Model Concept?

After decades of milking the on-premise Windows OS and Office productivity suite cash cows, Microsoft discovered the power of  cloud computing. But for most enterprise organizations deeply rooted in on-premise, the transition to Office 365 still meant a local, on-premise installation of the Office productivity suite, with only small business and mobile device users moving fully to the cloud version of Office 365. Browsers are still limited in what they can do compared to a fully functional fat client application like Excel, so the requirement to manage an on-premise Microsoft Office upgrade cycle will be with us all for years to come.

Just like with Windows 10, there are two types of updates that all Office 365 connected devices will receive:

  • Feature Updates. Instead of shipping completely new versions every two to three years, Microsoft is delivering new features and capabilities twice a year — which is a huge bonus for end users as the learning curve isn't as steep and the adoption is much faster, leading to less productivity loss due to the unfamiliarity of the software. For IT, this means more continuous update management that can be better planned and managed rather than having to go through big bang migrations.
  • Quality Updates. Just like the monthly service updates, quality updates deliver new patches, fixes, and crucial security updates on a monthly basis to keep your productivity suite up-to-date and safe. In contrast to Windows 10, quality updates for Office 365 are split into security and non-security updates. Depending on which servicing channel you are on, they are either delivered monthly or twice a year.

Office 365 Servicing Options

  • Monthly Channel, formerly known as the "Current Channel", delivers new Office 365 features as soon as they become available. This is the default servicing option for Visio Pro for Office 365, Project Online Desktop Client, and Office 365 Business.
  • Semi-Annual Channel (Targeted), formerly known as the "First Release for Deferred Channel". Starting in September 2017, devices on the Semi-Annual Channel (Targeted) will receive feature updates twice a year (in September and in March) as well as monthly security and non-security updates. Microsoft recommends that you have less than ten percent of your users on this channel to do your enterprise pilots and application compatibility testing and validation.
  • Semi-Annual Channel, formerly known as the "Deferred Channel". Four months after the Semi-Annual Channel (Targeted) receives its feature updates, the same feature updates will be released into this servicing channel — giving IT more time to test for application compatibility and iron out possible wrinkles in the deployment process. All Office 365 ProPlus customers are on this servicing option by default. Also, this channel will only receive security updates every month while non-security quality updates are delivered on a six month basis.

It is up to you to decide which servicing option is right for which user depending on how many business apps, add-ins or macros you have and how much testing you think you will need.

 Office 365 Migration Strategy Playbook

Office 365 ProPlus Support Timeline

Generally, the Windows 10 and Office 365 ProPlus support timeline follows the same logic. Each new version is supported for 18 months after the initial release. This means that once the new version is published into the default Semi-Annual Channel, you have 14 months until it goes end-of-life.

OfficeProPlusServicingModel.png

(Image Credit: Microsoft)

If you have a look at the release date of the last few and future releases in more detail, the support timeline looks like this:

Release Version

Semi-Annual (Targeted – Formerly First Release for Deferred Channel)

Semi-Annual

End Of Life

1509

8 Dec 2015

9 Feb 2016

Oct 2016

1602

8 Mar 2016

11 Oct 2016

Feb 2017

1605

14 Jun 2016

11 Oct 2016

Jun 2017

1609

11 Oct 2016

22 Feb 2017

Sep 2017

1701

22 Feb 2017

13 Jun 2017

Jan 2018

1705

13 Jun 2017

10 Oct 2017

Jul 2018

1708

12 Sep 2017

9 Jan 2018

Mar 2019

1803

13 Mar 2018

10 Jul 2018

Sep 2019

1809

11 Sep 2018

Jan 2019

Mar 2020

 

If you visualize these dates using the Semi Annual Channel update cycle for security and non-security update releases, you get a support timeline that looks like this:

Office365_ProPlus_Servicing_Timeline_11072017.png

As this can be confusing sometimes, here is an example: Let's say you are planning to adopt Version 1708 which was released on September 12, 2017 to Semi-Annual Channel (Targeted). If you are waiting for the Semi-Annual Channel, you should plan to migrate starting on January 9, 2018. This version will be out of support by March 2019 which gives you a full year to pilot and deploy the next version, which will be released to Semi-Annual Channel (Targeted) in March 2018. 

How Aligned Are The Windows 10 and Office 365 Release Schedules?

If you previously followed Microsoft's announcements or read our just-updated Windows 10 Servicing Support Timeline article, you might see some slight discrepancies here. 

First of all, let's have a look at the planned release dates of Office 365 and Windows 10 in comparison:

Version 1709:

  • Sep 12th 2017 – Office 365 ProPlus Semi-Annual Channel (Targeted) version 1708 release – EOL Mar 2019
  • Oct 17th 2017 – Windows 10 Semi-Annual Channel (Targeted) version 1709 initially, but now 1710 – EOL Mar 2019
  • Jan 9th 2018 – Office 365 ProPlus Semi-Annual Channel version 1708 release – EOL Mar 2019

Version 1803:

  • Mar 13th 2018 – Ofiice 365 ProPlus Semi-Annual Channel (Targeted) version 1803 release – EOL Sep 2019
  • Mar (TBC) 2018 – Windows 10 Semi-Annual Channel (Targeted) version 1803 release – EOL Sep 2019
  • Jul 10th 2018 – Office 365 Semi-Annual Channel version 1803 release – EOL Sep 2019

Version 1810:

  • Sep 11th 2018 – Office 365 ProPlus Semi-Annual Channel (Targeted) version 1810 release – EOL Mar 2020
  • Sep (TBC) 2018 - Windows 10 Semi-Annual Channel (Targeted) version 1810 release – EOL Mar 2020
  • Jul (TBC) 2019 – Office 365 Semi-Annual Channel version 1810 release – EOL Sep 2020

As you can see from above, the schedules for the upcoming releases (version 1708, 1709/1710) are not only a month apart, but the logic is different between the two:

After the alignment announcement, Microsoft initially started using the terms Semi-Annual Channel (Pilot) for the initial feature update in March and September and Semi-Annual Channel (Broad) for the by-four-months-deferred, enterprise-ready version released in January and July.

Where Are They Different?

However, Michael Niehaus, Microsoft's Senior Product Marketing Manager for Windows, explained recently in a side comment that they will no longer tell enterprises when they should be ready for broad deployment. Therefore, the company will not re-publish an already published version of Windows 10 four months after the initial release — so there will be only one feature update, not two.

For Office 365, on the other hand, the default servicing option is the Semi-Annual Channel, which is published four months after the initial feature update. While Microsoft stresses in its articles that the Semi-Annual Channel (Targeted) is for the pilot phase, the focus is on the deferred Semi-Annual Channel update.

While both approaches have their individual merits, we expect to see a realignment of these philosophies. Ultimately, I can see the weight shift towards the Semi-Annual Channel as becoming the main focus point, as this is the point in time when enterprises need to kick off broad deployment. However, the clock will always start ticking when the initial feature update is released. 

Conclusion

As you can see, moving to Office 365 comes with a slew of forced updates and a variety of management options — which is a massive departure from the traditional way IT used to handle version rollouts. Gone are the times when we could neatly package a migration into a two to three project every four to five years. To absorb and efficiently manage this new pace of change, that IT undergoes a massive culture shift to a Business-as-Usual or Evergreen IT modus operandum.

Updates have to be rolled out at a much faster pace as your last version is getting closer to its end-of-life every month. Rather than planning for a big disruption, the successful management of Office 365 updates requires a continuous plan of action paired with and agile project management approach.

To support this new way on managing updates, you will need the right tooling that allows you to gain up-to-date, actionable insights into the readiness state and status of your assets as well as a central command and control center and the ability to continuously improve in small iterations to keep you moving forward will be of paramount importance.

If you are planning an Office 365 rollout within the next 12 months, or have already moved and want to learn how to efficiently manage your bi-annual update cycles, schedule a consultation with me and I will walk you through how Juriba's IT Transformation platform, Dashworks, has helped ready more than five million assets for migration and enables enterprises around the world stay in control (and ahead) of their Office 365, Windows-as-a-Service, and other Evergreen IT initiatives. 

Click here to download the Office 365 project plan template

Barry Angell

Written by Barry Angell

Barry is a co-founder of Juriba, where he is focused on using his experience in IT migration to help drive product strategy, pre-sales and service delivery. He is an experienced End User Services executive that has helped manage thousands of users, computers, applications and mailboxes to their next IT platform. He has saved millions of dollars for internal departments and customers alike through product, project, process and service delivery efficiency.

Topics: featured Office 365 Evergreen IT