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Office 365 ProPlus—IT Control and Management update

This post was written by Amesh Mansukhani, senior technical product manager for Office 365 ProPlus and Alistair Speirs, senior operations program manager for Office 365 deployment.

On March 16th, Kirk Koenigsbauer announced the IT Pro and Developer preview for Office 2016. We encourage you to download the Office 2016 Preview, keeping in mind that this is an early release showcasing a limited number of features, with additional features available for preview over the next several months. Today, we’ll discuss the IT Control and Management capabilities specifically around deployment and upgrade management for enterprise environments.

When we released Office 365 ProPlus, we focused on reducing the burden of traditional software deployment by making Office deployment fast and easy, so it’s always up–to-date, just like you expect from a cloud service. At the same time, we were very conscious to ensure this new deployment model would not impact app integration, Office customization and IT control that businesses rely on to do their best work. Since the initial release of Office 365 ProPlus, we have continued to improve on these capabilities, adding support for selective app installation, shared computer activation (to support virtual or shared desktop scenarios) and improved group policy support, and we’ve also reduced the size of monthly updates. Many large organizations have installed Office 365 ProPlus at scale, including our customers Merck, Henkel, 3M, TE Connectivity and many more. Their experiences and feedback have helped shape the product changes to date, and will continue to do so.

We know many organizations use Office not only as a productivity tool but also as a platform to run crucial line of business applications. To ensure these apps’ continued compatibility, we built a number of features that help maintain continuity as devices receive frequent updates.

We continue to fulfill our vision by delivering additional features, focused on Deployment and Update Management, making it easier than ever for enterprises to embrace Office. In the Office 2016 Preview, IT admins will see a number of significant improvements to Deployment and Update Management, designed to deliver the best Office experience with minimal effort, and provide high confidence around faster deployment, flexible update management and simplified administration.

We are starting our journey by announcing the following enhancements:

Better network traffic management—With the frequency of updates delivered to users there is an inherent concern about bandwidth management, especially in organizations with limited or with no direct access to the Internet. To help resolve this, we are integrating Background Intelligent Transfer Service (BITS) to ensure Office is a good citizen when on an organization’s network. Office will use BITS to transfer updates to a user’s device only when there is bandwidth not being used by other critical applications. Along with the previous introduction of Binary Delta Compression, BITS will also make Office updates smaller and more efficient when on the network.

Enhanced distribution management—For those of you who use the System Center Configuration Manager (SCCM), we are introducing better integration to allow IT admins to efficiently download and distribute Office and any subsequent updates.

Flexible update management—We understand there is a need to reduce the number of feature enhancements on certain devices, especially for those being used for critical line of business solutions. For those devices, we are introducing the ability to receive feature updates no more than three times per year. In between these cycles, we will continue to provide security updates. IT admins will have the ability to easily define which system will take advantage of deferred updates versus the existing always up-to-date model.

Simplified activation management—Currently users have the ability to self-manage Office activations. We know that administrators also want the ability to centrally manage activations on users’ behalf to help reduce the amount of time spent on troubleshooting activation issues.  Starting April 2015, administrators will have the ability to use the Office 365 Admin Portal to identify and manage the number of device activations for Office per user.

These are just some of the new features we are introducing. Over the next several months we will provide additional information on how to leverage these features. Those of you who have already deployed Office 365 ProPlus can treat this release as a monthly update. If your environment is a managed deployment, you will be able to use the Office Deployment Tool to download the new package. You will be able to use the same tools and distribution mechanisms such as SCCM, Microsoft Intune, or distribution points to deliver the new update to your users.

Find out more at Ignite

We hope you are as excited as we are to see these features in action. We will be diving deep into each area and making additional announcements during the Ignite Conference, held May 4-8, 2015, in Chicago.

—Amesh Mansukhani & Alistair Speirs

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