Microsoft Explains IT's Role in Managing Office 365 ProPlus Subscriptions
IT pros have been questioning their control over the update process with Microsoft's cloud-enabled Office products.
Microsoft responded to that notion in a Tuesday announcement in its Office IT pro blog, describing how Office 365 ProPlus gets updated, as well as the management options available for IT pros. Office 365 ProPlus is Microsoft's branding for Office applications that get installed on premises but updated through Microsoft's datacenters. The Office 365 ProPlus suite of applications isn't different from boxed copies of Microsoft Office except that it gets updated every month via a Microsoft streaming technology called "Click-to-Run virtualization." The licensing is different, too, and is based on monthly subscription fees, rather than the perpetual licensing of "boxed" products.
Updating Office 365 ProPlus via Click-to-Run is the default behavior of the subscription, but that process alters traditional IT controls over Office installations in an organization. IT pros no longer use MSI files to install Office under Office 365 ProPlus subscription plans, nor can they reject the updates that get pushed down to end users through the Click-to-Run service.
A TechNet article on deploying Office 2013 explains the limits that IT pros have with Click-to-Run delivered products.
By default, Click-to-Run products are configured to be updated automatically over time. Users don't have to download or install updates. Updates are seamlessly applied in the background. But, you can't specify which particular updates or service packs to apply to your Office installations. Also, you can't use standard update processes, such as Windows Update or Windows Server Update Services (WSUS), to apply updates.
IT Pro Resistance
Microsoft has gotten the message that some organizations don't particularly like that sort of change, even to the point of rejecting Office 365 ProPlus subscriptions, based on IT pro feedback.
"The feedback has been consistent: While the new [Office 365 ProPlus] servicing model seems to make sense from a macro perspective, it just doesn't fit into MY environment," Microsoft's announcement explained. "The result: Many organizations are thinking of passing on Office 365 ProPlus for now, as updates just don't make sense."
IT pros with such reservations about allowing updates to stream to end users, fearing the introduction potential problems into a computing environment, aren't using a "fact-based approach to managing risk," according to Microsoft's announcement. The announcement suggested that such problems were infrequent. However, it did admit that testing updates before they are applied would be the "best way to manage this risk."
Microsoft's updates to Office 365 ProPlus arrive monthly. Even its next Service Pack 1, which is expected to arrive early this year, will be treated by Microsoft as just a monthly update, and will be a lot smaller than past releases. Microsoft's Click-to-Run updates deliver "cumulative updates," which, by definition, contain all prior updates. The Click-to-Run updates are about the size of an MSI file, but end users only get the changed bits, which reduces their size.
According to Microsoft, there's no point in using Windows Server Update Services (WSUS) or System Center Configuration Manager to try to manage Office 365 ProPlus updates because they don't arrive through Windows Update. If an organization wants to use their software distribution tools to manage Office 365 ProPlus installations, then they have to set up delivery to a single location using the Office Deployment Tool.
By making some configuration changes with the Office Deployment Tool, IT pros can set it up so that they can test the monthly Office 365 ProPlus updates before they get distributed to end users. However, Microsoft' announcement heavily implies that IT pros do not need to test these updates at all -- unless they want to manage the risk that something could go wrong. In addition, Microsoft concedes that it mixes security and nonsecurity patches with its Office 365 ProPlus Click-to-Run updates, even though some IT pros don't seem to like that practice.
Microsoft provides resources for IT pros on deploying Office 365 ProPlus at this page. In addition, there's an explanation of how Click-to-Run dispenses with the need to use MSI files here.
Organizations with volume licensing contracts to use Office suites still have traditional IT controls. However, that's all changed under the new Office 365 ProPlus subscription model.
Kurt Mackie is online news editor for the 1105 Enterprise Computing Group.