Posey's Tips & Tricks

Choosing the Right Office 365 Enterprise Subscription

Going with the correct fit could save your company thousands of dollars.

As a freelance tech writer, I frequently hear people throw around terms such as large enterprise and small enterprise. Even so, I'm guessing that I have probably brought new meaning to the term small enterprise with my Office 365 subscription. That's because I have an Office 365 E3 subscription for two users.

So how did that happen? For many years, I hosted my own Exchange Server in my home. Unfortunately, Murphy's law struck with a vengeance when my Exchange Server deployment crashed while I was on the opposite side of the Atlantic for work. The incident left me without e-mail for an extended period of time, and I lost a lot of work as a result. Needless to say, I ended up adopting Office 365 as a way of preventing that type of outage from happening in the future.

The reason why I went with the Microsoft Office 365 E3 plan was because, at the time, it was the most comprehensive plan that Microsoft offered. I needed Exchange Server, but I wasn't quite sure what else I might need in the future -- either for my business or so I could write about it. Given that I only had two users, there wasn't a huge difference in cost between the most comprehensive plan and the lower end plans, so the decision was easy to make.

In an enterprise class organization, however, the decision as to which Office 365 subscription to choose deserves much more careful consideration. Although the per user cost may be a few dollars per month, those few dollars can quickly add up as the user count increases. Right now, Enterprise E1 costs $8 per user per month. The E3 plan cost $20 per user per month, and the E5 plan cost $35 per user per month. The difference between the cost of the E3 and E5 plans is $15.  While that might not sound like a lot, it would mean a $15,000 per month cost difference for an organization with 1000 users. That's a whopping $180,000 per year difference in cost.  So with that in mind, it is important for organizations to choose the plan that will give them the features that they need, but without incurring unnecessary cost.

So what are the differences in the Office 365 Enterprise plans? To be perfectly frank, there is a lot of overlap between the E1, E3, and E5 plans. Each plan, for instance, allows for Active Directory integration, and provides the same level of security and the same SLA. Even so, there are some significant differences.

The E1 plan is the least expensive, but also the least inclusive. To begin with, Microsoft lists the following features as being included with the E3 plan, but not the E1 plan:

  • Unlimited e-mail storage for in-place archive.
  • Advanced e-mail with archiving and legal hold.
  • Unified eDiscovery center.
  • Rights management, data loss prevention and encryption.
  • Hosted voicemail support.

In addition, the E1 plan lacks the ability to install Microsoft Office onto PCs, macs, tablets, and phones. Also included in E3, but not E1, are enterprise management of apps, self service business intelligence and compliance solutions to support things like archiving, auditing, and eDiscovery.

There are also significant differences between the E3 plan and the E5 plan. The E5 plan includes everything that the E3 plan includes, plus:

  • PSTN conferencing to dial in to Skype meetings from anywhere.
  • Cloud-based call management with option to add PSTN calling.
  • Advanced analytics with Power BI and Delve Analytics.
  • In-place, Advanced eDiscovery.
  • Advanced security with Advanced Threat Protection and Customer Lockbox.

Microsoft provides a comparison matrix for the three plans, which can be looked over here. Organizations that are considering an enterprise plan subscription should obviously compare the different offerings to see which plan best meets their needs. To generalize these plans, however, plan E1 is probably best suited to organizations that need Office 365, but who don't need the advanced Exchange Server features. Think of this plan as being somewhat similar to operating Exchange Server without Enterprise CALs. Also, because plan E1 doesn't include Microsoft Office, you will either have to provide your own Office licenses or use an alternative mail client such as OWA and alternative productivity applications.

Office 365 E3 is probably a good mid-range plan. It includes most of the features that you are likely to need, but lacks the advanced enterprise features found in the E5 plan. The E5 plan's biggest selling point is probably its PSTN integration, but some will no doubt choose the E5 plan for its analytic capabilities.

About the Author

Brien Posey is a seven time Microsoft MVP with over two decades of IT experience. As a freelance writer, Posey has written many thousands of articles and written or contributed to several dozen books on a wide variety of IT topics. Prior to going freelance, Posey was a CIO for a national chain of hospitals and healthcare facilities. He has also served as a network administrator for some of the country's largest insurance companies and for the Department of Defense at Fort Knox. When He isn't busy writing, Brien Posey enjoys exotic travel, scuba diving, and racing his Cigarette boat. You can visit his personal Web site at: www.brienposey.com.

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