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Office 365 'Private Preview' Adds New Deletion Safeguard for Groups

Microsoft on Thursday announced a "private preview" of a new groups expiration behavior for organizations using the Office 365 Groups service that relies on user activity as a safeguard against inadvertent group deletion.

Group expirations are needed to clean up groups that get created and then abandoned in organizations. The Office 365 Groups service already has an expiration policy that's available with proper licensing to manage the groups created by end users, but it's based on set time intervals. These time intervals, measured in days, get set up in organizations by IT pros using the Azure Active Directory Portal or PowerShell.

Currently, so-called "group owner" end users can renew a group. If the IT department has set up an expiration policy for groups, then these group owners will typically get notified 30 days before a group's expiration to take action. When a group does expire, it gets put into a "soft delete" state, and the group owners get notified again of the deletion. They'll then have 30 days to restore the group, if wanted. If the group is not restored within that time period, it gets permanently deleted.

Microsoft received feedback that having these time intervals for expiring groups may not be the best approach, since valuable data could get deleted.

"As the number of Office 365 groups increases, an organization needs to strike a balance between cleaning up unused groups and ensuring any valuable groups do not get deleted unintentionally, causing data loss," the announcement explained.

With the new Office 365 Groups private preview, certain end user activity "across Office 365 apps like Outlook, SharePoint, Teams, Yammer, and others" will automatically renew a group. Here's the list of end user actions in the private preview that will trigger the renewal:

  • SharePoint -- View, Edit, Download, Move, Share, Upload Files
  • Outlook -- Join group, Read/write group message, Like a message (OWA)
  • Teams -- Visit a Teams channels

With the private preview, IT pros will be able to see the groups that got automatically renewed via the Azure Portal.

One catch for organizations wanting such control over the lifecycle of groups is that they'll need to have an Azure AD Premium license to have those management capabilities.

Microsoft's time-interval approach for deleting groups got critiqued more than a year ago by Tony Redmond, an Exchange expert and Microsoft Most Valuable Professional. He welcomed adding some lifecycle controls for IT pros over groups, but argued back then that user activity could serve as a better gauge for keeping groups around. Now it seems that Microsoft is testing that very same approach with its private preview.

Redmond had also noted in a 2018 Petri.com article that organizations can only get these kinds of expiration policy controls over groups if they have an Azure AD Premium P1 license "for every user who is a member of an Office 365 group configured for expiration."

About the Author

Kurt Mackie is senior news producer for the 1105 Enterprise Computing Group.

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