What’s new in Office 365’s E5 plan for Exchange Admins?

Introduction

Microsoft have recently added a new licensing option to the Office 365 suite, named E5. If you are unfamiliar with Microsoft’s licensing options for Office 365 then it’s worth knowing there are a lot of options.

In general, businesses with over 300 users tend to purchase Microsoft’s E3 plan which includes Exchange, Skype for Business, OneDrive for Business, SharePoint, Yammer and Office Pro Plus. The E3 package includes all the essentials for compliance, such as In-Place hold, Azure RMS and DLP functionality.

At the lower end some organizations go for E1, which includes the basics – but doesn’t include compliance options or Office Pro Plus.

The new E5 licensing plan is aimed at a mix of use cases, and adds a lot of functionality, from advanced malware protection, e-discovery improvements, cloud based calling and tools to help organizations better understand their underlying data.

Advanced Threat Protection

If you’ve already got Office 365 and have implemented it then you’ll be familiar with Exchange Online Protection. It provides 98% protection against spam and 100% protection against all known viruses. However, it doesn’t cover unknown malware, otherwise known as zero day threats. Advanced Threat Protection provides a number of features that provide protection against the unknown.

Safe Links provides protection against malicious URLs contained within email messages. It works by replacing the URL within the message, and then when it’s click, redirects the user to an Office 365 website where the link is checked before the user is allowed to continue to the destination. This means that unknown URLs at the time of message receipt stand a chance of being known as a threat by the time someone attempts to access the link in the message. In the event they do click the link then reporting is available to track down who clicked a link that was malicious.

The Safe Attachments feature within ATP provides protection against dangerous attachments that are unknown to malware detection engines.

E-Discovery Improvements

Microsoft bought Equivio, a well-known E-Discovery company that is trusted by the legal industry. This has been brought into Office 365 and is available as part of the Office 365 E5 SKU as the advanced e-discovery option.

If you’ve got E3 licensing and above, great E-Discovery functionality is included out of the box and is suitable for most day to day purposes. The Equivio functionality helps reduce the time required to sort through the data returned from E-Discovery searches by using intelligent scanning of documents, messages and message threads. It also uses machine learning technology to help identify trends, making it easier to spot and report on unusual activity during an investigation.

New Skype for Business functionality

Since the release of Office 365, organizations looking to take advantage of the technology have had some stark choices – use the cloud-based services and forfeit the ability to integrate with on-premises PBX systems or use the cloud services to provide PSTN dialling capabilities to users; or implement a full on-premises Lync or Skype for Business

The E5 licensing brings a number of new features that make it possible to provide part or all of your PBX functionality from Microsoft datacenters. The simplest add-on functionality included is PSTN Conferencing, available in select countries at launch including the US and UK. PSTN conferencing allows you to schedule a Skype meeting, with phone numbers for attendees to dial in through. This makes it really easy for people without PC or smartphone audio capabilities to join a conference call. It’s an ideal substitute for a conference bridge number with the ease of use of scheduling meetings via Outlook.

The big new thing though is something called Cloud PBX. This add-on extends Skype for Business Online functionality to include the ability to function as a PBX replacement. It doesn’t include every feature an on-premises deployment includes, but it provides functionality many organizations need for all or even a subset of users – in particular the ability to provide a direct dial number to individual users. Cloud PBX needs one of two things. The first option is on-premises PSTN connectivity, via an on-premises Skype for Business 2015 implementation or something known as a minimum topology. The minimum topology is a set of virtual machines that provide the basic parts required to route your existing SIP trunks to Office 365. The second option is by adding PSTN calling plans for users, which is only currently available in the US.

Delve Organizational Insights

The Office Graph is one of the great benefits of using Office 365. It understands who users frequently communicate with and which documents and files are most relevant to them. Under the hood it calculates the links between people and understands the information networks that form within organizations. Users today can use Delve to see relevant documents and people.

Organizational analytics takes this a step further and uses the data contained within the Office Graph to provide personalized and organizational insights; these are aimed at helping users better understand how effective they are within the organization, and provide the ability for the organization to see those links between people and data, and gain valuable insights.

Business Intelligence with PowerBI Pro

Finally, there’s PowerBI Pro. PowerBI is the advanced analytics suite that can be used to make sense of piles of data. For example, PowerBI can be used by Exchange Admins to map out the relationships between users and shared mailboxes if the raw data is made available to it. Outside of Exchange it can be used to visualise data and provide the ability to ask questions of the information in plain English – for example, given a list of athletes and their accomplishments you could ask “which baseball players have the most home runs”.

Summary

The new E5 suite provides a range of new features that can be used across the organization. The Exchange Online related functionality provides great value for all users – but some of the new functionality like PowerBI isn’t useful to all, and some features like Delve Organizational analytics may prove controversial. All in all, it’s a good addition to Office 365.