Office 365 ProPlus Testing, the basics

Before getting into actually deploying Office 365, I believe it’s in order to cover some basics. Summarized from TechNet:

  • Office 365 ProPlus comes in two versions
    • Office 2013 version
    • Office 2016 version
  • Office 365 ProPlus comes in three channels
    • Current Channel
    • Deferred Channel
    • First Release for Deferred Channel

We’d find the channels for both versions of O365, so in essence it diverts into 6 different installation options, based on whatever your organization needs:

20170220-001-o365-channels

For the purpose of this article series, I really only need to know this – so I can make an informed decision of what version, what channel, and what build I need – so I can perform vulnerability scans and software update testing.

Current Channel for Office 365 ProPlus

A new Current Channel is expected to be released at least once each month. The release can contain new or updated features, security updates, and non-security updates, such as updates that provide stability or performance improvements for Office. Not every Current Channel release will contain all of these. For example, there might be some months where there aren’t any new features.¬†

A Current Channel release is supported only until the next Current Channel release is available. No new security updates are provided for previous Current Channel releases.

Deferred Channel for Office 365 ProPlus

A new Deferred Channel is expected to be released every four months. It can contain new features, security updates, and non-security updates, such as updates that provide stability or performance improvements for Office. In the four months prior to a new Deferred Channel release, Microsoft provides builds of the upcoming release so that pilot users and application compatibility testers in your organization can work with the release. These builds are called First Release for Deferred Channel.

First Release for Deferred Channel for Office 365 ProPlus

To help your organization prepare for a Deferred Channel release, Microsoft provides First Release for Deferred Channel. This update channel is provided approximately four months before the availability of the next Deferred Channel. The primary purpose of this update channel is to give pilot users and application compatibility testers in your organization a chance to work with the upcoming Deferred Channel release.

These excerpts were taken from the TechNet article mentioned above, and boil down into the following visual representation:

20170220-002-o365-channels-visual

The important piece to understand, is that;

  • Current Cannel has no security updates, is simply increments the build version every month. While some tools may show this as updates, effectively you’re replacing your current version of office with a new one. This doesn’t mean we cannot “patch” it, just that technically we’re actually updating the software to a new base version, rather than applying bug-fixes in the traditional sense. This is represented by the bright red singer releases in the graphic above.
  • Deferred Channel, comes with a staggered release cycle. Each Deferred Channel will support eight updates, at which time it becomes “retired” – during the update cycle fixes and security updates will take place, while functionality updates are deferred until the next Deferred Channel release is put in place. This is highlighted in the above graphic by the dark brown “Deferred Channel” block, followed by the yellow security updates.
  • First Release for Deferred Channel, this is not technically a production release, like the Current Channel or the Deferred Channel, but rather a release targeted for application and compatibility testers. We see it’s based on a four month cycle of the Current Channel, with monthly point-releases turning into the Deferred Channel release.

So how can we use this knowledge, and what does this mean in production? Most enterprises would likely want to run Deferred Channel. This would allow a 4-8 month window for having a securely deployed Deferred Channel across the enterprise, which will receive monthly security updates, while also allowing pilot/QA teams the ability to catch any application issues or incompatibilities – and hopefully resolve these in time for the “rolling” of Deferred Channel upgrades.

Keep in mind, the servicing model is similar to Windows 10, where as an enterprise it is Microsofts vision, that you consume both feature updates and security updates in a timely and “managed” manner.

As a consolation price, this in theory will give us all more stable and less fragmented versions of Office out in the wild, but as we can configure how to update Office, it would be possible to stay “behind” on an older unsupported/un-patched Channel build.

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