Showdown: Office 365 E3 vs. Microsoft 365 Business
Recently I wrote a few articles on the various subscriptions out there, and how confusing everything is getting as the 365 universe expands and morphs. Since that time, I have also been playing more and more with the Microsoft 365 Business subscription (as opposed to Office 365 Business). As previously explained, Microsoft 365 subscriptions are a relatively new beast, and they are essentially a “bundle of bundles”–they include Office 365 as well as some additional products for extra security, and even Windows 10 “subscription” licensing.
Generally, when you are comparing these SKU’s, you would look at “apples to apples” as much as possible–e.g. compare Office 365 E3 to E5, or to Office 365 Business Premium. That way you can see what is being “added” by being on the Enterprise vs. the Business track, or, by moving from E3 to E5 for example. But today I want to make a detailed comparison between two SKU’s from different universes.
The new Microsoft 365 Business is a compelling competitor, in some ways, to Office 365 E3, even though one is from the “Enterprise” track while the other is from the “Business” side (Microsoft targets the Business product line to small and mid-sized organizations with less than 300 total users). Further, the one product is strictly an Office 365 product, while the other is Microsoft 365, including Office 365, some security/compliance enhancements, and Windows 10 licensing.
But it is hard not to invite the comparison, because both of these SKU’s are priced at $20.00/user/month (USD), and contain so many similar features. Both include Exchange archiving, email encryption via Azure Information Protection, Data Loss Prevention (DLP) and more–how the two stack up against each other is actually pretty crazy.
Intune and Advanced Threat Protection (ATP) are included with the Microsoft 365 Business subscription but not with Office 365 E3. Just quickly: ATP gives us the ability to enable some advanced anti-phishing protections, safe links (all links are wrapped in a Microsoft URL and are scanned at time of the click), as well as safe attachments (attachments are detonated in a sandbox before delivery). Intune does a lot for managing devices of all types (not just mobile devices), but most notably allows us to remotely wipe company data and do factory resets for Windows 10. These features are $2.00/user/month for ATP, and $6.00/user/month for Intune, if purchased separately–but they are INCLUDED in Microsoft 365 Business, making this SKU a killer deal, in my opinion.
On the other hand, E3 does boast “Plan 2” for both Exchange Online and SharePoint Online. So for instance, Exchange plan 1 includes a 50 GB mailbox, whereas plan 2 includes 100 GB. But of course, both of these bundles also add archiving, which makes your mail storage essentially infinite. When it comes to the SMB, probably the main feature that is missing in Microsoft 365 Business, is the ability to use Office applications on a shared computer or terminal/RDS/Citrix server. So if that is a requirement you might be looking toward E3 anyways, OR, consider meeting that requirement another way, with old-fashioned Open licensing for example.
Now in the past, I have always recommended my clients toward Office 365 E3 because of the security features it included, such as DLP, encryption, etc. I also started recommending ATP as an add-on to it (again, $2.00/user/month). Although ATP is included with E5, not many of my clients want/need the E5 features (or care to pay its hefty $35.00/user/month fee). But now, since the Microsoft 365 Business subscription includes all the security goodness that I was already selling/implementing, AND it bundles some new add-ons that I would like my clients to have anyway, I may have to reconsider my “top” recommendation for a small business subscription…
But isn’t Microsoft 365 for “Cloud-only” businesses?
In the past, I may have misrepresented this a bit (and I know that others have also). Actually, I was careful to point out in my recent series on licensing that you can also have this subscription along with a domain environment, but I did emphasize again how it is not necessary to do so. This is because you can get a lot of device management capability from Intune and the built-in Device Management features of the subscription, just by joining your client computers to Azure AD, and therefore joining a local AD is completely optional. However, note that it is indeed possible to get the benefits of this subscription via a “Hybrid Join”–where the client computer is joined to a local Active Directory, as well as Azure AD. Many small organizations still have other applications hosted on-premises, and so have a local Active Directory. No worries, you can still use this subscription as a hybrid organization.
So in short, the more I explore this subscription, the more I love it. I think there are cases where we’ll still be stacking Office 365 E3 and EMS E3 together, where it fits the bill better, but this Microsoft 365 Business SKU solves a lot of small business problems in a single SKU, and for the same price as E3. Plus, it does include a subscription-based copy of Windows 10 Pro (called “Windows 10 Business”), and I can only assume that Microsoft is going to continue offering more carrots (or handcuffs, depending on how you look at it) to get you into a subscription model for the Windows 10 OS, anyway.
Of course, we must keep in mind that there are a couple of gotcha’s when moving down from Pro Plus to Business versions of the Office apps, but that divide has been shrinking, and I think overall it isn’t uncommon for small businesses to be perfectly happy with the “Business” track. I mean, Access is even included at that level now (previously only available via Pro Plus). Nevertheless, if you are non-technical, you should not attempt to make this decision without very careful consideration and maybe even some consulting. So yeah, things keep changing. We should always remain flexible.