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Microsoft E5 plan supports new ATP, Skype functionality

Microsoft's new Office 365 E5 plan offers features applicable across the organization. But some of the new functionality isn't useful to all, and some features bring controversy.

Microsoft added the E5 licensing option to the Office 365 suite, offering a lot of options for the Exchange admin.

Generally, businesses with over 300 users purchase Microsoft's E3 plan, which includes Exchange, Skype for Business, OneDrive for Business, SharePoint, Yammer and Office ProPlus. The E3 package includes all the essentials for compliance, such as In-Place Hold, Azure RMS and data loss prevention functionality.

At the lower end, some organizations choose the E1 plan -- it includes the basics but doesn't include compliance options or Office ProPlus.

The Microsoft E5 license targets a mix of user scenarios and adds advanced malware protection, e-discovery improvements, cloud-based calling and tools to help organizations better understand their underlying data.

Advanced Threat Protection

If you already have Office 365 implemented in your organization, then you are familiar with Exchange Online Protection. EOP provides 98% protection against spam and 100% protection against all known viruses, leaving the organization exposed to unknown malware -- also known as zero-day threats. Advanced Threat Protection (ATP) offers features that provide protection against that unknown.

Safe Links provides protection against malicious URLs contained within email messages. It replaces the URL within the message and 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, by the time someone attempts to access the link in the message, unknown URLs stand a chance of being identified as a threat. In the event a user clicks the link, reporting is available to track down who clicked a malicious link.

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 which has been brought into Office 365. It is now available as part of the Office 365 E5 SKU as the advanced e-discovery option.

The Equivio functionality reduces the time required to sort through the data returned from e-discovery searches with intelligent documents, messages and message threads scanning. It also uses machine learning technology to help identify trends, making it easier to spot and report 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 private branch exchange (PBX) phone systems; use the cloud services to provide public switched telephone network (PSTN) dialing capabilities to users; or implement full on-premises Lync or Skype for Business.

The Microsoft E5 plan makes it possible to provide part or all of your PBX functionality from Microsoft data centers. The simplest add-on functionality included is PSTN Conferencing, available in select countries including the U.S. and U.K. PSTN Conferencing allows you to schedule a Skype meeting with dial-in numbers for attendees. This makes it 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 scheduling meetings via Outlook.

The big new feature though is 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 does, 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 a minimum topology. The minimum topology is a set of VMs that provide the basic parts required to route your existing SIP trunks to Office 365. The second option, which is currently only available in the U.S., is adding PSTN calling plans for users.

Organizational insights and BI

The Office Graph is a benefit of using the Microsoft E5 plan. It understands with whom users frequently communicate, and which documents and files are most relevant to users.

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 from Office Graph to provide personalized and organizational insights aimed at helping users better understand how effective they are within the organization. It also allows the organization to see those links between people and data, and gain valuable insights. The concept could prove controversial if organizations are uncomfortable with letting a product rather than people determine connections and efficacy.

Finally, the Office 365 E5 plan supports Power BI Pro. Power BI is the advanced analytics suite used to make sense of piles of data, generating business intelligence (BI). For example, Exchange admins can use Power BI to map out the relationships between users and shared mailboxes, if the raw data is available to it. However, it isn't particularly useful for managing and optimizing Exchange deployments.

Outside of Exchange, consider using Power BI to visualize data and ask questions of the information. For example, given a list of athletes and their accomplishments, you could ask "which baseball players have the most home runs?"

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