How to manage Office 365 ProPlus Channels for IT Pros

August 8, 2019
The original article is published on the Microsoft Tech Community Office 365 Blog.

Microsoft recommends enterprise customers include validation as a part of their Office 365 ProPlus deployment processes. Microsoft provides “channels” which control the rate of change in terms of features and quality fixes. For most customer deployments this means a minimum of two channels such as Semi-Annual Channel and Semi-Annual Channel (Targeted). Many IT Pros broadly deploy a single channel (usually Semi-Annual Channel) and leverage group policy to assign validation computers to faster channel such as Semi-Annual Channel (Targeted). In this way, IT Pros can preview what’s coming four months prior to production release.

 

The goal of the blog is to provide clarification around the mechanics on how Office 365 ProPlus processes channel change requests.

 

note.pngTip: New Semi-Annual Channel versions are released in JanuaryJuly and Semi-Annual Channel (Targeted) versions are released in MarchSeptember. All channels will receive a minimum of one build per month which are security only. The channel dictates when features and bug fixes are released on top of monthly standard security build release.

To read more about Channels please see Overview of update channels for Office 365 ProPlus

 

Ideally, minimizing the number of Office 365 ProPlus packages reduces overall cost of ownership. Therefore, the next step is to develop a process where machines receive standard package placing them on Semi-Annual Channel but dynamically move validation machines to Semi-Annual Channel (Targeted).

 

Step 1: Deploy your standard Office 365 ProPlus package based on Semi-Annual Channel

 

Step 2: Assign GPO to validation machine(s) or add policy registry key specifying Semi-Annual Channel (Targeted)

 

Using Office ADMX files, use Update Channel GPO to set Semi-Annual Channel (Targeted)

GPO.png

* Group Policy refreshes in the background every 90 minutes by default.  Use gpupdate /force to expedite.  Alternatively, add registry key manually to policy key

             HKLMSOFTWAREPoliciesMicrosoftoffice16.0commonofficeupdate “updatechannel”=”FirstReleaseDeferred”

Step 3: Allow MicrosoftOfficeOffice Automatic Updates 2.0 scheduled task to run

Group Policy will set registry keys, that’s all. Office 365 ProPlus uniquely leverages a scheduled task named Office Automatic Updates to maintain product configuration including channel management. The name itself “Automatic Updates” can cause confusion for IT Pros in enterprise environments where System Center Configuration (SCCM) is used to deploy updates. When OfficeMgmtCom (COM) is enabled, updates will be delivered only from SCCM. The Office Automatic Updates scheduled task will fire based on default set of triggers, regardless if COM is enabled or not, or by manually running task you can compress timeframe to validate change.

 

Warning.pngMicrosoft recommends Automatic Updates remain Enabled (default configuration) in all update scenarios. This task does more than name implies. By disabling task, you may observe diminished experience in terms of channel management and disable feature to apply updates when SYSTEM is IDLE.

See 2:00 in Managing Office with SCCM (2019) video for more information, applicable for CDN update workflow.

 

note.pngTip: List of Channels and respective URL identifiers

CDNBaseUrl represents the channel where product was installed. If no channel was defined in unattend, Semi-Annual Channel is default selection.

Monthly Channel 
(formerly Current Channel):
CDNBaseUrl = http://officecdn.microsoft.com/pr/492350f6-3a01-4f97-b9c0-c7c6ddf67d60

Semi-Annual Channel 
(formerly Deferred Channel):
CDNBaseUrl = http://officecdn.microsoft.com/pr/7ffbc6bf-bc32-4f92-8982-f9dd17fd3114

Monthly Channel (Targeted)
(formerly First Release for Current Channel):
CDNBaseUrl = http://officecdn.microsoft.com/pr/64256afe-f5d9-4f86-8936-8840a6a4f5be

Semi-Annual Channel (Targeted) 
(formerly First Release for Deferred Channel):
CDNBaseUrl = http://officecdn.microsoft.com/pr/b8f9b850-328d-4355-9145-c59439a0c4cf

 

note.pngTip: IT Pros can monitor several registry keys to validate change has occurred after scheduled task has completed. Registry keys of interest when monitoring can be found under the following key: HKLMSOFTWAREMicrosoftOfficeClickToRunConfiguration. Editing key(s) should not be done directly and can lead to unintended consequences. Rather, monitor keys for desired outcome.                                                                                                         

UpdateChannel: This is the channel configuration “winner”.  This is dynamically managed by the Automatic Updates scheduled task and should not be edited directly.

 

CDNBaseUrl and UpdateChannel typically match. In our example where we are using GPO to move Office 365 ProPlus to Semi-Annual Channel (Targeted), Office Automatic Updates scheduled task will discover policy key and then will flip UpdateChannel to new value, in this case from http://officecdn.microsoft.com/pr/7ffbc6bf-bc32-4f92-8982-f9dd17fd3114 (SAC) to http://officecdn.microsoft.com/pr/b8f9b850-328d-4355-9145-c59439a0c4cf (SAC-T). Additionally, UpdateChannelChanged will be set to True. Upon next successful Office 365 Client update, UpdateChannelChanged will reset to False. The product can only accept one channel change request at a time with successful update as a prerequisite prior to accepting another change.

 

If you have completed steps above and channel change is still not being reflected, you may be blocked by temporary “Discovery Period.” Generally, updates will not happen within the Discovery Period which can last up to 24 hours after initial installation. IT Pros may encounter this scenario during compressed time validation in lab scenarios.

 

After UpdateChannel has successfully changed, Office 365 Clients pointing to CDN will download latest build from faster channel. Office 365 Clients which have COM enabled for SCCM integration will download newer build next time Software Updates Deployment Evaluation cycle runs based on configuration of Software Deployment within SCCM. IT Pros can expedite testing channel migration by deploying desired build to validation collection (should be a build from Semi-Annual Channel (Targeted), use the Configuration Manager applet from control panel to perform Machine Policy Retrieval followed by Software Updates Deployment Evaluation Cycle.

 

Applet.png

 

note.pngTip: Office 365 ProPlus behavior – slow to fast vs fast to slow

Slower -> Faster (Example: Semi-Annual Channel to Semi-Annual Channel Targeted)

  • Client will always gracefully move forward when now available build number is higher.  For example, a client on June 2019 Semi-Annual Channel with build version 1808 (Build 10730.20348) will move to Semi-Annual Channel Targeted with build Version 1902 (Build 11328.20318).  No other Administrative intervention is required, normal update processworkflow applies the change.

Faster -> Slower (Example: SAC-T to SAC)

  • In SCCM managed environment where COM is enabled, Office will not auto downgrade when channel is changed.  It will only move forward once build advertised is greater than what’s currently installed.  For example, Office ProPlus client on Semi-Annual Targeted build June 2019 Version 1902 (Build 11328.20318) will have to wait until Semi-Annual Channel build number is greater to move forward such as July 2019 Version 1902 (Build 11328.20368).  If is not possible to wait, as this could take a number of months, supported downgrade method is to re-run Office Deployment Tool (ODT) with desired build and channel.  Keep in mind during waiting period, Office 365 Client will not receive any updates including security.
  • In non COM managed environment such as default configuration CDN, we will downgrade your new version to match the Group Policy assigned.  

*Since we can’t do binary delta compression (BDC) the download will be larger.  As a result, network considerations should be considered when downgrading from CDN.

 

Some IT Pros may ask, “Hey, I thought there was a command line to change channel?” The only supported method to change channel assignment is by using Group Policy or re-running Office Deployment Tool (ODT). If you disable Office Automatic Updates, no automatic channel management will occur. If you would like to see a command line capability please help us by upvoting UserVoice item.

 

I hope this blog post helps provide additional context for how Office ProPlus Channel Management works “under the hood”.

 

This blog post is brought to you by Dave Guenthner, a Senior Premier Field Engineer and “ProPlus Ranger” at Microsoft. Feel free to share your questions and feedback in the comments below.

Discuss this article in the Microsoft Technical Community.