Millions of Microsoft 365 Groups Fail Auto-Renewal Annually

Microsoft 365 Groups by the Numbers (source: Microsoft)
Microsoft 365 Groups by the Numbers (source: Microsoft)

Like many others, I’ve been catching up on sessions delivered at the Microsoft Ignite 2020 virtual conference. The Microsoft 365 Groups developers delivered a good set of sessions, including a refreshed version of How Microsoft manages Microsoft 365 Groups that’s well worth watching.

In the Groups roadmap session, an interesting statistic was reported by Venkat Ayyadevara, who said that 79% of Groups managed by an expiration policy are auto-renewed. This sounds good, but then my mind turns to why over a fifth of all groups are not renewed.

Figuring Out Groups Numbers

No one outside Microsoft knows how many Microsoft 365 Groups are in use today, so we need to do some inspired guesswork. Given that:

  • Groups are used by many applications to control membership, including Teams, Planner, Power BI, and SharePoint Online.
  • There are 258 million paid Office 365 seats and 75 million active Teams users (both Microsoft figures from April 2020). The fast adoption of Teams by Office 365 tenants is a significant driver for the number of groups in use.
  • Microsoft’s implementation spans over 350,000 groups alone. That’s approximately one for every user account. This is in line with the experience of many large on-premises Exchange deployments where the number of distribution lists often approached the number of mailboxes.
  • The Enterprise Mobility and Security suite has 147 million users, implying that most Office 365 enterprise users possess the necessary Azure AD Premium licenses needed for expiration policies.

If the number of enterprise Office 365 seats is around 175 million, we could guess that the number of Microsoft 365 groups is close to that number. And if 80% of enterprise users have EMS licenses, the number of groups which might be eligible for coverage by an expiration policy could be around 120 million. Not all tenants use expiration policies and not all tenants which do use expiration policies set them up to cover all groups, so let’s say that half of the groups (60 million) are covered by expiration policies.

The Success of Auto-renewal

Microsoft tells us that 79% of the groups auto-renew, or 47.4 million (goodness because administrators are saved processing this number of renewal requests). On the downside, 21% of groups are ineligible for auto-renewal, meaning that 12.6 million groups do not come up to the low bar of activity across group-connected workloads set for auto-renewal. One can surmise that these groups are created and quickly become stagnant and inactive. Email conversations don’t happen, documents aren’t uploaded to the group’s SharePoint Online document library, and if the group is team-enabled, it fails to attract any chat activity.

Should We Care?

At this point you could ask “who cares?” Apart from a small amount of SharePoint storage quota, the unrenewed groups don’t occupy any resources that a tenant might be charged for. There’s a minor annoyance that some disused groups might clutter up the GAL and slow down administrative processing such as reporting on Teams and Groups activity, but no more than that.

In the cloud era, you’re right. Microsoft pays whatever the cost is to keep the stagnant groups around until they are aged out by the expiration policy. We should only care if we reflect on why these groups are created in the first place. Were they created as the result of a managed approval process or in organizations where users have free rein over group creation? In either case, the 21% expiration figure is sufficiently high for tenant administrators to ask if users receive enough guidance about their creation and use. That’s something worth thinking about.

The Office 365 for IT Pros eBook covers Microsoft 365 Groups in detail from concepts to automation with PowerShell. Like all our content, it’s based on hard experience and it’s kept updated as knowledge develops.

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