Use a Test or Development Microsoft 365 Tenant to Test New Features

Create a Testing Sandbox for Your Office 365 Organization

Not every administrator is happy to run test code in their production tenant, or enable new features, or install a new app, or make any of the changes which might just compromise service to end users. Developers or those involved in creating or deploying new code might want to make changes but don’t want to affect anyone else. The quandary is solvable by using either a test Office 365 tenant or a developer tenant. Neither approach is intended for production use and you shouldn’t attempt to use these tenants for that purpose as no one will shed any tears if data is lost, corrupted, or otherwise compromised by a problem.

Signing up for a Test Office 365 Tenant

A test Office 365 tenant includes 25 Office 365 E3 or E5 licenses for a 30-day trial. These tenants are intended to allow organizations to check out basic functionality and prepare for a subsequent deployment. The downside of this type of tenant is its short lifetime. In essence, it’s a short-term test-and-leave kind of tenant.

To sign up for a test tenant, go to Microsoft’s Office 365 plan comparison page (Figure 1) and select the Try for free link for either E3 or E5.

Select a plan for a test Office 365 tenant (test Microsoft 365 tenant)
Figure 1: Select a plan for a test Office 365 tenant

A test Office 365 tenant is a good choice for organizations who want to kick the tires and see how the latest Office 365 functionality works. Because it’s gated to a 30-day period, some up-front preparation is needed to make sure that maximum advantage is gained from the trial.

Developer Tenants

A developer tenant includes 25 Microsoft 365 E5 licenses (without audio conferencing) for a 90-day trial. Microsoft automatically renews the trial if the tenant is used for development. Software development and testing is often a slow process, so developer tenants are intended for the long haul.

To begin, head to Microsoft’s Developer program site and join the program. You can then create a developer tenant including:

  • Office 365 apps (Exchange Online, SharePoint Online, OneDrive, Forms, Planner, Teams, Stream, etc.) plus the Office Online apps.
  • Microsoft 365 Defender for Office 365 (Advanced Threat Protection).
  • Advanced analytics with Power BI
  • Enterprise Mobility + Security (EMS).
  • Azure Active Directory (including Azure AD Premium P2 licenses).

You’ll be asked to choose an available tenant name, country, and administrator username. The tenant will use the selected name with a domain (like o365alpha.onmicrosoft,com) and is fully functional for inbound and outbound email. It’s a good sandbox to build apps or test new features. Like any Office 365 tenant, the full creation process to make all services available can take up to 48 hours, but basics like Azure AD, Exchange Online and SharePoint Online should be functional within 15 minutes.

Once the tenant is operational, the Dev Center dashboard shows its details (Figure 2) and developer resources like course you might like to take. These learning resources are based on interest areas you choose when creating the developer tenant.

Details of a Microsoft developer tenant
Figure 2: Details of a Microsoft developer tenant

Because you create the test Office 365 tenant, you become the global administrator and therefore have full control over the tenant. You can assign the 25 licenses to accounts you create (including your own) or install the Users sample data pack to create a set of test users. You can assign administrator permissions and roles to other accounts and configure the tenant to have whatever settings are needed for what you want to test.

Microsoft’s sample data packs for Users, email, and SharePoint use the Graph API to populate the tenant with sufficient information to make them useful for testing, but there’s nothing to stop you populating the tenant from scratch or supplementing what Microsoft does. For instance, you could use a developer tenant to test PowerShell scripts downloaded from the internet, such as those in the Office 365 for IT Pros GitHub repository.

As the name implies, developer tenant is intended for development. Microsoft uses telemetry to understand what’s happening in the tenant and if it is not used, it will lapse after 90 days and then be deleted. Although Microsoft isn’t specific about what constitutes a development action (for instance, I don’t know if PowerShell counts), it isn’t difficult to do enough to convince Microsoft that the tenant is involved in development by running some Graph API calls so that it renews automatically.

One for Everyone

Anyone who builds code to run against Office 365 applications or tenants should have a developer tenant. It avoids any clash with the folks who run your production tenant and gives you an environment under your control for application development, demos, proof of concepts, and deployment and testing of software builds.

All in all, it’s a great deal.

The Office 365 for IT Pros eBook authors use test and development tenants a lot. We mess up sometimes when we test new features, so we like to do it in safety.

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