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If you’ve ever been confused by Microsoft 365 licensing, you’re not alone. Microsoft offers their applications in many different bundles that are designed to address various business needs from the basic to enterprise level. While it can be difficult to decipher exactly what is included in every subscription, the good news is that there’s most likely one that’s just right for you. You just have to figure out which one.

Subscriptions versus Licenses

Gone are the days when Microsoft delivered your version of office apps via a box with a CD. Everything is now offered on a monthly or annual subscription basis. Each subscription contains a combination of Microsoft products that could be purchased separately. However, you get a better price when you buy the combo.

Once you choose your subscription, each person who needs the software also needs an account with a license attached to it. A license is for the use of one person, but it can be reassigned to a different person when an employee leaves and a new one joins your organization.

Depending on the ebb and flow of your employee count, you may want to have a batch of licenses that you purchase annually and some on a monthly basis. With annual subscriptions, you’re locked in for the entire 12 months. Monthly licenses, however, can be turned on and off.


  • Subscription – Bundle of Microsoft 365 products
  • Product –Microsoft 365 applications included in a subscription
  • License – Needed for every employee utilizing the subscription and can be transferred
  • Account – Created for every employee who has a license and cannot be transferred

Which Subscription is Right for You?

Picking out the right Microsoft 365 subscription is a matter of matching up the productivity and security needs of your organization and employees with the right bundle. Aaron Dinnage, a Modern Work Specialist at Microsoft has created a Microsoft 365 subscription feature matrix that’s very helpful for comparing all of the subscription options side by side.

It’s easy to see on the matrix how the three Microsoft 365 Business bundles – Basic, Standard and Premium – stack up in terms of functionality. For most small businesses Premium is the best choice because of the security features that are included, and the added capabilities that are available if your organization has your infrastructure in Microsoft’s Azure environment.

If you haven’t yet moved your IT network to the cloud, you can still subscribe to Business Premium, but you may have a bigger question in front of you. Is it time to move to the cloud?

Related: Replace our servers or move to the cloud?

Microsoft 365 Business Premium Meets Cloud Needs

Cloud computing provides many benefits, from disaster recovery to equipping people to work from anywhere. With its benefits the cloud brings organizations new challenges for security. The security features in Business Premium are designed to fill the gap. Here are a few of these features.

Entra ID

Entra ID (formerly Azure ID) is how all your Microsoft 365 accounts are managed. When your servers are in the cloud, this is how access rights and security are managed. Essentially, Entra ID controls access to data and applications based on unique IDs and through multi-factor authentication (MFA), passwordless authentication, single-sign-on, and other identity management features.

Conditional Access in Entra ID

Conditional access is a security and compliance function within Entra ID but worth calling out to paint a picture of just how granular you can get with access control. With conditional access you can not only determine who can access resources but when and how it is permissible and on what device.


Intune is an endpoint management tool that controls every setting on every PC connected to your network. Intune dictates policy requirements like how many characters are needed in a password and how long before screens timeout. Intune extends security to any device an employee uses, and prohibits unknown devices from accessing resources even if they have legitimate login credentials.

Endpoint Manager in Intune

The endpoint manager in Intune streamlines the process of deploying, managing, and securing devices, giving employees a consistent out-of-the-box experience when they get a new computer. Endpoint manager can install applications, permissions, and membership in groups from the cloud, based on predefined profiles.

Email Encryption

Encryption is the process of scrambling an email in transit so its message can’t be read while it’s going from point to point. Encryption ensures that only the intended recipient of the email can read its contents, which is essential when the message includes confidential information like health records or personally identifiable information (PII). Along with encryption, this function can also configure policies to control factors like permission to print or forward, or assign an expiration time for a message.

Digital Loss Protection (DLP)

Digital Loss Protection is part of the Azure Information Protection (AIP) product available as part of Business Premium. With DLP, you can assign a “sensitivity label” to an asset that enforces security policies that determine how the asset can be handled. DLP prevents sensitive data from accidentally leaving your organization or from being shared in different platforms or apps.

Azure Virtualized Environment

If you already have your IT infrastructure in the Azure environment, the license for each person to run a virtual desktop is included in Business Premium. Virtual desktop isn’t just for remote workers. When you’re using programs that are designed to run on the latest Windows operating system, they’ll run better in the Azure environment than they will on a server located in your office.

One Reason to Switch to Business Premium

If you use the feature matrix tool to compare Microsoft 365 subscriptions for small businesses, you’ll notice that there’s a big jump in available security functionality when you go from Standard to Premium. If you want one reason to switch, this added security makes a solid case for moving to Premium.

Related: Learn how Teams can become your phone system

Get the Most from Your Microsoft 365 Subscription

Choosing the right Microsoft 365 subscription is one thing, getting all you can get out of it is another. Here at Bellwether, we not only help clients decipher the complexity of Microsoft 365 products, we make sure that the software is configured for maximum benefit. If you’re not getting that kind of guidance from your managed IT services provider, you’re likely not getting all the value you can out of Microsoft 365.

Contact us to schedule a meeting and explore how much more Microsoft 365 can do for your organization.

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