Networking

How to drastically save time when deploying Microsoft Office 365

Manually installing Office 365 could take weeks or months depending on the number of devices in your organization. Find out how to deploy it in hours or days.

Image: Microsoft

Microsoft's Office suite is the de facto standard in productivity for departments in organizations worldwide. Office has found its way onto more computers than Microsoft could have ever predicted. Add to that tablets and smartphones, and licensing costs quickly get out of hand, especially when Google Apps offers much of the same functionality at a fraction of the cost. So what is Microsoft to do? Office 365 is the answer.

As a systems administrator, there's a solid chance your organization will be upgrading to 365 sooner rather than later, and you're going to want to know how to deploy this since it's not like previous versions of Office.

Let's proceed with the deployment process, which is broken up into three phases to facilitate the procurement of the deployment tool, the configuration of the Office installation files, and the deployment.

SEE: Microsoft Office 365: The smart person's guide

Requirements

* Note: While not required to create the Office 365 deployment share, once the application is deployed, it will require end users to log on in order to access Office applications. Without the admin portal set up or licenses assigned, users will not be able to use Office.

SEE: Four secrets of a successful Office 365 deployment (Tech Pro Research)

Internet access

I. Installing the Office Deployment Tool

1. On the admin station, double-click the EXE download to manage the version of Office you'll be deploying to your organization. Check the box to agree to the licensing terms and click Continue (Figure A).

Figure A

office365figa041116.jpg
Image: Jesus Vigo/TechRepublic

2. Create a new directory or select an existing one for which to extract the contents of the file to, and then click OK (Figure B).

Figure B

office365figb041116.jpg
Image: Jesus Vigo/TechRepublic

3. Upon successfully extracting the files, a confirmation message will appear. The first process has been completed successfully (Figure C).

Figure C

office365figc041116.jpg
Image: Jesus Vigo/TechRepublic

II. Configuring Office for deployment

While it may seem unorthodox to configure an application before it has been installed, rest assured the configuration process (handled by the configuration.xml file extracted in phase I) handles double-duty, as it not only preps the install files that will be downloaded from Microsoft's Office Content Delivery Network (CDN), but it also acts as the guide during the install process in phase III.

1. After extracting the files in phase I, there will be two files in the root directory: Setup.exe and Configuration.xml. Right-click the Configuration.xml file and open it with Notepad to edit it.

2. By default, the XML file comes with a sample deployment structure to get admins started. Between the <configuration></configuration> brackets is the meat and potatoes of the configuration; it is this data that will be used to download the latest Office files from the Microsoft CDN, and control how the installation will occur once deployed over the network (Figure D).

Figure D

office365figd041116.jpg
Image: Jesus Vigo/TechRepublic

3. Some of the more prominent attributes to include are as follows.

  • OfficeClientEdition="32" or "64"
    This controls whether Office will be a 32-bit or 64-bit installation.
  • SourcePath="\\server\share"
    This setting indicates the location of the installation files.
  • Product ID="VisioProRetail"
    This setting will add individual applications to the installation source.
  • ExcludeApp ID="OneDrive"
    This setting will remove individual applications from the installation source and prevent them from being installed during deployment.
  • Display Level="None"
    This setting is carried over from previous Office installations to hide all dialog windows during installation.
  • AcceptEULA="TRUE"
    Another returning setting auto-accepts the EULA for a silent installation.

Microsoft's Office 365 reference guide for Click-to-Run installations offers a great deal of information on what settings may be configured for a truly customizable deployment process.

4. Once the XML file has been configured to best suit your target environment, launch the command line prompt and change directories to the directory where the files were extracted in phase I. Calling the setup.exe file with the /help switch will bring up the available arguments and their respective functions for future reference (Figure E).

Figure E

office365fige041116.jpg
Image: Jesus Vigo/TechRepublic

5. For now, enter the command as follows, referencing the configuration.xml file in order to execute the deployment tool, allowing it to connect to the CDN and download the most updated versions of Office 365's installation files (Figure F).

\\server\share\setup.exe /download /configuration.xml

Figure F

office365figf041116.jpg
Image: Jesus Vigo/TechRepublic

This process will take some time depending on your internet speed. Once it's complete, the installation source will be set up and ready to deploy Office 365 (Figure G).

Figure G

office365figg041116.jpg
Image: Jesus Vigo/TechRepublic

III. Deploying Office 365

1. With the latest Office installation files downloaded to the root of the directory, you are ready to deploy Office 365 across the LAN/WAN. The command to launch the deployment and install the Office suite is as follows (Figure H).

\\server\share\setup.exe /configure configuration.xml

Figure H

office365figh041116.jpg
Image: Jesus Vigo/TechRepublic

2. When launching from the Windows Explorer environment, it is normal for the Office splash screen to display briefly; it will not appear during deployments via Group Policy, scripted as a batch file, or SCCM or a third-party solution (Figure I).

Figure I

office365figi041116.jpg
Image: Jesus Vigo/TechRepublic

3. Depending on the speed of the LAN/WAN, installation may take several minutes to complete per device. For laptops or computers that are connected over narrowband or have intermittent connectivity, the install source may be copied to local or external storage to be deployed at a later time (Figure J).

Figure J

office365figj041116.jpg
Image: Jesus Vigo/TechRepublic

4. Once the installation is complete, a message will display indicating Office is ready for use; this will only occur while logged onto a machine — silent deployments will not display any dialog screen when the display level is set to None (Figure K).

Figure K

office365figk041116.jpg
Image: Jesus Vigo/TechRepublic

With Office 365 installed, end users will be required to enter their username and password upon launching any Office suite application for the first time. Once the license is verified, the suite will activate automatically. By default, Microsoft requires that Office 365 installations "check in" online every 30 days to verify activation.

If you choose to deploy Office in a virtualized container as a Remote Desktop Service by utilizing Microsoft's App-V application streaming solution, the /packager mode switch performs a similar function to the /configure argument, except that the contents of the installation source are packaged in a format that works with App-V.

Lastly, applying security updates for Office 365 are handled through Windows Update via the internet, or managed locally via Group Policy or SCCM.

Have you deployed Office 365?

If you deployed Office 365 in your organization, how was the experience? Any horror stories, pain points, or helpful tips? Let us know.

Also see

About Jesus Vigo

Jesus Vigo is a Network Administrator by day and owner of Mac|Jesus, LLC, specializing in Mac and Windows integration and providing solutions to small- and medium-size businesses. He brings 19 years of experience and multiple certifications from seve...

Editor's Picks

Free Newsletters, In your Inbox