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Microsoft Releases Teams Essentials Aimed at Small Businesses

A step up from the free version of Teams, the Essentials release is optimized for Microsoft Cloud Service Providers (CSPs).

Jeffrey Schwartz

December 1, 2021

4 Min Read
Microsoft Teams
Shutterstock/Microsoft

Microsoft has launched Teams Essentials, a version of its collaboration and communications solution optimized for small and midsize businesses (SMBs). The scaled down standalone iteration of Teams, released Wednesday, removes some restrictions from Microsoft’s free version.

Notably, video meetings and calls with Teams Essentials can run up to 30 hours, rather than just 60 minutes. Teams Essentials subscriptions, $4 per user, per month, provide group chat, file sharing and calendaring. The Essentials release also includes Teams features such as the meeting lobby, custom backgrounds, Together Mode and closed captioning.

Teams Essentials offers 10 GB of file storage, compared with the free version’s 5 GB limit. Another benefit versus the free version is 24×7 phone and web support. Besides integration with Outlook calendar, Microsoft is offering support for Google Calendar. It also includes a group chat template designed to help create a project and setup meetings.

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“With Teams Essentials, small businesses from restaurants to retailers to professional services can easily meet, collaborate, communicate and serve customers in new ways,” according to the announcement posted by Microsoft 365 corporate VP Jared Spataro.

Microsoft Teams Essentials is also intended for nonprofit organizations and community groups, Spataro added. Among them: religious organizations, homeowners’ associations and parent teacher student associations.

ZK Research principal analyst Zeus Kerravala described the addition of Teams Essentials for SMBs as a necessary move by Microsoft.

“It’s not the easiest or the cheapest vendor to work with, which is why so many SMBs have shied away from Teams,” Kerravala said.

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ZK Research’s Zeus Kerravala

“The lighter version gives smaller companies the features they need at a fair price,” he added. “Teams isn’t a great product compared to Webex and Zoom, so it can’t also be the most expensive for customers that do not have enterprise licensing agreements.”

Better Options?

Besides aiming to keep Cisco Webex and Zoom at bay, Google Workspace is also a legitimate alternative to Teams, said Techaisle principal analyst Anurag Agrawal. But Agrawal noted that the Microsoft 365 Business Basic option, costs just $1 more per user, per month.

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Techaisle’s Anurag Agrawal

“I recommend that $5 per user, per month, is a better alternative that gives access to security, considerably higher cloud storage, business-class email, meeting recordings, transcriptions, and Microsoft productivity apps,” Agrawal said. “I believe that Microsoft potentially considers the Essentials offering as a get-in-the-door strategy and not a long-term practicality for small businesses.”

Specifically, the $5 per user, per month, Microsoft 365 Business Basic includes everything offered with Teams Essentials. Additionally, users get up to 1 TB of storage and support for recording meetings with transcripts. Microsoft 365 Basic also includes select Office apps, security and Exchange email service.

Teams Essentials for Microsoft’s CSP Partners

While customers can buy Teams Essentials directly, there’s also a version that Microsoft Cloud Service Providers (CSPs) can deliver. This Teams Essentials version includes the same commercial-grade meeting capabilities, chat, channels and file collaboration offered with Teams via Microsoft 365 suites, according to a post by Dan Truax, general manager for global partner programs. The difference, he noted, is that it doesn’t require customers to use Microsoft 365.

MS-Teams-essentials-1024x698.jpg“Teams Essentials is built for partners, with full manageability and the ability to easily transition into more advanced Microsoft 365 for business suites as customer needs grow,” Truax noted. “With Teams Essentials, small businesses will be able to grow their businesses with Teams easily and at a low price.”

Truax added that partners can deploy Teams Essentials to set the stage for replacing legacy PBXs with Teams Phone System. It is also suited to small businesses with frontline workers, he added, plus, ISV apps that support native Teams integration.

The Microsoft Teams Essentials version delivered by CSPs has partner management capabilities including support for Azure Active Directory (AAD), full tenant management and advanced features such as channels and access to third-party apps available in the Teams marketplace, according to a Microsoft spokesperson.

“It also supports more advanced partner sales motions like the ability to mix and match user licensing with other Microsoft 365 suites within the same tenant or the ability to add Teams Phone System and voice solutions on top of Teams,” the spokesperson noted.

Microsoft has created a Teams Essentials Playbook for partners with sales enablement and marketing tools, technical information and case studies. The company also plans to host three different one-hour webinars, which begin next week.

Want to contact the author directly about this story? Have ideas for a follow-up article? Email Jeffrey Schwartz or connect with him on LinkedIn.

 

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About the Author(s)

Jeffrey Schwartz

Jeffrey Schwartz has covered the IT industry for nearly three decades, most recently as editor-in-chief of Redmond magazine and executive editor of Redmond Channel Partner. Prior to that, he held various editing and writing roles at CommunicationsWeek, InternetWeek and VARBusiness (now CRN) magazines, among other publications.

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