Everybody knows that test environments are a very good idea, providing a safe place to try new features or configuration changes to products, develop scripts and tools, or provide training for your staff. Office 365 is no different, but a lot of customers that I talk to don’t maintain a test environment at all. And many of the IT pros that I talk to also don’t have their own person tenant for testing and training.

For traditional on-premises infrastructure the reasons for not running test environments are usually cost-related. Sadly, it is very common for IT teams to not have the resources such as hardware or virtualization capacity to build a separate environment that is a meaningful representation of their production environment.

Cloud services like Office 365 significantly lower the barrier to entry for operating a test environment. You can provision an Office 365 tenant within a few minutes, and even operate it for 30 days as a trial at zero cost. If you need to test hybrid functionality, it’s relatively easy to fit two VMs on a reasonable spec laptop or desktop machine to perform the on-premises roles. For long term testing requirements, the cost of a small number of paid licenses is trivial (and can often be slipped into the purchasing approval for the production tenant).

If you’re creating an Office 365 test environment, here’s a few tips to get started:

  • If you are yet to create a production tenant, do not use your intended production name for the test tenant. For example, if you’re planning to name your production tenant globomantics.onmicrosoft.com, don’t use that name for the test tenant. Microsoft doesn’t allow you to change a tenant name after it has been chosen, and cleaning out a test tenant to prepare it for production use is sometimes difficult. Use a separate name such as globotest.onmicrosoft.com.
  • If you have no budget for operating a test tenant long term (even though it’s super cheap, you only need to maintain a single paid license when you’re otherwise not using it), and you need to use the 30-day trial instead, plan your testing before you create the tenant. There’s no point wasting the first week of your trial period just working out what you want to test. By having a list of test scenarios prepared beforehand, you’ll get the maximum use of the 30-day trial period. Of course, you can always create a new test tenant if you need to continue after 30 days, which brings me to the next point.
  • Automate early and often. As you work through your testing you should develop as much automation as possible for simple tasks such as creating bulk users, assigning licenses, and applying basic configuration across the tenant. This may slow down your initial testing, but it will speed up subsequent tests. This is particularly valuable if you are going to be creating multiple tenants over time, but will also serve you well later when you are running a production tenant.
  • Test a higher tier of Office 365 than you plan to purchase (unless of course you plan to buy the top tier anyway). This is your chance to try out features that you’re not sure whether you need or not.

As one final tip, remember to enable your test tenant for First Release. One of the reasons for having a test tenant is to test features before they’re rolled out to your production users, so enabling First Release for your tenant will give you that head start that you need.

About the Author

Paul Cunningham

Paul is a former Microsoft MVP for Office Apps and Services. He works as a consultant, writer, and trainer specializing in Office 365 and Exchange Server. Paul no longer writes for Practical365.com.


  1. Anoop Rayas

    Good Article!!!

    And, May I know how to create test tenant with MSDN? And, its for how many days?
    It would be great if I get some link to create test tenant using MSDN.

    With Regards,
    Anoop Rayas

  2. Ricardo Rivera

    Can you create a mini test tenant of your current o365 environment that would mimic users, services, and AD? Probably not, but it would help to test new integrations since schools using Micrsoft SDS can’t have a test environment with their SIS.

  3. Joseph Dent

    Hello all

    I’m new to Office 365 and I’m still learning about it. I’m also learning about Office 365 migration and am looking for a way to set up a practice environment to get hands on training to do a migration of emails, exchange accounts and domain accounts from a on prem environment to an office 365
    What is the best way to create a practice environment for this?

    1. Brian

      That would be hard to do since Azure AD has to synch with your on-prem AD. I think the main advantage of having a test tenant (and I’m considering it) is to learn your way around, configure things, break stuff (if possible) and fix it. Even without having the ability to do what you mention, there is still quite a lot to learn from all the various consoles and settings. I would suggest a trial after maybe taking a class or two on PluralSight so you can really dig into it. Hope that helps.

  4. Patrick Van Cleef

    Sure, you can always spin-up your own personal tenant using either a trial license or MSDN. That is assuming you are a one-man show with direct access to the Internet and no requirements for any enterprise integration (AAD, CASB, app gateways, proxies, IdPs, etc.). In most enterprises, it will not be trivial to create a separate tenant. Once in place, a separate tenant will also have the same fundamental problem that plagues physical test environments: configuration drift. And you are not deploying code to Office365 anyway.

    Other than licensing at a higher tier (for more functionality), what is the advantage of separate tenant? Why not just segregate test data from production data, with strong access policies to protect test from bleeding over into production?

  5. Greig Kennedy

    Hey Paul,
    Am I missing something? This article is called How to … and all I am reading is why it’s important. Is there more content about how to setup a test environment?


  6. Carlos

    Hi Paul,

    I was wondering if this kind of environment can help to have integrating tests for Outlook Add-ins?

  7. Jay

    Dear Paul,

    Good information regarding creating a test environment for Office 365. I’m looking to learn O365 in the very near future and would like to gather as much information about learning O365 as possible. Will check out your O365 training material on PluralSights.
    Currently I have no O365 experience and would like to aim for the Microsoft certifications so any assistance on that road would be much appreciated. Work in IT support but don’t have access to O365. Please excuse the following noob questions:

    Can do you do all the required tasks required for learning O365 and doing the MS certification from a trial and then perhaps continue with a paid for tenant?
    Can you access Azure?
    Can you do all the Powershell commands?
    Can you create and test DNS records?
    Can I learn about ADFS, SSO, MFA, Dirsync, Reports and manage users/groups/domains with powershell via a Tenant?

    Not sure what else to ask until I start the learning O365 processes in more detail, if I overload you please say.

    Thanks in advance. 🙂

    1. Avatar photo
      Paul Cunningham

      The trials are fully functional. The only limits are the number of trial licenses. So if you do an E3 trial, you get access to all the E3 features, PowerShell cmdlets, etc etc. If you want to access additional Azure services, there are trials for pretty much all of them available as well. If you wan to learn about AD FS etc, there’s no restrictions on a trial tenant that will stop you from doing that.

  8. Conan

    Do you know if MS charges for setting up test users? If I create a dummy bulk-upload list, will I get hit with a $20/per charge after the trial?

    1. Avatar photo
      Paul Cunningham

      Microsoft charges for licenses. If you add a user, but don’t assign a license, the user costs you $0.

      If you start a trial, and don’t add any paid subscriptions to the tenant, there is no ongoing cost when the trial expires (obviously the tenant will stop working eventually if there’s no paid licenses at all).

      I’m not sure exactly what your concern is, but if you’re worried that Microsoft will auto-bill you at the end of the trial, that won’t happen unless you actually provide payment details.

  9. Tiana

    Hi Paul,

    Can we customize this test environment? (Create entities, add/update fields etc.)?

    1. Avatar photo
      Paul Cunningham

      Not sure I understand what you mean. It’s just a regular tenant like any other.

  10. Russell

    Just tried to set up a 2nd trial and had an error message saying that only one trial could be run. Is this new or is there another way to set one up?

    1. Avatar photo
      Paul Cunningham

      I’ve only ever had one trial at a time. Why do you need two trials concurrently?

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