Thursday, July 5, 2012

Mail-enabled security groups in Office 365

Another update (11/19/2013): further evolution of Office 365 services makes creation of distribution and security groups even easier, plus there's now an option of creating a dynamic distribution group (click here for more information):

Update (08/06/2012): a clear sign of Office 365 evolving along the same lines as other agile cloud services - small incremental features and minor new functionality are being delivered almost continuously and, unlike important major service updates, without much fanfare. For example, there's no need to resort to using PowerShell to setup mail-enabled security groups anymore, it can now be done at creation using management portal:    

Those managing Office 365 (O365) tenant via the Microsoft Online Services Portal (MOS Portal) interface would notice that there are two distinct group entities:
  • Security Groups:
    • can be created via MOS Portal (main portal page>Management>Security Groups) and used for assigning permissions within SharePoint Online
    • do not show up in Exchange Online portal under distribution groups
  • Distribution Groups:
    • can be created via Exchange Online portal  (MOS Portal>main portal page>Exchange>Manage)
    • can't be used for assigning permissions
    • do not show up in MOS Portal under security groups
This suggests that if one needs to group users for permission assignment and email distribution, one would need to create two different groups - a security group and an email distribution group. Clearly, there are cases (for example: when the same users need to be assigned permissions to a resource and receive email notifications about it) when it would be desirable to have a single group to be used for both.

In on-premise Active Directory (AD) and Exchange one would use mail-enabled security group for this purpose, but what are the options in Office 365?

Surprisingly, the answer to this question wasn't as forthcoming as I would expect it to be and finding any information on how to create an email-enabled security group in O365 proved to be challenging. Finally, I came across the following Knowledge Base article, which indicated that it could be done via directory synchronization (DirSync) tool. 

This is great, but what about environments that don't use DirSync? First of all, there’s clearly no way to accomplish the desired via MOS Portal (sorry, no point-and-click). So, one would have to resort to using PowerShell. After looking at the various PowerShell cmdlets for O365 and Exchange Online and doing some poking around, I came to the following conclusions:
  • Once a group has been created, changing group's type (mail-enabling security group or making distribution group a security group as well) doesn't seem possible.
  • However, at moment of creation distribution group can be designated as security group as well.
Here's a sample PowerShell statement:

new-distributiongroup -name "[Group's Name]" -alias "[Group's Alias]" -type "security" -primarysmtpaddress "[your_address@your_domain]"

For more information about the command try one of the following:
  • get-help new-distributiongroup -detailed
  • get-help new-distributiongroup -examples
  • get-help new-distributiongroup -full
To view group properties, the following sample PowerShell statement can be used:

get-distributiongroup -identity [Group's Name or Email Address] | format-list

When retrieving information about distribution group created with -type "security", expect to see the following as part of the output:

Distribution group created with default options would have it as:

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