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Microsoft M365 in China: What You Need to Know

Microsoft 365: Global Tenant vs China Tenant

When expanding into China, businesses often confront a perplexing tapestry of regulations, cultural nuances, and unique IT challenges. Among the latter, one of the most significant is the difference between Microsoft M365 in China (operated by 21Vianet) and global Office 365 services.

In this guide, we will help to shed light on some of the differences between these two platforms, their implications, and how your company can navigate these challenges.

21Vianet and Its Relationship with Microsoft

Before diving deep, let’s lay some groundwork. 21Vianet is a leading data centre service provider in China. Due to China’s strict regulations on data sovereignty and the need for data to remain within its borders, Microsoft formed a partnership with 21Vianet. The result? A physically separated instance of Microsoft services in China, which is wholly operated and transacted by 21Vianet.

While this structure allows Microsoft’s cloud services to be available within China’s regulatory framework, it inevitably leads to differences in features and functionalities when compared to the global version of Office 365.

Microsoft Teams: A Side-by-Side Comparison

Global Office 365:

  • Comprehensive suite of collaboration tools, from chat and video conferencing to intricate app integrations.
  • Offers Live Events, webinars, and broad connectivity with third-party apps via bots and connectors.
  • Seamless integration with other Office 365 products, enhancing productivity.

China Tenant (21Vianet):

  • Some features, such as Live Events, webinars, Audio Conferencing, Voice, and certain Teams and Channels functionalities, are not available.
  • While essential features like chat, file sharing, screen sharing, and search remain, the absence of the aforementioned tools can pose challenges for businesses reliant on them.

Microsoft Intune: Drawing the Lines

Global Office 365:

  • Offers robust device management capabilities, including on-premises Exchange Connector, Windows Autopilot, Business Store features, and more.
  • Seamless management of Android devices with Google Mobile Services, including Google Play Protect and Android Enterprise capabilities.
  • Broad feature set for endpoint analytics, telemetry, and device management.

China Tenant (21Vianet):

  • Presents several restrictions, including the unavailability of features such as Windows Autopilot, Google Mobile Services-dependent functions, and on-premises Exchange Connector.
  • Limited Android device management due to the lack of Google Mobile Services in China.
  • Specific functionalities, such as the Intune Company Portal app for Android, experience delays due to the absence of Google Play services.

Compliance, Data Protection, and Administration

Compliance and data protection are of paramount importance for businesses, and the differences between the two platforms in this domain are noteworthy.

Global Office 365:

  • Provides a wide array of tools for data protection, governance, and compliance.
  • Comprehensive security features that are consistently updated to counter new threats.

China Tenant (21Vianet):

  • While it does offer compliance and administration tools, businesses need to be wary of the specific nuances and limitations these tools might have in comparison to their global counterparts.

Licensing, Support, and Updates

Global Office 365:

  • Direct licensing and support through Microsoft.
  • Regular and consistent updates with new features and security patches.

China Tenant (21Vianet):

  • Licensing and support are routed through 21Vianet.
  • Updates might not be as frequent or synchronised with global releases, potentially leading to slight delays in acquiring the latest features or security enhancements.

Implications for International Businesses

For businesses that operate both within and outside China, these differences can introduce complexities. Here are some strategies to cope:

  1. Holistic IT Strategy: Consider a unified IT strategy that acknowledges the bifurcation of services. 

  2. Training and Onboarding: Employees should be educated about the distinctions and potential workarounds. This ensures a smooth workflow, irrespective of the platform’s version they’re accessing.

  3. Continuous Monitoring: Keep an eye on updates from 21Vianet and Microsoft. While the core essence of the services remains consistent, functionality may change.


China’s digital landscape, while promising, is paved with unique challenges. The distinctions between Microsoft M365 in China and their global counterparts are emblematic of the broader IT challenges international businesses face in China.

At PTS Managed Services, we pride ourselves on aiding businesses in navigating these complexities. With a deep-rooted understanding of IT support and consultancy, we’re here to ensure that your IT framework, be it in Hong Kong, China, or the broader region, delivers the performance you need for your business.

If you need help or advice related to this topic please get in touch with us here