In this post, I will review each of the Power Platform environments and discuss best practices for their use in helping you avoid any gotchas and data loss. If you don’t know anything about Power Platform environment types, you might want to read my prior blog post, What IT Professionals Need to Know About Power Platform Environment Management first.
We’ll cover trial environments, sandbox environments, and production environments.
For this deep dive series, I will start first with Power Platform trial environments, which can be extremely useful but have some important limitations that you should be aware of before you start provisioning them.
What Are Power Platform Trial Environments?
Trial environments are “containers” that support short-term testing needs and are automatically cleaned up after a brief period of time. They do not consume any paid capacity, even if they use premium features.
When Should You Use Power Platform Trial Environments?
You should provision a trial environment when you want to see how a feature, template, sample app, add-on, connector or component works, but you do not want to commit to paying for premium features.
Types of Trial Environments
You can create two types of trials, both of which can be converted to production environments (at which point they will start to consume paid capacity).
- Standard trial environment – These environments are usually throwaways where users try new features and quickly do proof-of-concept builds to test assumptions. Your Global admin or Power Platform admin may have restricted the ability to create these environments, but if allowed, their creation is still restricted to users who have the right licensing; the Power Platform entitlement that comes with standard M365 licenses (such as Business Premium or Enterprise licenses) is not enough.
Standard trial environments are automatically deleted after 30 days but can be extended once for an additional 30 days. These environments can be converted to production environments prior to expiration to avoid automatic deletion.
- Subscription-based trial environments – There are two ways to obtain a subscription-based trial environment.
- If you are a Tenant admin, you can add a trial for the subscription you want (such as Power Platform per-user licensing) in the billing section of the admin portal. In that case, the trial environment will be deleted when the trial period for the subscription expires. Admins can request a single extension in the Microsoft 365 admin center, which will also extend the expiration for the trial environment.
- If you are not a Tenant admin, you can sign up for an M365 trial account, which will give you a full Tenant and 25 trial user licenses. You will need to provide a credit card when signing up, and your paid subscription will start when the trial ends unless you cancel. As with Tenant admin trials, you can request a single extension.
A few final notes on trial environments:
- You must have at least 1GB of available production database capacity to convert a trial environment to production.
- Tenant admins can copy subscription-based trial environments to another environment, but it must also be a subscription-based trial environment.
- Trial environments cannot be backed up, restored or reset.
- If you want to save apps or data you have created in a trial environment before it is deleted, follow these Microsoft guidelines.
What Are Power Platform Sandbox Environments?
Sandbox environments are “containers” that support continuous development and testing needs. Unlike trial environments, you must have at least 1GB of available capacity to create a sandbox environment, even if you don’t create your environment with a database.
When Should You Use Power Platform Sandbox Environments?
You can provision a sandbox environment to isolate your development work from your production apps, bots, flows and tables. The unique benefit of sandbox environments is that they can be “reset” back to factory settings, enabling you to start over or reclaim capacity if the content is no longer needed.
How Sandbox Reset Works
A few important points to know about resetting your sandbox environment:
- Reset brings the environment back to “factory settings” – It will remove everything – all apps, bots, flows, tables, data, connections and other objects – and change all environment settings back to their defaults. What you are left with will be the same as a brand-new environment.
- Reset is irreversible – Unlike environment deletion, there is no way to undo a reset or recover any data lost in the reset, so use it with extreme care!
A few final notes on sandbox environments:
- You have the ability to immediately and permanently delete the data in a sandbox environment by resetting the environment (as opposed to deleting the environment, which allows for recovery of the data for up to seven days after deletion) which can be useful if you need to quickly reclaim capacity or immediately remove data from your environment.
- Sandbox environments can be converted to production environments, and production environments can also be converted to sandbox environments (and then reset).
In summary, sandbox environments are not that different from production environments, but the reset feature they offer can be useful in certain scenarios.
A Note on Terminology: If you have ever struggled to talk about (Microsoft) Teams in the same sentence as (project) teams, you will likely feel some déjà vu when discussing the topic of Production environments. Are we talking about an environment used for production or the type of environment Microsoft calls a Production Environment?
For clarity’s sake, I will use the term “Production-type” environment to distinguish the Microsoft terminology from the kind of resources being hosted. You will see why that’s so important in a minute.
What Are Power Platform Production Environments?
Production-type environments are “containers” that are intended to host Power Platform resources in active use. Like sandbox environments, you must have at least 1GB of available capacity to create a production environment, even if you don’t create your environment with a database.
When Should You Use Power Platform Production Environments?
Power Apps, Power Automate Flows, Dataverse tables and Dataflows in production use should only be provisioned in Power Platform production environments.
This is the only environment type you can be sure won’t expire, like trial environments, and can’t accidentally be reset and become unrecoverable like sandbox environments.
How Production-type Environments Form the Basis of ALM in Power Platform
In a typical ALM setup, you might have one Power Platform environment used for development, one for testing, another for staging, and a final environment used for production.
You would either regularly export your solutions from the dev environment and manually import them into the other environments as development and testing progresses, or use a tool, such as that found in the Center of Excellence Starter Kit ALM Module, to automate this process.
Since each of these environments is intended to be used on an ongoing basis, and since you would not want any of them to be accidentally reset or deleted due to expiration, all four of them should be provisioned as production-type environments, even though only one is being used to host the production version of your resources.
There’s much more to learn about Power Platform environments, and as Microsoft’s guidance evolves, it is important to keep up with the changes. I hope this series on the basics of Power Platform environment types has provided some clarity and food for thought as you start your Power Platform governance journey.