What is covered in this blog?

Recently, I have received many queries and confusing questions from clients/CRM technical people around managing Dynamics 365 Online (formerly known as CRM Online). So, I felt that I should write an article to explain how licensing of instances work and how we can use the instances.

Note: You need to have Global Administrator role on O365 tenant.

I have covered below concepts in this blog article:

  • What do you mean by Instance Type (Production/Sandbox)?
  • How user licenses work on multiple instances?
  • How licenses are assigned to different instances?
  • What are these features? (Copy instance, Reset Instance, Delete Instance, Configure Instance, Administration Mode etc.)


What do you mean by Instance type (Production/Sandbox)?

  • Instance type decides what admin operations you can perform on your instance.
  • Product instance is considered as the live environment and hence you cannot perform some operations on Production type instance.
  • Sandbox instance is considered as non-production environment i.e. we can use it either for development or UAT. It may or may not contain live data.
  • Sandbox instances are cheaper in cost than production type instances.
  • You cannot have sandbox instance without a production instance. Once you have production instance, you can get as many sandbox instances as you want.
  • We always get production instance license when we register for Dynamics 365 Online trial.

How licenses work on multiple instances?

  • At high level, there are two kind of licenses available for Dynamics 365 Online, i.e., An instance license and user licenses.
  • Any CRM Online Instance is assigned either production or sandbox license.
  • Instance license assignment is not dependent on instance type. i.e. Sandbox type instance might be assigned production instance license as well based on license availability. I have explained all scenarios in Example section of this blog at the end.
  • Sandbox instance license is purchased as an add-on product.

How user licenses work on multiple instances?

  • User licenses are separate than instance licenses.
  • All licensed users automatically get added on all instances in the same tenant. Based on the security roles assigned, users get access to the respective instance.

Manage Features of D365 Online Instances

  • Copy Instance
    • This feature is useful when we want to make exact replica of any environment.
    • This feature allows to create exact replica of any instance from same tenant either with data or without data. In case of without data, all the customization get copied.
    • It only allows Sandbox Type instance as a target environment.
    • In copy operation, it copies entire database in the background on target environment. Source environment does not have any downtime during this operation.
    • Whenever copy operation is completed successfully, the target environment is put in administration mode. Whenever any environment (instance) is put in administration mode, only system administrators can log into the environment.
    • Copy operation does not change organization unique id of target environment.
  • Reset Instance
    • This feature is available only for Sandbox type instances.
    • This operation creates vanilla environment (similar as when you create trial environment).
    • Reset operation removes all data and customization from the environment.
  • Delete Instance
    • This feature is available only for sandbox type instances.
    • When this operation is performed, the respective instance license is released and is considered as unused license.

Note: Delete operation does not remove license and hence even if instance license is unused, we must pay for the same until we cancel subscription.

  • Configure Instance
    • This option is made available for unused instance licenses. Whenever we purchase any new instance license (either production license or sandbox instance) or when we delete an instance and if we have any unused license available, then we get this option.
    • This option allows to setup CRM instance starting from its URL & setting base currency.

Examples/Case Study

Business Scenario Assumption

Let’s assume we have a tenant with 5 CRM Online professional licenses (it comes with 1 production license) & 3 sandbox instance licenses. Let’s say we have below configured instances:

  1. https://instance1.crm.dynamics.com – Production Type Instance
  2. https://instance2.crm.dynamics.com – Sandbox Instance
  3. https://instance3.crm.dynamics.com – Sandbox Instance
  4. https://instance4.crm.dynamics.com – Sandbox Instance

Actions and Results


Action Performed Result


User tries to reset instance1 Reset option is not available on production type instances.


User tries to reset instance2 Instance2 gets reset and is created as vanilla environment as a trial environment.

Sandbox license is used.


User tries to perform copy operation from instance1 to instance2 without data. Instance2 becomes exact replica of instance1 without data. All customization from instance1 are now available on instance2.


User changes instance type of instance1 from Production to Sandbox. Instance1 is now considered as sandbox instance, but it is consuming production license.


User changes instance type of instance2 from sandbox to production. Instance2 is now considered as production environment. Instance2 is assigned production instance license and instance1 is assigned sandbox license.


User tries to delete instance4. Instance4 is deleted and 1 sandbox license is made available and is unused license.


User changes instance type of instance1 from sandbox to production again. Instance1 is now again considered as production instance & it will use sandbox instance license. There is still 1 unused sandbox license.


As 1 unused license is available, user gets an option to configure instance. User configures the instance. Instance4 is now again available as vanilla environment. It will use sandbox license.
  • All 5 professional licensed users have access on 4 instances and based on their security roles assigned on respective environments, they get access to those environments.
  • In case, you want to reset production environment for any reason, then you can do so by following below steps:
    • Change production instance’s type to sandbox instance.
    • Reset the environment.
    • Change instance’s type back to production instance.

Reference Links