Today it seems everyone knows the basics of system updates and why they are needed, however, I notice with clients I meet and work with, the best practices or even a good practice goes unused. Organizing your system updating and patching can be tedious and boring for any IT professional, young or old, but the critical nature of system updating by far demands the attention of every company.

Back in the old days, we would just use the good ole Windows Updating service, before that, updates were not even needed. Then it became all too evident that the world’s bad guys would not settle for just attacking the operating system any longer, but now were focusing on the applications and websites and email and every other form they could think of to seduce users into helping the hacking community compromise systems at an alarming rate.

Then the system updating was born, now there are updates for all applications, operating systems and even hardware devices. So we need a full system updating plan and application to help keep track of this outrageous number of updates that could apply to any system.

There are many system updating tools available. Some free, some for a subscription and others for a per seat cost. There really is no right or wrong answer but rather a preference to the customer. I prefer whichever will provide the protection to the systems at the best cost. Sometimes free can fit this mold, but other times subscription or per seat costs make more sense. There are factors that should determine the product to use. Some of those factors are: price, functionality, manageability, and compatibility. Not all products are supported by all platforms. Of course, manual process can also be used but that would be better suited for small business or even home office and personal systems. Let’s talk more about the factors I mentioned above.

Price

The price of the product can make a huge difference. Every IT manager, director, CIO is concerned about costs and how to manage them effectively for their needs. The cost of a solid system update software or service can escalate quickly into the thousands to tens of thousands of dollars a month. Even onetime costs for software can be in the hundreds of thousands of dollars for the right software. So the costs of a system should be fully understood before moving any further in the decision process. I’ve seen many times where costs drive the decision without factoring in incidental costs of manpower, complexity and scalability of products. So while cost is a major concern, the understanding of the product can affect the total cost of ownership significantly.

Functionality

The functionality of a system update service has a significant impact on many of the other factors. Price and manageability are highly impacted but functionality absolutely affects compatibility as well. The functionality of the service is key to having a usable and stable update service. If the complexity of the service degrades the ability to manage and use the system effectively, then your service will be very difficult to implement, maintain and most importantly trust. There are some good products and there are bad products. Many of us have had to suffer through horrible systems or just low functionality systems that try our patience and often times make little sense in how they were organized. I think it’s safe to say the older version of Windows Server Update Services (WSUS) were trying at best. But improvements have been made and it is getting better. Some third party systems provide some good functionality but again, there are issues that come with a vendor trying to cover such a broad spectrum of systems and software updates. Also, as function increases so does the complexity and the manpower needs to properly manage the system.

Manageability

The management of a system is often overlooked by decision makers and the executives. The function and costs are really the focal point, but manageability determines how easily the system is implemented, supported and accepted into an IT department. This can often have a large impact as to how well the systems are kept up to date because the easier a system is to manage, the more likely it is to be kept up to date. Due to the critical nature of updating systems, manageability should be a major factor in choosing a system because it will improve the chances of success when implementing a solution.

Compatibility

There is no system that truly covers all system updates. There are many vendors that provide updates that cannot simply be pushed to an update system and installed to their environment. Specific high end software such as IBM WebSphere or FileNet and Oracle products are more intense and often significant versions complicate the process. Even Windows SPs or other Microsoft SPs can require a personal touch to complete the installation/upgrade process. So compatibility can be sought to cover a portion of the needs, but mostly likely IT departments will still have additional processes that will need to cover all systems. This is another area that is often overlooked and not organized properly.

Once reading through the above factors, it can easily be seen that cost and effort have the biggest impact on an update system. The more effort that is put into organization and process development the more organized the system will be leading to a greater chance of success when depending on an update system to protect systems in an environment. Costs are a high driver as well, the updating system is not considered a high visibility system and does not usually get correlated back to business success. However, we all know that having stable up to date protected systems highly impact businesses’ success and do help with the bottom line.

It’s a long process that often comes with difficulties when implementing an update system. Many factors need to be taken into account and there should be a thorough process followed to properly identify the needs of the company, the IT Department and the systems which when used with the factors above will give an IT Department a better chance to choose and implement a successful system upgrade solution for their company.

Contact us if you need assistance in your decision making process.