It wasn’t long ago that patch management wasn’t even a tertiary consideration when it came to IT management and systems administration. With a few exceptions, systems administrators deployed “fire and forget” programs onto their assets; once the software was installed that was generally the end of involvement with maintenance. Thanks to a changing broadband landscape shaped by the interconnectivity of the internet and the unfortunate evolution of security hazards, developer support for software installed on systems continues long after the initial installation.
It’s not uncommon to find brand new products receiving day one patches and upgrades released alongside the product to fix last minute bugs or security vulnerabilities. With the potential for thousands of assets on a company-wide scale, the need for a well thought out patch maintenance system becomes clear.
This can be a complex issue even on a small scale but becomes infinitely more complicated with multiple branch offices, off-site IT teams, and the potential for multiple platforms and applications being in use. Each company’s patch management system should be unique and catered to the needs of that entity. Even with this diversity, there will be core components in every plan that are essential to proper patch maintenance and upkeep.
Core Maintenance Needs
A good patch management system will incorporate and take into account several factors:
- Information. The need for good security across applications and systems is key in today’s tech environment. Understanding which security needs apply to each asset is integral to efficient patch maintenance. Likewise, not all patches are necessary or even beneficial to an IT environment. Every patch has the potential, however small, to create new issues. Good communication with vendors and thorough research into each patch is critical to good patch maintenance
- Scheduling. Patches often have the potential to interrupt regular use of key systems. Having a patch schedule set in stone to account for these downtimes will help smooth out regular operation of assets. In addition, procedures put in place for emergency or critical systems patches or security updates should be in place to facilitate the application of these updates.
- Testing. The need for patch testing will vary from company to company and is highly dependent on the resources being used. Some patches for critical systems will need to be tested in a proper environment before deployment. Others will only need a quick once-through to ensure information is usable and intact after the updates are applied. Regardless of the application, some form of testing should be used, particularly for important applications or assets.
- Deployment. The actual application of updates and patches. This includes the process through which patches are deployed. In small-scale environments, manual updates are feasible but sub-optimal. As the environment scales, the need for a macro focused method of deployment becomes apparent. There are many tools available to help with patch maintenance, tracking, and roll-out. SysAid patch management software is one example of this. With systems tools designed to deploy updates, patch deployment can be done on a massive scale with much less time and effort than doing it by hand. This is relevant even for small work groups with only a handful of assets.
- Assessment. It’s important to assess how successful patches and updates have been. This is especially important when it comes to security vulnerabilities. Taking stock of how effective the currently implemented patch maintenance system and scheduling can help improve efficiency and smooth out patch management.
Most successful patch management plans will incorporate these tenants in various forms. Some steps may be expanded or changed. As an example, a bank may need to spend more time with testing to ensure critical application data isn’t compromised during a patch. Likewise, a business with a high value on the security of its intellectual property may place a higher priority on security patches and updates.
A Critical Plan For a Critical Task
Good patch maintenance is no longer an option in today’s tech world. Particularly when it comes to security updates, patches need to be applied in a timely fashion without interrupting normal day-to-day operation. With the increasing threat of security breaches stemming from vulnerable software, developers have placed a renewed focus on catching and fixing these vulnerabilities soon after they appear.
Without fast and efficient patch management, these vulnerabilities can be carelessly left open for weeks or even months at a time, leaving an open door into assets and applications, or creating a disruption in the workplace due to bugs or old versions of software. Having a set of guidelines along with a firm plan for updates, critical patches, and security fixes ensures applications and assets continue to perform safely and effectively throughout their life cycles.