Patch Management for SMB: A Quick and Easy Buying Guide

Updating software might seem like such a small concern in the grand scheme of small/medium business IT administration but those very same updates are often the only thing standing between valuable data and the glitches or malware that could destroy it. After all, small businesses are less likely to have the funds for high-level security or redundant storage solutions – this means that SMB tech administrators have to make the most of what they have.

Don’t hire outside contractors or force long weekends on your tech support to maintain your updating procedures when you can invest in software to do it for you. The right patch management solution will make hands-on patch management a thing of past by automating and consolidating the update process in a way that makes sense for your small business.

This quick guide will walk you through the options.  Listed below are a few of the primary feature sets you’ll be comparing – use this glossary to determine which features are most well suited to your unique network environment, budgetary constraints, and IT resources.

1. Scalability

Budgeting and scalability go hand in hand. Patch managers that require a standalone client on each machine will most likely require a license for every single device that you want to update; this works well for small, static networks, but not so much for larger networks with expansions in the works. Agentless patch managers are as scalable as your network bandwidth, serving all workstations from one centralized client. You can see scalability at work with my fave patch management tool, an agentless solution for patching jobs of all sizes.

2. Monitoring and Reporting

Full compliance is always the goal. Ask about real time tracking to avoid the need for rolling back systems after a failed patch package. Enjoy the benefits of immediate feedback so you can make changes and adjustments as you go. Deploy to your lest vulnerable/valuable workstation groups first and apply your findings to the following rounds of updates.

Some patch management solutions return raw data – information about pings and last reboot times – the ideal solution for IT managers who need to follow strict company reporting procedures. Others feature colorful graphs that you can print out for executives and other people who wouldn’t want to comb over a technical readout.

3. Easy Cycling

Some of the more basic patch managers are exceptionally slow to deploy because they don’t support efficient cycling of updates. The right patch manager will allow you to chain your deployments, inserting reboots and confirmations whenever necessary, to ensure that all your patches go out without a hitch. Put an end to the waiting and banish your dependence on external wake-on-LAN utilities. Some will support this as a native feature and others require a little scripting (or the outsourcing thereof).

4. Third-Party Support

Chances are good that your business is operating on a network that encompasses dozens of different software applications and utilities. The operating system is just one small part of the equation – after all, you still have to update all of those web browsers, drivers, plugins, content management systems, office utilities, etc. Some patch manager often require a little scripting and special configuration to build custom packages while others will provide a list of services with pre-compiled packages.

5. Customer Care

No matter how far technology advances, nothing can replace good customer service. This particular feature is incredibly valuable compared to bringing in a contractor to clean up after a bad service provider, and that’s not even considering all the downtime caused by lack of appropriate documentation or persistent software bugs.

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Choosing the Right Patch Manager

Which patch management solution is right for your network environment? The decision comes down to personal preferences in the end. The market is flooded with options, and most utilities do have similar capabilities: focus on those five defining features listed above to streamline the trial and comparison process.  Those patch management catalogues are great at describing the same old feature sets with new and exciting buzzwords, but core functionality generally remains the same.

Get excited about the search. A fulltime network administrator is sure to spend hours over that patch management console, so you might as well enjoy working with the one you choose.

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