As CIO for Tasty Baking Co. in Philadelphia, Autumn Bayles faces a
constant stressor — the onslaught of security software patches and
”When a patch is released at 9 a.m., you need to have it installed in
all your machines by 9:05,” Bayles says. ”Doing this manually is
Bayles says automation is the only answer for today’s security patch
needs. ”We used to live in a little private network where we enjoyed a
level of control,” she says. ”Now, my users need access to the Internet
from any desktop and I want them to be able to do that for a productive
But she knows openness has its drawbacks.
”Any one of these desktops can be a gateway to bring a virus or
something else bad into the corporation,” Bayles adds. ”I just don’t
want one infected PC to ruin the rest of the PCs on my network.”
Bayles is not alone in her dilemma.
IT administrators and techies are being worn down from the almost daily
barrage of patches and updates deployed for critical enterprise software.
The flood often forces managers to pull IT workers off other projects to
handle the load, diverting attention and scarce budget dollars to
managing, testing and distributing patches.
To alleviate the pain of going desktop-to-desktop for 500 users, Bayles
employs tools that distribute critical software updates automatically via
a desktop agent.
Audrey Rasmussen, vice president at Enterprise Management Associates in
Boulder, Colo., says the combination of increased patches and more remote
access to corporate networks is forcing IT managers to consider automated
patch management and software distribution tools. In fact, a
cross-section of companies, such as HP (with its Novadigm purchase),
iPass, Symantec, Altiris, Marimba, Novell and a slew of others, are all
making a play for the automated software distribution market.
”It’s a hot area right now,” says Rasmussen. ”The frequency of patches
and the risk of exposure poor security brings companies, as well as the
volume of systems to patch — servers and desktops — can be
Patches, she says, sometimes come out as frequently as every day. ”If
it’s just a program bug, IT managers can live with the current version
for a bit, but when it’s a security patch that can open them up to
attack, they need to get it quickly and efficiently across the
enterprise,” says Rasmussen.
For James Payne, the advent of automated tools is a godsend. Payne, an
end user support supervisor at Roto-Rooter in Cincinnati, Ohio, used to
spend his time after a patch was announced burning CDs to quickly
distribute to the company’s 60 locations. ”Someone at the site would
have to walk around and do the installs. Half the computers never got the
update,” he says. ”It was cumbersome.”
Payne also says the manual approach wreaked havoc with the network.
”There were viruses that would take advantage of a hole in Windows
because a patch wasn’t applied correctly or was missed during the manual
install,” he says. ”We never really had an on-site guru at other
locations… so we would have to spend time fixing [problems].”
Most software distribution tools feature an auditor that lets IT managers
know whether a computer has received the latest patches and updates. If
the computer is not up-to-date, it can be blocked from accessing the
Rasmussen says it’s critical for IT managers to make sure they still
leave room for testing the patches. ”This is the bottleneck for totally
automating patch management,” she says. ”IT managers need to test
patches on different platforms and different configurations they might
have. They need to design a process for doing that efficiently.”
Joel Snyder, senior partner at Opus One, a consulting and information
technology firm in Tucson, Ariz., agrees.
”It’s difficult to keep up with updates because of the quality assurance
problem,” he says. ”But every time you push something out, it’s going
to break something else. This problem is magnified with remote access,
but that doesn’t mean you stop trying. You just have to invest the time
to make the patches work.”
Al Stern, director of systems architecture at the University of Dayton in
Ohio, has a multi-step approach to vetting patches. Stern and his team
have what they call a ”critical patch committee”.
The committee, a group within IT, reviews Microsoft patches on their
release date. They then push the approved patches to a group of 100 test
users, Stern says. The goal is to see if that test group notices any
serious problems. If nobody is ”detonated”, then the patch is pushed to
the rest of the campus’ 12,000 users within days. Virus updates and
critical patches are on a much quicker schedule, being tested every hour
and then dispatched. ”That process never stops,” he says.
Although the university has an e-mail list used to announce all viruses
and remedies to students, Stern says he relies on the automated tools.
”We can’t take the chance that they might not read the e-mail, or see
it’s from the PC Help Desk and ignore it,” he says. ”That’s
Stern cautions his peers to be careful with the length of automated
updates, though. ”If it’s more than 20 seconds to scan and update the
PC, users complain,” he says. ”You have to be fast.”
Tasty Baking’s Bayles says if the update is going to take a while, she
prefers to let users know ahead of time. ”I wouldn’t want to disrupt