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Patch Management

4 Benefits of SaaS-based Server Patching

By July 18, 2016 No Comments

How did we get here?

Patching servers is an age-old exercise – it’s a tedious task that requires a systematic process. Outdated systems are one of the most significant attack vectors for any company. Organizations have so many competing priorities that patching often falls off of the task list or never makes it to the top. Add to that the complexity of ensuring that patches are compatible with your applications, OS’s, and meet compliance expectations, you now have a recipe for headaches for your DevOps and IT team.

The move to hybrid infrastructure creates even more complexity to the patching equation and a host of problems for management of servers. Each of these servers becomes a vulnerable point of access to launch internal or external attacks unless they are managed, maintained, and patched with the latest updates. As more and more IT organizations adopt cloud services like AWS and Google Compute Engine which tout benefits like: ease of use, speed of acquisition, and reduction in maintenance costs; the move to cloud solutions is becoming more pervasive. However these IaaS solutions still leave the patching of these cloud servers up to each organization. An organization with limited IT/Sys Admin expertise often leaves patching to fall behind or between the cracks. Compliance is another driver for the need to patch, whether it’s PCI, HIPAA, FISMA or other regulations; the need to demonstrate that the cloud services being provided are secure and reliable is not an option, it’s mandatory.

Because of the networking gymnastics involved, legacy solutions are not well-suited for the cloud. Cloud servers are either patched manually or often managed by configuration management solutions such as Chef or Puppet. Unfortunately, neither of those mechanisms is comprehensive nor systematic. Manual patching leaves too many opportunities for mistakes; a single unpatched system may provide a way in for the bad guys. Chef and Puppet are excellent at pushing out application builds and handling configuration automation, but clunky when it comes to patching. Legacy on-premise, enterprise-class patching solutions work well for large internal deployments, but are expensive. If those organizations end up using IaaS providers such as AWS or GCE, then their hybrid environment poses a significant challenge to their on-premises patching solution.

As a result, organizations struggle with their patch management programs. Specifically, the areas that IT/Sys Admins need to solve with patch management include:

 

1. OS Support/Skills

Cloud applications are run on multiple servers; today’s applications are not limited to a single OS or compute environment. Skills are required to patch Windows, Linux, Mac, iOS, Android devices, desktops, and servers are becoming crucial for all of IT.

2. Security/Vulnerability

The number one core value that all cloud based application solutions must provide is trust. The backbone of the cloud industry is built on this value and premise that the cloud organization’s customer data, and/or the data of their customer’s customer will not be compromised. Hackers are always at work trying to penetrate networks via various access points to get to the customer data.

In fact, modern organizations even hire their own security teams to continue to poke holes into their systems to prevent and prepare for attacks. Due to these continuous attempts; patches, updates, and prevention of vulnerabilities are becoming virtually a daily awareness exercise for IT organizations to keep their cloud infrastructure locked down with the latest protection measures. Companies like Microsoft follow a weekly/monthly patch release schedule for their customers; however vulnerabilities like Heartbleed and Poodle may require patching on demand. But what about other platforms or applications, OS’s, and services – there is no cadence or centralized solution which helps IT organizations solve this vulnerability management challenge.

3. Compliance

Providing patching/vulnerability audit trails to customers, auditors, and security teams is a requirement. Today, the patching process within cloud and hybrid environments is manual and cumbersome. Compliance needs mandate having the most current information about your infrastructure and its patch levels available on demand. And, a history of what your organization did, when.

4. Process

As IT organizations continue to expand their infrastructure footprint, IT sysadmins have less time and tools to manage these hybrid environments. IT is critical to making any enterprise work these days. Patch management is a process which needs proper planning, testing, and cadence so that it has minimal to no impact to business productivity. Furthermore, patch management doesn’t just stop at the OS level; it requires multiple levels of management up through the application. Workflow management for patching requires level of granularity at the server or patch level. Your process should allow for viewing all of your servers and ability to patch each server.

 

The Problem with Traditional Patching Solutions

 

Why Internal Patching solutions break down:

Organizations are moving more of their infrastructure to the cloud. The modern organization’s on-premises infrastructure now really only consists of laptops, mobile devices, and WiFi. There is little reason for organizations to invest in broader hardware infrastructure and skills required to maintain them. This allows organizations to focus on core competencies and deploy resources and skills to what sets them apart from their competition. So ideally organizations would love to keep the maintenance of these servers (both production and pre-production) at arms length; but not away from the metrics, data, and assurances that these servers are indeed being plugged for vulnerabilities. Ideally IT would like to know that patches applied are current, when the next updates will be, and, are there any servers/environments that are out of date and how long have they been that way.

On-premise Software Solutions

Affordability of an enterprise-class solution is a major factor for organizations. Today many small and medium sized enterprises are leveraging cloud infrastructure. The benefits these companies see include a cost-effective pay-as-you-go model, scalability based on need, and easy-of-use. Legacy patch management systems do not match up with these new model requirements for small and large companies alike. Further, there is no solution currently that successfully works across cloud providers like AWS, Google Compute Engine, SoftLayer, and Rackspace in a model that matches the IaaS provider’s model. To date, there has been no SaaS-based patching solution.

People Resources

IT organizations can have the right skilled resources that know how to work seamlessly across hybrid environments and manually keep current on patching across multiple servers, but does this scale as organizations increase their IT footprint? How are these IT admins keeping information across multiple servers current, tested, and ensuring that patching is done in a timely manner and meets compliance expectations. Compliance expectations also introduces the need to adopting standards and best practices which need to be followed consistently; this also increases resource requirements. Patch management for many young organizations is still a human process that is inefficient, costly, error-prone, requires unnecessary expertise, and sacrifices IT agility.

A Modern Approach to Patch Management

PatchSimple enables centralized management and distribution of software updates, automates detection, and facilitates the remediation of security vulnerabilities for a wide variety of operating systems such as Windows, Linux, and Mac OSX.
SaaS patching is the ideal solution for the modern organization. A solution which works in a hybrid environment across multiple OS’s and cloud providers is the answer. Imagine if this SaaS solution could help you stay on top of server patch management by:

 

  • Keeping you informed of OS level patches and severity
  • Maintain a schedule that is predictable and published with maintenance windows
  • Testing is not just a best practice; but required. Patching goes badly when patches are deployed to production without testing.
  • Automation of the patching process
  • Systematically verify patch status on an on-going basis.
  • Ad hoc, emergency patching abilities.
Jay Prassl

Author Jay Prassl

A self-described “Nerd with a big mouth” Jay is an 18 year startup veteran specialized in pre-IPO, hyper-competitive environments with a focus on new technology introduction, partner / customer acquisition. VP of Sales and Marketing at SolidFire (sold to NTAP), LeftHand Networks (sold to HPQ), Hewlett Packard.

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