Back in 2002, Microsoft launched a Trustworthy Computing initiative to ensure that all endpoints, operating systems, and applications are secure from the start. Patching being a key component. At that time patching was a manual process, and it became obvious that as companies scaled their endpoints, the cost and effort to keep up was exponentially harder. It didn’t take long for Microsoft to react to customer needs and release Software Update Services (SUS) which would later evolve into Windows Server Update Services (WSUS).
When WSUS was released in 2003, it was a godsend to IT administrators. Today, Windows workstations and servers can be configured out-of-the-box with automatic updates from Microsoft, but for organizations, the Windows Update installs are decentralized and IT has no control over them. WSUS introduced the ability for IT to finally manage their environment and begin automating patching. Over the years, the tool has aged and it may be time to start looking for a WSUS alternative.
Stepping out of the WSUS-only world and into the wider patch management marketplace can be difficult. To start looking for an alternative to WSUS, take a couple of the tool’s existing pain points and use those to find a better solution.
As any administrator of WSUS has found out, the system has its fair share of challenges. The first is that it often lacks in being able to quickly and confidently report the patch status of all devices to IT management. At times, WSUS has reported that all endpoints are up-to-date, while a manual scan for new software on the endpoint shows a number of outdated or missing patches.
In today’s world, cyber hygiene best practices expand beyond simply confirming patches are installed. Administrators have to think about inventorying all applications installed on a system, the device’s hardware information, and more than a binary Yes or No stating the system is patched.
A second WSUS limitation is third-party software updates. WSUS does pull in some Microsoft applications into its catalog, but think about the business-critical products like Java, Adobe, and Chrome. WSUS provides paths to update some third-party software, but they are difficult to configure and maintain. Additionally, companies rarely apply the same level of rigor to optimize and keep third-party applications up-to-date, yet they account for an ever-increasing number of vulnerabilities. This feature grows more critical every day.
While providing the ability to create groups of devices to target for patching, the WSUS functionality can be quite limited. An alternative solution should provide the ability to create more granular and controlled patch schedules, and assigning device groups to them should be intuitive. This process shouldn’t be difficult to review or implement during Microsoft’s Patch Tuesday cycle.
As companies move towards more remote workers, and more off-the-shelf devices being used, there is a greater need to plan for patching over the internet. VPN and LAN connection requirements hurt patch compliance, so a WSUS alternative should be based in the cloud for better coverage capabilities. Security confidence shouldn’t only apply when a device is on a corporate network.
Other Operating Systems
WSUS works well enough to patch and update Microsoft operating systems, but there is no integration for Mac and Linux within the platform. Mac use within development and graphic design teams will be present for the foreseeable future. As industries adopt more open source solutions, the Linux footprint will continue to grow, and those in IT can attest to the challenges of providing patching compliance metrics in the Linux space. These other operating systems have solutions to manage patches among them, but it requires additional consoles, processes, time, and money.
Instead of worrying about whether WSUS is providing an accurate picture of your endpoint statuses, if business critical applications are covered, or instead of building complex solutions to handle all the variables there within, look for a cloud-hosted WSUS alternative that can check every box with intuitive processes and interface. Patching company assets shouldn’t be hard, it should be easy to report on with confidence, and the process should provide relief and not difficulty.
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