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What is the Difference Between SCCM and WSUS?

There are a variety of modern patch management tools available today for organizations to choose from, but many people still have questions about legacy solutions.

What is the difference between SCCM and WSUS?

Both are patch management solutions offered by Microsoft, but there are some significant differences between the two. As legacy patch management solutions, WSUS and SCCM do have a lot in common; they are both on-premise solutions that are primarily focused on Windows OS and Microsoft products.

While a majority of the global desktop market share still goes to Windows, there are an increasing number of devices running alternative OS. Third-party applications are taking up a larger share of vulnerabilities, and the number of endpoints organizations need to keep track of is ever-increasing. Simply put, WSUS and SCCM may have their differences, but it seems both patching solutions are trailing behind the modern workplace.

WSUS and SCCM have been around for a long time, but it's still important to understand what each platform does – and what their limitations are. After nearly 20 years on the market, it may be time to consider an alternative to Windows-based, on-premise patch management strategies.

WSUS patch management

WSUS, or Windows Server Update Services, does have a few benefits. For one, it's a free tool installed as a role on Windows Server – which means that organizations of any size can use it. And for companies that aren't quite large enough for SCCM, WSUS provides some patching automation with no up-front costs. However, WSUS is known for its hidden costs, including time spent on troubleshooting the system and the additional expense of having to acquire and use alternative patching tools for non-Windows operating systems and third party applications.

WSUS is built by Microsoft, so it shouldn't have problems with Windows systems. And if it's configured correctly, WSUS should be able to patch these systems semi-automatically. If your organization's network solely runs on Microsoft infrastructure, WSUS can help minimize the amount of manual labor required for patching.

Patching with WSUS may be a feasible option for companies that only use Microsoft, organizations today are increasingly using hybrid infrastructures to meet their needs. This means that relying on WSUS is not going to be enough to maintain regular patching across the entire network. WSUS will fix vulnerabilities in your Windows OS, but any macOS or Linux devices are going to be left in the dust.

More, WSUS is limited in its ability to handle patching third-party applications – and it also lacks in terms of reporting and network visibility. What this means is that while WSUS is good at what it does, it's not good for much else.

Applications from third parties, like Adobe and Java, are attractive options for attackers because they are routinely home to a bevy of unpatched vulnerabilities. WSUS does include some pathways for patching these products, but they are extremely difficult to configure and the update catalogs can be hard to follow.

SCCM patch management

SCCM, or System Center Configuration Manager, is a paid patch management solution from Microsoft. SCCM relies on WSUS to check for and apply patches, but offers some more desirable features and gives users more control over how and when patches are deployed. While SCCM has a few advantages over WSUS and can seem like a more desirable option for larger organizations, there are still several challenges that companies may face when using SCCM for patch management.

SCCM includes a number of functions that can benefit users, including more control over patch deployment, the ability to generate reports and control over Windows machines on their network. SCCM also provides endpoint protection tools, and if configured correctly, SCCM can be an adequate patch management system for organizations predominantly running on Windows. As a Microsoft product itself, SCCM integrates quite well with Windows systems and Microsoft products.

However, patching with SCCM may not be the best option for every organization. Like WSUS, SCCM is limited in its ability to manage non-Windows operating systems and third-party applications. It is a product built for Microsoft first, and everything else is secondary. Unlike WSUS, SCCM does offer some rudimentary means of managing alternative OS as end-clients – but it still requires a Windows server to run, and the functionality for non-Windows OS is not as good.

Hybrid infrastructure will still require elements of manual patching with SCCM, and third party application patching is just as limited. While SCCM does provide more support for third party apps than WSUS, that's not really saying much. In fact, problems with using SCCM to patch third party applications are a top source of frustration for IT managers. Given that third party software can account for up to 76 percent of the vulnerabilities found on the average PC, it is no surprise that better third party application management is a top request from IT staff.

SCCM is also prohibitively expensive and is usually sold as part of a larger suite of tools. The pricing for SCCM can also be illusive, as endpoints and servers are typically priced separately. It also requires an SQL server to run, leading to high costs for operation and maintenance.

While SCCM definitely has some advantages over WSUS, it is still exorbitantly expensive – and it may not even fill all of an organization's needs.

So, what are the differences between WSUS and SCCM? WSUS is a free tool that can work for Windows-only organizations of any size, while SCCM is a paid tool that is best suited for larger organizations that predominantly run on Windows. WSUS can meet the needs of a Windows-only network at the most basic level, while SCCM offers an expanded array of tools for more control over patch deployment and endpoint visibility. SCCM also offers pathways for patching alternate OS and third-party applications, but on the whole, it still leaves much to be desired.

The challenges of using legacy patch management solutions

WSUS and SCCM have both been around for a long time, but they are both hindered by their lack of functionality in the modern digital landscape. Hybrid infrastructures are increasingly common; many organizations rely on an array of operating systems and third-party applications to meet their needs. And patch management platforms need to keep pace with the trends in technology if they are going to be efficient.

Legacy solutions like WSUS and SCCM make the process of patching hybrid infrastructure far more complicated than it needs to be. With SCCM, patching for macOS and Linux is a tiresome endeavor, to say the least – and with WSUS, it's not even an option. Relying on these solutions alone for patch management can put undue stress on your IT staff and can require an untold amount of manual labor between dealing with configurations, maintenance, and additional patching software that may be necessary. Legacy options are also often limited in terms of endpoint management.

Modern patch management solutions, like Automox, give users the freedom to patch their entire network from a single interface, regardless of OS or third-party status.

Cross platform patching platforms for better patch management

Legacy patch management options are severely lacking when it comes to managing security updates across multiple platforms. In addition to limited insight into endpoints and patch status, legacy patching solutions are restricted in their ability to handle patching alternative OS and third-party applications. For tech professionals, the failures of legacy patching platforms can be a serious burden that ultimately leads to an overly complex, inefficient patch management strategy.

The best patch management protocol is one that is both effective and efficient. Needing multiple programs for maintaining endpoint visibility and deploying security updates for select devices, OSs, and applications, hardly fits that description. But by employing a strong, cross-platform patching solution, organizations can streamline their patch management strategy while also increasing their effectiveness and efficiency.

Cross-platform patch management can help your organization perform critical security updates across your entire network as soon as possible. And with full endpoint visibility, a solution like Automox allows IT staff to detect (and remediate) unresolved vulnerabilities in real time. While many organizations believe that time is on their side, the latest statistics show that attackers can weaponize a critical vulnerability in just seven days.

Currently, it takes organizations an average of up to three months to patch a critical vulnerability. Equifax put off patching for three months. Now, the cost of their 2017 data breach is expected to reach up to $3.5 billion.

Overly complex patch management solutions that are difficult to configure and aren't compatible with hybrid infrastructure are, in their own right, an impediment to overall cybersecurity. While there may be a slight difference between WSUS and SCCM, these platforms aren't different enough to meet the needs of a more modern digital landscape. Today, companies often rely on an array of operating systems and third-party applications to meet their needs. A cloud-based, cross-platform patching solution that can manage updates for your entire network is crucial to cybersecurity efficiency and effective patch management.

The benefits of cloud-native patch management

One of the most attractive benefits of cloud-based patching platforms is the lack of necessary upkeep. On-premise, legacy patching solutions often require dedicated servers and routine maintenance – both of which can be costly. Conversely, cloud-native patching solutions require no maintenance efforts from the end-user. Instead, the platform updates and maintains itself. Cloud-based patching platforms are typically going to be more budget-friendly, largely thanks to the decreased costs associated with operation and maintenance.


InsideTrack uses cloud-native Automox agent

Cloud-based patching platforms like Automox also don't rely on a VPN for patching remote devices. The advent of SaaS programs means that many remote workers have no need to connect with a VPN to access company programs and information. This lack of VPN usage can be an issue for legacy, on-premise patch management solutions, but cloud-native patching options like Automox feature an agent that can be remotely installed on every device or workstation that will deploy necessary patches, no matter the location.

With cloud-native, cross-platform, automated patching solutions on the table, the difference between WSUS and SCCM surely pales in comparison. While WSUS or SCCM may work for some organizations, they are ultimately very similar and share many of the same limitations in the modern workplace. For efficient and effective patch management, organizations need a solution that can fit any digital landscape.


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