Patching software can be a tedious task, especially if you work in a larger organization with lots of software and operating systems. You not only need to always be aware of new patches as they are released, you also need to ensure they are promptly pushed to every system that needs them. It’s not unusual for administrators to have to deal with hundreds of packages from dozens of publishers. Some publishers have regular patching schedules but others do it on an ad hoc basis. If you don’t want to spend most of your time on system patching, you need some sort of patch management tool. Today, we’re reviewing six of the best patch management software.
We’ll start off by discussing in greater depth the need for patch management. We’ll analyze why it even exists and how it can help. We will also discuss the different functions of patch management software. While most packages have unique features, they all share a common base. And when we’re done with the “theoretical” part, we’ll jump into our core subject, the six best patch management software. For each package, we’ll try to present the main features, the differentiating factors, and the pricing structure. We’re also including links to each package’s web page so you can quickly find more information about them.
The Need For Patch Management
Many years ago, one would install an operating system and not worry until they needed some of the more advanced features of the next version. Then they upgraded. In-between, it was smooth sailing. This was before the days of the Internet, before viruses and other threats and before software was so big that it is delivered on DVD. Nowadays, software is big–and buggy–and it seems like cyber-criminals are everywhere. They analyze each and every program trying to find faults and holes they can use to invade our systems and cause all sorts of problems. In reaction, software developers and publishers release frequent patches that either fix some bug or address a newly discovered security flaw.
Patch management software will help you cope with this considerable task. By automating as many aspects of the patch management cycle as possible, it will ensure that all your computers have the necessary patches applied.
The Functions Of A Patch Management Tool
Although patch management tools are very different from one another, they all share some common functionality. For instance, they can check different publishers’ websites for available patches. They will also handle the installation of patches to each and every computer that needs them. Often, they will have some scheduling features so you can make sure that patch deployment does not hinder your business. And since applying patches sometimes break something, good patch management software will also offer some kind of rollback function to uninstall recently installed patches.
Another function that is commonly seen in patch management software is a staging ability. It allows administrators to first push patches to a small number of computers and test the results before committing to a large-scale deployment.
While many software publishers include some form of patch management feature into their software or offer their proprietary patch management, this might not make for an ideal situation. If, for instance, you manage software–including operating systems–from many vendors, you’ll need to manage as many patch management systems. An integrated solution if then a welcome addition.
The Best Patch Management Software.
We’ve searched the market for the best patch management software we could find and we’re bringing you the six best we’ve uncovered. Some packages integrate with tools from the big software publishers such as WSUS and SCCM from Microsoft while others are totally stand-alone. Some are better suited for smaller environments while some will scale quite well to any size of network.
1. SolarWinds Patch Manager (FREE Trial)
SolarWinds probably needs no introduction, particularly among network administrators. The company has been making some of the best network and system management tools for ages. It is also known for its many free tools such as the SolarWinds Subnet Calculator. And when it comes to patch management, the SolarWinds Patch Manager has quite an impressive feature list.
The tool has an intuitive web interface where you can view the latest available patches, the top 10 missing patches in your environment, and the general health overview of your environment based on which patches have been applied. And just as impressive as its user interface is the SolarWinds Patch Manager’s reporting engine. It will provide you with easy-to-use and powerful reporting that inform you on the status of patches and demonstrate to auditors that systems are patched and compliant. And it can also help find those that are not.
FREE 30-DAY TRIAL: SolarWinds Patch Manger
The SolarWinds Patch Manager offers centralized patching of Microsoft servers and third-party applications. It will let you deploy and manage both 3rd-party applications and Microsoft patches from a central point. The tool will greatly simplify your patch management process. It will handle patch research, scheduling, deployment and reporting, saving you lots of time. In fact, the more server and computers you have, the more time you’ll save while being assured that all needed patches are applied.
The SolarWinds Package Manager works with and extends your Microsoft SCCM and WSUS installations with pre-tested and pre-built upgrades letting you get the absolute most of those tools.
The Custom Package Wizard in SolarWinds Patch Manager is another handy feature that will give you an easy way to build
custom packages for any application. it doesn’t require the use of SCUP or any complicated scripting. And these custom packages can be used to deploy any MSI, MSP or EXE via Microsoft WSUS or SCCM.
These are only some of the SolarWinds Patch Manager’s features. There’s much more to it. Pricing for this tool starts at $3690 and varies according to the number of nodes you need to manage, from 250 to 60 000. If you’d rather try the tool before dishing out a large amount of money, a 30-day fully functional evaluation version is available.
2. ManageEngine Patch Manager Plus
Another familiar name in the network management arena, ManageEngine has recently released a new tool called Patch Manager Plus. It is a simple to use platform that can be used to keep Linux, Mac, and Windows systems updated. The system can also handle patches for over 250 third-party applications.
The tool will, first and foremost, ensure patch compliance, taking care of some regulatory issues. It also features real-time audits and reports. Another feature worth noting is how patches can be tested and approved or declined depending on severity and priority. Furthermore, test groups of computers can be implemented, allowing administrators to measure the impacts of patches before a wide-scale deployment.
The ManageEngine Patch Manager Plus is available in several versions. There’s even a Free Edition that is almost full-featured but is limited to managing 25 devices. If you work in a smaller organization and only care about patching servers, this could very well be enough. There’s also a Professional Edition starting at $245 and an Enterprise Edition starting at $345. Both prices are for up to fifty devices and one administrator and go up from there. The Professional Edition lacks a few features when compared to the Enterprise Edition such as the ability to update virus definitions, the automatic testing and approval of patches, and the possibility to use distribution servers.
3. GFI Languard
GFI Languard, from GFI Software, is much more than just a patch management software. It claims to be “The ultimate IT security solution for business”. This tool can help you scan networks for vulnerabilities, automate patching, and achieve compliance. One of the differentiating factors of this software is that it doesn’t only support desktop and server operating systems. It works just as well with Android or iOS. GFI Languard conducts some sixty thousand vulnerability tests as well as ensuring your devices are all kept up-to-date with the latest patches and updates.
Among some of the best features of GFI Languard, its intuitive reporting dashboard is certainly worth mentioning, And so is the product’s virus definition update management which works with all major antivirus vendors. But let’s concentrate on the patch management features of the product as this is our main subject. GFI Languard will not only patch operating systems but also web browsers and other third-party applications. The product boasts a very powerful web reporting engine for ease of use, centralized reporting, and excellent scalability. You can use the GFI Languard software to track the latest vulnerabilities and missing updates
And if we look at some of the vulnerability assessment features of GFI Languard, that too doesn’t stop at the desktop and server. It is available for a wide range of networked devices such as switches, routers, access points, and printers. You can also use it to view some security issues within your network such as rogue USB Drives, Phones & tablets.
The pricing structure for GFI Languard is quite complex. The software is subscription-based and the subscription must be renewed annually. Prices are given per node and the cost per node lowers as one adds more nodes. To make things even more complex, you have one price for the original subscription, one for each node that you add during the subscription term, one for the subscription renewal and one for upgrades. For users who prefer to try a tool before buying it, a free trial version is available.
4. PDQ Deploy
PDQ.com, previously know as Admin Arsenal, is the creator of a systems management solution for the SMB market called PDQ Deploy. As you may have guessed from its name, it’s not a patch management system per se but rather a software deployment tool. This means it can do more than just manage patches. With PDQ Deploy, system administrators can silently install almost any application or patch to multiple Windows computers simultaneously.
The tool comes with over 200 pre-built packages for the most common applications that are ready to deploy. You can also create custom, multi-step deployments that can include running local commands or scripts using PowerShell, VB, or batch language. It can also integrate with Active Directory, Spiceworks, and PDQ Inventory, PDQ’s own hardware and software inventory solution. As for patch management, Deploy will automatically download, schedule, and deploy patches.
PDQ Deploy is available in two versions. There’s the Free version and the Enterprise version. The main difference is in the product’s feature set with many of the more advanced features only available in the Enterprise version. Patch management is one of those advanced features that require the Enterprise version. Contrary to many competitors who base their price on the number of managed nodes, Pricing for PDQ Deploy is based on the number of administrators using it. And at $500 per admin, it is reasonably priced. As expected, a free trial version is available so you can thoroughly test the product. Overall, ODQ Deloy is a good choice for small to medium-sized organizations.
5. Ninite Pro
You might have heard of Ninite. The open-source tool can be used to build a custom installation of several free and/or open-source software packages. It is a relatively popular tool in free software circles. Ninite pro goes a step further and allows IT professionals to remotely manage the installation and update of software packages on Windows computers.
Ninite Pro’s user interface is quite unique. It presents the computers you manage in a table format where each row is a computer and each column an application; sort of like a spreadsheet. In each cell, you can view which version of the software is currently installed and choose to install, uninstall or update the corresponding software on that computer.
The system has an auto-update feature that will automatically update any software it finds on its managed computers to the latest version. One feature we love about Ninite Pro is hat all you have to do to add a computer to the tool is to install an agent on it. It will then automatically appear on the tool’s web interface.
Ninite Pro will let you organize computers to your liking by assigning them one or more tags. It will also automatically tag computer with an online/offline status or with the version of Windows–server or workstation–they are running. This makes it easy to select just the machines you’re interested in.
Ninite Pro also include Ninite Classic which is basically the same tool with a different user interface–the one from the previous version. The only reason you’d want to use it is if you’re already familiar with it. However, Ninite Classic also has a command-line interface so you can create advanced tasks using a scripting language of your choice.
Pricing for Ninite Pro is subscription-based and varies according to the number of machines you manage. The first 20 machines will cost you $1.00/month, the next 400 machines will cost you $0.50/month and any additional machine will cost you $0.25/month. A free trial is available, as expected with products in this category.
6. Microsoft SCCM
System Center Configuration Manager, or SCCM, is a system management software published by Microsoft. Its purpose is to manage big computer pools running Windows operating systems. It features remote control, patch management, task automation, software distribution, hardware and software inventory and compliance management. As you can see, it is much more than a simple patch management tool. SCCM is such a huge tool that it’s hard to know where to begin. Let’s try to concentrate on the patch management features of the product. The SCCM datasheet will tell you that SCCM identifies which devices are not up-to-date and delivers and installs the required updates.
SCCM uses a hierarchical sites metaphor for deployment and update tasks. The top-level site synchronizes with Microsoft Update on a schedule–or when manually triggered. The updates are then synchronized with the children sites and once a site’s synchronization is complete, a site-wide policy is created to provide client computers with the required updates.
A reporting engine is also included in SCCM that will help you with assessing the state of your computer pool. The system can report on each client computer with a detailed status of each available update, indicating if it is required, not required, or installed.
The pricing structure for SCCM is very complex, as we’ve grown accustomed to with Microsoft. It is, like most other enterprise-grade products from Microsoft, based on client licenses that need to be purchased yearly. Detailed pricing information is best obtained directly from a Microsoft partner. Although it is not advertised, a free trial of SCCM can usually be arranged.
As complicated and time-consuming as it is, patch management can usually be automated–or at least greatly simplified–thanks to patch management software. Any of the six best patch management software we’ve just introduced is an excellent option. It is hard to recommend one over the other as all have their strength and weaknesses. As it is often the case, your selection will, more than anything, be based on your exact needs. With free trial versions available for all our top six tools, it might be worth trying one or two before making a final decision.