Who likes patching software? With the multitude of software that is typically in use in most businesses, it can quickly turn into a gigantic task. First, one has periodically poll software publishers for available patches. Then they need to be downloaded. And before they are deployed at large, they need to be tested. One has to ensure that any new patch won’t have any kind of adverse side effect. Only then can the tested patches be installed on your users’ computers or your company’s servers.
With hundreds of patches from dozens of vendors, each with a different—some do it on a regular basis, others have a more “as needed” approach—patch release cycle, wouldn’t it be great if there was a way to automate this? Well, there is. This is precisely what patch management systems do. And today, We’re having a look at the best patch management tools we could find.
We’ll begin our journey by discussing patch management in greater details. In particular, we’ll have a look at what the benefits of patch management systems are. Some will be pretty obvious, others might not be so. We’ll also talk about the different components of patch management tools. As you’ll see, there are many options and all tools don’t necessarily include them all. And finally, with all the theory behind us, we’ll have a look at five of the best patch management tools we could find. We’ll do our best to introduce each product’s best features, what differentiates them from their competitors and, when possible, how they are priced. Although we can’t recommend that you base your selection of tool on price, it is an important factor when considering that some of these tools can be rather pricey.
Why Use Patch Management Tools
There used to be a time when software patches barely existed. You’d install a piece of software and not worry about it until you needed the more advanced features of the next version. Patches to fix bugs were very scarce. The main reason for that is that software was not as complex, programs were smaller and the risk of bugs creeping in and making it past the publisher’s debugging efforts was limited. This time was before the Internet, before computer viruses, and before anyone realized that computers could be used—or should I say hacked-in—to steal valuable information.
Fast-forward to today and software packages are huge monsters. Hundreds of developers typically work on development projects, each barely aware of what their colleagues are doing. Competition forces the publishers to release products that might not have been thoroughly debugged knowing that they can release patches as bugs are found and fixed. And even when the original software is bug-free, cyber-criminals will work very had at finding faults, holes, and backdoors that will let them access your data. And when they do, publishers react by publishing patches that counter those vulnerabilities.
Patch management tools can help with keeping all your software up to date. Automating multiple tasks within the patch management cycle, such product will let you rest assured that your software is always patched.
Components Of Patch Management Tools
Patch management tools vary greatly between publishers. Of course, they all share some common functionality and they all have the same general goal: helping you keep your software up to date. Some are fully automated and will handle every aspect of patch management while other are merely deployment tools, leaving you with the task of locating, downloading and testing patches before deployment. Here’s a list of features commonly found in patch management tools:
Software Inventory: A detailed inventory of all installed software and their current patches is performed automatically on all computers. It ensures that no unpatched software is forgotten.
Checking for available patches: Patch management tools will scan each publisher’s website for available patches. This step is often based on the results of the software inventory and only patches for existing software are considered.
Patches Download: Once the required patches are identified—either automatically or through a manual process—they can be automatically downloaded from their respective publishers’ websites.
Scheduled Patch Deployment: Whether patches were acquired manually or automatically, this process will schedule their deployment according to the administrator’s specifications. For instance, end-user machines are likely best patched when they are not in use, especially if patching requires a reboot. Also, on large networks with hundreds—if not thousands—of machines, it might be advisable to patch them in smaller batches. The scheduling options of good patch management tools are usually quite flexible.
Deployment Staging: Patching software is not without risk. This is particularly true when the software is an operating system. Applying patches always bring the risk that something that used to work stops working. For that reason, it is often advisable to do a staging phase before any large-scale deployment. A group of carefully selected machines can be patched and then thoroughly tested before general deployment is scheduled.
Deployment Rollback: Despite all the testing and all the staging that is put in place, there are situations when one has no choice but to roll back installed patches. The best tools have that functionality built right into them.
How About Built-in Patch Management Schemes?
Some of the bigger software publishers—Microsoft, for instance, is one of them—include some form of patch management feature right into their software or they offer a proprietary patch management tool. While using them could be tempting, it is far from perfect. For starters, if you manage software from multiple vendors, you could end up having to deal with several patch management systems, each with its learning curve.
The Best Patch Management Software
We’ve searched the market for the best patch management software we could find. As a result, we’re glad to present you with five of the best tools we could find. Some of these tools will integrate with tools from the big software publishers such as WSUS and SCCM from Microsoft. Others, on the other hand, are totally stand-alone. Some tools are better suited for smaller environments and some will scale up to installations of almost any size.
1. SolarWinds Patch Manager (FREE Trial)
Most network administrators are familiar with SolarWinds and many of its excellent product. This is no surprise as the company has been making some of the best network and system management tools for about 20 years. Its flagship product, the SolarWinds Network Performance Monitor is recognized as one of the best SNMP network monitoring tool. The company is also known for its free tools addressing specific needs of network administrators. Some of these tools include a free TFTP server or a free subnet calculator When it comes to patch management, the SolarWinds Patch Manager is yet another product with an impressive feature list.
Featuring an intuitive web interface, the tool will let you view the latest available patches, the top 10 missing patches in your environment, and the general health overview of your environment based on which required patches have been deployed. The SolarWinds Patch Manager’s reporting engine is another strength of the product. It offers easy-to-use and powerful reporting which can provide information on the status of patches. Reports can also be used to demonstrate to auditors that systems are patched and compliant and help find those that are not.
The SolarWinds Patch Manager features centralized patching of Microsoft servers and third-party applications. As such, you can use it to deploy and manage both 3rd-party applications and Microsoft patches. This tool can simplify your patch management process. It will handle patch research, scheduling, deployment, and reporting. Using it can save you a lot of time. In fact, the more servers and computers you have, the more time you’ll save. All that while assured that all needed patches are applied. Who could ask for more?
But there is more! The SolarWinds Package Manager works with your Microsoft SCCM and WSUS installations, adding to the of these tools. Furthermore, its Custom Package Wizard will let you easily build custom packages for any application. All that without having to resort to the use of SCUP or any complicated scripting. These custom packages can be used to deploy any MSI, MSP or EXE via Microsoft WSUS or SCCM. And these are only some of the tools best features. It has much more to offer.
Prices for the SolarWinds Package Manager start at $3 690 and varies according to the number of nodes you need to manage, from 250 to 60 000. If you prefer to try the tool before committing to its purchase, a free 30-day fully functional evaluation version is available for download.
- FREE 30-DAY TRIAL: SolarWinds Patch Manager
- Official Download Site: https://www.solarwinds.com/patch-manager
2. ManageEngine Patch Manager Plus
ManageEngine is another of the familiar names in the field network management. The company’s patch management tool is aptly called the ManageEngine Patch Manager Plus. Why Plus? Simply because the tool offers more than just patch management. Rather simple to set up and use, the platform will keep Linux, Mac, and Windows systems updated. Furthermore, this tool can handle patches for over 250 third-party applications, including the most popular.
The ManageEngine Patch Manager Plus can help you ensure patch compliance, thereby helping you with regulatory issues. Real-time audits and reports are also available. Testing is one of the product’s strong suits and patches can be tested and approved—or declined—depending on severity and priority. Test groups of computers can easily be set up, letting administrators measure the impacts of any patch before its wide-scale deployment.
The ManageEngine Patch Manager Plus is available in several editions. There’s the Free Edition which is limited to 25 devices. Next, you have the Professional Edition starting at $245 and the Enterprise Edition starting at $345. Compared to the Enterprise Edition, the Professional Edition lacks a few features such as the ability to update virus definitions on target machines, the automated testing and approval of patches, and the possibility to use distribution servers.
3. GFI Languard
It’s no accident that GFI Languard’s name doesn’t seem to reveal that this is a patch management system. GFI Software, who published the tool, claims that it is “The ultimate IT security solution for business”. This tool is more than just a patch management system. It will scan networks for vulnerabilities, automate patching, and achieve compliance. You can think of it as a cross between patch management and vulnerability scanning.
One thing that sets this software apart from the others is that it doesn’t only support desktop and server operating systems. It works just as well with Android or iOS. GFI Languard routinely performs some sixty thousand vulnerability tests and ensures your devices are all kept up-to-date with the latest patches and updates.
The intuitive reporting dashboard of GFI Languard is definitely worth mentioning. And so is its virus definition update management which works with all major antivirus vendors. As for the tool’s patch management abilities, it will not only patch operating systems but also web browsers and many third-party applications.
And looking at some of the vulnerability assessment features of GFI Languard, these too go well beyond the desktops and servers. They’re available for a wide range of networked devices such as switches, routers, access points, and printers. This tool will also let you view some security issues within your networks such as rogue USB Drives, phones, and tablets.
GFI Languard has a rather complex pricing structure. It 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 tools before buying them, a free trial version is available.
4. PDQ Deploy
Next on our list is a systems management solution for the Small and Medium Business (SMB) market called PDQ Deploy. You might have guessed it from its name, this is not a true patch management system but rather a software deployment tool. Of course, you can use it to manage and deploy patches but it will do much more. With this tool, system administrators can silently install almost any application or patch to multiple Windows computers simultaneously.
PDQ Deploy comes with over 200 ready to deploy, pre-built packages for some of the most common applications. You can also create custom, multi-step deployments that can include running local commands or scripts using PowerShell, VB or batch language. This tool can integrate with Active Directory, Spiceworks, and PDQ Inventory, the tool publisher’s own hardware and software inventory solution. As for patch management, the system will automatically download, schedule, and deploy patches.
PDQ Deploy is available in two versions. There are a Free version and an Enterprise version. The two products mostly differ in their respective feature sets with many of the more advanced features only available with the Enterprise version. Patch management is one of those advanced features that require the Enterprise version. This software differs from its competitors in that it’s not priced based on the number of managed nodes but instead on the number of administrators using it. And at $500 per admin, it is more than reasonably priced. Like its competitors, a free trial version is available if you want to give the product a try.
5. Ninite Pro
You might have heard of Ninite. It’s an open-source tool which can be used to build custom installations of several free and/or open-source software packages. It is quite a popular tool in free software circles. Ninite Pro goes somewhat 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 different from what other products offer. It presents the managed computers in a table format where each row is a computer and each column an application. It is 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.
There is also an auto-update feature which can automatically update to the latest version any software it finds on its managed computers. Another feature we love about this product is that all you need to do to add a computer to the tool is to install the Ninite agent on it. It will then automatically appear on the tool’s web interface.
Ninite Pro lets 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–either 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. The latter is basically the same tool albeit 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 complex tasks using your choice of scripting language.
Ninite Pro is subscription-based and its price 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 beyond 500 will cost you $0.25/month. A free trial is available like it is with most products on our list.