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SolarWinds Patch Manager Review: Best Tool of 2019

In today’s IT world, keeping your systems patched is more important than ever. With security patches released on a regular basis by most vendors, keeping up with what’s available and what’s been installed on each and every system an administrator manages can be a daunting task, if at all possible. To help administrators stay on top of things, patch management tools are just what they need. Some of them, such as the SolarWinds Patch Manager will offer many features and make this seemingly impossible task much easier. This is why we’re reviewing this fantastic product today. It is a must-have for anyone who has to deal with keeping software patched.

We’ll start off with a general discussion about patch management tools. We’ll keep it as brief and non-technical as possible be we felt it was important to ensure we were all on the same page as we start exploring this great product. So, we’ll describe what these systems and what their principal features are. We’ll then ever so briefly sidetrack and examine the option of using each vendor’s proprietary tool for patch management. This is where we’ll get to the interesting part and have a quick look at the SolarWinds Patch Manager. We’ll then dig deeper and explore some of the tool’s main feature. And finally, we’ll have a look at the product’s system requirements and pricing and purchasing details.

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 was that software was not as complex as it is today, 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 others 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 will be left unaddressed.

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 included in 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 which used to work stop 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.

Using Built-in Patch Management Features

Some of the major software publishers—such as Microsoft or Apple, for instance—include some form of patch management feature right into their software or they offer a proprietary patch management tool. While using those 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. Using a vendor-neutral product such as the SolarWinds Patch Manager can have several advantages such as giving you a unified user interface, no matter what operating system(s) you are patching.

The SolarWinds Patch Manager (Free Trial Available)

The SolarWinds Patch Manager is a feature-rich patch management tool. It boasts an intuitive web interface which will, for instance, 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.

SolarWinds PM - Intuitive Web Interface

The SolarWinds Patch Manager handles the 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 is a tool which can greatly simplify your patch management tasks. It will handle patch research, scheduling, deployment, and reporting. Using it can save you a lot of time and grief. In fact, the more servers and computers you have, the more time you’ll save. All that while being 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 functionality and feature sets of these tools. In addition, the tool’s Custom Package Wizard will let you easily build custom packages for virtually 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 tool’s best features, as you shall soon see for yourself.

About SolarWinds

SolarWinds has been around for close to twenty years. The company provides powerful and affordable network and systems management software to customers worldwide. Its customer base includes all sizes of organizations from large Fortune 500 companies to small businesses, managed service providers, government agencies, and educational institutions. SolarWinds is particularly famous for making some of the very best network and system administration tools. The company delivers products that are easy to use and maintain but also to find and purchase and that can easily scale as your needs grow. Most of its products will cover any of your IT assets, regardless of where they or their users and managers sit and both on-premise and could-based environments are supported by most products. SolarWinds is also known for making a few excellent free tools, each addressing a very specific need of network administrators such as the Advanced Subnet Calculator or the Kiwi Syslog Server.

One of SolarWinds’ strength is how it targets exclusively Information Technology, Managed Service Providers, and DevOps professionals, and it strives to eliminate the complexity that we, as customers, have been forced to accept from many traditional enterprise software vendors. This focus, as well as the company’s commitment to excellence in end-to-end IT performance management, has established SolarWinds as one of the worldwide leaders in both network management software and managed service provider solutions. SolarWinds’ THWACK online community is used by users to solve problems, share technology and best practices, and directly participate in the company’s development process.

The SolarWinds Patch Manager At A Glance

Here’s a very quick overview of a few of the thing you can do with the SolarWinds Patch Manager.

  • Reduce the time required for patching physical and virtual Windows desktops and servers with pre-built, tested patches from vendors such as Adobe, Apple, Google, Mozilla, Oracle and others from weeks to minutes.
  • Decrease security risks and service performance degradation by controlling when and where patches are applied.
  • Pass audits and demonstrate compliance using the tool’s out-of-the-box reports and dashboard views.
  • Turn your Microsoft WSUS or SCCM environment into a powerful patch management solution.

Features Of The SolarWinds Patch Manager

Let’s have a deeper look at a few of the SolarWinds Patch Manager’s best or most significant features.

Intuitive Web Interface

The SolarWinds Patch Manager’s web user interface lets you view important patch management data alongside other SolarWinds products in an integrated web console. You can view the latest available patches, top 10 missing patches in your environment, and peruse a general health overview of your environment based on which patches have been applied.

Patch Compliance Reporting

The SolarWinds Patch Manager provides you with easy-to-use yet powerful reporting options allowing you to easily determine the status of patches and demonstrate to auditors that the systems are patched and compliant – or find those that are not.

SolarWinds PM - Status and Compliance Reporting

Simplified Patch Management

This tool simplifies many of the steps in the patch management process—from research to scheduling, to deployment, to reporting and more—saving you hours of your time and making it easier to keep hundreds or hundreds of thousands of servers and workstations patched and compliant.

Centralized Patching of Microsoft Servers and Third-Party Apps

SolarWinds Patch Manager enables you to deploy and manage both 3rd-party applications and Microsoft patches, from a central point of control, across tens of thousands of servers and workstations. Microsoft SCUP and complicated scripting NOT required.

Pre-Tested, Pre-Built Packages for Common Apps

SolarWinds builds, tests, and automatically delivers packages for many common third-party applications which can then be quickly and easily deployed using Microsoft WSUS or Microsoft SCCM.

SolarWinds PM - Pre-built Packages

Custom Package Wizard

The Custom Package Wizard of the SolarWinds Patch Manager gives you an easy way to build custom packages for any application, without the use of SCUP or complicated scripting. Then, using SolarWinds Patch Manager, you can deploy any MSI, MSP or EXE via Microsoft WSUS or SCCM.

Advanced Before-and-After Package Deployment Actions

The SolarWinds Patch Manager’s PackageBoot feature lets administrators create advanced before and after package deployment scenarios to help ensure that even the most complicated patches—such as Oracle Java, for example—get deployed successfully, without the need for complicated scripting.

Patch Physical Servers and Virtual Machines

The tool makes it easier to manage patches on virtual desktops and servers with the ability to even patch off-line machines, organize virtual machines into groups, and inventory virtual machines enterprise-wide.

Extend The System Center Configuration Manager

The SolarWinds Patch Manager extends your Microsoft SCCM deployment with pre-tested and pre-built third-party updates and provides many time-saving management features to help you get more out of your SCCM investment.

Extend The Power of Microsoft WSUS

This tool also works with and extends Microsoft WSUS to give you more control and power over the patch management process with dynamic patch management, immediate updates, scheduled reboots, easy reporting, full asset inventory, and more.

SolarWinds PM - Microsoft Extension

System Requirements

Hardware-wise, SolarWinds recommends installing the Patch Manager on a server with at least a 32- or 64-bit 2.4 GHz of faster Dual Core CPU. A minimum of 4 GB of RAM is necessary but 10 GB or more is recommended, For hard disk space, it will necessitate and least 20 GB.

The server on which the product will run must be running one of these operating systems: Windows Server 2008 R2 with SP1, Windows Server 2012, Windows Server 2012 R2, Windows Server 2016, or Windows Server 2019.

Like many other SolarWinds products, the Patch Manager also requires a Microsoft SQL server. It must be running one of these Microsoft SQL databases: SQL Server 2008, SQL Server 2008 SP1, SQL Server 2008 SP2, SQL Server 2008 SP3, SQL Server 2008 SP4, SQL Server 2008 R2, SQL Server 2008 R2 SP1, SQL Server 2008 R2 SP2, SQL Server 2008 R2 SP3, SQL Server 2012, SQL Server 2012 SP1, SQL Server 2012 SP2, SQL Server 2012 SP3, SQL Server 2014, SQL Server 2014 SP1, SQL Server 2016, or SQL Server 2017.

Pricing And Licensing

The SolarWinds Patch Manager is licensed by the number of nodes, a node referring to an individual endpoint being managed. It is available in 11 licensing tiers covering from 250 to 60 000 nodes. Prices start at $3 750 for the 250-node version. The tool is highly scalable and will manage more than 60 000 nodes if you provide a customized license which can be obtained by contacting SolarWinds’ sales. If you prefer to try the tool before committing to its purchase, a free 30-day fully functional evaluation version is available for download.

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