Software Patching and Its Effect on Your Business

Software Patching and Its Effect on Your Business

Software patches. You’ve probably heard the term before, and may even have installed a patch on your home PC. You know how it works- you get a popup alert telling you that an update is available, and you can click to install. It happens pretty frequently, and you’ve probably never given much thought to it, especially when it’s coming from a trusted source like Microsoft.                       

These patches are usually used to update software, or fix an issue that has been documented and corrected. The fix might be a vulnerability or bug, but it might also be something to improve performance and efficiency on your machine. The size and importance of these patches varies, but they’re not always a good thing (more on that, later).

In any case, as a managed services provider, we offer software patching to our clients. On a monthly basis, we updates our clients’ systems with the appropriate patches (notice we didn’t say “every patch”), once we’ve done the necessary legwork. If you’re not familiar with patching, you may not realize how often these updates are pushed out. Microsoft issues their updates on the second Tuesday of every month, what’s now become known as “Patch Tuesday”. For the 2014 calendar year 85 patches were issued. Now, imagine having to patch every machine in your company: testing to ensure the patch is compatible, scheduling the deployment, remembering to schedule the deployment, every time an update was made, by every software manufacturer…that would get to be a bit daunting, don’t you think? The amount of manual labor involved would be substantial.

Ashton employs its own proprietary methodology for system maintenance to help ensure that software patches are properly vetted, tested, scheduled and installed without impacting your business operations. Our goal is to have, at most, a prompt asking the end user to reboot. Otherwise, our goal, like medical professionals, is to do no harm.

So, now that you have a general idea as to what patching is, let’s consider the implications and ramifications. As we mentioned earlier, patches are not always a good thing. As a recent article mentions, “Windows 7 users may have automatically updated themselves into a pickle with a recent patch from Microsoft.” The article goes on to say that users who installed the patch have experienced various issues, and may be prevented from installing future updates. Sounds like a bit of a disaster, eh? One would think Microsoft should be considered a trusted resource, and if they’re pushing updates out to users (whether at the business or personal level), the updates should work properly. Well, that’s not always the case. It’s nothing against Microsoft (or any other provider), as it’s near impossible to test every possible permutation and system configuration to ensure compatibility. Sometimes, things break.

While most of the updates that software companies push out do exactly what they’re supposed to do, they’re not always bug free. For that reason, Ashton never patches our clients’ machines until we’ve done a fair amount of testing first. The first step our engineers take is reading a variety of blogs and forums, to find out what the global audience is reporting. Once we’re able to verify that the patches seem to be working properly and not causing any problems, we patch our own internal machines. After validating that the patches work properly internally, we then begin pushing them out to a batch of test machines. Once we’ve validated these patches on a small subset, we will install the patch at the global level, updating all of our clients’ machines. We generally lag 2-3 weeks behind the patch release date to allow adequate time for testing: we don’t want our clients to be the beta test group, we’d rather learn from others’ mistakes. In the event of a critical update patch to fix a major security hole we will generally accelerate the timeline to within days of the release. These are rare instances.

Tired of patching your systems, yourself? Rather have your IT team working on business critical projects, as opposed to “keeping the lights on”? Ashton can help. Give us a call at 216 397-4080, and we can discuss our services that allow you to be more efficient and more successful.

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