Patch management best practices

Software developers are releasing updates to their apps every day. And you know how inconvenient it can be to try and keep everything up to date on your personal devices. Now, multiply that by the number of workstations, applications, servers, and network equipment you have in use at your company. That’s why patch management becomes such a crucial talking point because it would be next to impossible to keep things updated if each employee was responsible for running those themselves.

👉 According to 2022 stats, patching a software problem takes, on average, 28 days.

Patching and government regulation

With millions of devices involved, there are obvious nationwide security risks caused by software vulnerabilities. That’s why the US Department of Homeland Security decreed that critical vulnerabilities must be patched within 15-30 days after detection.

So, where do you start? Well, this article is a great place. Developing a patch management process for your company can feel overwhelming. But don’t worry. I’ll explain what exactly it is and go over some of the benefits while also covering a few patch management best tricks.

What is patch management?

A pretty basic explanation for patch management is that it’s the process of running updates on all of your equipment. This includes updates for applications and operating systems but also more important things like security fixes and firmware updates.

Depending on the amount of equipment you manage in your environment, manually running these updates on each machine is pretty much impossible. But with the help of a centralized patch management system, you’ll be able to schedule updates and distribute them as often as you need to.

Why patch management is important for your business

There are a number of reasons why patch management is critical for your business. Probably the most important reason to stay on top of your patch updates is the security of your environment.

As developers find new vulnerabilities in their software and equipment, they’ll release patches to fix those. But if you’re not running the patches in your environment, then you’re leaving your computers and servers vulnerable to being exploited.

5 key benefits of patch management

Aside from security, there are a few other key benefits to patch management in the enterprise environment.

1. System fixes

As you use any application or system, over time, you will run into bugs that require software patches to fix. A patch management system ensures you’re running updates and fixes those before you experience those issues.

2. New features

This one is especially true of software and operating system updates. New versions can sometimes mean new features. Those new features can unlock a new process for your teams, helping them be even more innovative for your core business.

3. Compliance with partners or policies

If you’re working with other organizations or are required to meet certain compliance standards, not staying up-to-date can put you in a contractual bind. And, in some cases, it could end up costing you in fines, too. Patch management can take inventory of the software running in your environment and help you make sure all of your systems are updated.

4. Collaboration continuity with partners

As your team members are collaborating with partners from other companies, if they receive files saved in newer versions of an application, it can cause problems with opening that file. Staying up-to-date prevents any downtime for your company and keeps everyone and everything moving.

5. End-user satisfaction

Whether you’re supporting coworkers or your company’s customers, patch management is a way to ensure that everyone stays happy. When deployed in the right way and following some of the best practices you’ll read about below, you’ll be able to keep everyone up-to-date without them even noticing.

8 patch management best practices

As promised earlier, I’m detailing a few best practices you should keep in mind to help with your patch management process.

1. Deploy patches in a test environment first

This can be a big one, especially if you’re running various operating systems and applications across your environment. You never know what fix will, unfortunately, break something else. By deploying patches on test machines, you’ll hopefully be able to catch some of those issues before they impact your users.

2. Have a disaster recovery plan in place

Any time you do software updates, there’s a chance it could all go sideways, and you either lose information or take down entire pieces of hardware. That’s why you should always be prepared for the worst-case scenario. Then, you can flip a switch and keep the business running while you troubleshoot the original issue.

3. Separate devices by the operating system, roles, and applications

Not every user or computer will have the same function or needs. So, you might find that running a specific patch on some devices is easier than on others. If you’re able to organize your environment in a like-manner way, then you’ll be able to group devices together as needed and push out updates based on priority.

4. Exclude systems that are business-critical

If you have a server or network switch that is required for your business to run on a day-to-day basis, you might not want to include it with your regular patch updates. Similar to the last tip, if this device is just too critical to lose even for a period of time, you’ll want to take extra care and precautions when updating it.

5. Detail the risks of delaying a patch

As with anything, I’m sure you’ll experience pushback for running patches from certain users or team members. Having a detailed risk analysis to support your cause will force them to determine if the risk of delaying the patch is worth it.

6. Create a regular schedule for updates

It’s helpful to have a regularly scheduled day or time to push your patches. This will help mitigate some of the risks of interruption to your business. But also train your users to leave their workstations on and have your technology team prepared for any issues that might arise.

7. Have a rolling schedule across your environment

If you work in a larger organization, it’s a good idea to segment the environment so you’re not upgrading all of your equipment at the same time. Even if it is the same update across a large number of users, it helps to stagger the patches, so if issues do crop up, fixing them is a little more manageable.

8. Be prepared to support systems the next morning

This is a big one that many teams overlook. Anytime you’re applying a patch, there is room for bugs. Especially if you’re doing a larger, more critical update after business hours, you might not be able to thoroughly test the patch after it’s been installed. So, when your users run into issues in the hours after the update, you’ll want to have staff ready to support them and troubleshoot any of those issues immediately.

There are so many benefits to implementing a patch management process. And it can save you so much time and quite a few headaches to have a remote management system for them, too. Hopefully, after reading this article, you’re feeling a little more prepared to take this on for your company. Once you get a process down, trust me, your teammates and customers will thank you.

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