MSP Patch Management: Challenges and Solutions

6 min

Today, we’re going to talk about MSP patch management and the common challenges you can encounter. Moreover, we’re also going to discuss the solutions you can apply to common MSP patch management challenges.

You’d love to enhance your services by delivering premium features that are irresistible to your clients. The only problem is that your systems sometimes keep lagging behind. Patch management is your best hope of keeping up, but it’s not easy.

Managed Service Providers (MSPs) that want to excel must get a handle on governing assets. Here’s what to understand about mastering MSP patch management so you can focus on delivering value.

This article about MSP patch management covers:

What Is MSP Patch Management?

Patch management encompasses the complete lifecycle of handling patches, going way beyond simply updating software. This type of network management also includes discovering, sourcing, and testing patches.

How Does Patch Management Work?

Path management takes different forms for different companies, but there are common factors. Most strategies follow these steps:

  1. Conduct Regular Inventorying: Maintain a frequently updated inventory of your assets, including hardware, Operating Systems (OSes), and third-party software. This is the only way to know where your weak points lie.
  2. Understand Your Defenses: Know which firewalls, vulnerability management tools, and other security controls you have in place. It’s also good to map out which assets each system protects.
  3. Identify Applicable Issues: Use your inventory to determine which vulnerabilities apply to you and your clients. Definitely consider setting up network monitoring software to build a solid network security architecture.
  4. Create a Versioning Plan: Lock systems to specific versions to save effort and avoid mistakes.
  5. Prioritize Threats: Classify risks depending on criticality. Not every threat needs immediate attention. Tackle those that can do the greatest damage first.
  6. Test All Patches: Never assume things will work just because you apply  an update. Always test patches in a sandbox zone or isolate networks to avoid side effects that you don’t intend.
  7. Apply Viable Patches: Apply the patches that made it through testing according to your prioritization rules. Be ready to put out any fires if things don’t go as perfectly as you plan.
  8. Establish a Paper Trail: Go beyond simply checking if a patch application is correct. Keep a record of patch management changes. Logging your progress is critical to staying on track.

Why Is Patch Management Important?

Patch management matters for many reasons. However, one reason that really stands out: keeping systems up-to-date is hard work.This is especially true for MSPs.

Suppose your router manufacturer discloses  a known vulnerability on its blog and publishes new firmware to correct it. If you were wise, you’d probably apply the accompanying patches right away.

So what’s the problem? Well, this strategy works fine in isolation, but it falls short at the MSP scale.

With potentially thousands of devices, systems, and clients, you can’t possibly update everything manually. Patch management helps you stay on top of:

  • Security: Patches that correct vulnerabilities reduce your threat exposure. After all, hackers love targeting unpatched exploits!
  • Compliance: If you cater to companies that demand regulatory governance, you shouldn’t overlook regular patching. Patch management also helps you avoid fines and limit liability.
  • Service: It’s harder to stay competitive when you’re running tools that are out-of-date. Not all patches are about security fixes: some let you run the latest software or even unlock hardware features.
  • Uptime: Smart MSP patch management makes it possible to stay current without impacting client services.

What are the Three Most Common Patch Management Challenges?

One of the greatest common patch management difficulties is the lack of visibility into which patches are in deployment and on what devices. As a result, you cannot ensure patch compliance within an organization without a holistic patch report. 

1) Time-consuming

Patch management involves the process of finding, testing, and deploying software updates. Furthermore, it involves performing security patches for multiple clients with different systems, applications, and network configurations. Thus, performing the above patch management tasks requires significant resources, effort, and coordination. Additionally, it requires ensuring the application of patches without causing disruptions to clients’ operations. Moreover, you need to ensure that patches are compatible with each client’s infrastructure. Lastly, it involves confirming updates don’t interfere with other software or cause compatibility issues. Both of these tasks also add to the time and complexity of the process.

To help with patch management, we’ve got a new integration with Microsoft Windows Update Agent. Our Windows Update Agent monitoring notifies you when there are software and security updates waiting for you to apply. 

2) Patch Testing

As an MSP, you must thoroughly test patches before deploying them to avoid issues such as downtime and potential data loss. Most of all, you need to keep track of multiple patch schedules and coordinate with various vendors to ensure seamless implementation. Patch testing is challenging for a few reasons. Firstly, a growing number of patch releases from software vendors creates more work for you as an MSP. Combining more patch releases with more devices and complex network systems adds even further challenges to patch testing.  

3) Inventory Management

Another common challenge you’ll face in patch management is maintaining accurate inventory records and asset control. This problem has become more complex to deal with as companies move to hybrid work models. The inventory management process requires significant resources, effort, and coordination. To make the process smoother, we recommend you find a simple and secure tool that can help you optimize documentation. For example, tools like IT Glue or Hudu are essential to help you automate the inventory process. Using such tools in combination with a network monitoring system will help you streamline operations and save time. Most of all, combining these tools will help you synchronize your data across all systems. 

Learn all about our automated device inventory and classification.

Read below to find out how to address common patch management challenges. Additionally, we’ll also share some of the best practices for managing patches.

What are the Three Most Common Patch Management Best Practices?

We’ve already given you a few ideas for improving your MSP patch management outlook. Three more concepts to think about are automation, prioritization, and incremental updates.

1) Automation

Use automation to understand the lay of the land with less effort. This might include inventorying assets that can compromise IT infrastructure, tracking published Common Vulnerabilities and Exposures (CVEs). Additionally, it may also include notifying stakeholders, and self-auditing to uncover possible vulnerabilities.

2) Prioritization

It’s common to prioritize certain patches above others according to their risk level. A patch management tool will help you group the patches into categories. This can help you deal with the most critical issues first. It many cases, it also improves service continuity for clients. 

3) Incremental Updates

Applying piecewise updates makes it easier to keep the whole system running. Your software ecosystem connects within a complex environment of features, software solutions, and third-party applications. Sometimes, if you simply decide to change dependencies, it can have a ripple effect. Limiting updates helps you make progress, and roll back unsatisfactory modifications, and troubleshoot as you go.

In summary, building solid MSP patch management practices should happen in phases. Read on to understand how patch management tools can help you along the process. 

What is Patch Management Software?

Patch management software is a tool that automatically manages the entire infrastructure of the systems you manage. In other words, it takes control over programs, application updates, or OSes that need patching, ensuring that these products are secure. However, such a tool bundles a diverse set of features into one neat package to help you minimize application disruptions and security risks.

How to Choose Effective MSP Patch Management Tools?

Given growing cloud complexity, on-premise environments and numerous vendor software updates, manual patching is no longer very realistic. As a result, having the right patch management tools can help you deal with patches in the most effective way. 

A comprehensive MSP patch management tool typically includes features like:

  • Controlling when systems should reboot following patches.
  • Customizing vulnerability scanning tools and integrations.
  • Patching IoT systems, remote assets, and personal employee devices from a single tool.
  • Patching third-party applications and non-Original Equipment Manufacturer (OEM) software.
  •  Applying patches uniformly to different Operating Systems (OS) and hardware families.

Want to master patch management? Start by cultivating a complete understanding of your IT ecosystem. Otherwise, it won’t matter how diligent you are about applying patches – because you’ll still have blind spots. 

Then, choose a patch management tool that best fits your needs after evaluating its features. Moreover, consider adopting a tool that includes inventory features. Most of all, find a solution that automates your inventory process and monitors your device assets. You may also want to choose a tool that proactively monitors and controls updates, for example, Windows Update Agent monitoring.

Finally, go beyond the patch management process to improve your business and make your strategies more impactful. Patch management is a vital subfield in the broader practice of network management. Gain enhanced visibility into the systems and assets that power your growth using a network monitoring system. Talk to a Domotz specialist to understand more, or start your free trial.

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