Microsoft offers patch management, asks for your opinions

In talking about patch management (and we seem to be doing a lot of that lately), I'd be remiss if I didn't mention Microsoft's own Software Update Service (SUS), part of the System Management Server (SMS) package.

SUS is specifically designed to quickly (and hopefully, effectively) apply and implement critical updates to Windows systems. It provides capabilities for detecting when computers are missing critical updates, can facilitate the quick implementation of these critical updates, and provides a complete status report to help ensure that all deliveries were successful.

SUS is downloadable from the Microsoft Web site. There's a rather detailed document on how it works () available, but here's a synopsis:

1) Download SUS, install it to System Management Server and configure it.
2) SMS distributed agents to all systems it's aware of.
3) The agents collect data about the systems they're installed on and send it back to SMS.
4) The data is analyzed and a suggested package of updates, patches, re-installed files, etc., is created.
5) You, the network manager, authorize the individual components.
6) SUS collects the files, distributes them to the agents and supervises the installations.
7) You get a status report when the cycle finishes.
8) Periodically (you set the interval) steps 3 to 7 are repeated.

Add the time involved for all these steps and you'll see it could be hours - even days. But calculate the amount of time you have to actually be doing something, and it's more like minutes. Everything else is automated. Of course, it is a Microsoft product. So how will you handle patches to the patch manager?

In a fit of marketing genius, Microsoft has posted a survey on the SMS Web site (http://www.microsoft.com/SMServer/community/SUSFP_survey.asp). In its own words, "Microsoft is conducting this survey to better understand how customers use the Software Update Services Feature Pack." You've always wanted to help design future versions of software, here's you're chance. Microsoft wants to know which things you liked, which you didn't like, which should be "improved," which should be "enhanced" and which should be changed. Try the product, put it to the test then fill out the survey and be honest with your answers. The more useful responses Microsoft gets, the more inclined it will be to ask your opinion in the future.

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