Tool looks to sew up a solution to patching headaches

What do network administrators and tailors have in common? They are both in the market to fix holes in fabrics. And with the multitude of security vulnerabilities exposed and exploited daily, network patching has become a critical, if mundane task.

To ease some of the pain associated with patching, Portsmouth, N.H.-based Ecora Corp. has released a new product that takes patch management into its own hands in an area where the words “time is money” make up more than just a catchy phrase.

According to the company, its PatchMeister product automatically discovers Windows-based domains, desktops and servers and performs analysis to determine which patches are needed. PatchMeister compares these reports to the latest patches available form the Microsoft Security Database – MS Secure – and gives administrators a view of what is happening within their environments.

“It figures out what patches are installed and analyzes it against available patches and builds a report for every workstation and every server of what patches are missing,” said Alex Bakman, Ecora’s CEO. “Essentially what has been happening is that with increased focus on security, companies are paying a lot more attention to make sure all the latest and greatest patches are applied on all servers and workstations. It has become quite a big issue in IT shops. They are struggling for a way to make sure that all the latest patches are always loaded.”

Bakman added that the frequency of patches has also accelerated dramatically and it appears as though Microsoft is the guiltiest party.

“[Microsoft] seems to be having the most security issues, but at the same time, they are doing a good job of addressing those issues,” he explained. “But they are literally issuing a patch or more a day for various products. If you are a network administrator, just knowing what patches are out there and, even more dramatically, figuring out what patches are installed internally on what systems, is very hard to do.”

But don’t expect PatchMeister to automatically deploy the necessary patches. Bakman explained that the version available now as a free download is purely an analysis tool that helps administrators with their Windows environments. He said, however, that the next version – PatchMeister Pro, expected to be released in November – will have automatic deployment capabilities built in.

“Our customers are saving two to three hours a day,” Bakman assured. “It is designed for all sizes. Even for smaller companies it is a very time-consuming task to run around and look at every machine to figure out what patches are installed. With this, you literally click a button and it automatically discovers these machines and does the analysis and brings the report to you.

Bakman added that his company’s offering also enables people to very quickly get the patches with a link that is connected to Microsoft’s page on the Web site with the appropriate patch. “Instead of searching 700 pages, we take them directly to the page where they can download the patch.”

For some Microsoft users, patching does not bring on the headaches Ecora has described. According to Joshua Biggley, a network administrator with Kautex Textron in Windsor, Ont., with Windows 2000, patching is not a daunting task. The company uses Windows 2000 with Microsoft Active Directory and Biggley explained that new releases are applied either via a new install of the software or can be applied via transformations through Active Directory.

“Active Directory has pretty much made [patching] a null or a moot point for us,” he explained, adding that prior to Active Directory the company used a product that allowed it to push out images of applications, “so we really tried to get away from having to do any sort of patching manually. There were certain instances where it is unavoidable, but it actually turned out to be a very small portion of the work that we were required to do.”

But for those without the assistance of Active Directory, PatchMeister is available now as a free download at Pricing for the November release of PatchMeister Pro has not yet been released.