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Pros And Cons Of Patching With WSUS

January 25, 2022

By Peter Barnett

Windows Server Update Service (WSUS) is a tool designed to automate the Windows patching process so that businesses wouldn’t need to go through the struggle of manually updating their servers. While this tool can be useful, there are limitations to keep in mind when choosing whether you want WSUS for your company.

How Does WSUS Work?

Server patching is a lot of work when done manually, as all machines and applications connected to the server need to be updated. With the frequency that patches are released, having to manually patch the servers every time would be a waste of time better spent on other tasks. That’s where WSUS comes in, as it can automate this process. It does that by scanning client computers to see which updates have already been installed and which ones still need to be implemented. Once an admin approves the updates for install, the client computers automatically download the updates next time they contact the WSUS server.

However, there are many tools that have been made to automate the server patching process, as it’s a necessary task for any business. It’s important to understand the benefits and drawbacks of WSUS patch management to know if that’s the right tool for your company, or if you should invest in something more appropriate.

WSUS Benefits

Built for Windows

Microsoft built WSUS, meaning that it should work well with Windows systems without any conflict. For businesses that employ Microsoft-only infrastructure, WSUS would likely be a good fit. Once properly configured, it would be able to patch your system semi-automatically, greatly reducing the amount of time and effort needed to spend on server patching. However, this is only the case when solely using Microsoft systems and applications, as WSUS would conflict with third-party applications.

Cost

WSUS is a free tool available to any Windows server. There are no upfront payments or WSUS subscription costs to worry about, making it suitable even for smaller businesses. However, it’s important to keep in mind the unintended costs of using WSUS. The manual labor spent troubleshooting this often finicky tool, as well as the costs for tools to update non-Windows systems, will add up over time.

WSUS Drawbacks

Difficult to use

Although WSUS is built for Windows systems, setting up the software can be a long and difficult process. Not only does setup take a lot of time, but it also requires a sizeable amount of space for installation, and even more for patch updates. Configuring the system for the automatic alerts and updates you need is a complex and lengthy process. Not only that, but WSUS can sometimes fail to sync with some machines, creating even more problems that could require the help of skilled technicians to troubleshoot.

WSUS patching errors

The difficulties of using WSUS don’t end once the setup is complete. One issue in particular is that WSUS can fail to patch every machine it’s supposed to be connected to. Further, some machines will indicate they have been completely updated while missing important patches. If gone unnoticed, these mistakes can lead to security issues within your company, leaving you vulnerable to cybercriminals. Even without these issues, it’s possible for WSUS to corrupt the management database through normal usage, resulting in crashes that require cleanup and repair work.

Poor third-party application support

While WSUS was built to work well with Microsoft systems and applications, it doesn’t work as well with third-party applications. Using WSUS to patch your third-party software requires complex workarounds, which isn’t ideal for any business that makes use of these applications. Just not updating your applications isn’t an option, as that would leave your company vulnerable to cyber attacks. You’ll either need to put time and energy into these workarounds or find a second tool you can use for these updates.

Limited reporting

Any good patch management system will have extensive reporting capabilities to provide companies with all the important information they need about their servers and systems. WSUS does have some reporting available, but it’s limited in scope. To gather all the necessary reports to ensure vulnerabilities are accounted for, employees will need to spend time putting reports together from multiple sources. Manually putting together these reports takes up unnecessary time and risks human error. 

What’s an effective alternative?

The Action1 remote monitoring and management tools are an ideal alternative to patching for Windows servers as well as third-party software and applications. With Action1 centralized patch management, you can automate patch management from alerts and updates all the way to comprehensive reporting. Action1 is especially cost-effective, as the first 100 endpoints come free of charge, forever! Sign up today to get started.

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