What Is Windows Patch Management & Why Is It Important?

Written by Kelsey Kinzer on October 20, 2021

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Q: How many systems across your organization’s architecture run Windows? A: A LOT.

What’s the state of each of these devices? Are they fully patched? Does each have the right updates for its use case? What about remote devices? Did you also include all your virtual machines?

Modern Windows patch management solutions can take care of patch management across all these Windows devices across your entire IT infrastructure, whether they’re on-prem, remote, or virtualized. 

What is Windows Patch Management?

Windows patch management is a coordinated software update service that applies patches to all the Windows machines across your organizational architecture. Whether it’s Windows 10, Windows 8.1 (EOL: January 10, 2023), or Windows Server, if Microsoft is still supplying security updates to a product, it needs to be patched to ensure you’re protected against known vulnerabilities. And, as a side note, if Microsoft isn’t providing updates, then those systems should not be in your environment.

Windows patches have various classifications, including: 

  • Critical Updates
  • Security Updates
  • Definition Updates
  • Updates
  • Update Rollups
  • Service Packs
  • Feature Packs
  • Drivers
  • Tools

Whether a machine receives all patches or just critical updates, security updates, and service packs is up to security administrators and your internal risk management processes.

Who Needs Microsoft Patch Management Software?

Any organization that looks after more than a couple of Windows machines needs to seriously consider patch management software. Manually taking care of patches (i.e. one machine at a time) is a time-consuming (and time-wasting!) experience. Bringing the entire process into a managed space ensures a single-pane-of-glass for operating system patch overview and maintenance across all Windows machines. 

And, with the right controls in place, whenever a machine is added to the system, its type of use changes, or it is retired, the right solution makes for a very hands-off experience for system administrators. The benefits? Less errors, more up-to-date, and more secure Windows devices.

The Challenges in Windows Patch Management

Finding the right time to update systems without interrupting users

How long will patches take to roll out? When will people (or processes) be using the Windows machines and shouldn’t be interrupted? Scheduling updates is important, especially as more workforces go remote and machines and people may be operating in different time zones under different work days. 

The right degree of configurability

Patch management should be configurable not only by Windows type but by network, region, user, group, preferences, and more.

Having an easy to approach process

Is your patch management process a pile of scripts or an Ansible playbook? While these can certainly get the job done, when people add to or change these types of configuration management files it is extremely easy to make errors or miss variables.

Managing all Windows deployments in one place

Being able to patch all different Windows flavors (e.g. Windows 10, Windows 11, Windows Server) in one place makes patch management easier from an administrative perspective.

Being able to find the right overview of organizational insights

What other information do you need on each Windows instance? The machine manufacturer, model, and year? The user/s on the system and their groups? A machine’s IP, location, department? All this information may give administrators better insights.

Managing other operating systems

Most organizations won’t be an exclusively Windows-only house; many employees prefer to work with Macs, and your backend systems are likely running on Linux servers. If you have other operating systems within your organizational umbrella, they will also need their own patch management processes. 

If you are discerning in your patch management software selection, you’ll be able to find a comprehensive tool that provides coverage across all the different vendors from one management window.

Windows-Produced Patch Management Products

Microsoft has a number of their own branded Microsoft patching tools that you can use to manage enterprise patch rollouts for their suite of Windows operating systems. These include:

Windows Update

This is the Microsoft automated patch management standalone service that allows you to manage patching on each machine. As it functions from when you first start using your computer, this is designed to be usable for home users that may require additional prompting for restarts or are not best suited for making detailed decisions on their update processes.

Windows Update for Business

The Windows Update for Business service allows administrators to manage the patching process across an organization’s fleet of Windows 10 machines. It is generally used in combination with Microsoft Intune for mobile devices and/or Group Policy management tools.

Windows Server Update Services

Windows Server Update Services (WSUS) is a tool that can be used to manage Windows Updates across computers on your network in a client/server type relationship. The server can manage patches across users, groups, and even other daisy-chained servers. While suitable for some organizations, there are fundamental limitations to WSUS which may not always suit modern organizations. Note that this solution requires a server in-house and must be managed by the IT team.

Microsoft Endpoint Configuration Manager

This new iteration of one of the most famous Windows patch management tools, Microsoft System Center Configuration Manager, or SCCM as most may know it, is called Microsoft Endpoint Configuration Manager (MECM). It is a new device management solution, backed by Intune and optimized for the Microsoft stack. For IT environments that are 100% Windows, this may be a solution path.

Key Considerations Before Deploying A Microsoft Windows Patch Management Solution

Does it also manage patching for other operating systems?

Despite the existence of patch management solutions that can handle non-Windows devices, it is far better to have all patching processes centralized in one location than having to spend time within, double-up efforts, and troubleshoot multiple products.

This allows you to gain complete 360 degree insights across your cross-OS organizational architecture, which leads to full-picture analysis of patching status and areas of continued exposure, improved reporting for internal and compliance purposes, and greater ease of use.

Is the solution well maintained?

Does the Microsoft Windows patch management software solution get patched often itself?! It’s important that the solution you’re considering is maintained regularly and well-supported with any necessary updates. Look for a vendor that has an active history with the product, showing that not only is support for new operating systems added promptly, but that there are periodic updates where required.

Who is the patch management vendor?

Vendor trust is also a key consideration when assessing solutions for your organization. You need to be able to trust that a patch is the right one, applied at the right time, to the right machines, and without any tampering along the way. Look for vendors that have demonstrated history with known partners (e.g. JumpCloud and Google), documented case studies with customers (e.g. JumpCloud and Little Island), and are transparent in their operations (check out our Series F round details).

Start with a documented, repeatable patch management process and complete cloud asset directory

JumpCloud’s comprehensive cloud directory platform can track all your Windows – and other OS – deployments across the organization. With a documented and repeatable patch management process, plus JumpCloud System Insights and patch management policies, you have a winning combination. 

Try our full platform for free for up to 10 users and 10 devices, and 24×7 support for the first 10 days with JumpCloud Free. It’s an easier way to help you achieve patch management across a more diverse device and OS architecture than ever before.

Kelsey Kinzer

Kelsey is a passionate storyteller and Content Writer at JumpCloud. She is particularly inspired by the people who drive innovation in B2B tech. When away from her screen, you can find her climbing mountains and (unsuccessfully) trying to quit cold brew coffee.

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