Managing systems updates.

How to manage server and windows updatesThe question often arises as to how one should manage operating system updates for devices such as servers, PCs, laptops, cellphone and PDAs.

Automatic updates are usually enabled by default on operating systems such as SBS 2011, Server 2008, Windows 7, Vista, XP etc. and typically, IT personnel leave these settings unchanged or have an active company policy to ensure updates are enabled and updated regularly. Windows systems also encourage users to download and update systems frequently (often daily).

Arguments given in favour of having automatic updates enabled are to ensure that the system always has the latest security and bug fixes, which in principle seems a good enough reason.

However there are also downsides to having automatic updates enabled including:

1. Many of the updates given are irrelevant/unnecessary for your operating system as they are meant for software applications that are not installed or seldom used on all systems. So you could be installing software you don’t need;

2. Continuously downloading of updates uses a lot a bandwidth and in South Africa where this is expensive, it results in companies using and sometimes paying a lot more for bandwidth than is actually needed. For example a a company that has multiple PCs/laptops could end up downloading a lot of updates (unless managed by a server).

3. And finally there is always the risk that your stable operating system will become unstable after installing the latest updates. This happens fairly often basically making things worse than before the updates. For example it sometimes explains why systems that were working perfectly yesterday are suddenly unstable and problematic today.

So what should you do? Here is our approach:

1. When installing new equipment, i.e. PCs and Servers we ensure all the latest service packs and updates are downloaded before deployment. After installation tests are run to ensure  the system is stable. After which future updates are disabled. We prefer to have an operating system that is  slightly out of date but stable going forward, than having a system that is changing continuously/unpredictably (often daily) and which may result in instability and/or future problems.

2. If an urgent security update is released by a vendor to patch a critical system vulnerability (and assuming we consider this an urgent security issue that needs to be addressed), we create a system restore point or back up the system before we do the update. That way if anything is “damaged” by the update we can do a  system restore and return the operating system to the pre-update state.

3. If a system or application becomes unstable/problematic, we may create a system restore point and do the appropriate updates for the application or operating system in order to help fix the problem.

4. When servicing a system or after a certain amount of time from deployment, we may decide to do a major system update, i.e. upload all the latest updates. But again it is important to create a system restore point before this is initiated especially on critical machines such as servers. Also rather than installing every update blindly we check what updates are available and are selective as to which is downloaded and installed.

 

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