Future of WSUS includes integration into other products

Microsoft's popular and free patching tool may morph into something a little different down the road.

In the not-too-distant future, Windows managers may find Microsoft's free patching technology integrated into other products instead of existing just as a standalone tool.

Microsoft is shifting more effort to integrating improved versions of Windows Server Update Services, or WSUS, into more of its products rather then only on developing new standalone versions, according to the company.

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WSUS 3.0, released in May, offered IT managers a fresh user interface, improved reporting capabilities and shorter download times. Improvements over WSUS 2.0 included a Microsoft Management Console user interface over a Web-based interface, upgrading to 3.0 without removing 2.0, and more reporting options that included graphical style reports.

WSUS is a barebones software update service for Microsoft Windows operating systems as well as some of its important platforms such as Exchange Server and Microsoft Office. It allows IT administrators to manage the delivery of patches and updates to desktops throughout a company from an internal server.

WSUS also allows IT managers to download the patches to a central server, which conserves bandwidth, disk space and time because each computer does not have to hook up to an external server to get updated.

Plans to integrate WSUS patching technology with other products

"There is no set schedule for a 4.0 version," said Craig Marl, WSUS senior program manager. "And another version won't mean the end of the line for [WSUS]. We want to integrate this technology with other products."

It is already included with Windows servers, but broader integration would be made easier and faster if it were part of more products, added Kevin Sullivan, WSUS lead program manager.

Sullivan and Marl declined to lay out specifics about the future of the technology or an approximate timeline for the changes. Neither would disclose how it might integrate or with what.

Although there is no information about which products would have WSUS, analysts pointed out that the company's management and security products would be natural choices. "On the security side they may be trying to take a broader approach with WSUS," said Daniel Blum, a senior security analyst with the Burton Group, based in Midvale, Utah.

Forefront Client, a new Microsoft security product, would make a good choice for WSUS integration, he said. If Forefront found a problem with security configurations or policies, WSUS could get the proper configurations and make them available, he said.

Repackaging WSUS technology with its Microsoft Operations Manager, or MOM, which has evolved into its System Center Operations Manager 2007, would also be a natural move, Blum said, as Microsoft adds features to its products to be more competitive.

WSUS should remain a free tool, says Forrester analyst

While integrating it into other products would broaden its appeal, WSUS should also remain available as a free tool, said Christopher Voce, an analyst with Forrester Research Inc., based in Cambridge, Mass.

Many IT administrators in small and medium businesses rely on free tools to do their jobs on limited budgets, he said. "It's important that they continue to offer it as a standalone product, but I could see them sharing any enhancements they make to WSUS with some of their other products, such as its System Center line, that help IT administrators manage and configure their systems," Voce said.

Some of the improvements in WSUS 3.0 were a direct result of customer requests, Marl said. This latest version also has Microsoft's Update Catalog -- which is a searchable database of all Microsoft security updates, drivers, and service packs -- so IT managers can go back and find a particular update.

One feature that IT shops constantly request is the ability for WSUS to handle third-party patches instead of only Microsoft patches, as it does now. "That's our long-term goal," Marl said.

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