New Microsoft service to help ease patch pains

Up to your ears in patches? A new service from Microsoft is designed to help you manage. SearchWin2000.com talks to one of the service's first customers.

Windows administrators who install patches in a distributed Windows environment may welcome a new service from Microsoft Corp. that could bring structure to what can be a tedious and complicated task.

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  • The company will sell Microsoft Solutions for Management through its own consulting division, as well as through some integrator partners.

    The service helps IT administrators who may be technically astute, but who may not have developed a process where there is a consistent method to apply patches in a distributed environment.

    Customers may use the service to design and draft procedures to ensure that they're doing the best they can do when installing, and later monitoring patches, software updates and new applications.

    Customers get a book, consulting services, and help in designing and drafting processes that go as far as they want it to go, said Roger Wilding, a senior technical engineer at CNF Inc., the Portland, Ore.,-based global transportation and supply chain management company formerly known as Consolidated Freightways. CNF is one of the first customers to try the service.

    With more than 2,000 workstations running Microsoft Systems Management Server (SMS), Wilding said that CNF was able to install 19,000 patches in just a few months. "Sometimes when a patch comes out, it doesn't make it to the right place, and a year later, a virus comes out and nails everyone," Wilding said.

    The procedures that Microsoft uses here are not new. Mainframe managers have similar processes for change management, but now Microsoft is applying that methodology to the distributed systems environment, Wilding said. SMS is capable of distributing the patches and updates, but the service goes beyond the technology itself.

    Wilding said that he is still deciding how his company will use the Microsoft service, and will probably put more of a framework in place next year.

    Cameron Haight, an analyst at Gartner, Stamford, Conn., said that when customers know how to make better use of their products, it's good for Microsoft as well as the customer. "At the end of the day, process is key and knowledge is key," he said.

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