You may not have heard about this, but Microsoft has a not-very-widely publicized software tool for distributing Microsoft-authored patches, upgrades and Service Packs for organizations using Windows 2000 and Server 2003. The tool is called Software Update Services (SUS) and has been recently revised. (The current edition of the program is "Software Update Services, Service Pack 1.") Administrators who are looking for a way to manage upgrades centrally should consider it since it's a free download and contains a good deal of the functionality of commercial programs with roughly the same feature set.
SUS consists of two components: a server-side component that obtains the latest critical updates from Microsoft's Windows Update, and a client-side component that receives them from the server. Because the administrator controls the distribution of upgrades, rather than the end user, the administrator can selectively determine if specific patches need to be installed or omitted. For instance, admins can filter out the .NET Infrastructure (a common Windows Update download) from systems that did not need the it at the server level.
Software Update Services works with Windows 2000, Windows 2003 and Windows XP only as clients. It does not work with earlier versions of Windows, since it operates through the Automatic Updates feature (previously referred to as Critical Update Notification). If your clients are running Windows 2000 Service Pack 3 or later, or Windows XP Service Pack 1, then Automatic Updates are already installed.
SUS and Microsoft's Systems Management Server (SMS) are not the same thing. SMS is used for a broader range of system-management tools, including updates of third-party software packages. An organization that uses SMS should stay with SMS, but anyone looking for a new way to deploy fixes efficiently in an organization that has no such solution yet should consider SUS.
SUS and its components can be downloaded here.
Serdar Yegulalp is the editor of the Windows 2000 Power Users Newsletter. Check out his Windows 2000 blog for his latest advice and musings on the world of Windows network administrators – please share your thoughts as well!