Review: PatchLink Update 4.0

PatchLink Update 4.0 earned an eWEEK Labs Analyst's Choice award because it covers a wide range of systems and does so in a manner that will likely help most IT managers stay on top of the myriad patches released every day.

PatchLink Update 4.0 earned an eWEEK Labs Analysts Choice award because it covers a wide range of systems and does so in a manner that will likely help most IT managers stay on top of the myriad patches released every day. (Check out eWEEK Labs walk-through of PatchLink Update 4.0.)

While we were impressed with PatchLink Updates overall performance, however, there is room for improvement in the product.

PatchLink Update 4.0

PatchLink Update 4.0 from PatchLink stands out for its impressive breadth of coverage and savvy operation. The required agents can be difficult to install, but they provide much of the products power and will likely pay off in the long run.
















  • PRO: Supports Windows, Unix, Linux and NetWare; provides broad range of support services; helps prioritize patches.
  • CON: Agent installs are tricky.

The PatchLink Update server costs $1,249; annual fees are $15 per node for 100 nodes, $13.50 per node for 1,000 nodes and $12 per node for 2,500 nodes.

For example, in tests we had trouble installing the PatchLink Update agents on some of our Red Hat Inc. Red Hat Linux 8.0 systems. In most cases, we needed to remediate our systems by updating the Sun Microsystems Inc. Java components. PatchLinks support services were very good here, though; it was easy to find the information needed to install the Java components—and thus the PatchLink agents—correctly.

More impressive is PatchLinks user support forum. Many of our installation and usage questions were answered just by perusing the message logs in the forum. We think PatchLink technical support raises the bar in this space because the issues and answers on the support forums were so timely and helpful.

It also takes a certain amount of courage to make a technical support forum public. We encourage other companies—in the patch management arena and in all other areas of enterprise computing—to make user support forums public.

Having said that, much of PatchLink Updates power—as well as its problems—comes from its use of agents. On the plus side, the PatchLink agents made it possible for us to uniformly manage patches for our Microsoft Windows 2000 Server and Windows Server 2003 systems, as well as for our Novell Inc. NetWare and Red Hat Linux systems. Our tests show that the inventory information provided by the PatchLink agents was consistently accurate, although it wasnt that much more comprehensive than data collected by the other products in our tests.

The agents also made PatchLink Updates patch deployment process the most reliable of the products we reviewed. After spending days deploying patches and checking results, we found that patches were consistently deployed and correctly applied by PatchLink Update. Much of the credit goes to the agent technology, which obviates most of the communication limitations we experienced with the other products.

However, there are a host of problems associated with the use of agents, and we suffered through just about every one while using PatchLink Update. IT managers should factor in at least 10 to 20 percent more time for implementation of PatchLink Update than for the other products we tested. This will be especially true in heterogeneous operating system environments. Going back to PatchLink Updates user support forum, we found many of the discussions were focused on installing and maintaining the agents on various flavors of Unix and Linux.

We also advise IT managers to factor in additional time to maintain PatchLink Update agents. For one thing, the agents will likely need to be updated from time to time. Also, if systems are moved around in the organization, it may be necessary to reinstall the agent, a strike against PatchLink.

The PatchLink Update server costs $1,249 (a one-time fee). Annual subscription fees are $15 per node for 100 nodes, $13.50 per node for 1,000 nodes and $12 per node for 2,500 nodes. PatchLink Update 4.0 was released in October; Version 5.0 is due this month.

IT managers will likely benefit from the capable research and professional services available from PatchLink. PatchLink reviews the release notes of patches it processes from Microsoft and other sources. When appropriate, PatchLink adds other notes based on its testing. Companies can also buy a PatchLink service that tests hot fixes and patches against images supplied by the customer.

This services price varies considerably, based primarily on the size of the license. PatchLink tests patches and supplies a written analysis to the customer. PatchLink company officials said that custom reports about critical patches are usually written up within 24 hours, while less urgent patches are documented 48 hours to a week after the patch is released. In any case, patches are compiled and made available to PatchLink Update customers as soon as PatchLink verifies the contents.

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