Thursday, October 23, 2008

The Patch Cycle

The patch cycle starts again, this time with a bit of urgency.  A 'patch now' recommendation has hit the streets for what seems to be an interesting Windows RPC bug.

What does 'patch now' mean this time? Hopefully it means a planned, measured and tested patch deployment, but at an accelerated schedule.

It's a Microsoft patch, and that's a good thing.  The routine of monthly Microsoft security patches has been honed to a fine art in most places, making Windows OS patches by far the simplest and most trouble free of the platforms that we manage. This one appears to be no exception, at least so far.

Just for grins I drew up a picture of what a typical Microsoft Windows patch cycle looks like. The patch kits show up once a month. Most months have at least one 'important' patch, so most monthly patches get applied. Life is easier if you can fit the patch cycle into a one month window, just because the probability of missing a patch or patching out of order is greatly reduced, even if the WSUS toolkit simplifies the process to the point where it's pretty foolproof.

The Microsoft Windows patch cycle typically looks something like this:


It's more or less a month long cycle that sometimes drags out to more than a month, and occasionally even drags on far enough that we roll two months into one. We deviate from the linear plan somewhat, because we have servers that manage the infrastructure that we patch sooner, and we have less critical applications that we patch early, leaving the most critical applications for last. There are also obnoxious, clueless application vendors that don't support patched servers, so some of those get held back also.

Once a year or so, a critical vulnerability shows up. In an extreme case, the patch cycle follows pretty much the same path, but with an accelerated time line, something like this:


That's a fast time line, but in Windows-land the process is practiced often enough that even an accelerated time line is fairly low risk. In this strange world practice makes perfect, and nobody has more practice at patching that Windows sysadmins.

Compare this to another platform, one without the well honed, routine, trouble free patching system that Microsoft has developed.

There are a whole bunch of those to choose from, so let's randomly pick Oracle, just for the heck of it. Here's what a typical Oracle patch time line looks like:


Can you see the difference?

Maybe that's why so many DBA's don't patch Oracle.

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