Review: SolarWinds Patch Manager

Over the past five weeks we've been taking a look at SolarWinds' enterprise-grade software, and in the last of our articles today trying out their software, we're looking at their Patch Manager (formerly EminentWare). The idea of the Patch Manager is that it'll allow you to deploy patches both from Microsoft and third-parties to all the workstations on your network with ease, so that's what we're looking at today.

→ Learn more about SolarWinds' Patch Manager

Patch Manager works with two of the main patch delivery systems: Windows Server Update Services (WSUS) and System Center Configuration Manager (SCCM). Depending on what environment you have deployed across your network, Patch Manager will integrate right in to the system and provide you with a robust method of deploying patches.

One of the main benefits of using Patch Manager is that it will give you an overview of what patches are available for your network, what ones have been deployed and where to, and of course which systems haven't received the updates yet. The easy-to-use interface helps a lot at achieving this goal, and also displays information such as what the patches are called and their approval status.

As with all the SolarWinds products we have tried, there is also a solid amount of reporting capabilities. The built-in ones are quite useful and can show you things like network client properties that can help you determine how to apply patches, but if you need more in-depth reports you can simply create your own set of parameters and have the final report emailed to you.

Along with Windows Update patches from Microsoft, SolarWinds' Patch Manager also supports numerous third-party applications including browsers like Google Chrome and Mozilla Firefox, many Adobe products including Flash and Reader, Java, Skype and more. When updates/patches for these applications are available, you will receive either an email update or "Outlook-style" pop-up that shows what is available. From there, you can get your IT department to start the approval process before deployment.

Patch Manager also provides for scripting before and after patches are deployed through "PackageBoot". This is incredibly handy as, for example, you could stop processes that may interfere with the software roll-out beforehand and then start them back up afterwards; all without complicated and time-consuming manual scripting from scratch. 

Scheduling is also possible with Patch Manager: you can set detailed parameters, dates and times for patches to be deployed, and when using in conjunction with PackageBoot you can ensure that a smooth roll-out is achieved. There are a number of administrator controls as well that allow you to control who can approve patches, meaning you can ensure only the right departments in your IT team approve the right patches.

Again, we're really only touching the surface of what is capable in this robust SolarWinds product, so if you need more information feel free to check here. Also, a free 30-day trial is available so you can test out all the features available before making a purchase.

This article has been sponsored by SolarWinds

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I think it's tacky to tag this as a review, then point out at the end that's a *sponsored* article. Major fail.

It's because it was written by us, not SolarWinds. It was researched by our own staff but sponsored all the same. It isn't a "guest post".

Thanks for removing my non-offensive comment. Wouldn't at all be biased mods would it?

"Over the past five weeks we've been"
"This article has been sponsored by SolarWinds"
"This article was written by a Contributor."
Whom is this 'we'? The company? Some people that don't exist?

The screenshots show windows XP and a 'last connect time' of 2009, so is this abandonware? Does it receive no updates? Was this even a real review, because the screenshots would make it seem that this product hasn't been reviewed/tested by anyone.

It's definitely not abandonware. I've been using this product for 2 years (before SolarWinds bought it) and it's only gotten better and more powerful. I've found it to be invaluable in patching our network and maintaining our workstations, laptops and servers.

I have been a member of Neowin for years and I am no way affiliated with this company. With that being said I have been using this product, which was called Eminentware up until SW purchased them recently, for the past 3 years. This product has reduced our vulnerability counts tremendously by extending WSUS functionality by patching 3rd party.

I cannot say enough about how much this product has helped us in this regard. You will receive notifications when new 3rd party updates are available, like in the screenshot, but the only annoying thing is that you usually have to go to the vendors website and download the package manually. This is no fault of EW/SW because of how the vendors require you to agree to their license agreements before downloading. Then you just import the file into SWPM and then publish it to the WSUS server. It's pretty simple. No need for custom packaging.

The product also has a very nice inventory component. Sure SCCM does a great job and even more but this product achieves the inventory feature at a fraction and I mean a fraction of the cost. The only downside for us is that this product doesn't have an agent so if a machine is offline when a scheduled inventory is run we will obviously not get any data. This leads to inconsistent data compared to a product that has an agent that checks in whenever the machine comes online.

Couple things to note, the support team is very small for this product. Don't waste your time trying to call them on the phone because you will wait forever waiting for someone to pick up. I have to tell you that this is very annoying. They encourage you to use their email support, but I'm not a fan of this method. It takes too much time to type up an email and they never answer all the questions that you ask. That is the most frustrating part. You ask 5 questions and they answer 2 of them within about 24 hours. I'm like what about the other 3? Also, documentation is almost non existent for this application so prepare to spend time learning this on your own.

Overall, if you're looking to save some money then WSUS in combination with SWPM is a great way to inventory and patch your machines without spending a ton of money. Just be prepared to spend some time learning the product on your own.

I'm a Product Manager at Solarwinds and I have been associated with the Patch Manager product since 2009 when I joined EminentWare. We appreciate the kind notes here about the product and the value it brings to the patch administration space. I would like to respond to a couple of the comments here.

Your observation that the screenshots are dated from 2009 and the impact that has on the review are well stated. I, too, agree that screenshots in the review should have been from a current installation of the product and show current refresh dates. As a Product Manager, I am already initiating actions to ensure that this faux paus does not happen again.

As to the question of 'abandonware', I can tell you that the product is in active development. Since it's original release in 2008, seven updates have been released, most of them containing significant feature enhancements. You can read more about what we're working on for the next release in this post on our Thwack website:

I understand your frustration about the support model that existed at EminentWare. EminentWare did have a very small support team, but closed almost every issue on the same day it was opened. Because of that, it was simply much more effective to do initial contacts via email, but a significant number of those calls were resolved via interactive GoToMeeting sessions with the customer.

Today, with Solarwinds, the preferred model is to use the Customer Portal to open a ticket. Again, the primary consideration is that support reps are on calls almost every moment of the day, and a telephone call center is not really an efficient model. Think about all the time you spend on hold waiting on a tech to become available. We'd prefer you were doing something more productive with that time than sitting on hold waiting on an available support rep.

I will take exception to the statement about documentation, however. Patch Manager has several rich documents available to assist with product installation, configuration, and use. They include:
Quick Start Guide
Deployment GUide
Administration Guide
Local Publishing Administration Guide
and just added to the library, not available for this review, is a
Step-By-Step Evaluation Guide.
In addition there is an extensive library of video content on the EminentWare website that discusses specific topics of interest.

I'm interested in hearing direct feedback from anybody concerning Patch Manager -- good or bad. My committment is to continue to improve the product features and ease of use, and any feedback from those who use or consider using the product will be very helpful.

Lawrence Garvin
SolarWinds Product Manager

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