how-to-improve-consistency-with-devops-and-automated-patch-management

Improved Consistency

DevOps & Automated Patch Management

How to Improve Consistency with DevOps & Automated Patch Management

  • 23 March 2020
  • AWS

In this new digital world of ours, disruption is the norm. However, some of these disruptions are more impactful than others. For traditional enterprise organizations, one of the most challenging areas of change is DevOps. In IT departments around the globe, the challenge of moving to DevOps and all that it entails has become a huge task. Now, organizations must break down their old IT structures and departmental silos, then rebuild an entirely new culture - a DevOps culture.

The road is difficult, and the journey is fraught with bumps and challenges, but the rewards are plentiful. From improved consistency to better stability and security for the enterprise operating environment, DevOps and automated patch management certainly have their pros. Let’s take a closer look at how your organization can leverage these practices to improve consistency.

Stability is Always the Priority

Stability certainly has not been ignored by IT in the past. In fact, traditional IT teams have typically held stability as one of their core values, aka “stability at all costs.” Who can blame them, since the stakes are high: when deploying new software or building new architectures, IT departments risk system downtime and, in some businesses, that can mean revenue loss by the minute.

But some IT teams have been working from a “stability first” mindset for so long that their protective measures have come at a cost. That cost comes in the form of security vulnerabilities that put their organization’s data and IT infrastructure at great risk. As we all know, the cyber threat landscape is very much alive with a constant stream of new and ever-more sophisticated threats from cyber attackers. There are other risks, too, such as mounting compliance requirements. Then there is the perennial favorite of all challenges that IT teams face: budget restrictions.

When Stability Comes at the Cost of Security

With the “stability first” mindset, traditional IT teams have taken the approach of reducing software and system churn to avoid the risk of system downtime. As a result, they end up holding onto their old systems for much longer than they should. They simply do not have the resources to devote to upgrading their applications. Manual testing and server migration are resource-heavy projects that budgets just do not allow for in many cases.

So, they hang onto outdated software and systems that put their companies at risk. Take, for example, Windows 2003, whose lifecycle was ended by Microsoft in 2015. It has not been supported for several years. Without support, that operating system is no longer updated with security patches meant to seal up vulnerabilities. Yet, there are still more than 120,000 servers running Windows Server 2003!

That is a huge risk, but the “stability first” mindset is to keep systems up and running and never risk going offline. For companies who depend on a constant stream of online revenue, even a minute of downtime can result in unacceptable cash losses. For example, if TurboTax cannot process tax returns, customers will likely turn to a competitor like TaxAct or H&R Block before they wait around for the system to go back up. That is a big loss of revenue for Intuit, the parent company of TurboTax.

But sacrificing security patches for consistent uptime is not a sacrifice that has to be made. When a DevOps mentality is in place, many of the vulnerabilities can be eliminated with automation.

With DevOps, No Need to Sacrifice Security to Maintain Consistency and Stability

With DevOps, there is a more holistic approach to infrastructure strategy, where security plays a role that is just as important as stability. Security, development, business, operations, and network infrastructure teams collaborate across the entire IT ecosystem. They work as one integrated team on application development, operations, maintenance, and security. Each is involved from the ground up when new applications and architectures are built, so all the system’s needs are met – especially consistency and stability.

IT teams can transition to a DevOps culture by adopting basic DevOps practices – chief among them is automation. Automation can be applied to testing, deployment, and security patching, for example. When automation is used in parallel with Infrastructure as Code (IaC), which is another DevOps practice, neither security nor stability will be sacrificed. Instead, teams will begin to see cost savings as they free up resources by automating the most arduous and repetitive tasks.

How Security Patch Management Works 

To understand the power of DevOps tactics, take the example of Security Patch Management. Security patches roll in like the tide: they are constant, relentless and very difficult to control without some kind of powerful tool. Companies that would like to push out releases of new applications might want to gloss over known security vulnerabilities so they can stay on schedule. But ignoring those patches is risky, as anyone familiar with the Equifax breach can tell you.

A lot goes into these patches, which is why manually implementing them across an entire ecosystem of enterprise products and systems is a lot of work. With constrained budgets and limited resources, IT teams struggle to keep up with the patches. That is where security patch management comes in. With a security patch management policy in place, teams have a basis for addressing their security vulnerabilities and then taking steps to fix them. The policy acts as a guideline for when patch rollouts occur, so the team knows exactly what to do.

Then, with a policy in place, the strategy can be automated – now the DevOps model comes into play. Patch management tools are a key ingredient for basic DevOps practices. There is just one problem, though: many automated tools do not cover open source vulnerabilities. This is a type of security issue that is not published in a neat, centralized package in a single database for security teams to access. It is all over the internet in many forms, which means more tools are needed just to find out what these open source vulnerabilities are.

Finally, there is the matter of continuously testing and monitoring all of those patches. Combine all this arduous work with a fast-paced environment and you can see why traditional IT teams are stretched to the limit!

Final Thoughts

The truth is DevOps and features like automated patch management lead to increased stability – enterprise IT teams just need time to transition to the new “DevOps” way of thinking. And once they are transitioning to the DevOps model, they will discover the other benefits, too, like scalability, speed, and rapid delivery of releases. That means they should soon be well on their way to “optimal disruption” – in other words, being better equipped to serve customers and compete in the market. But it takes time, and teams could use some help.

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