UpdateEXPERT

By ServerWatch Staff (Send Email)
Posted Dec 4, 2001


by Ryan Smith

St. Bernard Software's UpdateEXPERT 5.1 is an application that helps you ensure your systems are kept up to date by remotely managing service packs and hotfixes. In this product review, I will cover some of the features of UpdateEXPERT and offer my viewpoint on this product.

St. Bernard Software's UpdateEXPERT 5.1 is an application that helps ensure your systems are kept up to date by remotely managing service packs and hotfixes. In this product review, Ryan Smith covers some of the features of UpdateEXPERT and offers his viewpoints on the product.

(From the UpdateEXPERT Help file)

"UpdateEXPERT is a software solution for Windows NT4/2000/XP and many mission critical applications. Network administrators can query their networked servers & workstations and identify what software updates are needed. UpdateEXPERT remotely installs, validates and defines policies about these updates empowering administrators to control the software updating process.

"UpdateEXPERT provides the most comprehensive software updates, research, query, distribution and validation solutions, giving administrators the decision-making and policy management solution that they need for managing the process of updating service packs, hotfixes and other self-installing software patches."

Features

(According to the UpdateEXPERT Help file)

Read articles about the updates (research)
This is a great feature. Using the three-pane window of UpdateEXPERT, when you select an update (patch, hotfix, etc..) in the right-hand Machine/Update pane, the bottom Browser Pane displays information on that particular update. This bottom pane is essentially a browser inside of UpdateEXPERT that loads the corresponding web site information directly into UpdateEXPERT. Doing this allows you to get all of the relevant information on that particular update directly from Microsoft's web site using their knowledge base.

Query any systems (inventory)
This is another very good feature and is also one that's very easy to use. In the three-pane window of UpdateEXPERT, you simply right-click on the machine(s) or domains in the left-hand Network pane and select one of the Query choices. UpdateEXPERT then performs the full system query for you. It's very painless and very easy. The only problem with the system queries is when you run a query on hundreds of machines at once. It would be nice if you could hide the Query window. As it is now, you can't do anything else in UpdateEXPERT until the query is done, which can be rather time consuming depending on the number of machines.

When the system query is completed, the results are displayed in the right-hand Machine/Update pane.  The results are sorted by various categories including All, OS, IE, Exchange, SQL Server, etc. You can either select the All category or select the specific category you want to see information on. When you chose a category, the information presented can be a little overwhelming until you get familiar with UpdateEXPERT. 

It presents all of the available patches for that particular service pack.  For example, if you are in the OS category of an NT 4.0 Server and you have Service Pack 6a installed, you won't be shown hotfixes that are pre-SP6A -- UpdateEXPERT is 'intelligent' enough to know the inclusion of particular hotfixes in certain Service Packs, and it doesn't display those hotfixes.  However, the difficult thing to realize is that you simply can't go by date of the Service Pack release. 

For example, Service Pack 6A for NT 4.0 was released on 11/23/1999,  but you can't assume that SP6A includes EVERY SINGLE hotfix released before 11/23/99.  Even hotfixes that were available for over a year before SP6A was released never got included into 6A for some reason.  As a result, these hotfixes still show up in the Machine/Update pane. It's confusing at first, but as you research the individual hotfixes, you come to realize that it's more of a Microsoft problem with including hotfixes in Service Packs than it is a problem with UpdateEXPERT.

Install remotely any combination of updates (deployment) for the following software solutions: Windows NT4/2000/XP, IIS, SQL Server, Exchange Server, Internet Explorer, Media Player, Windows Media Services, Net Meeting, Office 2000, Office XP, Outlook 2000, Outlook 2002
This is the key feature of UpdateEXPERT.   Obviously, without the capability to remotely deploy an update, or better yet a combination of updates, UpdateEXPERT wouldn't be much of a product outside of performing queries.  Deploying an update remotely to a NT/2000/XP Workstation or Server is phenomenally simple. Almost too simple, in fact.

When you select a single machine in the left-hand Network pane, the updates available for that machine are displayed in the right-hand Machine/Update pane.  To install one of these available updates, simply right-click on the particular update (patch, hotfix, etc..) and select either Install or Install to Checked.  Both Install and Install to Checked installs the update; however, Install to Checked allows you to simultaneously install the update to as many machines as you have checked. 

Selecting either choice brings you to the Install Updates dialog box that allows you to set a few settings with regards to that specific update for that machine or set of machines.  You can chose to either install the update now or set a scheduled time to install the update.  You can also run the update in Quiet Mode, which installs the updates on the remote machine with no indication that the installation is taking place.

However, this varies depending on the update. I've run numerous updates in Quiet Mode, but the update itself apparently would not run in Quiet Mode, so the end user saw the installation process.  As always, this is best performed on a test machine first, to see if Quiet Mode truly is quiet.

You can also force apps to close on reboot and you can force a reboot of the machine after the update is installed.  Be careful with both of these options, you don't want to go around deploying updates to servers in the middle of a busy day and close all the apps and reboot the server if users are actively working on it!

When the installation is set to run (including scheduled), a clock icon will be displayed on the line of the update on the top right-hand Machine/Update pane window. The clock icon will change to a green button when the installation has finished successfully and the update is installed on the machine.

Define policies (Required Updates)
Required Updates allows you to specify that a particular set of updates are required. This is a somewhat useful feature, but has some big limitations that I've run into. An update can be made required by one of two methods, either using the Manage Updates toolbar button or right-clicking on an update and choosing Mark as Required. Once an update has been listed as Required, you can run the Conformance Report.  The Conformance Report will show a listing of all machines that are managed by UpdateEXPERT as well as the status of their updates. If the machine does not have updates applied which are required, it will be displayed in the Does Not Conform section> If the machine does have all the required updates installed, it will be displayed in the Conforms section.

In addition, once you have specified a particular set of updates as required, you can use the Install Required Updates toolbar button and automatically install all of the required updates to one or more machines. 

The limitations that I've seen with Required Updates are that you can only have one set of required updates.  It would be nice to be able to have different 'sets' of required updates which you can name, so as to specify different levels of updating if you need to.  Additionally, I've noticed certain inconsistencies with various required updates and software versions. For example, if you mark a particular hotfix for IE 5.5 as required and one machine has IE 6.0, which does NOT have the hotfix available, the machine will show as Does Not Confirm since it "needs" the required update. 

Verify installations (Validation)
Validation is how you can verify that the installation of an update has proceeded as required. Some updates include information pertaining to what the update does with regards to updating files, replacing files, etc. By using this information, UpdateEXPERT is able to validate the installation of the update by confirming that this information is accurate on the machine.

  In my experience with UpdateEXPERT, I haven't found very many updates that are capable of being validated, unfortunately.  Like we've seen before, I think it's more of a Microsoft problem with their updates as opposed to an actual problem with UpdateEXPERT.  When you validate the updates, the green button of the update will change to a green V if it has validated successfully. If you have a green button with a black dot, it means that the update is installed but the validation information is not available and a red circle with a line through it means that the update failed validation.  

System Requirements and Compatibility
(From UpdateEXPERT Web Site)

  • Web access is required for access to the latest database of updates.
  • Intel Pentium class CPU
  • 32 MB RAM
  • Windows NT 4.0 with Service Pack 4+, Windows 2000 or XP
  • 7 MB disk space for installation of the console on one system
  • Additional free space for Service Packs and Hotfixes you want to download
  • IE 4.0 or above
  • UpdateEXPERT supports English, Spanish, French, Italian and German language OS configurations from English language console

Summary

I've been using UpdateEXPERT for over a year now, back when the product was named SPQuery and it could handle only mostly OS-related updates.  Since then, the product has been renamed to UpdateEXPERT, and St. Bernard Software has greatly extended the capability of the product by including support for Outlook, Office, NetMeeting and more.  There's so much further that a product such as this can progress, though, from refining the product itself for larger enterprise solutions to moving outside of the Microsoft-centric solutions and encompassing other software applications such as Linux, Unix, Oracle, Lotus, and more. 

Overall, UpdateEXPERT is a very solid application.  It allows administrators to remotely deploy a very broad range of updates to Windows NT, 2000 and XP workstations and servers in minutes.  For a network with even a handful of NT/2000/XP machines, it can save an administrator hours of time doing mass updates.  For a network with hundreds upon hundreds of NT/2000/XP machines, it's invaluable.  In addition to the ability to research and then deploy the updates remotely, the capability that UpdateEXPERT gives you to even remotely query each machine is very useful.  I can easily recommend this as a product that just about every network administrator would gain immediate benefit from using.

Ryan Smith

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