Outdated software and applications are some of the top entry points for would be cyber-criminals, which makes patch management one of the most critical parts of cybersecurity hygiene. Thankfully, the wide availability of commercial and open source Linux or Windows patch management software means SysAdmins and IT pros have plenty of accessible and affordable tools in the toolbox. In this post, we’ll review some key considerations when deciding on a patching solution and discuss whether free patch management software is a good choice.
Benefits of Open Source Patch Management Software
Most open source patch management software can really be thought of as “free” versions of commercial patching solutions. Some open source MSP software is fully open, but when it comes to patching there are very few truly open sourced solutions to choose from. Searching on GitHub, some limited examples appear to have been updated in the last year. Still, when combined with other free tools like PowerShell or Command Line or free-tiered versions of vendor products, even limited solutions can be effective for a skilled technician and keep costs low.
For the right organization, open source or free patch management software can be a great choice. If you’re a small MSP that’s just getting started, a solution that is free for the first 25-50 devices but is still feature-rich can likely deliver exactly what you need while giving you a chance to learn the basics. Like many MSP and IT management software vendors, NinjaRMM offers a 30-day free trial that gives users full access to our automated tools and scripting library to handle patch management.
Another option that comes with using open source software is the ability to make it your own and develop a tailor-made solution. This typically requires a high level of skill and the resources to devote time to fix bugs, improve integrations, and continue tinkering, but the benefits of building your own product can deliver serious efficiency across other parts of the business.
Additionally, free patch management software can be an effective stop-gap in the event of an outage with another vendor, allowing you to maintain services for critical devices while the main product is down.
Drawbacks to Open Source and Free Patch Management Software
While valuable for small shops and those just learning the ropes, open source and free patch management software may not be a fit for organizations looking to grow. For example, most free-tier MSP solutions come with limitations either in their feature set or in the number of devices users are able to manage. But as your business grows and you begin to manage multiple operating systems, device types, and networking environments, you may quickly find yourself hitting the free-tier’s limit.
Another limitation that MSPs should keep in mind is that open source projects are not always consistently maintained. Unlike commercial patch management software that employs legions of developers to fix bugs and improve the performance and capabilities of their products, most open source projects are maintained by a single person or a small team, most of whom can’t devote full-time commitment to the project. Some projects can end up with months or years between updates, which leads to devices going unpatched and missing critical updates that allow for vulnerabilities slip in.
Access to customer support or an active community that can answer questions and provide helpful resources is another consideration MSPs should make when it comes to using open source patch management software. Open source project maintainers do their best to respond to user feedback and answer questions, but unless it’s a big project with many engaged users and frequent updates then you could be waiting hours or days for an answer, which means less time spent on solving a client’s problem.
Scalability, ease-of-use, and support are the most important qualities in the tools of a growing MSP. Making sacrifices early on to quickly and cheaply get started is understandable but building a business on free or infrequently supported open source project is risky and makes it harder to increase your MSPs profitability. Tools that allow you to automate patches, such as an RMM, can reduce labor costs while maximizing profit from each managed services agreement (MSA).
Open Source and Free Patch Management Software vs. Commercial Alternatives
Choosing a patch management solution with a great feature set native to the platform means you’ll be able to generate more revenue faster. If you’re thinking about using open source Linux and Windows patch management software, strongly consider how it will generate revenue for your business and why it might be better to go with a more feature-rich, leading alternative.
Ultimately, open source patch management software can work for the business but it comes with trade-offs that make the tools not entirely free. Taking your open source projects in-house can be a great way to build a tool that’s perfectly customized for your needs, but that may mean you have to wait longer for features unless you hire scores of developers. Open source and free patch management software can serve as a great entry point for aspiring MSPs looking to get their feet wet and learn the basics, but ultimately there will come a time when you want your business to scale and that’s when professionally developed tools can end up saving and generating money.
NinjaRMM has been named the #1 RMM software by G2 and listed as a leader in IT management software by SourceForge, among other accolades from user-review sites like Captera and GetApp. In G2’s latest report, they found that NinjaRMM users were able to master the platform in just a few weeks and reached a return on their investment faster than any other RMM available. NinjaRMM features a rich and ever-growing scripting library, full support for Windows, MacOS, and Linux, and support for more than 135 of the most widely used business software.