The hosting company has added to its system for maintaining Web sites, called Opsware, a distribution system that can identify vulnerabilities in a customer's software stack and apply patches to affected systems.
"This is a problem that really screams out for automation," said Frank Chen, director of products and services at Loudcloud.
In many cases, network administrators must keep a comprehensive list of all of the hardware and software they have installed in a network and constantly check that list against the vast number of worms, viruses and software holes that are reported by vendors. When they do come across a vulnerable piece of software, they then have to manually apply a patch to every piece of affected software.
With the automated system available through Loudcloud's Managed Services Version 3.0 offering, the company will routinely scan a customer's inventory of software and hardware for known vulnerabilities. Loudcloud has a team of security administrators that scours more than 30 virus notification lists for vulnerable software, which are then stored in a repository that is used to audit a customer's system.
By comparing characteristics of a customer's system, such as what version of software is installed and whether or not it has been updated with a service pack, to criteria detailed in a security bulletin, Opsware can then create a list of vulnerabilities. As with an online shopping cart, Loudcloud can then view the list of affected software from a Web browser and distribute fixes.
Customers have the option to test the patch ahead of its installation to make sure it is compatible with other applications, Chen added.
A variety of tools are available to automate the process of detecting and installing software patches, bug fixes and even version upgrades. For example, Microsoft offers Windows Update, which can be used to manage the installation of patches on Windows software. The company also has what it calls the Systems Management Server, which can be used to manage software distribution and installation on Windows software.
Loudcloud is touting greater benefits with its patch management system because it can identify and patch software from more than 200 vendors, Chen said.