Testing patches virtually saves money and space

Your customer's tight IT budget or a lack of physical space may make it difficult to dedicate a standalone Windows machine to patch testing. Here's an alternative testing method.


 

As a value-added reseller (VAR) or security consultant offering patch management services, you'll likely find that your customers have a tight IT budget and/or your facilities lack the space to dedicate a standalone Windows machine to each of your customers' patch testing needs. This tip, reposted from our sister site SearchWindowsSecurity.com, explains how to solve these problems with virtual computing.

One of a system administrator's many responsibilities is to ensure that newly published system patches, including full service packs, work as intended -- and if they don't, to find out how they fail to interact with an existing setup. So what's the best way to test such patches in a controlled environment?

The generic recommendation is to reserve a standalone Windows machine to be used as a guinea pig and to set it up to resemble a standard workstation as closely as possible. However, given how tight IT budgets are nowadays and the fact that some shops simply don't have the physical space for a test machine, this isn't always a practical suggestion.

One alternative is virtual computing. Programs like Microsoft Virtual PC and VMware make it possible to emulate a PC's entire operation (hard drive, operating system, network, etc.) on another PC's desktop. With this type of tool, an administrator can create a virtual test machine with the same software loaded onto the average user's computer. It also makes testing substantially easier: If the administrator wants to back up the test system before determining how a particular patch behaves, all he has to do is copy a file instead of re-image an entire computer.

Often, the emulated machine can run at approximately 75% of its host's speed, and speed isn't typically a primary concern when testing for compatibility and proper patch behavior.

Note that if you use a specific hardware configuration that cannot be emulated in a Virtual PC (for instance, a biometric identification device), this type of tool may be less useful, depending on which one you use. VMware supports the near-transparent emulation of most USB hardware, while Virtual PC does not.

About the author
Serdar Yegulalp offers his expertise in Windows NT, Windows 2000, Windows 2003 and Windows XP as publisher of the Windows Power Users Newsletter.

This tip originally appeared on SearchWindowsSecurity.com.


 

This was first published in October 2006

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