WSUS (Windows Server Update Services) is a fundamental, free add-on program and network service developed by Microsoft which assists IT administrators in the effective management of the download and distribution of updates, patches and hot-fixes released for Microsoft software products to Windows Server operating systems in their network through the use of automation and continuous analyses.
WSUS, previously known as SUS (Software Update Services), is particularly useful for small to medium sized businesses, acting as an intermediary between basic Windows Update used in individual PCs and more complex Systems Management Servers used in larger companies, and since expanded, it can also distribute service packs, security updates, device drivers, feature packs as well as update roll-ups, hot-fixes and more to client computers from a centralized server.
The management and distribution of updates through a WSUS server is completed through a management console with the aim of giving administrators full control, allowing them to direct workstations connected to the WSUS server in the network while simultaneously restricting the end users’ access to Windows Update.
Administrators can further determine to utilize a single WSUS server as the update source for other WSUS servers (known as an upstream server) in an organization, providing it connects to Microsoft Update to obtain available update information, or choose which WSUS servers can connect directly to Microsoft Update based on network configuration and security.
The maintenance and deployment of interim software releases through the use of automatic updates aids in preserving operational efficiency and stability within an organization, as well as minimizing the threat of potential security vulnerabilities by maintaining properly configured systems, installing of the latest software and updates, which in turn avoids the loss of revenue or exploitation of intellectual property.
In the interest of not disrupting workflow, the Automatic Updates service runs in the background and consolidates all updates requiring a restart into a single restart, ensuring its impact on network functionality and employee productivity is minimal, while also greatly limiting its use of bandwidth when each client computer obtains its updates from a WSUS server instead of individually downloading it from the internet.
WSUS also allows for synchronization, which administrators can configure, choosing which updates are downloaded to a WSUS server during this process, and synchronization can be scheduled to initiate automatically.
Administrators can additionally group client computers to be members of a specific WSUS computer group for the easier distribution of patches based on target groups.
The overall level of compliance can be assessed and monitored per individual computer and computer group by administrators using the Status of Update report, which details the statuses for update approval and deployment per update, based on all events sent from each computer.
Summaries of updates installed or required to be installed, as well as compliance information for specific computers or updates, are available and the synchronization activity and status for a given time period can be tracked, with the option of viewing all of the latest updates downloaded.
In the case of troubleshooting client computers which may be failing to report to the WSUS server, WSUS client diagnostic tools and software significantly ease and speed up this process, and we have gathered the best WSUS client diagnostic tools and software for you, detailing their capabilities and strengths, with download links and pricing structures listed under each tool.
Here's the Best WSUS Tools & Software of 2020:
1. Solarwinds Diagnostic Tool for the WSUS Agent (FREE)
Ideal for smaller networks who cannot justify a full patch management facility and the costs involved, the Solarwinds Diagnostic Tool for the WSUS Agent is a free software package which acts as a step between bare WSUS capabilities and full patch management.
Installed and run on the client’s computer, it ensures the WSUS agent works correctly on all computers linked to the WSUS server while also aiding in the troubleshooting of issues arising. This is especially handy as a troubleshooting tool when you are looking for issues relating to Windows updates on your systems.
With the Solarwinds Diagnostic Tool for the WSUS Agent, you will not have to rely solely on status reports by the central WSUS server, as the software provides a different view of update actions through the monitoring of client status of WSUS agents running on the endpoints on your network and validates Windows Update agent configuration values, reporting these values back to you to serve as a baseline.
This helps you to build up historical and trend data that is very helpful in the long run. It helps you to establish patterns and issues that reoccur.
The Solarwinds Diagnostic Tool for the WSUS Agent starts automatically after installation, performing an initial analysis, after which a deeper analysis can be run by clicking the Start Diagnostic button.
This will discover and reveal all potential issues with the WSUS agent, producing detailed error reports and providing recommendations on what actions are need to resolve the problem, speeding up the troubleshooting needed to have the agent running properly, while also providing the ability to run periodic checks with the aim of discovering potential points of failure before they become a problem.
Knowing ahead of time before a problem becomes serious can save an organization countless hours of repairs, as well as potential cost savings in repairs.
A download link to this free software can be found here.
2. Solarwinds Patch Manager
Solarwinds Patch Manager, a full software patch and update management package, includes the facilities covered by Solarwinds Diagnostic Tool for the WSUS Agent and extends past it, aiming to provide an efficient and inclusive experience in the management of updates and patches, with its integration of SCCM monitoring allowing it to interact with agents not only running on Windows operating systems, but also Mac OS, Linux, Unix, Android devices and iOS, covering the entire network with its patching capabilities.
Solarwinds Patch Manager integrates flawlessly with WSUS and displays each of your devices as well as the software installed on them on its dashboard, providing an overview of status and compliance, with reports on patch status and inventory made, while a reduced list details any failed updates on specific devices or devices which do not have the latest software versions.
Deployments of patches and updates can be scheduled in Solarwinds Patch Manager, allowing for the installation of patches outside working hours which lessons workflow interruptions, and it applies diagnostic verification automatically, reducing the need for further investigation into whether any endpoints on the network are not in sync and reports of patch update failures sent to you, allowing immediate actions to be taken, which can be done from a drop-down list of options appearing against each record of a failed update.
Solarwinds Patch Manager further includes a support service, which pre-tests patches available from all major software produces, allowing for the automatic installation of patches with a lower risk of malware or software bugs. Its additional vulnerability management, limited by the patch management application, will ensure the computers connected to WSUS servers do not have vulnerable software installed, and if found, the proper patches will automatically deploy to fix the issue. Reports on vulnerabilities identified are available and can be distributed to others within the organization.
Pricing for the Solarwinds Patch Manager starts at $3 750.00.
A 30 day trail version as well as an interactive demo can be found here.
3. ManageEngine Patch Manager Plus
ManageEngine Patch Manager Plus is one part of the IT infrastructure management tools that ManageEngine offers which aims at overcoming any potential vulnerability that can create security weaknesses. It can also help to prevent bad patches that can corrupt system data or cause a system to become unavailable.
It does all of this whilst ensuring that performance is not reduced and new features as well as resources are not missed due to unpatched endpoints.
This is all very useful if you are managing critical systems on your network and you can’t afford any downtime due to bad patches or improper patch installations.
ManageEngine Patch Manager Plus creates an inventory of the software of all endpoints. These typically exist in a network and are identified by scanning them.
ManageEngine Patch Manager Plus then compares these to the latest versions of each product.
It then details which modules are no longer up to date and then proceeds to communicate with the servers of all relevant software producers to download necessary patches.
This whole process can be automatically installed without intervention required.
However, if you require candidate patches to be approved before deployment, the patches can be listed on the dashboard for prior approval. This helps to streamline the process somewhat and is a good way to semi automate the way that your patches are selected and installed.
The inclusion of a test system by ManageEngine Patch Manager Plus assists in making the deployment of patches stable and error free, doing this by first testing the new update on a limited number of devices so that the impact of software changes can be viewed and assessed before they roll out to the entire network, saving both time and effort in the event of an issue arising, with reports on system vulnerability, applicable and missing Windows patches as well as task statuses made available.
ManageEngine Patch Manager Plus is available for on-premises installation or as a cloud-based service and while it runs on Windows and Windows Server environments, with the option of being integrated as a plug-in into Spiceworks.
Certain agents enable the software to monitor software statuses on Mac OS, Linux systems and others.
This is normally done via SNMP and can give you a lot of information about the systems that are attached to your network.
Pricing for ManageEngine Patch Manager Plus Professional starts at $245.00 annually for 50 computers on-premises and $34.50 on a monthly basis for 50 computers on a cloud service and more details on pricing structure with the option of a free trial can be found here.
A free version of this tool can be downloaded here.
BatchPatch is a full, autonomous patch management system for service software and works alongside the WSUS service, providing the effective management of updates downloaded, transferred, installed and stored, as well as better reporting functions and diagnosis of problematic clients than the bare WSUS facility, while adding its colorful user interface to the WSUS server, making the commands easier to view and follow.
BatchPatch works from a central server and has the ability to simultaneously initiate downloads and installations of Windows updates on multiple remote computers, whether stand-alone, members of a domain or in a work group, further letting you choose to install all available updates or only particular updates by either name or category.
For diagnostic purposes, BatchPatch has a client querying section, enabling the remote access of each client to run custom scripts on the clients in the effort of troubleshooting and its remote functions allow the manual reboot or shutdown of individual computers as well as the option to employ Wake on LAN, while also managing offline installs to specific clients.
BatchPatch extends past just patch management to include software deployment, allowing it to install most third-party software on remote computers, while its scripting language further supports the sequencing of updates and the more efficient management of software dependencies while also offering the option of managing updates from other system service providers.
For networks with multiple WSUS servers, Batch Patch has a rollup reporting system and possesses a wide range of pre-written formats for reports on network devices status which assists in overseeing the health of all devices connected to WSUS servers.
This helps to maintain the overall stability of your windows update environment and also helps to ensure a more secure update procedure.
The pricing for BatchPatch starts at $399.00 for 1 user and a year of support and all of its plans can be found here.
You can download a free version of BatchPatch here but, while not time restricted, it is limited to four simultaneous target hosts in the grid. This gives you a better understanding of how the product performs and what it can do for your systems within your environment.
5. Microsoft WSUS Client Diagnostic Tool
The Microsoft WSUS Client Diagnostic Tool is a command-line tool created by Microsoft in response to issues arising in the WSUS client software to ease the process of update and patch management, and while less favorable for those graphically inclined as it does not come with an easily decipherable user interface, making the retrieval of analysis records difficult, it does adhere to the “supplier-first” philosophy, with the claim that the publisher of a system is in the best position to diagnose issues within its system.
The main purpose of the Microsoft WSUS Client Diagnostic Tool is to aid in the troubleshooting of client computers which may fail to report back to the WSUS Server, through the performance of certain initial checks and the testing of communication between the client computer and the WSUS server.
While it runs on the client machine itself, there is an option of installing remote management software to install the Microsoft WSUS Client Diagnostic Tool on the client machine and running it from a central location instead of visiting each endpoint of the network.
Getting error reports from a diagnostic tool produced by the original software supplier is helpful, particularly in situations where other Microsoft products are potentially contributing to the issue between the WSUS server and a client machine, and if support is needed directly from Microsoft in resolving an issue, they could require you to provide them with results obtained from the Microsoft WSUS Client Diagnostic Tool to assist them in diagnosing the problem, although, as stated by Microsoft, there is no support offered for the tool itself.
This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, it just means that its use might have certain limitations if you find yourself running into problems.
This tool can be downloaded here.
6. ADFDesign’s WSUS Tool
ADFDesign’s WSUS Tool is a free tool available from the Spiceworks Community, handy for IT administrators with the need for cloning PCs as well as debugging and managing WSUS and it focuses on simplicity rather than complexity, being a graphical front end to actions performed in the background by the wuaucltl.exe program, which while needing to be installed on each endpoint of the network and run from there, can be controlled remotely from a central location through remote management software.
The process automation script in ADFDesign’s WSUS Tool automatically detects each client and saves time in the running of diagnostics with its three main functions of detecting, cloning and reporting.
Its “Detect Now” function runs a standard WSUS detection procedure, providing information on which of the client’s services is visible to the WSUS server and will run an audit check on the client through the restarting of the client auditing software, offering a timeframe limited report instead of an ongoing log file.
The “Clone Fix” function of ADFDesign’s WSUS Tool will attempt the process of fixing the client, deleting some registry key and restarting the wuauserv service, before resetting its authorization and re-running is detect function while the “Report Now” function will immediately run a report on a particular client, avoiding the need to dig through logs for relevant information in the diagnosing of any issues related to the client or its communication with the WSUS server.
With ADFDesign’s WSUS Tool, ensure there is no third party software used which could install malware or damage the network, as ADFDesign’s WSUS Tool only utilizes standard Microsoft executable files or programs, which you can do by combing through the code yourself.
This makes the tool quite useful if you are trying to weed out programs that you do not want installed on users’ systems.
This tool can be downloaded here.
7. WSUS Offline Tool
The WSUS Offline Tool from Anoop C. Nair addresses a shortcoming of WSUS with regards to client computers that do not have access to the internet, handled through a process called WSUS offline update which only installs critical or security relevant patches, leaving offline client computers out of sync in comparison to online computers as they can miss important updates.
The WSUS Offline Tool, however, uses the Windows Update Agent to determine what patches are required to be installed on a client’s computer, including both important and optional patches. This makes the WSUS Offline Tool a very useful application to have running on your network.
The WSUS Offline Tool schedules available patches for an offline client, delivering it from a central download server and while the patch coverage by WSUS Offline Update will rarely fully satisfy Microsoft’s Online Update, as minor patches could be missing, it does satisfy Microsoft’s Baseline Security Analyzer, but nonetheless is only recommended for use in non-production environments.
This could be useful in a lab type environment, or on a larger private network if you have the need to manage updates for multiple hosts and you don’t want to enforce it all manually.
This tool can be downloaded here.
8. Microsoft WSUS Reporting Rollup Sample Tool
The Microsoft WSUS Reporting Rollup Sample Tool is a free update utility designed specifically for large installations with multiple WSUS servers and is an extension of the server element of WSUS.
This allows for the installation of the tool in the central server instead of at each endpoint in the network, and primarily works as an update consolidation service for report data from numerous WSUS servers which it presents in a unified view, in essence making it a reporting tool as it adds no functionality to the WSUS.
These reports can be useful if you need to present information to managers and department heads, but other than that it wont add too much in the way of efficiency or extra functionality to the mix.
This tool, useful for sizeable networks, will be of no use on a standalone WSUS server, and while the interface is easier to work with than the Microsoft WSUS Client Diagnostic Tool, Microsoft also offers no support for the Microsoft WSUS Reporting Rollup Sample Tool itself, which is fully customizable, with the option of either merging all data retrieved from servers or displaying each server separately.
This makes its utility somewhat limited in many respects and might not make sense for most environments with only one WSUS server on site.
Scripts are used for the control of this tool’s operation and several pre-written report scripts are downloaded along with the software which you can use as provided or opt to modify for specific needs required, using them as a starting point for writing your own reports, with the aim of saving time and allowing administrators to focus on other tasks.
This tool can be downloaded here.
While Windows Server Update Services is key for the management and automatic distribution of updates, patches, device drivers, feature packs and more, it also plays an essential role in the security of networks and their proper configuration.
WSUS client diagnostic tools and software play a crucial role, as they ensure that the WSUS servers run smoothly and efficiently, allowing for the fast identification and troubleshooting of issues arising. Thereby also maintaining operational stability within an organization.
Not many people give much thought to the role that WSUS functionality can add to an environment, so it is good to know that there are many different tools out there that help accomplish the goal of system stability.
The suitability of the various types of solutions available will depend on features offered and costs involved versus on the size and nature of organizations and their network.
Your mileage may vary in many respects, and the features that work for one network might not necessarily work for all.
There are many different solutions out there, but we have covered some of the most popular ones. We hope the information gathered here helps in choosing the best tool to match your needs.