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How long is too long to wait to apply firmware updates?

How long is too long to wait to apply firmware updates?
As any good admin will attest, systems are works in progress that evolve alongside the needs of those using them. Software must be continually updated to account for new security threats, and networks must ebb and flow with the growth or contraction of the organizations running on top of them.

Network and system administrators are no strangers to the firmware update, or to the struggles that come with cumbersome processes that don’t always go to plan. Some updates have tricky bugs and glitches built in, leaving networks underperforming and exposed to threats. Sometimes the update itself can cause systems and networks to be down for considerable chunks of time, costing businesses money, employee frustration, and time. It’s a balancing act — knowing when to update and when to put it off to avoid the slog it entails.

The question for many is: how long is too long between firmware updates, and how can system and network administrators determine a plan of action as every new update is released?

Dig into the details

Firmware release notes can be tedious documents to go through, but they reveal vital information on what the update includes, which specific issues the new release addresses, and the rationale for changing elements of the previous system. If the notes refer to issues that are less critical to the organization, are tied more to decorative improvements, or introduce features that aren’t required, perhaps applying the firmware update may not be quite so urgent.

However, if there are security updates, usability improvements, or changes to do with regulatory compliance, then the firmware update will likely need to be applied far sooner. The clues are almost always in the notes.

Test and learn

If you are worried that applying an update across your system or network might have problematic consequences, you might be able to test the firmware update on isolated parts of the network that don’t affect mission-critical operations. If the update seems to be running smoothly, it’s a good indicator that you can expand it across the network without disruption. However, if the test unearths issues, you can protect the important parts of the network until the software provider has debugged the update.

Always keep a backup

You can always use your backup to reverse course should the update go sideways. Finding solutions for elements such as internal and external schedules, meetings, and other organizational functions that depend on the network should be taken into account versus the need for updates that inhibit business-as-usual. Configurations of the network, as well as the data within, is critical to back up for easy access post update.

Know your audience

You are the expert of your system or network, but it’s also important to be intimately familiar with your organization’s needs and activities so you can better map the effects that firmware updates could have on your watch. Keep track of the bugs and issues an existing version has, and know the desires and pain points that users have day-to-day, so you can assess the validity and relevance of updates released. For example, a calendar update might seem minor, but perhaps your users would jump at the chance for new functionality. This also means that if you are considering switching providers, products, or networks, you can effectively compare upcoming updates while implementing a whole new system.

The struggle of firmware updates is real, but if you are well-versed in your system and your organizational needs, making decisions about when and how to update becomes much easier.

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