Patch Tuesday VDI Pains? We’ve got a script for that…Part 1

Having a non-persistent VDI environment doesn’t mean that Patch Tuesday is no longer a pain. In fact, it may mean more work for the poor VDI administrator who needs to make sure that all the Parent VMs are updated for a recompose. Some of the techniques for addressing patching, such as wake-on-LAN and scheduled installs, don’t necessarily apply to VDI Parent VMs and there is the additional step of snapshoting to prepare those parent VMs for deployment. And if an extended patch management solution like Solarwinds Patch Manager (formerly EminentWare) or Shavlik SCUPdates is not available, you’ll still need to manage updates for a
security risksproducts like Adobe Flash and Java.

So how can you streamline this process and make the process easier for the VDI administrator? There are a couple of ways to address the various pain points of patching VDI desktops for both Windows Updates and for other applications that might be installed in your environment.

This will be part 1 of 2 posts on how to automate updates for Linked-Clone parent VMs. This post will cover the process of updating, and the second post will dive into the code.

Patch Tuesday Process

Before we can start to address the various pain points, let’s look at how Patch Tuesday works for a non-Persistent linked-clone VDI environment and how it differs from a normal desktop environment. In a normal desktop environment, you can schedule Windows Updates to install after hours and use a Wake-on-LAN tool to make sure that every desktop is powered on to receive those updates and reboot automatically through Group Policy.

That procedure doesn’t apply for Linked-Clone desktops, and some additional orchestration is required to get the Linked-Clone parent VMs patched and ready for recompose. When patching Linked-Clone desktop images, you need to do the following:

  1. Power-on the Linked-Clone Parent VMs.
  2. Log into to install Windows and other updates
  3. Reboot the machine
  4. Repeat steps two and three as necessary
  5. Once all updates are installed, shut down the VM
  6. Take a snapshot

Adobe seems to have selected Microsoft’s Patch Tuesday (2nd Tueday of the Month) as their patch release date. Oracle, however, does not release on the same cycle, so updates to Java would require a second round of updates and recomposes if it is needed in your environment.

If you have more than a few linked-clone parent VMs in your environment, there is a significant time commitment involved in keeping them up-to-date. Even if you do your updates concurrently and do other things while the updates are installing, there are still parts that have to be done by hand such as power operations, snapshotting, and installing 3rd-party updates that aren’t handled through WSUS.

One Patch Source to Rule Them All

Rather than dealing with downloading and running the update on each Linked-Clone parent VM or the auto-update utility that comes with some of these smaller applications and plugins, we’ve standardized on one primary delivery mechanism at $Work – Microsoft WSUS. WSUS handles the majority of the patches we would deploy during the month, and it has a suite of reports built around it to track updates and the computer they’re installed, or fail to install, on. This makes it the perfect centerpiece to patch management in the environment at $work.

But WSUS doesn’t handle Adobe, Java, or other updates natively. WSUS 3.0 introduced an API that a number of patch management products use to add 3rd-party updates to the system. One of these products is an open-source solution called Local Updates Publisher.

Local Updates Publisher is a solution that allows an administrator to take a software update, be it an EXE, MSI, or MSP file, repackage it, and deploy it through WSUS. Additional rules can be built around this package to determine which machines are eligible for the update, and those updates can be approved, rejected, and/or targeted to various deployment groups right from within the application. It will also accept SCUP catalogs as an update source.

There is a bit of manual work involved with this method as some of the applications that are frequently updated do not come with SCUP catalogs – primarily Java. Adobe provides SCUP catalogs for Reader and Flash. There is a 3rd party SCUP catalog that does contain Java and other open-source applications from PatchMyPC.net (note – I have not used this product), and there are other options such as Solarwinds Patch Manager and Shavlik.

Having one centralized patch source will make it easier to automate patch installation.

Automating Updates

Once there is a single source for providing both Microsoft and 3rd party updates, the work on automating the installation of updates can begin. Automating the vSphere side of things will be done in PowerCLI, so the windows update solution should also use PowerShell. This leaves two options – POSHPaig, a hybrid solution that uses PowerShell to generate vbscript to run the updates, and the Windows Update PowerShell Module. POSHPaig is a good tool, but in my experience, it is more of a GUI product that works with multiple machines while the Windows Update PowerShell Module is geared more for scripted interactions.

The Windows Update PowerShell Module is a free module developed by Microsoft MVP Michal Gadja. It is a collection of local commands that will connect to the default update source – either WSUS or Microsoft Updates, download all applicable updates for the system, and automatically install them. The module will need to be stored locally on the Linked-Clone Parent VMs. I use Group Policy Preferences to load the module onto each machine as it ensures that the files will be loaded into the same place and updates will propogate automatically.

One of the limits of the Windows Updates API is that it cannot be called remotely, so the commands from this module will not work with PowerShell Remoting. There is another way to remotely call this script, though. The Invoke-VMScript can be used to launch this script through VMware Tools. In order to use Invoke-VMScript, the VIX API will need to be installed and the script run in a 32-bit instance of PowerShell.

On the Next Episode…

I didn’t originally plan on breaking this into two parts. But this is starting to run a little long. Rather than trying to cram everything into one post, I will be breaking this up into two parts and cover the script and some of the PowerShell/PowerCLI gotchas that came up when testing it out.

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2 thoughts on “Patch Tuesday VDI Pains? We’ve got a script for that…Part 1

  1. Pingback: Patch Tuesday VDI Pains? We’ve got a script for that…Part 2 | Sean's IT Blog

  2. Pingback: Operational processes for keeping your VDI or PVS gold image updated | VirtualizeTips

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