As cyber-attacks continue to grow, the need to ensure safe operations has expanded beyond the data center to the endpoint devices used throughout the organization. This now includes workstations, mobile devices, IoT devices, and virtually any digital device connected to or routinely accessing the enterprise’s network resources.
IT endpoint management is a practice that automates the management of devices in a large enterprise or for MSPs, generally including monitoring, patch management, and the ability to perform remote management and repairs. While the primary focus is securing these devices to ensure they don’t expose the organization to cyber-attacks, robust endpoint management applications also enable cost-effective, proactive operations that leverage artificial intelligence to collect data about every endpoint and evaluate their health and alert technicians when a device needs attention. Automation can address the need, or a technician can investigate and repair the appliance. Not only does endpoint management help secure the enterprise, but it also transforms operations from reactive to one that is proactive, lowering downtime and improving general performance.
Good endpoint management software will support a wide range of operating systems, including Windows, macOS, Chromebook, Linux, Unix, Android, and IoS, at the least. While IT endpoint management often focuses on patch management to ensure secure operations, the tools used for endpoint management usually cover a variety of additional capabilities that make it possible to automate general maintenance and device monitoring that assists large enterprises and MSPs with operating endpoints in a cost-effective way.
IT endpoint management systems enable remote and automated device management across numerous locations and networks, automating patch management and monitoring. Typical endpoint management systems will include some critical capabilities:
Automated deployment of patches for maintenance and security vulnerability management, as well as new software releases, is a primary capability of endpoint management software. Automating patch deployment makes the process more effective, and patch management tools generally include workflow capabilities that ensure each patch or software release has been tested and approved before the deployment is scheduled. Patch management automation addresses security vulnerabilities more rapidly than manual processes and maintains equipment at the proper patch and software levels. It also ensures users can access current software versions, including new features and functionality.
Endpoint management systems also include monitoring for intrusions, device status, and known errors. There are several ways endpoint management systems will utilize monitoring:
Intrusion detection: By monitoring access attempts and determining when such attempts are unauthorized, monitoring systems can help prevent denial of service and other cyber-attacks.
Up/down status: Monitoring systems will generate alerts indicating an error for network gear and servers. For certain conditions, automated runbooks can attempt a restart or clear the error, notifying an on-call technician if the action is unsuccessful.
Errors: Modern endpoint management systems can log errors reported by any device being managed. These can be combined with machine learning to generate a device health score. If the score drops below a predetermined threshold, a work order can be opened automatically to resolve the condition before it affects the device’s performance.
Patch compliance: The ability to scan devices for expected patches and software versions enables endpoint management systems to open work orders to remediate missed patches, ensuring all devices comply with the patch management program.
Endpoint management systems also need to provide the ability to repair conditions that affect device performance manually. This can be done proactively or at the request of the device’s user. Remote control capabilities include controlling the instrument and performing troubleshooting, editing the device’s registry, managing files and downloads, or performing a remote backup. By enabling these capabilities, endpoint management systems are critical for eliminating the need to send a technician to a device to complete the repair.
The systems used for endpoint management can be a robust collection of features such as those found in RMM or Remote Monitoring and Management applications or individual standalone systems for activities like patch management and monitoring. The more robust RMM solutions offer a holistic approach to managing all critical aspects of IT endpoint management from a single console, ensuring nothing is missed in gaps between multiple toolsets.
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Endpoint Management Best Practices
Effective management of endpoint devices is easy to achieve by following some standard endpoint management best practices. There’s no hiding that endpoint management starts with understanding the endpoints in the enterprise’s inventory and ensuring that they meet minimum standards. This is the foundation on which endpoint management begins. Endpoint management best practices rely on building a sound foundation to base support, ensuring all endpoints are configured as expected and errors are managed promptly. Automation of these activities is critical for effective practice as well.
The endpoint management best practices that follow are also proactive in nature. Organizations that manage the health and security of their endpoints will encounter fewer fire drills and increased performance.
Here are five tips to get you started with IT endpoint management:
Build your asset repository: Effective endpoint management begins with knowing every device within the enterprise. This requires an asset management database that is effectively managed. Including mobile devices and laptops means a combination of device discovery and good procurement and inventory practices will be needed to ensure the repository remains accurate. There are several basics to help achieve this:
Using automated discovery tools to find all devices that reside on the enterprise network or connect to it with authorization and register these within a database. Where at all possible, configuration information should also be collected and cataloged along with the asset information.
Ensuring a procurement process that documents new mobile devices and laptops and adds them to the asset database, as they may not always be seen promptly by discovery tools. Later, discovery software can recognize and update their attributes when they access network resources.
Including hardware attributes, installed patches, and software release information in asset records. Patch management best practices require the ability to define the “gold standard” or patch and software versions that should be deployed on specific device types. This is configuration management at its most basic and critical for effective endpoint management. The ability to collect and store information about a device’s configuration and then compare it to the standard format for that type of device makes it possible to ensure all endpoints are correctly configured, reducing known errors.
Automate wherever possible. Sound endpoint management systems enable automation in several ways. From the perspective of endpoint management best practices, several areas should be automated:
New patches and software versions should be cataloged and managed through an automated workflow to ensure they are tested, approved, and automatically deployed to all affected devices.
Endpoints should be scanned routinely, with remediation work orders automatically logged if issues are detected. Automation should be used to remediate known errors, missed patches, and other routine fixes.
Artificial intelligence and machine learning should be used as much as possible to assign a health score to devices based on the results of scans. Work orders should be opened for endpoints that do not meet a minimum threshold, and remediation should occur promptly.
Manage ALL endpoints! All it takes to encounter a damaging cyber-attack is one device that didn’t receive a critical update. Ensure that the endpoint management system reaches and manages all endpoints, not just workstations.
Use dashboards and reports to ensure compliance: Good endpoint management dashboards can display devices not configured with the latest patches or software due to failures during deployment and other tasks requiring technician attention. Reporting can also help prove compliance with policies and help the organization mitigate issues before audits are conducted.
The most crucial best practice for endpoint management is recognizing its criticality and getting started, then ensuring the program is well documented and supported with effective endpoint management solutions.
Endpoint management policies enable automation. They house device and risk profiles that endpoint management systems can use to react to new security vulnerabilities, determine where patches should be deployed (and manage the testing and approval process), clear errors through runbooks, and ensure that devices are correctly configured.
Effective endpoint management requires the ability to configure these policies, ensuring consistency with endpoint management delivery. For example, if a security vulnerability is identified and a patch becomes available, policies can help govern the mitigation process. The endpoint management policy for vulnerability management would provide the class of machines affected by the vulnerability, the procedures for testing the patch, approvals needed for deployment, and how exceptions are handled. Automation can open all appropriate work orders and progress the patch management activities through the workflow, using automation to request approvals and perform automated deployment when needed. Endpoint management policies can also specify the class of machines considered low risk, bypassing testing and acceptance and deploying the patch during a standard window for the affected devices.
To configure endpoint management policies effectively, the organization must identify the policies to implement. This governance function will document and gain acceptance for how endpoint management activities will be performed. For example, the organization can set standards for prioritizing patches and software updates based on urgency and good lead times for their deployment. This will include testing and approval requirements and turnaround times based on risk and consequences for non-compliance. The prioritization and timescales can then be configured into each patch type’s policy within the endpoint management system.
This way, corporate policies are documented and then instrumented in the endpoint management tool, ensuring compliance with audits as the device configures consistently with the organization’s corporate policy.
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Endpoint management assists organizations in four significant ways:
Incident reduction: By getting in front of errors before they affect service and by maintaining systems and software correctly, computing equipment and software are well maintained and less likely to suffer a catastrophic failure that impacts performance.
Prevention of cyber-security attacks: Systems and software are constantly under attack by malicious players. Timely patching of security vulnerabilities is a critical component of a security program, yet the volume of known issues to be addressed continues to rise. Automation and patch management workflows are the only way to shorten the lead time for deploying critical security patches, thus avoiding many cyber-security attacks and suffering fewer incidents. Organizations using effective endpoint management solutions can cut their vulnerability patching lead time from weeks to hours (or almost immediately), increasing their likelihood of prevention.
Risk management: Timely patching security vulnerabilities is one way to lower risk, but so is understanding and managing policy exceptions when patches conflict with software and ensuring the organization remains compliant with security and endpoint management policies. Reporting on endpoint maintenance and patching from a central endpoint management system also assists with audit compliance.
Cost-effective operations: Remote, proactive, and automated endpoint management reduces the cost of ownership by maintaining system operating systems and software and ensuring that technicians spend their time performing only those activities and repairs that cannot be automated.
Reduction in unplanned work: When systems are maintained in peak operating condition, common known errors are managed proactively. The bulk of a technician’s time is spent performing routine checks, testing, and proactive maintenance, so there are fewer fire drills requiring their time. Minor errors can be researched and eliminated before they become critical.
An effective endpoint management program that uses state-of-the-art endpoint management systems is a significant investment, protecting large organizations and assisting MSPs in managing their client environments. With the automation that lowers vulnerability patching lead times and enables technicians to work effectively, endpoint management systems enable organizations to expand infrastructure management to a robust program that manages and maintains all digital devices.
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