Imagine a city buzzing with life, a web of highways humming with vehicles during peak rush hour. Without warning, an urgent call reverberates through the air: “Everyone stop what you’re doing! We have to fix a pothole!” It’s an unthinkable scenario, right?
But when you step into the realm of Enterprise Linux, this sort of disruption – while equally inconvenient – is still the norm at a lot of organizations when a security flaw needs to be fixed. Fortunately, it doesn’t need to be.
Thanks to a vulnerability patching approach called “live patching,” Linux systems can receive all the latest patches while they are still running – without disruptions, downtime, or needing to announce maintenance windows.
Before the dawn of live patching, system administrators were trapped in a frustrating cycle where they’d have to halt or at least disrupt their systems to apply vital security patches. Today, with live patching, these interruptions are no longer a necessity for teams to keep their systems patched and secure.
Welcome to the brave new world of live patching, where applying patches and updates is finally smooth, non-disruptive, and automatable!
The Benefits (and Ease) of Using Live Patching
Before diving headfirst into the mechanics of live patching, let’s pause for a moment to consider the myriad benefits this technology brings to the table.
The most palpable advantage, one that will have sysadmins and other IT professionals nodding in fervent agreement, is the guarantee of uninterrupted uptime. In many industries, uptime truly translates into money – often vast sums of revenue. Even the slightest momentary downtime in certain industries can be detrimental, making live patching not just a convenience, but a necessity.
Besides ensuring continuous uptime, live patching significantly bolsters system security. The cyber world is full of threats that don’t wait for your next scheduled downtime. They strike without warning, exploiting vulnerabilities when you least expect them. Live patching offers a robust shield against these potential attacks, allowing you to counter threats and patch vulnerabilities in real time.
Plus, depending on the size of your server fleet, IT or SOC team members would traditionally need to be assigned to babysit a patching-related reboot in case something goes wrong. With live patching, those reboots are made unnecessary – so nobody needs to keep watch. Even better, nobody needs to work off-hours on nights or weekends to deal with them. With live patching, teams get a ton of time back to focus on other business-critical tasks.
But that’s not all. The cherry on top is the ease with which live patching can be implemented. Live patching solutions are designed to integrate seamlessly with your existing system infrastructure, making the transition process incredibly smooth. In fact, adding live patching with KernelCare Enterprise, for example, only takes a single script and installation key to complete.
This convenience drastically reduces the load on your IT department, freeing them up for other important endeavors.
A Brief History of Linux Live Patching
While the concept of live patching has been around for a while, it wasn’t until the last decade that it really began to gain traction in the open-source world. The pioneering force in Linux live patching was the Ksplice project, initiated by Ksplice Inc. in 2008 – which began with Jeff Arnold at MIT. This innovative solution promised the ability to patch the Linux kernel without the need for a system reboot, a concept that was groundbreaking at the time.
The big leap, however, came in 2014, when live patching was integrated into the mainline Linux kernel, a feature aptly named Kernel Live Patching (KLP). This was a game-changing development, making live patching an inherent feature of the Linux kernel and allowing various vendors to build upon it and design their own live patching solutions.
Not All Linux Live Patching Is Made the Same
The live patching landscape, as it stands today, hosts a range of solutions, each with their own unique selling points. Some solutions, like Ksplice (now under Oracle’s ownership) and SUSE’s kGraft, cater specifically to certain Linux distributions.
However, there’s one solution that clearly stands head and shoulders above the rest – KernelCare Enterprise from TuxCare. KernelCare Enterprise offers live patching for all popular Linux distributions in a single, comprehensive tool. It’s a universal solution that promises seamless, uninterrupted patching, irrespective of the specific Linux distribution your system is running. This makes it a one-size-fits-all solution that is usually more affordable than distro-specific options, allowing enterprises large and small to take advantage of live patching technology.
Plus, KernelCare Enterprise users can also use the LibCare add-on that extends live patching to shared libraries, like glibc or OpenSSL. This option is not available with many other distro-specific live patching tools, meaning users of those tools may still have to reboot somewhat often.
With KernelCare Enterprise, organizations can go years and years without ever needing to reboot.
So, How Can You Get Started?
Taking your first steps in the world of live patching is far less daunting than you might expect. If the universal approach of KernelCare appeals to you, getting started is as simple as running a single script with an installation key – then customizing the tool to automatically check for all the latest patches and apply them in the background at whatever time interval you prefer.
If you already pay for a distro-specific premium support package, then live patching may be included – with certain limitations. Shared libraries, for example, might not be available as they are with TuxCare.
The important point to remember, regardless of which solution you gravitate towards, is to understand your specific needs and to conduct thorough research before making your choice. Live patching solutions are not all created equal, and the right solution for your system can significantly streamline your patching processes.
Final Thoughts on Linux Live Patching
Live patching delivers a host of valuable benefits, not just for sysadmins and their teams, but for the organization as a whole – from improved uptime and enhanced security to ease of use, all without the dreaded system reboots.
It’s a magic trick that’s designed to delight both system administrators and users alike. So, why should you wait for the next scheduled downtime when you can patch vulnerabilities automatically, in the background, while your systems are running?
It’s high time to embrace the future and modernize your vulnerability patching approach. To learn more about KernelCare Enterprise, head over to TuxCare.
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