Microsoft fixes WSUS malfunction in time for Patch Tuesday

Senior program manager with Microsoft's Windows Server Update Services group confirms latest gaffe

For the second time in less than three weeks, Microsoft has had to apologize for blunders made by the application that enterprise administrators rely on to deploy the software vendor's security patches and other updates.

Late Monday, Bobbie Harder, a senior program manager with Microsoft's Windows Server Update Services (WSUS) group, confirmed the latest gaffe in a posting to a company blog.

"Sunday evening, Microsoft renamed a product category entry for Forefront to clarify the scope of updates that will be included in the future," Harder said. "Unfortunately the category name that was used included the word Nitrogen in double quotes (appearing as "Nitrogen"). A double quote is a restricted character within WSUS, which created an error condition on the administration console. This issue occurred on many WSUS servers that synchronized with Microsoft servers between 5 p.m. Sunday and 11 a.m. Monday, Pacific time."

Monday morning, network administrators at Microsoft user companies began posting messages to WSUS support forums after they arrived at work to find the patch delivery software's management console reporting an error, essentially blocking them from retrieving updates.

The timing couldn't have been worse, as Microsoft is scheduled to deliver its monthly security fixes later Tuesday.

Harder said the glitch was fixed Monday afternoon and would be propagated to each WSUS server the next time it synchronized with Microsoft's update servers. She also provided instructions for administrators who have set WSUS to sync manually, with separate steps for WSUS 2.0 and WSUS 3.0.

Allen Moore, a systems administrator at DeKalb Memorial Hospital said he didn't wait for Microsoft Monday, but instead used SQL queries posted in a support forum to bring back WSUS. "I applied the two SQL queries to manually fix the tables yesterday, and was able to get back into WSUS without any errors," he said in an e-mail today. "I [also] just checked our WSUS 2.0 server and it appears to be working correctly after updating this morning."

Harder said her team would add new checks to curb errors like this. "We are also improving our publishing tools to make sure that issues like this are caught during the publishing process, before they impact customers," she said.

She said much the same thing, however, less than three weeks ago after admitting that recycling an update package had force-fed Windows Desktop Search (WDS) to client PCs which had been told to ignore the application. "We are also working on improving our internal publishing processes to ensure this does not happen again in the future," Harder said then.

Some users seemed to be unhappy with the trend in WSUS problems. "Thanks, Microsoft, it's great having things like this happen when I'm already too busy!!!" said someone identified as stormforce5 on a WSUS support forum Monday.

As she did in the wake of October's WSUS snafu, Microsoft's Harder said she was sorry: "We sincerely apologize for any inconvenience this may have caused to our customers."

Anyone still having problems with WSUS should contact Microsoft support, Harder added.

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