Symantec is set to announce the release of a patch management product that it claimed would enable small and medium-sized businesses to stay on top of software vulnerabilities.

Symantec ON iPatch Version 1.1 is Windows-based software that can scan a computer network for Windows machines, determine which software patches those machines have installed and automatically download and install missing patches on machines that need them, according to a company statement.

Symantec acquired the iPatch technology when it bought ON Technology for US$100 million in October 2003. The patching tool was previously sold only with the Symantec ON iCommand configuration management product.

The company decided to break out the patching component so that it could target smaller companies with fewer than 2,000 employees that might not be interested in the full iCommand suite, said Thom Bailey, director of product management in Symantec's enterprise administration business unit.

"These are companies that don't have the staff, the time or the large infrastructure in place to couple patch management with other technology," he said.

ON iPatch is a software-only product that can run on Windows 2000, XP or Windows Server 2003 machines. The product can analyse the software patch status of Windows machines, but not those using other operating systems. Links in the product connect customers to Microsoft's patch distribution Web site from which the patch can be downloaded and installed.

"We wanted to really focus on Microsoft because that's where the majority of pain is in patch management in smaller shops," he said.

Support for other operating systems is possible in future iPatch releases, as are features that allow companies to test patches before deployment and link iPatch to Symantec's Drive Image disk backup product, he said.

ON iPatch uses a scanning engine developed by Shavlik Technologies, a leading patch management technology company, to determine the patch status of machines that it scans, he said.

The patch management product is available starting Monday through Symantec and its authorised resellers. Per seat pricing varies, but starts at $23.80 per seat for a 10-24 seats. A licence covering 1,000 seats costs roughly $19 per seat, he said.