With viruses such as the Blaster worm, Sircam and Code Red costing companies billions of dollars in damage, server and desktop management vendors are looking to take advantage of an expected surge in demand for patch-management products.

Marimba this week is expected to unveil its Security Patch Management software, and last week Altiris added security features to its Client Management Suite 6 software that let customers write policies for distributing software updates and patches to multiple machines.

Meta Group estimates that 40 percent of IT organisations will have implemented dedicated patch-management processes on servers by next year, with that number growing to 75 percent and including desktops by 2007. Gartner predicts that by 2007 the market for patch-management tools will quadruple from 2002 levels to more than $40 million in new licence revenue.

Experts say users need help automating the patch-management process. According to CERT, about 95 percent of network intrusions are caused by exploitation of known vulnerabilities and incorrectly configured assets.

Meanwhile, Altiris updated its server and desktop management product so that it can inform network managers of the effect an unpatched machine would have on the entire network, for instance. Because the Altiris suite includes software distribution and inventory capabilities, the company says the software can scan networks for vulnerable machines based on license compliance and automatically send the most recent patches.

Altiris consists of centralised server software and agents installed on managed clients, such as desktops, servers and mobile devices. Network managers access data and administer the product via a Web-based interface, which the company also upgraded to customise, based on user security clearance, management preferences and other metrics.

Scheduled to be available by the end of next month, Altiris Client Management Suite 6 pricing starts at $80 per managed node.

Marimba's new product is built on the company's server and desktop management software. Security Patch Management is a patch-only product that competes with BigFix, Configuresoft and PatchLink, while Marimba's entire software distribution suite also puts it in competition with Altiris, LanDesk and Novadigm.

The company said its software could automate the collection, testing, auditing and deployment of patch data. Using centralised server software and agents installed on managed devices, the software gathers information about software licences, known vulnerabilities and interdependencies among managed nodes on a network.

Security Patch Management also will alert network managers when there is a conflict among patches and operating systems, if a machine needs prerequisite patches for an upgrade and the effect of rolling out patches on any managed client, the company says.

Currently in beta tests, Security Patch Management is scheduled to be generally available by the middle of next month. Pricing for the software starts at $35 per managed endpoint.