BigFix Review

Enabled us to have a highly successful endpoint patching program for the past decade


What is our primary use case?

My primary use case of this solution is for information security-related functions, like patching and threat detection.

How has it helped my organization?

BigFix has enabled us to have a highly successful endpoint patching program for the past decade. It's been enormously successful there. It's also become a core part of many of our business processes, from compliance monitoring of endpoints, encryption management, key escrow, and local administrator password escrow. It's built into our inventory. It's very much everywhere.

We do use BigFix as a system of investigation in the instance of lost and stolen devices to get an idea of what sort of data was possibly on it. It is an integral part of our compliance management system. Using BigFix to report on our encryption stance has been extraordinarily impactful in terms of avoiding fines for HIPAA violations and in terms of lost and stolen devices. We're definitely talking millions of dollars per year. We've got two hospitals, and probably lose a laptop a day. The scale is such that it's a huge number of machines wandering off. Now that we have good encryption coverage and good reporting on that coverage, in a lot of instances, we can acknowledge and verify that the device was lost but that it was verifiably encrypted, there were no records released, and we can then close an investigation. That's huge.

What is most valuable?

The custom content flexibility is the most important feature. Its ubiquity is also valuable. We've got very good adoption and it helps that it's one of the few tools that we have everywhere.

What needs improvement?

Network traffic is one of our current pain points. BigFix's high performance and high availability in our environment easily overwhelms our high-performance firewalls. Every time we push out patches to our entire population, it makes the firewalls very unhappy for about an hour and slows down some of our core enterprise apps. We're working to identify ways to fix that. We think that BigFix provides mechanisms for spreading out that load over time. We're going to be deploying that soon which will hopefully take care of the problem. Bandwidth is never a problem for us, we have enormous bandwidth. The number of sessions gets overwhelming when you have tens of thousands of machines all getting patched simultaneously. We're just going to spread that out over time and BigFix does offer that capability.

Around the scalability concern, I would like to see the ability to run teamed, clustered, or hierarchical root servers in order to provide a more robust, high availability system. The single monolithic root server model does somewhat bother me.

What do I think about the stability of the solution?

Until our most recent information security system that we stood up, which is unrelated to BigFix, BigFix was our most solid system, in terms of how much engineering effort it requires to keep up and running, relative to the number of servers involved. It's a pretty solid system. We do run into bugs and interesting functional quirks, usually around how the endpoint agent reports into the relays. It mostly just takes care of itself, for the most part. We do have to do a little care and feeding, but it's mostly self-sufficient.

What do I think about the scalability of the solution?

We manage about 75,000 systems, most of them in a single instance and we have not run into serious performance issues at that scale. I have some concerns around the root server and the number of relays checking into it. We may be running into some performance issues there, but they're not impacting the functionality at this time.

How are customer service and technical support?

Technical support has gone through its ups and downs, especially under IBM. The IBM support mechanism is clunky and somewhat challenging. They have made improvements recently. One thing that I really value about this organization is that we have a dedicated customer advocate, who is on the development team, and who is able to escalate serious issues as necessary, when the standard channels aren't working well. They've maintained that personal touch that has really improved our confidence in the support.

Which other solutions did I evaluate?

SCCM is not particularly effective as a cross-platform solution, so that alone makes it less of a contender. Also, BigFix is a lot more flexible, in terms of the types of content you can deploy, the types of reporting you can do, and the types of customizations you can do. We used to do a lot with the integration of the data from BigFix into many other systems, and so the customization is critical and SCCM doesn't offer anything like that.

What other advice do I have?

I would rate it a solid eight out of ten. It's definitely not better than that, because it has a lot of Legacy code, a lot of early design decisions that it's still limping along with. On the other hand, I haven't found anything better out there. There are other competing products in this space, but nothing has convinced me that there is any compelling reason to switch. A lot of the value that we've gotten comes from the people that we're involved with, and the relationships that we've built with the community and vendor over time. I haven't found something that has a better security design. I'm a security guy, and a lot of the decisions that were made very early on in the BigFix product translate to enforcing good security practice, which I have not seen in other vendor solutions.

I would advise organizations looking at BigFix to not try to do everything all at once, but to get one process in place really solidly, and then move on to the next, all the while working on increasing coverage, and getting it on all of the systems. Both of those things take a long time. Don't try to build everything all simultaneously, because you will fail and it will probably take several iterations to get it right so make sure to take a very measured approach.

Disclosure: I am a real user, and this review is based on my own experience and opinions.
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