Patch Management of an Oracle Identity Management Deployment

Introduction

Today I’d like to discuss a very important topic which is patch management in an Oracle IDM/IAM deployment.  Patching seems like a pretty basic topic.  It is often taken for granted.  However, experience has shown me that patching is a frequent source of confusion for many enterprise software customers including those deploying the Oracle Identity Management  stack.

So, I thought I’d address some common questions / topics related to patching so that people have a better understanding of what patches to apply to their environments and when to apply them.

This post is a part of both the OAM 11g academy and OIM 11g academy series.

Main Article


Patches, Bundle Patches, Patch Sets and New Releases

The first thing I’d like to do is clear up some terminology that is frequently a source of confusion for Oracle Middleware customers.  There are four delivery mechanisms for updating Oracle Fusion Middleware software.

New Releases:

New releases are major updates to software.  New releases always include major feature enhancements and can often include new ways of doing existing functionality and even complete new code basis.  Moving to a new release can sometimes be characterized as an upgrade but other times should be considered a migration where the old and new versions of software coexist side-by-side and certain applications, users, or functionality move from the old version of the software to the new release over time.

Patch Sets:

The topic of what exactly a patch set constitutes in Fusion Middleware land is somewhat controversial but I’d like to throw out some practical guidelines based on my experience.

For starters, patch sets are applied at the package level.  To review, there are two major packages in the IDM stack today: 1) the IDM package containing OVD, OID, and OIF and 2) the IAM package containing OAM, OIM, and OAAM.

Patch sets can be packaged as full installs, upgrades using the Oracle installer, or both.
To me, patch sets constitute minor new releases.  They may contain new functionality and may require some “post application” steps to complete the upgrade.

Patch sets should be fully tested in the context of a customer specific deployment before being moved into production.

Bundle Patches:

Bundle patches are sets of patches that fix multiple issues that are applied primarily through the OPatch utility.  Bundle patches usually do not contain new features and require few if any manual post application steps.

Bundle patches should also be tested in the context of a customer specific deployment before being applied to production systems but should be considered lower risk than patch sets.

One-Off Patches:

One-off patches are patches for individual issues or very small sets of issues.  They are often issued to individual customers only.

What patches should I apply?

Now that we’ve cleared up terminology I’ll give some guidance on what patches one should be looking to apply.

In terms of patch sets.  I recommend that you apply the latest patch set for the release you are installing when doing a new deployment with the caveat that all the software being installed into one Fusion Middleware Home (or WebLogic domain) must be running compatible versions.  I discuss the issue of compatible versions extensively in my articles on domain architecture.

Beyond that, I strongly recommend that customers apply the latest bundle patches for every Oracle Identity Management product they are installing unless they have an explicit reason not to.

OAM, OIM, OIA, OAAM, and OES, have official bundle patches.  There are good support articles detailing the bundle patch histories of each product with links to the bundle patches available.  I wrote about these support articles here.  The link given to the OAM article is still valid.  The link given to the OIM article is for 11.1.1.3 only.  There is a separate article (1360009.1) for OIM 11.1.1.5.

The situation is a little trickier for OID, OVD, and their management application ODSM.  Traditionally these components have only been patches through one-off patches.  However, recently (what I like to call) pseudo bundle patches for these components have emerged for Fusion Apps build outs.

Even though these pseudo bundle patches are listed as Fusion Apps only, the earliest version of these patches was also recommended for non-FA deployments in the IDM Enterprise Deployment Guide.  Based on this fact and the content of the patches, I recommend that customers seriously consider applying the latest OID, OVD, and ODSM pseudo bundle patch.

You can find the specific IDs for these patches in the Fusion Application release notes (1355561.1).  Early versions of these patches were also mentioned in the 11.1.1.5 IDM EDG.

At the time of this article, the current versions of these patches seem to be:

12937765 for OID 11.1.1.5.   This is the same patch recommended in the 11.1.1.5 EDG.

13031079 for ODSM 11.1.1.5.  This is a more updated version of the ODSM patch recommended in the EDG.

13031196 for OVD 11.1.1.5.  This is a more updated version of the OVD patch recommended in the EDG.

If you are doing an FA install or EDG style build out with OAM/OIM integration.  It is also important that you apply the IDM Tools patch for the ‘IDM Config Tool’.  The idmConfigTool is a command line utility used to automate portions of an OAM/OIM deployment.  It is very important that you apply the recommended patch for this tool before trying to use it.

Unfortunately, the guidance on what patch ID to apply for the IDM Tools for non-FA installs is a little weak.  My current recommendation is to apply the most recent patch available for the version of OAM/OIM that you are installing (11.1.1.5 or 11.1.2).  If you have trouble identifying the right patch then I encourage you to reach out to support.

When should I apply patches in a new deployment?

In general, you should apply patches in a new build out after you have installed the software components you are deploying but before you create, extend, and configure the WLS domains.  Likewise, you should apply patches before creating instances for OID, OVD, and OHS.  It should be noted that my recommendation is in line with the sequence of events documented in the IDM EDG and more updated IDM EDG for FA.

Now, I’m not saying that you have to re-install if you don’t follow this order.  However, installing the patches this early is a good idea for a few reasons:

1) There could be fixes to the configuration wizard or other configuration tools that are present in the patch.  Applying the patch up front lets you take advantage of these fixes.  Again, this is especially important with the ‘IDM Config Tool’ patch.

2) It’s easier to apply the patches up front as you don’t have any services running that require starting and stopping.

3) If you apply the patches up front then you don’t have to worry about never getting around to it.  Too often I have seen customers continue to delay applying patching during their build outs to the point they go into production without patches that are strongly recommended.

How often should I apply new patches?

The short but obvious answer is as often as possible.  I will say that all too often I see customers struggle with issues that have already been fixed in available bundle patches.  All software includes bugs and as good as Oracle Middleware software is, it is no exception.  Applying regular bundle patches should be considered part of the cost of doing business for your business and the apps that leverage the Oracle IDM stack.

I’d love to see customers apply every bundle patch but I know that many won’t be able to meet that goal.  So, for those that can’t or won’t apply every bundle patch I’d ask you to consider a policy of applying every other patch.  This should put you in the ball park of applying bundle patches every 6-9 months.  I think that is a reasonable thing to suggest.

How to tell what patches have been applied to an environment?

The answer is run ‘opatch lsinventory -all’.  You can read my full blog post on this subject here.

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