How Update Caching may save Schools and Businesses bandwidth

What is update caching?

Whether you’re using a Windows computer or a Mac, you regularly need to install updates for security, improved operation and more. For home users, this can be something of an inconvenience, but for schools and businesses with large numbers of machines, it often ends up being something of a nightmare.

With every computer individually downloading updates (now often measuring hundreds of megabytes), the wasted bandwidth adds up quickly. While businesses and schools using our gigabit leased lines/ DarkLight Internet connections won’t have much trouble with updates, many other connections can be overwhelmed, resulting in Internet speeds appearing slower.

One potential solution for this slowdown and wasted bandwidth is Update Caching. Essentially, update caching means that one server can be used to download an update from the Internet, while the other computers in your network download the file locally from that server. This can hugely cut down on bandwidth used and save you a considerable amount of time.

While we don’t use update caching at Exa (using one of our ultrafast connections means that updates aren’t much of a problem), we’ve put together a guide to using it for anyone interested in the technology:

Update caching for Windows

With the rollout of Windows 10, Microsoft are moving towards using Windows as a service, continually providing new features rather than periodical updates. With this change, update caching may be becoming even more vital.

To set up Windows update caching, you’ll need:

  • A Windows environment based on Windows Server 2012 or 2012 R2,
  • Windows Server Update Services Role to be installed, preferably on a non-domain controller with the default Web Server role configuration, and
  • Hardware which meets these Microsoft requirements.

Windows Server Update Services Role lets you control how computers in your network manage updates, caching them to cut down on overuse of bandwidth. If you’re using Windows 10 on your computers, you’ll need to install an update for Windows Server 2012/ R2 designed to distribute Windows 10 updates.

Companies using Windows 10 may want to consider using Windows Update for Business, which provides some more control over update rollouts. To do this, you’ll need to configure all devices to the Current Branch for Business (CBB) - this can be done manually through Group Policy or Mobile Device Management.

Once that’s all set up, it’s recommended that you change the default setting for update delivery on PCs. Go to Settings, then Update & Security, and then Advanced Options. At the bottom of the pane you’ll find ‘Choose how Updates are Delivered’.

Change from the default setting of ‘Get updates from Microsoft, and get updates from and send updates to PCs on my local network, and PCs on the Internet’ to just ‘PCs on my local network’. This will stop your computers from using up a significant amount of bandwidth to upload updates to other computers, and can help save a significant amount of time.

How to use update caching on Mac

Macs can also cache updates to avoid excessive bandwidth usage. Along with updates, you can choose to cache a wide range of Mac resources: caching apps and books can be particularly useful for schools with tablet schemes or BYOD programmes, while businesses can benefit from cached iCloud data.

Again, there’s a few requirements before beginning Mac update caching:

  • An OS X Server with Caching service configured for a single LAN deployment, and
  • Extra configuration if your organisation is using more than one LAN.

Because OS X Server already includes a caching service, getting the system set up is significantly simpler than Windows update caching. It is, however, strongly recommended that the caching service be deployed on a Mac that is only attached to the network through a single wired Ethernet connection. It is possible to use caching with a Wi-Fi connection, but this is only possible with desktop Macs, and will usually result in slower transfers.

Whatever kind of computers your school or business is using, it’s possible that update caching could save you a significant amount of time, bandwidth and hassle. While there’s no particular downside to implementing caching, we want to reiterate that we don’t use it in our office, and so can’t vouch/ provide support for the service.