Cutting down update times for major OS versions

Windows 10 Anniversary update and macOS Sierra

It’s been a pretty hectic few days for tech users, with a whole lot of major operating system updates being released or rolling out.

A couple of months back, Microsoft started the rollout of their mandatory, 3.5 GB Windows 10 Anniversary Update, the first major upgrade for their flagship OS, bringing in a variety of UI tweaks, along with performance and usability improvements for the Edge browser, Cortana voice-activated assistant and more. While the update was launched back in August, rollout has been fairly gradual, with many users receiving it just a few days ago (and completion not due until around November).

On the Apple side of things, the launch of iOS 10 on September 13th brought a wide selection of changes to mobiles - new apps and permissions, tweaks to popular services, and significant performance upgrades, clocking in at 1.1 GB.

Just yesterday (the 20th), Apple also launched the 4.78 GB macOS Sierra, a huge update for their desktops and laptops bringing in Siri and better cross-device compatibility, along with a variety of additional minor features.

We’ve been pointing out the size of each update for a good reason. While most individual users won’t be hugely inconvenienced by the time it takes to download any of the updates, schools and businesses often end up with something of a problem when major OS updates come around.

With large numbers of computers being updated at the same time, a vast amount of bandwidth gets taken up, often slowing other traffic to a crawl. Most organisations schedule updates out of hours to avoid negative effects from this, but there’s another solution which can be particularly helpful - update caching.

Implementing Update Caching for Windows PCs, Macs and other devices

Simply put, update caching involves setting up one server to download the necessary files for an update, with other computers on the same network pulling files from that server rather than individually downloading them. This cuts down bandwidth usage hugely, and can often make update installation faster for all machines.

Depending on what kind of devices are being used in your organisation, there’s a couple of different ways to set up update caching. Check out our earlier post on update caching for information and useful links for both Windows and Mac - the Mac information is also applicable to iOS updates, if you let phones access your network.

If you’re using a different kind of device, you may still be able to implement update caching. Since Chrome 40 (released in 2015), Chromebooks and other Chrome devices should automatically use peer-to-peer updates, sourcing updates from devices on the same network rather than running individual downloads.

However, there’s currently no documented way to cache updates for Android-based phones, likely a partial result of the huge variety of different hardware specifications involved.

Upcoming major operating system updates

The last couple of weeks have definitely been a major outlier for updates - Microsoft doesn’t have any more major updates planned for 2016 once the Anniversary update finishes rolling out. You can, however, expect a range of minor bug fixes and patches across the year - these won’t be quite so taxing on bandwidth, but it may be worth implementing caching now anyway. Microsoft also has two major feature updates panned for 2017 - we’ll update you as we hear more.

Apple hasn’t announced any major updates or patches for the near future, but you can likely expect a couple of upcoming patches, with the next major revisions of iOS and macOS likely coming around this time next year.