OK so last time we looked at the three main things that you can do to speed up your internet, and went in-depth with the proxy server, which is great if you want to speed up general browsing and internet usage, it does a great job at that, but what about all those updates that you have to download every single month, application, digital subscriptions and system updates all sap your bandwidth and if you are on a usage cap this can also have a detrimental effect on this as well, the last Apple OSX update was 5Gb in size, we have here 5 physical and now a virtual Mac for testing, this would mean that the total downloads from apple just for that one update would have been 30Gb with each of the devices downloading it separately to put that into perspective this would have been 30% of our satellite broadband usage for the month. This doesn’t include the upgrades that are needed for the applications on the Mac’s, nor does it include the OS updates for IOS for the phones and tablet PC’s as well as their application upgrades, in total this would have been closer to 50Gb of downloaded content just to keep everything updated. Yes I said would have been, you see for the last couple of years I have been running Mac Server application which turns my Mac mini into a fully-fledged server (ok so its not going to turn you into a sys admin overnight but….) for only an extra £15, one of the things that I use the server app for is the caching server.
Who would need a Caching server?
Ok I admit a caching server is not for everyone, but if you have multiple Apple devices including those pesky iPads and iPhones as well as a lot of Applications to keep updated, then this is for you, If you’re a small business or school or have a design and marketing team all using Mac’s the £15 investment onto a cheap mac mini or old spare Mac that you have been hiding in a cupboard for a couple of years “just in case” will be the answer to your update woes.
What does a caching server do?
With the proliferation of Mac and iOS devices in every corner of your home and office, you may have no idea just how much of your Internet bandwidth is being used to download content from Apple’s servers. A caching server can help you make sure all your devices are up to date while leaving your Internet bandwidth almost untouched.
According to Apple, Apple’s Caching service, which is a part of Apple’s £15 Server app:
‘…speeds up the download of software distributed by Apple through the Internet. It caches all software updates,
App Store purchases, iBook downloads, iTunes U downloads (apps and books purchases only), and Internet Recovery
software that local Mac and iOS devices download.’
What this means, practically speaking, is that instead of making all the Mac and iOS devices in your network run out over the Internet to download and update content from Apple’s servers, you can host those updates on your servers, which makes for faster updates and less external bandwidth usage.
So How does it work?
OK so its all sounding really good at the moment and you have decided to take the plunge and pay apple the £15 for the application and are currently downloading it onto your spare Mac or one that is used, this is the beauty of the application it can be just on one of the computers that are most used or tucked away on a dedicated Mac.
- When you install the Server app and turn on the Caching service your server registers with Apple’s servers letting them know that your server is available to cache Apple content for all the computers on the networks behind your public Internet address.
- When a device on your network requests content from Apple’s servers, Apple’s servers tell that device to check and see if the registered caching server has that content.
- If the server has a copy of the content the caching server delivers it directly to the device.
- If the content is not available on your caching server, the caching server requests the content from Apple’s servers and as it downloads that content from Apple it simultaneously delivers that content to the device on your network that requested it.
The beauty of the caching service is that it requires very little configuration on your part.
That’s it! There’s nothing else you need to configure
Once you’ve installed the Server app you’ll find the Caching server under the services section in the sidebar of the Server app. (If the service is already running you’ll see a small green light next to it.) When you select it you’ll see three sections:
- Access: Defines which networks you’ll be providing updates for. You can leave these settings as they are.
- Settings: Tells the Server app where you want the cached files stored and how much space you want to set aside for cached data. The default data location is in /Library/Server/Caching, but you can choose any location on your Mac or another drive that has at least 25 MB of available disk space. You can adjust how much space will be used by dragging the slider to the right or left.
- Usage: Provides a visual display of how what kind of data is taking up how much space on your server.
Once you configure your settings, turn the server on and it just works, invisible to everyone on your network.
Some of the more advanced stuff
Ok so its not all easy, Apple server application does not allow any altering of the times when it the updates can be downloaded, so for this I used the parental controls of the firewall to block the ports/applications from connecting to the internet during the period of no free time, it can now only connect to Apple update servers between the hours of 00:00 and 05:00 so that I can make the best of my usage cap and bandwidth during the day.
So for Sarah, the updates are speedy and reliable and she doesn’t even know they are coming from a local source, because she doesn’t know this means she is happy, a happy Girlfriend is a happy boyfriend. Now that I have done the firewall bit as this was a recent addition over the last couple of months, I had to use a network analyzer across my network for a month to see where all my usage was going but once figured out I had the ports and the applications to be able to reduce this, all in all, I am happy with Apple for making it so simple for a System Admin or non System Admin to set up and configure, however, I do wish they would have given more control over the important stuff like setting download windows and types of applications, but then this is Apple and it does just work.
Stay with me for Part 3, and using WSUS in a non-standard configuration, this is what the big boys use in industry to control Microsoft updates and I have been unfortunate to set this up for many a company (this coupled with SCCM SCOM and WDS). Unfortunately, this is going to be a really long post and get a little technical in places, but the good news it this will sort out what we have done here but for windows-based devices and for once the Microsoft way is actually a little more expensive to set up.