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Take Control of OS X Server, Chapter 12: Software Updates

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This article is a pre-release chapter in the upcoming “Take Control of OS X Server,” by Charles Edge, scheduled for public release later in 2014. Apart from Chapter 1: Introducing OS X Server, and Chapter 2: Choosing Server Hardware, these chapters are available only to TidBITS members; see “Take Control of OS X Server” Streaming in TidBITS for details.

Software Updates

Frequent software updates have become a fact of life, thanks to Apple continually rolling out new versions of the software that runs your devices in order to fix bugs and plug security holes. Apple has put a great deal of effort into making it easier for Macs and iOS devices to discover, download, and install various updates, for both individuals and groups.

In this chapter, I’ll focus on groups, since OS X Server contains a pair of services that help you manage these updates for your home, office, or entire organization. In particular, OS X Server aims to give administrators two important capabilities:

  • Limit bandwidth usage: Software updates keep increasing in size, with major updates to OS X and iOS hitting multiple gigabytes. iOS apps and Mac apps from the Mac App Store are also an issue, given the number that users download and the frequency with which they’re updated. All that data adds up, and while you can’t avoid downloading one copy of each item, if you have a few devices in a household, or a number of users in an office or school, there’s no reason to tax your Internet connection downloading multiple copies of each item simultaneously as users update en masse.
  • Control update distribution: Although Apple and independent developers always intend for their updates to address bugs, it’s not uncommon for an update to cause its own unanticipated problems. I’ve seen OS X and security updates break printing, prevent certain fonts from displaying, and cause certain apps to crash on launch. In each case, a subsequent update resolved the problems, but if you support numerous users, vetting updates before allowing them to be installed can save you significant headaches.

These ideas—caching software updates to reduce bandwidth usage and giving administrators control over which updates are made available to users—underpin two services in OS X Server: Caching and Software Update. They do roughly similar things, but don’t overlap entirely, so you may wish to run one, the other, or both, depending on your needs.

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