Thursday 30 January 2020

Windows Delivery Optimisation for the G Suite admin.

Chromebook admins who manage large estates soon become familiar with the OS refresh cycle which pushes out a full update every six weeks and the minor update cycle which arrives every two to three weeks.

On average a full Chrome OS update normally checks in at about 400 MB with minor updates around 50 MB. This amount of data is manageable for a class set of Chromebooks but adds up to a sizable chunk of bandwidth up if you are running a network with 2000 active devices.

For this reason Google allows some degree of  control over how these actions occur including the option to defer upgrades and stagger the update period. However one of the most useful features is a peering model which allows Chromebooks to pull updates from nearby devices of the same type.  This dramatically reduces the load on the internet connection and removes the download bottleneck for any school considering going 1:1 with Chromebooks.

For schools looking to go serverless with Windows10 clients it should come as no surprise that Microsoft have adopted a similar model for devices using Windows Update for Business rather than a local WSUS server - after all a good idea is a good idea.

Windows 10 introduces a new feature called Delivery Optimisation which can be controlled using InTune or standard GPO policies, for those who have yet to make the move to the cloud.

The GPO settings for Delivery Optimisation can be found at 
Computer Configuration > Administrative Templates > Windows Components > Delivery Optimisation.

A simple switch in the config sets the download mode. There are six options, including one to turn it off altogether but the one that comes closest to the Chromebook model is:

       HTTP blended with peering behind the same NAT

In simple terms Windows 10 devices will attempt to get updates from other computers on the same network but will fall back to the internet if there is no response.

The process can be fine tuned using both GPO and Intune policy settings including the option to define minimum settings for RAM and disk size before a device can take part in peer caching. A threshold can also be set on the minimum file size to be cached since, for smaller files it’s actually more efficient to simply download them from the web.

Windows 10 also has a feature similar to the Chrome software channels (Stable, Beta and Dev).

Devices can be allocated to various deployment rings  which includes an Insider program that allows organisation to test and provide feedback on future feature update release. Like Chrome OS upgrades arrive on a set schedule with Feature Updates released twice a year, normally in March and September. Quality updates contain security and critical fixes and normally occur at least once a month. Also like Chrome, updates can be deferred for a fixed period but not indefinitely.

For the Chrome admin this should all sound very familiar.

One problem facing Windows 10 that’s not such a high profile issue with Chromebooks is the maintenance of locally installed applications.

An Android application installed on a Chromebook will provide a notification when a new version is available with updates transferred via the Google Play Store. Universal applications on a Windows 10 device update in a similar same way but through the Windows Store for Business. Like Feature Updates you have the option to defer any changes if you are concerned about application stability.

For most organisations the largest application likely to be installed onto Windows 10 is Microsoft Office and the same Delivery Optimisation process can now be used for background updates of this package so long as you are running version Windows 10 1808 and are using a licensing and deployment model that employs Office 365 Pro Plus.

For once the setup is pretty simple as Delivery Optimization is enabled by default on devices running Windows 10 Enterprise or Windows 10 Education editions. Therefore, there isn’t anything additional you need to do to start taking advantage of Delivery Optimization for Office background updates.

Any G Suite administrator trying to get to grips with Windows10 update management will find a lot in common between the new Microsoft model and that of Chrome.

In many respects the transition will be harder for the local Windows admin who must now be starting to realise that in the future Microsoft will be running the management plane for Windows clients as well as the user directory and as a consequence reign of the local server is slowly drawing to a close.

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