If You Use MacOS Server’s Caching Feature
Please Consider Sending Feedback to Apple Requesting That They Reinstate the Caching Feature of the Server App!
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Apple’s iCloud Backups Aggressively Dominate Home Network Resources | They Offered A Great Solution That They’ve Now Taken Away…MacOS Server Caching
My title really says it all. Apple gives and they take away! iCloud is an amazing feature which, when it works, works beautifully…but there’s a price to pay for that feature set and it’s a high one. The price is sacrificing all of your network’s bandwidth.
If you’re wondering what I meant when I said iCloud,works beautifully when it works? I mean that when it doesn’t work…its completely useless. When might that be? There appear to be 2 main scenarios in which Apple iCloud won’t function at all, or if it does function it’s utility is so limited that it’s hardly worth the sacrifices bandwidth price.
The first scenario is if users have very large databases of photos and videos…or even just medium sized ones but the database is primarily made up of very large individual data files. I’m talking about extremely high resolution photos from higher end digital SLR cameras. That is the situation my husband found himself in when his iCloud just stopped ‘dead in its tracks.’ While I don’t know this to be true from personal experience, logically it should be true…that databases primarily made up of high resolution videos might be problematic for iCloud functionality too.
The second scenario pertains to if an Apple users owns and actively uses more than 10 Apple devices which backup to iCloud. Apple’s stated literature states that iCloud isn’t guaranteed to function under that circumstance either. By 10 they mean any and all Apple devices such as iPhones, iPads, iPods and iPod touches, Apple Watch, Apple TV and Mac computers too. I can personally attest to the fact that this is true because I was beyond upset when a Genius explained this to me following several phone support calls ina row. One employee even went to great lengths to treat like a criminal because I owned more than 10 devices. He just couldn’t understand it and chose to cross examine me rather than help! You can read more about that in my post ‘Why Apple Doesn’t Want Me to Buy Anymore of the Devices.’
Excluding those 2 scenarios, Apple iCloud functions well and even great for users…sometimes even too great, when it does so at the expense of other network traffic that’s impaired. However, when traffic is high volume iCloud can bog down. Which is where MacOS Server’s Caching Feature can pickup the slack and restore network functionality.
But what will become of to iCloud users who’ve grown to rely upon the assistance of MacOS Server? Because Apple recently eliminated the one feature that has made OS Server a panacea to so many users.
Ever since ios 8 my family has struggled with network bandwidth problems brought about by Apple’s iCloud backup feature that was introduced that same year. It’s been an ongoing battle for 3 years now. After untold hours of wasted time and utter frustration we finally came up with a solution last summer…the summer of 2017…almost 3 years after our problems began.
That Solution: MacOS Server
MacOS Server is an incredibly useful tool for improving network bandwidth in home and business situations where there are many Apple mobile devices being used. Using the caching feature of MacOS Server significantly improves bandwidth problems for users who are plagued with overly aggressive Apple iCloud backups which usurp all of their network’s bandwidth. The Server software is sold as a utility app in the Mac App Store. It’s cost is only $20. But it also requires that you run it on a Mac computer. So, in our case we had to buy a Mac Mini too which cost an additional $1700 (including add ons for things like a keyboard and an external hard drive for Time Machine back ups.)
Ultimately then, MacOS Server isn’t really all that inexpensive after all…unless you already have a Mac computer!
But we really needed it! I use iPads all day long to write my blogs and create content for my YouTube channel. Oftentimes it’s those activities alone which take such a huge negative toll in our network’s bandwidth!
An Example of iCloud Functionality Before MacOS Server
I’m generally either writing or researching topics 24/7. So on any given day I might be researching something that I’m gathering resource information for…things like links and screenshots for example. As I’m reading, I take screenshots of information that might be helpful to keep for my own reference or to use as illustrations. When I take a screenshot, within a few minutes of taking it I generally like to clean it up by cropping it, annotating it, adding a black border which helps me to see the information within it better, and then inserting it into the proper place within my notes. I usually will add it to a subject specific Photo Album as well which is designated as being suitable for possible inclusion in a future article.
I use Markup, Apple’s annotating utility for annotations because then I can annotate directly from within the camera roll, without having to open a separate app. So the actual procedure usually goes something like this. I go to my camera roll and tap on a screenshot that I want to crop and annotate. Even though I just took the screenshot, it no longer resides on my iPad…it’s already been sent to iCloud. So I need to wait for my iPad to access iCloud backups, retrieve the image and download it for me. That may take anywhere from 30 seconds to a minute. This time may be longer if I’ve just taken multiple screenshots…or much longer if I also shot a video!
This same scenario also may apply to using Apple Notes too. Apple Notes is the app I usually use for my note taking as I’m researching. If I copy some information onto the clipboard to paste into a note I may have to wait 30 seconds to a minute for the Notes app to kick into gear and unfreeze itself long enough for me to paste what I copied. This time will be longer if I’m using an iPad on ios 11. I recently switched from using Evernote for writing purposes to using Apple Notes instead, specifically because Evernote experienced this long lag time. Initially Apple Notes didn’t. But upgrading to ios 11 has introduced this new lag time to retrieve an Apple Note which is pretty awful. It’s even worse than Evernote had been, making Evernote now appear to be speedy in comparison.
Evernote has worked hard to fix this. I’m a beta tester for Evernote where I’ve worked personally with some of their lead developers on this specific problem. But Apple Notes must have changed how they access note data in ios 11, perhaps as a result of using their new file system. They’ve essentially goofed up Apple Notes so much that I’ve decided I’m not going to update my favorite iPad Pros, the ones I primarily use for daily writing tasks, to ios 11 until this note problem is fixed.
The problem is exacerbated when I take several screenshots close together. I can literally cause our entire home computer network to grind to a complete standstill for the period of time required to upload those screenshots to iCloud. The length of time needed to do that seems to vary…so it must have something to do with Apple’s servers. Apple’s iCloud backup procedure is extremely aggressive in this regard and I’ve spent countless hours researching methods to curtail this aggressiveness with no success. The only way to regain our network bandwidth is to find the offending ios Device and place it into airplane mode, which I do often if someone else needs to use our network. Increasing our bandwidth from our isp to 300 Mbps has had little impact on the problem.
Discovering this little airplane mode trick was, I felt, somewhat ingenious and a life savior for our household network which is why I wrote this post about it.
Example of How iCloud Works With MacOS Server Running
Under the exact same scenario, when I go to crop and annotate my screenshots there is virtually no wait time at all. The image(s) are usually available to me instantaneously. While Apple Notes wasn’t as ‘instantaneous,’ the wait time for it wasn’t awful prior to ios 11. So the lag remains at 1/2-1 minute on ios 10 or 1-2 minutes on ios 11. What’s even worse using ios 11 is that some of my iPads never actually come out of this ‘frozen’ state resulting from lag-mode at all. 90% of the time they freeze up completely so that I need to shut down the app and restart it. This problem appears to be model specific. It exists for Apple’s newest iPad 5 and for my older iPad Mini which is not the most current model, but one behind. On my 10.5″ Pros and my new iPhone X it’s more manageable…longer than when running ios 10 but these devices don’t end up becoming completely frozen either.
The Screenshot Below Shows the Kinds of Content That MacOS Server Caching Feature Caches
The Following is an Overview of Our Whole Long, Sad, & Costly Story
What it Takes to Use Apple Mobile Devices & iCloud in Our Home
1st We Had No iCloud Functionality at All
A couple of years ago we were having problems with iCloud data functioning at all in our home. We were told by an Apple genius at our local Apple Store to get a Mac Mini computer. We did that and since we’ve been using the Mini to manage iCloud data things have been a lot better. It was an expensive solution…around $1700…but it did solve our problem for a brief period of time.
After iCloud was Fixed (via buying a Mac Mini) our Bandwidth Problems Began
Then we began having bandwidth problems. From what I could tell our bandwidth was basically being taken over by Apple devices trying to access iCloud data or trying to back up photos and screenshots to iCloud. It made it the network inaccessible to anybody wanting to use it. Not only that, it also made it very slow on our Apple mobile devices too. So the main problem was basically a network bandwidth one which was being caused by Apple iCloud data.
We Finally Have Better Bandwidth Service Available in our Area
For a period of time we were stuck…we had no solution. But then Time Warner merged with or was taken over by Charter Communications. They’d also recently acquired Bright House. This resulted in the largest cable company merger in the history of the United States, which ironically raises huge antitrust concerns I imO. But the merger did solve one big problem for us.
It provided a solution to our areas’ complete lack of higher bandwidth Internet service alternatives for families and small businesses in our area. That meant were finally able to upgrade from our then current 50 Mbps service to one that provided us with a much faster 300 Mbps service.
The downside of course was that the greatest speeds required us to get all new hardware for our home network, including a new modem, a new firewall appliance, and new hardware for our WiFi mesh network. We did replace all of those components, but we still haven’t worked out all of the kinks yet. Basically we did all that so that we would be able to use iCloud effectively in our home. And iCloud did function better for a little while.
Sidenote: This may sound like really high bandwidth for a family, but having a hardware firewall takes a huge chunk of bandwidth out of our overall network speed. So we need to have a much higher speed than someone typically would in order to get relatively average speeds on the back-end. This shouldn’t really be the case as much as it seems to be in our environment, because there are methods for determining these aspects. That’s what I mean by ‘working out the kinks.’ It essentially refers to tweaking things until we achieve the best bandwidth possible under our circumstances. But nothing ever seems easy for us when it comes to networks, and we’ve been told by more than one network consultant that we do place unusually high demands upon our network, which appears to be true!
Homeostasis Existed Briefly
Now we get, on average, about 50 Mbps from our 300 Mbps service after things have been filtered through our firewall. Eliminating the firewall isn’t an option. It protects all of our home devices…even the ever troublesome IoT ones.
If you’re wondering why our safety concerns seem high and probably somewhat skewed, you can read the article about how a Botnet took over our home network, and I think you’ll understand.
1 New Problem Crops Up & the Same Old Bandwidth/iCloud Problem Resurfaces
Ubiquity’s UniFi Mesh Network Has software Incompatibility with ios Devices Which Causes Them to be Dropped from the Network Often
As I mentioned above, the higher bandwidth solution helped us out for a while but things got back to bad relatively quickly…within 2 or 3 months. By bad I mean I’ll be on my iPad seeking a photo that I want to use for something…I’ll tap on it to access it…then it may take 10 minutes for my iPad to actually download the photo so that I can work with it. The same thing will occur if you swap out the word ‘photo’ and replace it with the word ‘note.’
Love at First Sight | The Day MacOS Server Entered Our Lives
That’s where MAC OS server comes in. I researched the problem and also talked to the consulting group that maintains our firewall hardware. Simultaneously we both arrived at the same solution….Mac OS server…but just the caching feature. So last summer when our firewall consultant was at our home helping to work on our Wi-Fi mesh network (to figure out why were not experiencing the speed that we should be and why our iPads seem to be dropping the Wi-Fi network all the time,) we installed it. It turns out that the WiFi dropping problem is a Ubiquity Unifi one which has to do with an incompatibility with Apple’s ios devices. This problem we still haven’t solved. The improvement wasn’t immediate because it had to cache things for a while…but an hour or 2 later things began to improve.
*cache is basically just a fancy word meaning to ‘store’ something.
My family uses Apples MacOS Server software to keep our Apple iCloud data…(whats being stored) accessible and functioning well on our home network.
Once we installed MacOS Server and got it up and running, it was a Godsend!
MacOS Server improved everyone’s use of their Apple devices almost instantaneously. I can’t even think of how many times I’ve thanked my lucky stars that the consulting service we use for our firewall told me about the server software too, right around the same time I first discovered it. And then helped me to install it and set it up.
There’s actually one specific feature of MacOS Server that we use to keep our iCloud functioning well… it’s called the caching service. I don’t know a lot about the caching service. All I do know is that somehow it makes our Mac Mini work as an intermediary for iCloud, and all of our devices utilize our Mac Mini when accessing iCloud data. That means we need to keep our Mac Mini running all of the time.
That was actually a bit of a problem too, because no matter how many different ways I changed the power settings I couldn’t seem to keep it running all the time. But I found some freeware called Amphetamine that I installed and Amphetamine works well to keep our Mac Mini running all of the time.
High Sierra Doesn’t Work With MacOS Server
Apple Recalls Some 6s iPhones for Battery Replacements
We were out-of-town for a long period of time during the holidays. When we got back home High Sierra was available for update on our Mac Mini. But when I went to install the update I received a warning telling me that our MacOS Server would no longer function if I installed High Sierra. Upon researching this problem via Google I failed to find an answer. So at a recent Apple Genius store appointment to have the battery replaced in my 6S iPhone…because it had massive battery problems,and I’d discovered while buying the new iPhone X which I got to replace it, that there was a battery recall by Apple and a replacement solution for 6s’s…so we were at our local Apple Store getting the 6s’s battery replaced…and I happened to remember that I needed to ask the Apple genius helping us about the MacOS server problem that was preventing me from updating to High Sierra. He had no knowledge of it. He suggested that I call Apple support.
I did that today, because our Mac Mini keeps shutting down. I discovered during that phone call that it was the Seagate hard drive that we use to run Time Machine that is causing our Mac Mini to constantly shut down. But I also asked that support person about MacOS Server and the problem of updating to High Sierra. Ultimately I was told that I would need to talk to the Enterprise Department about that.
After being on hold for a while waiting to talk to the Enterprise Department I finally did and discovered that (theoretically at least,) if I updated to High Sierra, I would then need to update to a newer version of MAC OS Server. But there’s a big problem in doing that! The new version of MacOS server does not include the caching feature any longer!! This was a huge shock!
I asked the gentleman what I should do?
His answer was to keep running our old version of MacOS Server…the one that we’re currently using rather than updating it. That shouldn’t work but he said it does. So it’s a temporary fix.
I asked him if that would work and he was certain it would because that’s what he’s doing at his own home. I asked him why there was no caching feature on the new server software and he told me that it was because Apple now included the caching feature in High Sierra. But it’s a tethered solution, which means that you would need to plug your iPad into your Mac using a cable in order for it to work. Which means there is basically no solution at all. Because caching will then function only for that one device, and only while that one device is physically plugged into your computer.
His 2nd suggestion to me was that he offered to submit an engineering support request on my behalf to Apple Corporation, letting them know that at least one customer really relied upon this feature.
He also suggested that I myself personally send feedback to Apple Corporation by utilizing their online feedback procedure too. Which I did immediately after hanging up with him.
He told me that Apple developers really do read this feedback and that they really rely upon it for future upgrades. So, the more people that send feedback to them requesting that Apple continue their caching feature, the better our chances become to keep, or reinstate, the caching feature for Apple devices.
That’s why I’m writing this post today. To implore anyone who’s using MacOS Server caching feature to send feedback to Apple requesting that they continue their caching service.
Below is the Feedback Request I Submitted to Apple Developers of MacOS Server:
We bought a Mac Mini just to manage our iCloud data. Then I bought MacOS server last summer specifically for the caching service. Without it, using our ios devices was painfully slow. Apple iCloud aggressively usurped all of our bandwidth for photo backups but retrieving them to use was next to impossible. We’d already tried increasing our internet service from 50 Mbps to 300 Mbps…but that didn’t help much. The new server software helps tremendously. Now I discovered that if I update to High Sierra I’ll lose it…so I shouldn’t update. But what about Meltdown and Sceptor bugs? Isn’t it insecure to not update? Please help by reinstating the caching feature of MacOS Server. I’m not sure which version we have…I bought it in June 2017…so that one.
How to Send Apple Feedback for MacOS Server to Reinstate their Caching Service
Visit this link and scroll down the page to the section called macOS Apps.
Tap or click on MacOS Server.
You’ll be taken to this page.
After you submit your feedback you’ll receive this confirmation.
Below I’m including links to several resources which help to explain various aspects of MacOS Server and it’s caching feature for anyone who’s interested in learning more about it.
Here’s a good MacWorld article that explains more about how the caching feature of MacOS Server works.
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