Scheduling automatic updates to save money

I had an unlimited download account with my previous Internet Service Provider and I never worried about what time of day I would download a CD-ROM ISO or system update. However, since changing to PlusNet I am now on a 60GB per month download limit as unlimited accounts are now a thing of the past. Now 60GB may seem a generous allowance, but in reality upload traffic also has to come of the allowance. With everyone in my household being a heavy internet user, 60GB a month is often not enough.

Fortunately for PlusNet customers, any internet use after midnight and before 8am does not come out of their monthly allowance. So to take advantage of this overnight benefit I have been adjusting the times that our computers perform their automated updates.

For all of our Microsoft Windows machines this is easily done in Windows update. Just set the time that updates should commence. In my case, I have set our fastest Windows PC to update at 7:05am, and all the others at 7:10am. My Son’s PC is woken up at 7:00am by it’s system BIOS and the updates it pulls down are cached on my Squid Proxy Server. The other Windows PCs collect their updates when they are switched on and most of the files are served from the proxy cache.

For all my Ubuntu hosts I have disabled the built-in automatic update feature and I use a CRON job that I can control instead. To do this, open a terminal session and run the CRONtab editor with the following command:-

sudo crontab -e

When the editor launches, paste the following line into the file and save your work. That’s it.

5 0 * * * (/usr/bin/aptitude -y update && /usr/bin/aptitude -y safe-upgrade) 2>&1 >> /var/log/automatic-update.log

Cron will perform a safe upgrade at 5 minutes past midnight. As I am using a Squid proxy to cache Ubuntu updates, I set my other machines to start their update 5 minutes later by changing the ‘5’ for ’10’ in the crontab line.

For a more detailed explanation of how this crontab command is constructed visit Kevin van Zonneveld’s blog

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