Posted by Stuart on November 18th, 2008
Time synchronisation is now a critical aspect of network management enabling time sensitive applications to be conducted from across the globe. Without correct synchronisation computer systems would be unable to communicate with each other and transactions such as seat reservation, Internet auctions and online banking would be impossible.
For effective time synchronisation the global timescale UTC (Coordinated Universal Time) is a prerequisite. While a computer network can be synchronised to any single time source, UTC is employed by computer networks all over the world. By synchronising to a UTC time source a computer network can therefore be synchronised to every other computer network across the globe that also use UTC as their time source.
Receiving a reliable UTC time source is not as easy as it sounds. Many network administrators opt to use a UTC Internet time source. Whilst many of these time sources are accurate enough, they can be too far away to provide reliability and there are plenty of Internet time sources that are vastly inaccurate.
Another reason why Internet time sources should not be used as a source of time synchronisation is because an Internet time source is outside of a firewall and leaving a gap in the firewall to receive timing information can leave a system open to abuse.
So that UTC time can be opted as a civil time throughout the world several national physics laboratories broadcast a UTC timing signal that can be received and utilised as a network time source. Unfortunately, however, these time signals are not available in every country and even in those areas where a signal exists; they can be quite often obstructed by interference and local topography.
Another method for receiving a source of UTC time is to use the GPS satellite network. Strictly speaking the Global Positioning System (GPS ) does not relay UTC but it is a time based on International Atomic Time (TAI) with a predefined offset. A GPS NTP clock can simply convert the GPS time into UTC for synchronisation purposes.
The main advantage of using GPS is that a GPS signal is available anywhere on the planet providing that there is a clear view of the sky above (GPS transmissions are broadcast via line-of-sight) so UTC synchronisation can be conducted anywhere.