Posted by Stuart on January 21st, 2009
Synchronising a network is often considered a headache by network administrators who fear that getting it wrong can lead to disastrous results and while there is no deny that a lack of synchronisation can cause unforeseen problems particularly with time sensitive transactions and security, perfect synchronisation is simple if these steps are followed:
1. Use a dedicated NTP server. The NTP server is a device that receives a single time source then distributes it amongst a network of computers using the protocol NTP (Network Time Protocol) one of the oldest Internet based protocols and by far the most widely used time synchronisation software. NTP is often packaged with modern operating systems such as Windows or Linux although there is no substitute for a dedicated NTP device.
2. Always use a UTC time source (Coordinated Universal Time). UTC is based on GMT (Greenwich Meantime) and International Atomic Time (TAI) and is highly accurate. UTC is used by computer networks all over the world ensuring that commerce and trade are all using the same timescale.
3. Use a secure an accurate time signal. Whilst time signals are available all over the Internet they are unpredictable in their accuracy and while some may offer decent enough precision an Internet time server is outside a networks firewall which if left open to receive a timecode will cause vulnerabilities in the security of the network. Either GPS (global positioning system) or a dedicated radio signal such as those transmitted by national physics laboratories (such as MSF – UK, WWVB – USA, DCF –Germany) offer secure and reliable methods of receiving a secure and accurate time signal.
4. Organise a network into stratum, levels. Strata ensure that the NTP server is not inundated with time requests and that the network bandwidth doesn’t become congested. A stratum tree is organised by a few select machines being stratum 2 devices in that they receive a time signal from the NTP server (stratum 1 device) these in turn distribute the time to other devices (stratum 3) and so on.
5. Ensure all machines are utilising UTC and the NTP server tree. A common error in time synchronisation is to not ensure all machines are properly synchronised, just one machine running inaccurate time can have unforeseen consequences.