Posted by Richard N Williams on July 20th, 2009
The Network Time Protocol server is used in computer networks all over the world. It keeps an entire network’s systems and devices synchronised to the same time, normally a source of UTC (Coordinated Universal Time).
But is a NTP time server a necessary requirement and can your computer network survive without one? The short answer is perhaps yes, a computer network can survive without a NTP server but the consequences can be dramatic.
Computers are meant to make our lives easier but any network administrator will tell you they can cause an awful amount of difficulty when they inevitably go wrong and without adequate time synchronisation, identifying an error and putting it right can be nearly impossible.
Computers use the time in the form of a timestamp as the only reference they have to distinguish between two events. Whilst computers and networks will still function without adequate synchronisation they are extremely vulnerable. Not only is locating and correcting errors extremely difficult if machines are not synchronised the network will be vulnerable to malicious users and viral software that can take advantage of it.
Furthermore, failing to synchronise to UTC can cause problems if the network is to communicate with other networks that are synchronised. Any time sensitive transactions could fail and the system could be open to potential fraud or other legal implications as proving the time of a transaction could be near impossible.
NTP servers are easy to install and receive the UTC time signal from either long wave transmissions or the GPS satellite network which they then distribute amongst the network’s machines. As a dedicated NTP time server operates externally to the network firewall it does so without compromising security.