Atomic clocks are the ultimate in timekeeping devices. Their accuracy is incredible as an atomic clock will not drift by as much as a second within a million years, and when this is compared to the next best chronometers, such as electronic clock that can drift by a second in a week, an atomic clock is incredibly more precise.
Atomic clocks are used the world over and are the heart of many modern technologies making capable a multitude of applications that we take for granted. Internet trading, satellite navigation, air traffic control and international banking are all industries that rely heavily on
They also govern the world’s timescale, UTC (Coordinated Universal Time) which is kept true by a constellation of these clocks (although UTC has to be adjusted to accommodate the slowing of the Earth’s spin by adding leap seconds).
Computer networks are often required to run synchronized to UTC. This synchronisation is vital in networks that conduct time sensitive transactions or require high levels of security.
A computer network without adequate time synchronization can cause many issues including:
Loss of data
- Difficulties in identifying and logging errors
- Increased risk of security breaches.
- Unable to conduct time sensitive transactions
For these reasons many computer networks have to be synchronized to a source of UTC and kept as accurate as possible. And although atomic clocks are large bulky devices kept in the confines of physics laboratories, using them as a source of time is incredibly simple.
Network Time Protocol (NTP) is a software protocol designed solely for the synchronisation of networks and computer systems and by using a dedicated NTP server the time from an atomic clock can be received by the time server and distributed around the network using NTP.
NTP servers use radio frequencies and more commonly the GPS satellite signals to receive the atomic clock timing signals which is then spread throughout the network with NTP regularly adjusting each device to ensure it is as accurate as possible.