Category: NTP configuration

Does your Business Need a NTP time server? Five Questions to Ask Yourself

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1. The business world is now more global than ever with as much likelihood of  your customer’s being from the other side of the planet as from around the corner. Any transactions conducted virtually across the Internet require adequate time synchronisation otherwise your company can be open to abuse or fraud, customers may claim they paid you at a certain time but how do you ascertain if they have without adequate synchronisation?

2. Does your system conduct time sensitive transactions? Computers have only one reference between events and that is time. If a network is not synchronised then many events and transactions may fail to happen. This can have a knock-on effect as one transaction or event fails so do others and without adequate synchronisation it may be quite a while before anyone realises the errors.

3. Do you have valuable or sensitive data? A lack of synchronisation can often lead to data loss. Storage and retrieval is also time reliant so if a computer believes the time data should have been saved has past then it may assume the data is already saved. The problem can be exaggerated if the data is continually updated as the inaccurate timestamps may mean that certain updates are not completed.

4. Is security important to your business? A lack of time synchronisation can leave a computer network open to malicious users, hackers and even fraud. If computers on a network are running different times then this can be exploited by malicious users and without time synchronisation you may not even know they have been there. A perfectly synchronised network will also offer legal protection with a NTP server (Network Time Protocol) being auditable and unquestioned in a court of law.

5. Is the credibility of your company important? A lack of synchronisation can be extremely costly not just in time and money but also in the credibility of your company. Without synchronisation a network will be vulnerable to mistakes and while these may be easily rectified once a customer has to complain word will soon get out.

Running a synchronised network adhering to Universal Coordinated Time (UTC) the world’s standard timescale is fairly simple. Dedicated NTP time servers that receive a UTC time source from either a radio transmission or the GPS network (Global Positioning System).are readily available, simple to set up, accurate and secure.

Five Reasons Why Your Business Needs an NTP Server (Part 2)

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3. Security Breaches:

When networks are not synchronised log files are not recorded properly or in the right order which means that hackers and malicious users can breach security unnoticed. Many security software programs are also reliant on timestamps with anti-virus updates failing to happen or scheduled tasks falling behind. If your network controls time-sensitive transactions then this can even result in fraud if there is a lack of synchronisation.

4. Legal Vulnerability:

Time is not just used by computers to order events it is used in the legal world too. Contracts, receipts, proof-of-purchase are all reliant on time. If a network is not synchronised then it becomes difficult to prove when transactions actually took place and it will prove difficult to audit them. Furthermore, when it comes to serious matters such as fraud or other criminality a dedicated NTP server or other network time server device synchronised to UTC is legally auditable, its time can not be argued with!

5. Company Credibility:

Succumbing to any of these potential hazards can not just have devastating effects on your own business but also that of your clients and suppliers too. And the business grapevine being what it is any potential failing on your part will soon become common knowledge amongst your competitors, customers and suppliers and be seen as bad business practices.

Running a synchronised network adhering to UTC is not difficult. Many network administrators think that synchronisation just means an occasional time request to an online NTP time source; however, doing so will leave a system just as vulnerable to fraud and malicious users as having no synchronisation. This is because to use an Internet time source would require leaving a permanent port open in the firewall.

The solution is to use a dedicated NTP time server that receives a UTC time source from either a radio transmission (broadcast by national physics laboratories) or the GPS network (Global Positioning System). These are secure and can keep a network running to within a few milliseconds of UTC.

Five Reasons Why Your Business Needs an NTP Server (Part 1)

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Most businesses these days rely on a computer network. Computers in most organisations conduct thousands of tasks a second, from controlling production lines; ordering stock; preparing financial records and communicating with computers on other networks – often from the other side of the world.

Computers use just one thing to keep track of all these tasks: time. Timestamps are the computers only reference for when an event or task occurs in relation to other events. They receive time in the form of timestamps and they measure time in periods of milliseconds (thousandth of a second) as they may conduct hundreds of processes each second.

A global timescale known as UTC (Coordinated Universal Time) has been developed to ensure computers from different organisations all over the world can synchronise together. So what happens if the clocks on computers don’t coincide with each other or with UTC?

The consequences of running a network with computers that are not synchronised can be disastrous. Here are five reasons why all businesses need adequate network synchronisation using a NTP server (Network Time Protocol) or other network time server device.

1. Tasks fail to happen:

When computers are running at different times, events on different machines can fail to happen as often a PC may assume an event on another machines has already happened if the time for that event has passed according to its own clock. And what is worse, when one task fails it has a knock-on effect with other tasks failing to happen and in turn causing further tasks to fail.

2. Loss of Data:

When tasks fail to happen it soon gets noticed but when networks are not synchronised data that is meant to be kept can quite easily be lost and it can go unnoticed for quite a while. Data can be lost because storage as and retrieval is also reliant on time stamps.

NTP Server 5 Steps to Network Synchronisation

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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.

The NTP Server and Understanding Timescales

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There are several timescale used throughout the world. Most NTP servers and other network time servers use UTC as a base source however, there are others:

When we are asked the time it is very unlikely we would respond with ‘for which timescale’ yet there are several timescales used all over the globe and each is based on different methods of keeping track of the time.
GMT

Greenwich Mean Time (GMT) is the local time on the Greenwich meridian based on the hypothetical mean sun. As the Earth’s orbit is elliptical and its axis is tilted, the actual position of the sun against the background of stars appears a little ahead or behind the expected position. The accumulated timing error varies through the year in a smoothly periodic manner by up to 14 minutes slow in February to 16 minutes fast in November. The use of a hypothetical mean sun removes this effect. Before 1925 astronomers and navigators measured GMT from noon to noon, starting the day 12 hours later than in civil usage which was also commonly referred to as GMT. To avoid confusion astronomers agreed in 1925 to change the reference point from noon to midnight, and a few years later adopted the term Universal Time (UT) for the “new” GMT. GMT remains the legal basis of the civil time for the UK.

UT

Universal Time (UT) is mean solar time on the Greenwich meridian with 0 h UT at mean midnight, and since 1925 has replaced GMT for scientific purposes. By the mid-1950s astronomers had much evidence of fluctuations in the Earth’s rotation and decided to divide UT into three versions. Time derived directly from observations is called UT0, applying corrections for movements of the Earth’s axis, or polar motion, gives UT1, and removing periodic seasonal variations generates UT2. The differences between UT0 and UT1 are of the order of thousandths of a second. Today, only UT1 is still widely used as it provides a measure of the rotational orientation of the Earth in space..


The world time standard
(UTC):

Although TAI provides a continuous, uniform, and precise time scale for scientific reference purposes, it is not convenient for everyday use because it is not in step with the Earth’s rate of rotation. A time scale that corresponds to the alternation of day and night is much more useful, and since 1972, all broadcast time services distribute time scales based on Coordinated Universal Time (UTC). UTC is an atomic time scale that is kept in agreement with Universal Time. Leap seconds are occasionally

Information courtesy of the National Physical Laboratory UK.

NTP Server Time synchronisation for Dummies

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Time synchronisation is extremely important for modern computer networks. In some industries time synchronisation is absolutely vital especially when you are dealing with technologies such as air traffic control or marine navigation where hundreds of lives could be put at risk by lack of precise time.

Even in the financial world, correct time synchronisation is vital as millions can be added or wiped off share prices every second. For this reason the entire world adheres to a global timescale known as coordinated universal time (UTC). However, adhering to UTC and keeping UTC precise are two different things.

Most computer clocks are simple oscillators that will slowly drift either faster or slower. Unfortunately this means that no matter how accurate they are set on Monday they will have drifted by Friday. This drift may be only a fraction of a second but it soon won’t take long for the originally UTC time to be over a second out.

In many industries this may not mean a matter of life and death of the loss of millions in stocks and shares but lack of time synchronisation can have unforeseen consequences such as leaving a company less protected from fraud. However, receiving and keeping true UTC time is quite straight forward.

Dedicated network time servers are available that uses the protocol NTP (Network Time Protocol) to continually check the time of a network against a source of UTC time. These devices are often referred to as an NTP server, time server or network time server. The NTP server constantly adjusts all devices on a network to ensure that the machines are not drifting from UTC.

UTC is available from several sources including the GPS network. This is an ideal source of UTC time as it is secure, reliable and available everywhere on the planet. UTC is also available via specialist national radio transmissions which are broadcast from national physics laboratories although they are not available everywhere.

NTP Server History Acquiring Precision

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When we take a glance at our watches or the office clock we often take for granted that the time we are given is correct. We may notice if our watches are ten minutes fast or slow but take little heed if they are a second or two out.

Yet for thousands of years mankind has strode to get ever increasingly accurate clocks the benefits of which are plentiful today in our age of satellite navigation, NTP servers, the Internet and global communications.

To understand how accurate time can be measured it is first important to understand the concept of time itself. Time as it has been measured on Earth for millennia is a different concept to time itself which as Einstein informed us was part of the fabric of the universe itself in what he described as a four dimensional space-time.

Yet we have historically measured time based not on the passing of time itself but the rotation of our planet in relation to the Sun and the Moon. A day is divided into 24 equal parts (hours) each of which is divided into 60 minutes and the minute is divided into 60 seconds.

However, it has now been realised that measuring time this way can not be considered accurate as the Earth’s rotation varies from day to day. All sorts of variable such as tidal forces, hurricanes, solar winds and even the amount of snow at the poles effects the speed of the Earth’s rotation. In fact when the dinosaurs first started roaming the Earth, the length of a day as we measure it now would have only been 22 hours.

We now base our timekeeping on the transition of atoms using atomic clocks with a second based on 9,192,631,770 periods of the radiation emitted by the hyperfine transition of a unionized caesium atom in the ground state. Whilst this may sound complicated it really is just an atomic ‘tick’ that never alters and therefore can provide a highly accurate reference to base our time on.

Atomic clocks use this atomic resonance and can keep time that is so accurate a second isn’t lost in even a billion years. Modern technologies all take advantage of this precision enabling many of the communications and global trade we benefit from today with the utilisation of satellite navigation, NTP servers and air traffic control changing the way we live our lives.

The NTP Server and the Atomic Clock Reason for Precision

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In an age of atomic clocks and the NTP server time keeping is now more accurate then ever with ever increasing precision having allowed many of the technologies and systems we now take for granted.

Whilst timekeeping has always been a preoccupation of mankind, it has only been in the last few decades that true accuracy has been possible thanks to the advent of the atomic clock.

Before atomic time, electrical oscillators like those found in the average digital watch were the most accurate measure of time and whilst electronic clocks like these are far more precise than their predecessors – the mechanical clocks, they can still drift by up to a second a week.

But why does time need to be so precise, after all, how important can a second be? In the day-to-day running of our lives a second isn’t that important and electronic clocks (and even mechanical ones) provide adequate timekeeping for our needs.

In our day-to-day lives a second makes little difference but in many modern applications a second can be an age.

Modern satellite navigation is one example. These devices can pinpoint a location anywhere on earth to within a few metres. Yet they can only do this because of the ultra-precise nature of the atomic clocks that control the system as the time signal sent from the navigation satellites travels at the speed of light which is nearly 300,000 km a second.

As light can travel such a vast distance in a second any atomic clock governing a satellite navigation system that was just one second out it would the positioning would be inaccurate by thousands of miles, rendering the positioning system useless.

There are many other technologies that require similar accuracy and also many of the ways we trade and communicate. Stocks and shares fluctuate up and down every second and global trade requires that everybody all over the world has to communicate using the same time.

Most computer networks are controlled by using a NTP server (Network Time Protocol). These devices allow computer networks to all use the same atomic clock based timescale UTC (coordinated universal time). By utilising UTC via a NTP server, computer networks can be synchronised to within a few milliseconds of each other.

NTP Server running a network (Part 2)

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Organising Strata

Stratum levels describe the distance between a device and the reference clock. For instance an atomic clock based in a physics laboratory or GPS satellite is a stratum 0 device. A stratum 1 device is a time server that receives time from a stratum 0 device so any dedicated NTP server is stratum 1. Devices that receive the time from the time server such as computers and routers are stratum 2 devices.

NTP can support up to 16 stratum levels and although there is a drop-off in accuracy the further away you go stratum levels are designed to allow huge networks to all receive a time from a single NTP server without causing network congestion or a blockage in the bandwidth.

When using a NTP server it is important to not overload the device with time requests so the network should be divided with a select number of machines taking requests from the NTP server (the NTP server manufacturer can recommend the number of requests it can handle). These stratum 2 devices can ten be used as time references for other devices (which become stratum 3 devices) on very large networks these can then be used as time references themselves.

NTP Server running a network (Part 1)

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NTP servers are a vital tool for any business that needs to communicate globally and securely. NTP servers distribute Coordinated Universal Time (UTC), the world’s global timescale based on the highly accurate time told by atomic clocks.

NTP (Network Time Protocol) is the protocol used to distribute the UTC time across a network it also ensures all time is accurate and stable. However, there are many pitfalls in setting up a NTP network, here are the most common:

Using the correct time source

Attaining the most suitable time source is fundamental in setting up a NTP network. The time source is going to be distributed amongst all machines and devices on a network so it is vital that it is not only accurate but also stable and secure.

Many system administrators cut corners with a time source. Some will decide to use an Internet based time source although these are not secure as the firewall will require an opening and also many internet sources are either wholly inaccurate or too far away to afford any useful precision.

There are two highly secure methods of receiving a UTC time source. The first is to utilise the GPS network which although doesn’t transmit UTC, GPS time is based on International atomic time and is therefore easy for NTP to convert. GPS time signals are also readily available all over the globe.

The second method is to use the long wave radio signals broadcast by some national physical laboratories. These signals, however, are not available in every country and they have a finite range and are susceptible to interference and local topography.