Category: ntp server

Essentials of Traffic Management NTP Server

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There are now reportedly as many cars on the road as there are households and it only takes a brief journey during rush hour to realise that this claim is quite possibly true.

Congestion is a huge problem in our towns and cities and controlling this traffic and keeping it moving is one of the most essential aspects of reducing congestion. Safety is also a concern on our roads as the chances of all those vehicles travelling around without occasionally hitting each other is close to zero but the problem can be exemplified by poor traffic management.

When it comes to controlling the traffic flows of our cities there is no greater weapon than the humble traffic light. In some cities these devices are simple timed lights that stop traffic one way and allow it the other and vice versa.

However, the potential of how traffic lights can reduce congestion is now being realised and thanks to the millisecond synchronisation made possible with NTP servers is now drastically reducing congestion is some of the world’s major cities.

Rather than just simple timed segments of green, amber and red, traffic lights can respond to the needs of the road, allowing more cars through in one direction whilst reducing it in others. They can also be used in conjunction with each other allowing green light passageways for cars in main routes.

However, all this is only possible if the traffic lights system throughout the whole city is synchronised together and that can only be achieved with a NTP time server.

NTP (Network Time Protocol) is simply an algorithm that is widely used for the purposes of synchronisation. A NTP server will receive a time signal from a precise source (normally an atomic clock) and the NTP software then distributes it amongst all devices on a network (in this case the traffic lights).

The NTP server will continually check the time on each device and ensure it corresponds to the time signal, ensuring all devices (traffic lights) are perfectly synchronised together allowing the entire traffic light system to be managed as a single, flexible traffic management system rather than individual random lights.

Increased Accuracy of Dual NTP Server Systems

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The NTP time server has revolutionised the synchronisation of computer networks over the last twenty years. NTP (Network Time Protocol) is the software  that  is responsible for distributing time from the time server to the entire network, adjusting machines for drift and assuring accuracy.

NTP can reliable maintain system clocks to within a few millimetres of UTC (Coordinated Universal Time) or whatever timescale it is fed with.

However NTP can only be as reliable as the time source that it receives and as UTC  is the global civil timescale it depends on where the UTC source comes from.

National time and frequency transmissions from physics labs like NIST in the USA or NPL in the UK are extremely reliable sources of UTC and NTP time servers are designed specifically for them. However, the time signals are not guaranteed, they can drop off throughout the day and are susceptible to interference; they are also regularly turned of for maintenance.

For most applications a few hours of your network relying on crystal oscillators will probably not cause too much problems in synchronisation. However, GPS (Global Positioning System) is far more reliable source for UTC time in that a GPS satellite is always overhead. They do require a line-of-sight reception which means an antenna has to go on the roof or outside an open window.

For applications where accuracy and reliability are essential the safest solution is to invest in a dual system NTP time server, these device can receive both the radio transmissions such  as MSF, DCF-77 or WWVB and the GPS signal.

On a dual system NTP server, NTP will take both time sources and to synchronise a network to ensuring increased accuracy and reliability.

What is the Best Source of UTC Time?

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UTC (Coordinated Universal Time) is the world’s global timescale and replaced the old time standard GMT (Greenwich Meantime) in the 1970’s.

Whilst GMT was based on the movement of the Sun, UTC is based on the time told by atomic clocks although it is kept inline with GMT by the addition of ‘Leap Seconds’ which compensates for the slowing of the Earth’s rotation allowing both UTC and GMT to run side by side (GMT is often mistakenly referred to as UTC – although as there is no actual difference it doesn’t really matter).

In computing, UTC allows computer networks all over the world to synchronise to the same time making possible time sensitive transactions from across the globe. Most computer networks used dedicated network time servers to synchronise to a UTC time source. These devices use the protocol NTP (Network Time Protocol) to distribute the time across the networks and continually checks to ensure there is no drift.

The only quandary in using a dedicated NTP time server is selecting where the time source comes from which will govern the type of NTP server you require. There are really three places that a source of UTC time can be easily located.

The first is the internet. In using an internet time source such as or a dedicated NTP server is not necessarily required as most operating systems have a version of NTP already installed (in Windows just double click the clock icon to see the internet time options).

*NB it must be noted that Microsoft, Novell and others strongly advise against using internet time sources if security is an issue. Internet time sources can’t be authenticated by NTP and are outside the firewall which can lead to security threats.

The second method is to use a GPS NTP server; these devices use the GPS signal (most commonly used for satellite navigation) which is actually a time code generated by an atomic clock (from onboard the satellite). Whilst this signal is available anywhere on the globe, a GPS antenna does need a clear view of the sky which is the only drawback in using GPS.

Alternatively, many countries’ national physics laboratories such as NIST in the USA and NPL in the UK, transmit a time signal from their atomic clocks. These signals can be picked up with a radio referenced NTP server although these signals are finite and vulnerable to local interference and topography.

How to Synchronise a Computer to an Atomic Clock

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Time synchronisation is often a much underrated aspect of computer management. Generally time synchronisation is only crucial for networks or for computers that a take in time sensitive transactions across the internet.

Time synchronisation with modern operating systems such as Windows Vista, XP or the different versions of Linux is relatively easy as most contain the time synchronisation protocol NTP (Network Time Protocol) or a simplified version at least (SNTP).

NTP is an algorithm based program and works by using a single time source that can be distributed amongst the network (or a single computer) and is constantly checked to ensure the network’s clocks is running accurately.

For single computer users, or networks where security and precision are not primary concerns (although for any network security should be a main issue) then the simplest method of synchronising a computer is to use an internet time standard.

With a Windows operating system this can easily be done on a single computer by double clicking the clock icon and then configuring the internet time tab. However, it must be noted that in using an internet based time source such as or windows.time, a port will have to be left open in the firewall which could be taken advantage of by malicious users.

For network users and those not wanting to leave vulnerabilities in their firewall then the most suitable solution is to use a dedicated network time server. Most of these devices also use the protocol NTP but as they receive a time reference externally to the network (usually by way of GPS or long wave radio) the leave no vulnerabilities in the firewall.

These NTP server devices are also far more reliable and accurate than internet time sources as they communicate directly with the signal from an atomic clock rather than being several tiers (in NTP terms known as strata) from the reference clock as most internet time sources are.

GPS Time Server and its Accuracy from space

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The GPS network (Global Positioning System), is commonly known as a satellite navigation system. It however, actually relays a ultra-precise time signal from an onboard atomic clock.

It is this information that is received by satellite navigation devices that can then triangulate the position of the receiver by working out how long the signal has taken to arrive from various satellites.

These time signals, like all radio transmissions travel at the speed of light (which is close to 300,000km a second). It is therefore highly important that these devices are not just accurate to a second but to a millionth of a second otherwise the navigation system would be useless.

It is this timing information that can be utilized by a GPS time server as a base for network time. Although this timing information is not in a UTC format (Coordinated Universal Time), the World’s global timescale, it easily converted because of its origin from an atomic clock.

A GPS time server can receive the signal from a GPS aerial although this does need to have a good view of the sky as the satellites relay their transmissions via line-of-sight.
Using a dedicated GPS time server a computer network can be synchronised to within a few milliseconds of NTP (milli=1000th of a second) and provide security and authentication.

Following the increase use of GPS technology over the last few years, GPS time servers are now relatively inexpensive and are simple and straight forward systems to install.

Next Generation of Accurate Atomic Clocks Starts Ticking as NIST scientists unveil new strontium clock

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Those chronological pioneers at NIST have teamed up with the University of Colorado and have developed the world’s most accurate atomic clock to date. The strontium based clock is nearly twice as accurate as the current caesium clocks used to govern UTC (Coordinated Universal Time) as it loses just a second every 300 million years.

Strontium based atomic clocks are now being seen as the way forward in timekeeping as higher levels of accuracy are attainable that are just not possible with the caesium atom. Strontium clocks, like their predecessors work by harnessing the natural yet highly consistent vibration of atoms.

However, these new generations of clocks use laser beams and extremely low temperatures close to absolute zero to control the atoms and it is hoped it is a step forward to creating a perfectly precise clock.

This extreme accuracy may seem a step too far and unnecessary but the uses for such precision are many fold and when you consider the technologies that have been developed that are based on the first generation of atomic clocks such as GPS navigation, NTP server synchronisation and digital broadcasting a new world of exciting technology based on these new clocks could just be around the corner.

While currently the world’s global timescale, UTC, is based on the time told by a constellation of caesium clocks (and incidentally so is t he definition of a second as just over 9 billion caesium ticks), it is thought that when the Consultative Committee for Time and Frequency at the Bureau International des Poids et Mesures (BIPM) next meets it will discuss whether to make these next generation of atomic clocks the new standard.

However, strontium clocks are not the only method of highly precise time. Last year a quantum clock, also developed at NIST managed accuracy of 1 second in 1 billion years. However, this type of clock can’t be directly monitored and requires a more complex scheme to monitor the time.

Keeping Accurate Time and The Importance of a Network Time Server

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A network time server can be one of the most crucial devices on a computer network as timestamps are vital for most computer applications from sending and email to debugging a network.

Tiny inaccuracies in a timestamp can cause havoc on a network, from emails arriving before they have technically been sent, to leaving an entire system vulnerable to security threats and even fraud.

However, a network time server is only as good as the time source that it synchronises to. Many network administrators opt to receive a timing code from the Internet, however, many Internet time sources are wholly inaccurate and often too far away from a client to provide any real accuracy.

Furthermore, Internet based time sources can’t be authenticated. Authentication is  a security measure used by NTP (Network Time Protocol which controls the network time server) to ensure the time server is exactly what it says it is).

To ensure accurate time is kept it is vital to select a time source that is both secure and accurate. There are two methods which can ensure a millisecond accuracy toUTC (coordinated universal time – a global timescale based on the time told by atomic clocks).

The first is to use a specialist national time and frequency transmission broadcast in several countries including the UK, USA, Germany, France and Japan. Unfortunately these broadcasts can’t be picked up everywhere but the second method is to use the timing signal broadcast by the GPS network which is available literally everywhere on the face of the planet.

A network time server will use this timing code and synchronise an entire network to it using NTP which is why they are often referred to as a NTP server or NTP time server. NTP continually adjusts the network’s clocks ensuring there is no drift.

Choosing the Right Time Signal for Your Network

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Computer network synchronisation is essential in the modern world. Many of the world’s computer networks are all synchronised to the same global timescale UTC (Coordinated Universal Time).

To govern synchronisation the protocol NTP (Network Time Protocol) is used in most cases as it is able to reliably synchronise a network to a few milliseconds off UTC time.

However, the accuracy of time synchronisation is solely dependent on the accuracy of whatever time reference is selected for NTP to distribute and here lies one of the fundamental errors made in synchronising computer networks.

Many network administrators rely on Internet time references as a source of UTC time, however, apart from the security risks they pose (being as they are on the wrong side of a network firewall) but also their accuracy can not be guaranteed and recent studies have found less than half of them providing any useful accuracies at all.

For a secure, accurate and reliable method of UTC there really are just two choices. Utilise the time signal from the GPS network or rely on the long wave transmissions broadcast by national physics laboratories such as NPL and NIST.

To select which method is best then the only factor to consider is the location of the NTP server that is to receive the time signal.

GPS is the most flexible in that the signal is available literally everywhere on the planet but the only downside to the signal is that a GPS antenna has to be situated on the roof as it needs a clear view of the sky. This may prove problematic if the time server is located in the lower floors of a sky scraper but on the whole most users of GPS time signals find that they are very reliable and incredibly accurate.

If GPS is impractical then the national time and frequencies provide an equally accurate and secure method of UTC time. These longwave signals are not broadcast by every country however, although the US WWVB signal broadcast by NIST in Colorado is available in most of North America including Canada.

There are various versions of this signal broadcast throughout Europe including the German DCF and the UK MSF which prove to be the most reliable and popular. These signals can often be picked up outside the nation’s borders too although it must be noted long wave transmissions are vulnerable to local interference and topography.

For complete peace of mind, dual system NTP servers that receive signals from both the GPS and national physics laboratories are available although they tend to be a little more expensive than single systems although utilising more than one time signal makes them doubly reliable.

Atomic Clocks Explained

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Is an Atomic Clock Radioactive?

An atomic clock keeps time better than any other clock. They even keep time better than the rotation of the Earth and the movement of the stars. Without the atomic clock, GPS navigation would be impossible, the Internet would not synchronise, and the position of the planets would not be known with enough accuracy for space probes and landers to be launched and monitored.

An atomic clock is not radioactive, it doesn’t rely on atomic decay. Rather, an atomic clock has an oscillating mass and a spring, just like ordinary clocks.

The big difference between a standard clock in your home and an atomic clock is that the oscillation in an atomic clock is between the nucleus of an atom and the surrounding electrons. This oscillation is not exactly a parallel to the balance wheel and hairspring of a clockwork watch, but the fact is that both use oscillations to keep track of passing time. The oscillation frequencies within the atom are determined by the mass of the nucleus and the gravity and electrostatic “spring” between the positive charge on the nucleus and the electron cloud surrounding it.

What Are The Types of Atomic Clock?

Today, though there are different types of atomic clock, the principle behind all of them remains the same. The major difference is associated with the element used and the means of detecting when the energy level changes. The various types of atomic clock include:

The Cesium atomic clock employs a beam of cesium atoms. The clock separates cesium atoms of different energy levels by magnetic field.

The Hydrogen atomic clock maintains hydrogen atoms at the required energy level in a container with walls of a special material so that the atoms don’t lose their higher energy state too quickly.

The Rubidium atomic clock, the simplest and most compact of all, use a glass cell of rubidium gas that changes its absorption of light at the optical rubidium frequency when the surrounding microwave frequency is just right.

The most accurate commercial atomic clock available today uses the cesium atom and the normal magnetic fields and detectors. In addition, the cesium atoms are stopped from zipping back and forth by laser beams, reducing small changes in frequency due to the Doppler effect.

When Was The Atomic Clock Invented? atomic clock

In 1945, Columbia University physics professor Isidor Rabi suggested that a clock could be made from a technique he developed in the 1930s called atomic beam magnetic resonance. By 1949, the National Bureau of Standards (NBS, now the National Institute of Standards and Technology, NIST) announced the world’s first atomic clock using the ammonia molecule as the source of vibrations, and by 1952 it announced the first atomic clock using cesium atoms as the vibration source, NBS-1.

In 1955, the National Physical Laboratory (NPL) in England built the first cesium-beam atomic clock used as a calibration source. Over the next decade, more advanced forms of the atomic clocks were created. In 1967, the 13th General Conference on Weights and Measures defined the SI second on the basis of vibrations of the cesium atom; the world’s time keeping system no longer had an astronomical basis at that point! NBS-4, the world’s most stable cesium atomic clock, was completed in 1968, and was used into the 1990s as part of the NPL time system.

In 1999, NPL-F1 began operation with an uncertainty of 1.7 parts in 10 to the 15th power, or accuracy to about one second in 20 million years, making it the most accurate atomic clock ever made (a distinction shared with a similar standard in Paris).

How Is Atomic Clock Time Measured?

The correct frequency for the particular cesium resonance is now defined by international agreement as 9,192,631,770 Hz so that when divided by this number the output is exactly 1 Hz, or 1 cycle per second.

The long-term accuracy achievable by modern cesium atomic clock (the most common type) is better than one second per one million years. The Hydrogen atomic clock shows a better short-term (one week) accuracy, approximately 10 times the accuracy of a cesium atomic clock. Therefore, the atomic clock has increased the accuracy of time measurement about one million times in comparison with the measurements carried out by means of astronomical techniques.

Synchonising to an Atomic Clock

The simplest way to synchonise to an atomic clock is to use a dedicated NTP server. These devices will receive either the GPS ataomic clock signal or radio waves from places like NIST or NPL.

Features of Network Time Protocol

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NTP is reliant on a reference clock and all clocks on the NTP network are synchronised to that time. It is therefore imperative that the reference clock is as accurate as possible. The most accurate timepieces are atomic clocks. These large physics lab devices can maintain accurate time over millions of years without losing a second.

An NTP server will receive the time from an atomic clock either from across the internet, the GPS network or radio transmissions. In using a atomic clock as a reference an NTP network will be accurate to within a few milliseconds of the world’s global timescale UTC (Coordinated Universal Time).

NTP is a hierarchical system. The closer a device is to the reference clock the higher on the NTP strata it is. An atomic clock reference clock is a stratum 0 device and a NTP server that receives the time from it is a stratum 1 device, clients of the NTP server are stratum 2 devices and so on.

Because of this hierarchical system, devices lower down the strata can also be used as a reference which allows huge networks to operate while connected to just one NTP time server.

NTP is a protocol that is fault tolerant. NTP watches out for errors and can process multiple time sources and the protocol will automatically select the best.   Even when a reference clock is temporarily unavailable, NTP can use past measurements to estimate the current time..