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Importance of Time Synchronisation when Working in the Cloud

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Cloud computing has been foreseen as being the next big step in the development of information technology with more and more businesses and IT networks becoming cloud reliant and doing away with traditional methods.

The term ‘Cloud Computing’ refers to the use of on demand programs and services online including the storing of information over the internet, and using applications not installed on host machines.

Cloud computing mean that users no longer need to own, install and run software in individual machines, and doesn’t require large capacity storage. It also allows remote computing, enabling users to use the same services, work on the same documents, or access the network at any workstation able to log onto the cloud service.

While these advantages are appealing to businesses enabling them to lower IT costs while providing the same network capabilities, there are disadvantages to cloud computing.

Firstly, to work on the cloud you are reliant on a working network connection. If there is a problem with the line, whether in your locale or with the cloud service provider, you can’t work—even offline.

Secondly, peripherals such as printers and back up drives may not work properly on a cloud-orientated machine, and if you are using a non-specified computer, you won’t be able to access any network hardware unless the specific drivers and software are installed on the machine.

Lack of control is another issue. Being part of a cloud service means that you have to adhere to the terms and conditions of the cloud host, which may affect all sorts of issues such as data ownership and the number of users that can access the system.

Time synchronisation is essential for cloud services, with precise and accurate time needed to ensure that every device that connects to the cloud is logged accurately. Failure to ensure precise time could lead to data getting lost or the wrong version of a job overriding new versions.

To ensure precise time for cloud services, NTP time servers, receiving the time from an atomic clock, are used to maintain accurate and reliable time. A cloud service will essentially be governed by an atomic clock once it is synchronised to an NTP server, so no matter where users are in the world, the cloud service can ensure the correct time is logged preventing data loss and errors.

Galleon NTP server

A New Slim 1U Rackmount Dual Time Server from Galleon Systems

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Leading providers of time synchronisation equipment and Network Time Protocol Products, Galleon Systems, have released a compact new 1U rackmountable dual time server.

Galleon’s new NTS 6001 1U rackmountable NTP time server can receive atomic clock timing signals from both the Global Positioning System (GPS) and national time and frequency radio transmissions.

Designed to fit snugly into any server rack, the 1U NTS 6001 is a stratum 1 time server capable of symphonizing a network of hundred of machines to within a few
milliseconds of UTC (Coordinated Universal Time).

The NTS 6001 consists of both an integral GPS receiver that can simultaneously track up to 12 satellites, and a high gain radio receiver that can receive the MSF (UK), WWVB (USA) and DCF (Germany) radio transmissions.

The NTS- 6001 dual time server features:

  • NTP Version 4
  • Ethernet NTP output jitter typically within 50 microseconds of UTC.
  • High Reliability – solid state design and convection cooled
  • Easy to use – web based user interface for system configuration and management.
  • Free firmware upgrades.
  • LCD display
  • 3 Year Warranty.

The NTS 6001 is the latest in a long line of highly precise NTP time synchronisation devices from atomic clock experts Galleon Systems.

Manufactured in the UK, Galleon Systems have a wide range of other NTP and time synchronisation devices used worldwide by thousands of organizations who need accurate, reliable and precise time.

For more information please contact:
https://www.galsys.co.uk/
0121 608 4433
sales(at)galleonmail(dot)com

Networking Secrets Synchronization

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An efficient and error free operation is the goal of any administrator that is setting up a computer network. Ensuring the smooth running and passing of data without errors or loss of connections is a prerequisite for any decent functioning network system.

There are some fundamental things that can be carried out to minimise risk of encountering problems further down the line. A decent network server is a must, as is an efficient router but there is one piece of technology often overlooked in computer networking – the network time server.

The importance of correct computer network time only becomes apparent when something goes wrong. When an error does occur (and without adequate time synchronization it is a matter of when not if) it can be next to impossible to pin down what caused in and where. Just imagine all the error logs on the different machines all with timestamps telling a different time, finding out where and when the error occurred can be near impossible – and that’s before you can even get round to fixing it.

Fortunately most network administrators appreciate the value of synchronization and most ensure the network receives a time signal from across the Internet. However, many administrators are unaware of the vulnerabilities this may cause throughout the network.

By using an online time server, a UDP port (123) needs be kept open which can be an open gate to malicious programs and users. Furthermore, there is no authentication of the online time server so the signal could be hijacked or just be inaccurate.

A dedicated network time server running the protocol NTP (Network Time Protocol) will operate externally to the network and receive the time from an atomic clock source directly (through radio or GPS) making NTP servers, secure, accurate and reliable.

Synchronising Computer Networks to an Atomic Clock

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Atomic clocks are well-known for being accurate. Most people may never have seen one but are probably aware that atomic clocks keep highly precise time. In fact modern atomic clock will keep accurate time and not lose a second in one hundred million years.

This amount of precision may seem overkill but a multitude of modern technologies rely on atomic clocks and require such a high level of precision. A perfect example is the satellite navigation systems now found in most auto cars. GPS is reliant on atomic clocks because the satellite signals used in triangulation travel at the speed of light which in a single second can cover nearly 100,000 km.

So it can be seen how some modern technologies rely on this ultra precise timekeeping from atomic clocks but their use doesn’t stop there. Atomic clocks govern the world’s global timescale UTC (Coordinated Universal Time) and they can also be used to synchronise computer networks too.

It may seem extreme to use this nanosecond precision to synchronise computer networks too but as many time sensitive transactions are conducted across the internet with such trades as the stock exchange where prices can fall or rise each and every second it can be seen why atomic clocks are used.

To receive the time from an atomic clock a dedicated NTP server is the most secure and accurate method. These devices receive a time signal broadcast by either atomic clocks from national physics laboratories or direct from the atomic clocks onboard GPS satellites.

By using a dedicated NTP server a computer network will be more secure and as it is synchronised to UTC (the global timescale) it will in effect be synchronised with every other computer network using a NTP server.

The Body Clock Natures Own NTP Server

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Developing new methods of telling the time accurately and precisely has developed to a new obsession amongst chronologists in the twenty first century. Since the development of the first atomic clocks in the 1950’s with millisecond accuracy the race was started with organisation such as the US’s NIST (National Institute for Standards and Time) and the UK’s NPL (National Physical Laboratory) developing increasingly accurate atomic clocks.

Atomic clocks are used as the time source for high technologies and applications such as satellite navigation and air traffic control, they are also the source for time signals used by NTP servers to synchronise computer networks.

An NTP server works by continually adjusting the computers system clock to ensure it matches the time relayed by the atomic clock. In doing this the NTP server can keep a computer network to within a few milliseconds of atomic clock controlled UTC (Coordinated Universal Time).

However, as remarkable this technology may seem it appears Mother Nature has already been doing the very same thing with our own body clocks.

The human body clock is only just being understood by medical science (the study of which is called Chronobiology) but what is known is that the body clock extremely important in the functioning of our day to day lives; it is also highly accurate and works in a very similar way to the NTP server.

Whilst a NTP time server receives a time signal from an atomic clock and adjust the system clocks on computers to match, our body clocks do the very same thing. The body clock runs in a circadian rhythm in other words a 24 hour clock. When the sun rises in the morning part of the brain that governs the body clock called the suprachiasmatic nucleus – which is located in the brain’s hypothalamus, automatically corrects for the sun’s movement.

In this way the human body clock adjusts for the darker winters and lighter months of the summer which is why you may find it more difficult to wake in the winter. The body clock adjusts itself every day to ensure it is synchronised to the rotation of the sun just as a NTP time server synchronises a computer’s system clock to ensure it is running accurately  to its timing source – the atomic clock.

Common Network Time Synchronisation (NTP) Server Errors (Part 2)

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Radio signal goes dead for several hours

The long wave transmissions such as MSF (NPL) or WWVB (NIST) are broadcast from large antennas that often need maintenance. This often requires a shut down of the broadcast while it is being done. These outages are normally posted with at least three months notice on the websites of the signals controllers (and can be automatically emailed if you register) to give prior notice.

These outages only tend to last a few hours leaving your computer network reliant on the electronic system clocks but it is doubtful there will be too much drift in that time (and any drift will be accounted for once the signal is back on. If these outages could be a potential problem than a simple solution is to invest in a dual system that will receive both GPS time server and radio signals ensuring a continuous time signal.

No time signal coming in despite the time server being powered up

This is most often caused by either lack of power going to the antenna or failing to connect to site the antenna where it can have a clear view of the sky. GPS antennas may have battery or power connections so it is always worth checking before switching the device on. Ensuring the antenna can ‘view’ the satellites when using GPS time servers is also important, remembering that windows and skylights may prevent signals getting through.

When using radio time reference such as MSF, DCF or WWVB the NTP server antennas can receive the long wave signal indoors but they are vulnerable to topography and local interference. If there is no signal or only a weak signal then try moving the antenna around until the signal strength increases enough.

Often users of these time and frequency signals find that the signal is weak throughout the day but is boosted at night. This is because the signals are ground state but have a residual skywave which can bounce of the ionosphere during the coolness of the night (ionospheric propagation).

Some users of these signals may find that despite being well within range the local topography can prevent a strong enough signal from getting through.

Common Network Time Synchronisation (NTP) Server Errors (Part 1)

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NTP servers are the easiest, most accurate and secure method of receiving a UTC time source (Coordinated Universal Time). Most dedicated NTP time servers will run in the background automatically synchronising the devices on a network completely automatically.

However, there are some common problems that occasionally occur in using a network time server but fortunately most can be solved relatively easily.

Losing A GPS time signal

GPS is one of the most efficient sources of UTC time. The GPS signal is available literally anywhere on the planet where there is a clear view of the sky. At any one time there are at least three satellites within range of any location and unlike radio referenced transmissions there are no maintenance outages so the signal is always uninterrupted.

However, some people find that they keep losing their GPS signal when using a GPS NTP time server. Very rarely this can be caused by extra terrestrial occurrences (solar flares – not little green men), however more commonly signal loss occurs when there has been insufficient time give for the initial acquisition lock.

To ensure a continuous signal make sure you follow manufacturer’s recommendation for obtaining acquisition. This usually means leaving the GPS time server to get a good lock for at least 24 hours (so all satellites have been in view). If not enough time is given to this then it is possible the GPS time server will lose a satellite and therefore timing information.

One second delay in a radio clock compared to internet or GPS

This is a very frequent occurrence when using a radio time server using signals such as the MSF transmission broadcast by the UK’s National Physical Laboratory. This occurs normally after the insertion of a Leap Second. Leap seconds are introduced once or twice a year to compensate for the slowing of the Earth’s rotation and to keep UTC in line with the Greenwich Meridian.
While NTP will automatically account for leap seconds with signals like the MSF it can often take some time as there is no Leap Second announcement. This announcement normally allows NTP to prepare for the leap second (which normally occurs in the last second of the last day in June or December). As signals such as MSF do not announce the upcoming leap second it can take some time for it to be accounted for. In some cases it can take a few days in others minutes. A simple solution is to manually announce the leap second.

However, if this is not done, NTP will eventually discover the leap second and adjust the network clocks.

Contiued……

Atomic Clocks and the GPS Time Server

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Atomic clocks have been around since the 1950’s when NPL (National Physical Laboratory) in the UK developed the first reliable caesium based clock. Before atomic clocks, electronic clocks were the most accurate method of keeping track of time but while an electrical clock may lose a second in every week or so, a modern atomic clock will not lose a single second in hundreds of millions of years.

Atomic clocks are not just used to keep track of time. The atomic clock is an integral part of the GPS system (Global Positioning System) as each GPs satellite has its own onboard atomic clock that generates a time signal that is picked up by GPS receivers who can calculate their position by using the precise signal from three or more satellites.

Atomic clocks need to be used as the signal s from the satellites travel at the speed of light and as light travels nearly 300,000 km each second any slight inaccuracy could put navigation out by miles.

A GPS time server is a network time server that uses the time signal from the GPS network’s satellites to synchronise the time on computer networks. A GPS time server often uses NTP (Network Time Protocol) as a method of distributing time which is why these devices are often referred to as NTP GPS time servers.

Computer networks that are synchronised using a dedicated time server are normally synchronised to UTC (Coordinated Universal Time) and while the GPS signal is not UTC, GPS time, like UTC, is based on International Atomic Time (TAI) and is easily converted by NTP.

Useful NTP server related resources

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NTP homepage–  The home for the NTP Project who provides support and additional development resources for the Official Reference Implementation of NTP.

NTP Project support pages

THE NTP pool – list of public servers

NPL – The National Physical Laboratory in the UK who control the MSF radio signal.

The University of Delaware and David Mills’ information page, Professor Mills is the original inventor and developer of NTP

David Mills’ list of Public NTP Time Servers a list of public NTP servers

National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) who operate the USA’s WWVB radio signal

Europe’s largest supplier of NTP server related products.

Galleon UK – NTP server products for the UK

NTP Time Server .com  – one of the largest time and frequency suppliers in the United States

NTP – Wikipedia article on NTP

NTP server checker – free tool to ensure time server accuracy

The NTP Server and Accurate Time

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Accurate time on a network is essential for all businesses and institutions. Without an accurately synchronised system a computer network can be vulnerable to all sorts of problems, from malicious hackers and other security threats to fraud and data loss.
Network Time Protocol is the key to keeping accurate time it is a software algorithm that has been constantly developed for over two decades. NTP takes a single time source that is received by the NTP server and distributes it across a network ensuring all machines in that network are running to exact same time.

Whilst NTP can maintain synchronisation of a network to within a few milliseconds it is only as good as the time source it receives. A dedicated NTP server will use a time signal from an external source and so keep the network secure as the firewall will not have to be disturbed.

The two preferred methods for most users of NTP servers is the GPS network (Global Positioning System) or specialist time and frequency transmissions put out be several national physics labs such as the UK’s NPL.

These time signals are UTC (Coordinated Universal Time) which is the world’s civil timescale. An NTP server receiving time source from either a frequency transmission or the GPS network can realistically provide accuracy to within a few milliseconds of UTC

Network time servers are preferred as a synchronisation tool rather than the much simpler internet time servers because they are far more secure. Using the internet as a basis for time information would mean using a source outside the firewall which could allow malicious users to take advantage.

Network time servers on the other hand work inside the firewall, both of these type of signals are incredibly accurate and secure with each method providing millisecond accuracy to UTC. However, there are downsides to both systems. The radio signals broadcast by nation time and frequency laboratories are susceptible to interference and locality, while the GPS signal, although available literally everywhere on the globe can occasional be lost too (often due to bad weather interfering with the line-of-sight GPS signals.

For computer networks where high levels of accuracy are imperative, dual systems are often incorporated. These dual network time servers receive the time signal from both the GPS network and the radio transmissions and select an average for even more accuracy.  However, the real advantage of using a dual system is that if one signal fails, for what ever the reason, the network will not have to rely on the inaccurate system clocks as the other method of receiving UTC time should still be operational.