Choosing a Source of Time for an NTP Synchronization

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Accurate time is essential in the modern world of internet banking, online auctions and global finance. Any computer network that is involved in global communication needs to have an accurate source of the global timescale UTC (Coordinated Universal Time) to be able to talk to other networks.

Receiving UTC is simple enough. It is available from multiple sources but some are more reliable than others:

Internet Time Sources

The internet is awash with time sources. These vary in reliability and accuracy but some trusted organisations like NIST (National Institute of Standards and Time) and Microsoft. However, there are disadvantages with internet time sources:

Reliability – The demand for internet sources of UTC often means it can be difficult to access them

Accuracy – most internet time servers are stratum 2 devices which means they rely on a source of time themselves. Often errors can occur and many sources of time can be very inaccurate.

Security – Perhaps the biggest issue with internet time sources is the risk they pose to security. To receive a time stamp from across the internet the firewall needs to have an opening to allow the signals to pass through; this can lead to malicious users taking advantage.

Radio Referenced Time Servers.

A secure method of receiving UTC time stamps is available by using a NTP time server that can receive radio signals from labs like NIST and NPL (National Physical Laboratory. Many countries have these broadcasted time signals which are highly accurate, reliable and secure.

GPS Time servers

Another source for dedicated time servers is GPS. The big advantage of a GPS NTP time server is that the time source is available everywhere on the planet with a clear view of the sky. GPS time servers are also highly accurate, reliable and just as secure as radio referenced time servers.


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Richard N Williams is a technical author and a specialist in the NTP Server and Time Synchronisation industry. Richard N Williams on Google+