Common Time Synchronization Pitfalls Finding UTC

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Time synchronization can be a headache for many network administrators attempting to synchronize a network for the first time. There are many pitfalls that an unaware network administrator can fall into when attempting to get every machine on a network to synchronize to the same time.

The first problem many network administrators make is the selection of the time source. UTC (Coordinated Universal Time) is a global timescale and is used throughout the world as a basis for time synchronization as it doesn’t rely on time zones enabling the global community to base itself on one timescale.

UTC is also controlled by a constellation of atomic clocks which ensures its accuracy; however, it is regularly adjusted to ensure that it matches mean solar time by the addition of leap seconds which are added to counter the natural slowing of the Earth’s rotation.

UTC is readily available as a time reference from a number of sources. The Internet is a popular location to receive a UTC time source. However, an Internet time source is located through the network firewall and security issues can arise from having to leave the UDP port open to receive the time requests.

Internet time sources can also be inaccurate and as NTP’s own security system known as NTP authentication cannot work across the Internet further security issues can arise.

A far better solution for getting a source of UTC is to use either the Global Positioning System (GPS) or the long wave radio transmissions broadcast by several national physics laboratories such as NIST in the USA and the UK’s NPL.

Dedicated NTP time servers can receive these secure and authenticated signals and then distribute them amongst all devices on a network.


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