Synchronisation of modern computer networks is vitally important for a multitude of reasons, and thanks to the time protocol NTP (Network Time Protocol) this is relatively straightforward.
NTP is an algorithmic protocol that analyses the time on different computers and compares it to a single time reference and adjusts each clock for drift to ensure synchronisation with the time source. NTP is so capable at this task that a network synchronised using the protocol can realistically obtain millisecond accuracy.
Choosing the time source
When it comes to establishing a time reference there really is no alternative than to find a source of UTC (Coordinated Universal Time). UTC is the global timescale, used throughout the world as a single timescale by computer networks. UTC is kept accurate by a constellation of atomic clocks throughout the world.
Synchronising to UTC
The most basic method of receiving a UTC Time source is to use a stratum 2 internet time server. These are deemed stratum 2 as they distribute the time after first receiving it from a NTP server (stratum 1) that is connected to an atomic clock (stratum 0). Unfortunately this is not the most accurate method of receiving UTC because of the distance the data has to travel from host to the client .
There are also security issues involved in using an internet stratum 2 time source in that the firewall UDP port 123 has to be left open to receive the time code but this firewall opening can, and has been, exploited by malicious users.
Dedicated NTP Servers
Dedicated NTP time servers, often referred to as network time servers, are the most accurate and secure method of synchronising a computer network. They operate externally to the network so there are no firewall issues. These stratum 1 devices receive the UTC time direct from an atomic clock source by either long wave radio transmissions or the GPS network (Global Positioning System). Whilst this does require an antenna, which in the case of GPS has to be placed on a rooftop, the time server itself will automatically synchronise hundreds and indeed thousands of different devices on the network.