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.