NTP Server History and Implementation

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Network Time Protocol (NTP) was, invented by Dr David Mills from the University of Delaware, it has been in utilized since 1985 and is still in constant development. NTP is a protocol designed to synchronize the clocks on computers and networks across the Internet or Local Area Networks (LANs). Most networks are synchronised via NTP to a UTC time source (coordinated universal time)

UTC is based on the time told by atomic clocks and is used globally as standardized time source.

NTP (version 4) can maintain time over the public Internet to within 10 milliseconds (1/100th of a second)  of UTC time and can perform even better over LANs with accuracies of 200 microseconds (1/5000th of a second) under ideal conditions.

NTP works within the TCP/IP suite and relies on UDP, time synchronisation with NTP is relatively simple, it synchronises time with reference to a reliable UTC source and then distributes this time to all machines and devices on a network.

Microsoft and others recommend that only external based timing should be used rather than Internet based, as these can’t be authenticated and can leave a system open to abuse, especially since an Internet timing source is beyond the firewall. Specialist NTP servers are available that can synchronise time on networks using either the MSF, DCF or WWVB radio transmission. These signals are broadcast on long wave by several national physics laboratories.

In the UK, the MSF national time and frequency radio transmissions used to synchronise an NTP server is broadcast by the National Physics Laboratory in Cumbria which serves as the United Kingdom’s national time reference, there are also similar systems in Colorado, US (WWVB) and in Frankfurt, Germany (DCF-77).

A radio based NTP server usually consists of a rack-mountable time server, and an antenna, consisting of a ferrite bar inside a plastic enclosure, which receives the radio time and frequency broadcast. The antenna should always be mounted horizontally at a right angle toward the transmission for optimum signal strength. Data is sent in pulses, 60 a second. These signals provides UTC time to an accuracy of 100 microseconds, however, the radio signal has a finite range and is vulnerable to interference.

A radio referenced NTP server is easily installed and can provide an organization with a precise time reference enabling the synchronization of entire networks. The NTP server will receive the time signal and then distribute it amongst the network devices.


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