NTP Servers and the Different Time Sources

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NTP servers are essential devices for computer network time synchronisation. Ensuring a network coincides with UTC (Coordinated Universal Time) is vital in modern communications such as the Internet and is the primary function of the network time server (NTP server).

As their name suggests, these time servers use the protocol NTP (Network Time Protocol) to handle the synchronisation requests. NTP is already installed in many operating systems and synchronisation is possible without an NTP server by utilising an Internet time source, this can be unsecure and inaccurate for many network needs.

Network time servers receive a far more accurate and secure time signal. There are two methods of receiving the time using a time server: utilising the GPS network or receiving long wave radio transmissions.

Both these methods of receiving a time source are secure as they are external to any network firewall. They are also accurate as both sources of time are generated directly by atomic clocks rather than an Internet time service that are normally NTP devices connected to a third party atomic clock.

The GPS network provides an ideal source of time for NTP servers as the signals are available anywhere. The only downside of using the GPS network is that a view of the sky is required to lock-on to a satellite.

Radio referenced time sources are more flexible in that the long wave signal can be received indoors. They are limited in strength and not every country has a time signal although some signals such as the German DCF and the USA WVBB are available in neighbouring states.


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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+