Power over Ethernet is ideal for powering and controlling wall clocks and other time devices. The accuracy of a network’s NTP time server can be used to maintain an accurate time on the PoE clock. This means the clock will never drift and will always be accurate to the second – ideal for ensuring punctuality in organisations that runs to a tight time schedule. No matter how many clocks are running on the PoE system, they will all maintain the exact same time, eliminating time inconsistencies in large organisations.
As British summer time officially ended last weekend, with the clocks going back to bring the UK back to GMT (Greenwich Mean Time), the debate about the annual clock changing has started again. The Coalition Government has proposed plans to change the way Britain keeps time by shifting the clocks forward another hour, and in effect reverting to Central European Time (ECT)..
ECT, would mean that Britain would remain an hour ahead of GMT in the winter and two hours ahead in the summer, providing lighter evenings but darker mornings, especially for those north of the border.
However, any proposed plans have stiff opposition from the Scottish Government who suggest that by altering the clocks, many areas in Scotland wouldn’t see daylight during winter until about 10am, meaning many children would have to go to school in the dark.
Other opponents, include traditionalists, argue that GMT has been the basis for British time for over a century, and that any change would be simply … unBritish.
However, a change to ECT would make things easier for businesses that trade with Europe, keeping British workers on a similar timescale to their European neighbours.
Whatever the outcome of the proposed changes to GMT, little will change when it comes to technology and computer networks as they already keep the same timescale all over the globe: UTC (Coordinated Universal Time).
UTC is a global timescale kept true by an array of atomic clocks and is used by all sorts of technologies such as computer networks, CCTV cameras, bank telling machines, air traffic control systems and stock exchanges.
Based on GMT, UTC remains the same the world over, enabling global communication and the transfer of data across time zones without error. The reason for UTC is obvious when you consider the amount of trade that goes on across borders. With industries such as the stock exchange, where stocks and shares fluctuate in price continuously, split second accuracy is essential for global traders. The same is true for computer networks, as computers use time as the only reference as to when an event has taken place. Without adequate synchronisation, a computer network may lose data and international transactions would become impossible.
Most technologies keep synchronised to UTC by using NTP time servers (Network Time Protocol), which continually check system clocks across whole networks to ensure that they all are synced to UTC.
NTP time servers receive atomic clock signals, either by GPS (Global Positioning Systems) or by radio signal broadcast by national physics laboratories such as NIST in the United States or NPL in the UK. These signals provide millisecond accuracy for technologies, so no matter what time zone a computer network is, and no matter where it is in the world, it can have the same time as every other computer network across the globe that it has to communicate with.
International Telecommunications Union (ITU), based in Geneva, is voting in January to finally get rid of the leap second, effectively scrapping Greenwich Meantime.
UTC (Coordinated Universal Time) has been around since the 1970’s, and already effectively governs the world’s technologies by keeping computer networks synchronised by way of NTP time servers (Network Time Protocol), but it does have one flaw: UTC is too accurate, that is to say, UTC is governed by atomic clocks, not by the rotation of the Earth. While atomic clocks relay an accurate, unchanging form of chronology, the Earth’s rotation varies slightly from day-to-day, and in essence is slowing down by a second or two a year.
To prevent noon, when the sun is highest in the sky, from slowly getting later and later, Leap Seconds are added to UTC as a chronological fudge, ensuring that UTC matches GMT (governed by when the sun is directly above by the Greenwich Meridian Line, making it 12 noon).
The use of leap seconds is a subject of continuous debate. The ITU argue that with the development of satellite navigation systems, the internet, mobile phones and computer networks all reliant on a single, accurate form of time, a system of timekeeping needs to be precise as possible, and that leap seconds causes problems for modern technologies.
This against changing the Leap Second and in effect retaining GMT, suggest that without it, day would slowly creep into night, albeit in many thousands of years; however, the ITU suggest that large-scale changes could be made, perhaps every century or so.
If leap seconds are abandoned, it will effectively end Greenwich Meantime’s guardianship of the world’s time that has lasted over a century. Its function of signalling noon when the sun is above the meridian line started 127 years ago, when railways and telegraphs made a requirement for a standardised timescale.
If leap seconds are abolished, few of us will notice much difference, but it may make life easier for computer networks that synchronised by NTP time servers as Leap Second delivery can cause minor errors in very complicated systems. Google, for instance, recently revealed it had written a program to specifically deal with leap seconds in its data centres, effectively smearing the leap second throughout a day.
The physics world got itself into a bit of a tizz this month as scientists at CERN, the European Laboratory for Particle Physics, found an anomaly on one of their experiments, which seemed to show that some particles were travelling faster than light.
Faster than light travel for any particle is prohibited of course, according to Einstein’s Special Theory of Relativity, but the OPERA team at CERN, who fired neutrinos around a particle accelerator, travelling for 730 km, found that the neutrinos travelled the distance 20 parts per million faster than photons (light particles) meaning they broke Einstein’s speed limit.
While this experiment could prove to be one of the most important discoveries in physics, physicists are remaining sceptical, suggesting that a cause could be an error generated in the difficulties and complexities of measuring such high speeds and distances.
The team at CERN used GPS time servers, portable atomic clocks and GPS positioning systems to make their calculations, which all provided accuracy in distance to within 20cm and an accuracy of time to within 10 nanoseconds. However, the facility is underground and the GPS signals and other data streams had to be cabled down to the experiment, a latency the team are confident they took into account during their calculations.
Physicists from other organisations are now attempting to repeat the experiments to see if they get the same results. Whatever the outcome, this type of groundbreaking research is only possible thanks to the accuracy of atomic clocks that are able to measure time to millionths of a second.
To synchronise a computer network to an atomic clock you don’t need to have access to a physics laboratory like CERN as simple NTP time servers like Galleons NTS 6001 will receive an accurate source of atomic clock time and keep all hardware on a network to within a few milliseconds of it.
Most people will have heard of atomic clocks, most people, probably without realising have even used them; however, I doubt many people reading this will have ever seen one. Atomic clocks are highly technical and complicated pieces of machinery. Relying on vacuums, super-coolants such as liquid nitrogen and even lasers, most atomic clocks are only found in laboratories such as NIST (National Institute for Standards and Time) in the US, or NPL (National Physical Laboratory) in the UK.
No other form of timekeeping is as accurate as an atomic clock. Atomic clocks form the basis of world’s global timescale UTC (Coordinated Universal Time). Even the length Earth’s spin requires manipulation by the addition of leap seconds to UTC to keep the day synchronised.
Atomic clocks work by using the oscillating changes of atoms during different energy states. Caesium is the preferred atom used in atomic clocks, which oscillates 9,192,631,770 times a second. This is a constant effect too, so much so that a second is now defined by this many oscillations of the caesium atom.
Louis Essen built the first accurate atomic clock in 1955 at the National Physical Laboratory in the UK, since then atomic clocks have become increasingly more accurate with modern atomic clocks able to maintain time for over a million years without ever losing a second.
In 1961, UTC became the world’s global timescale, and by 1967, the International System of Units adopted the Caesium frequency as the official second.
Since then, atomic clocks have become part of modern technology. Onboard every GPS satellite, atomic clocks beam time signals to Earth, enabling satellite navigation systems in car, boats and aeroplanes to judge their locations precisely.
UTC time is also essential for trade in the modern world. With computer networks speaking to each other across timezones, using atomic clocks as a reference prevents errors, ensures security and provides reliable data transfer.
Receiving a signal from an atomic clock for computer time synchronisation is incredibly easy. NTP time servers that receive the time signal from GPS satellites, or those broadcast on radio waves from places NPL and NIST, enable computer networks across the globe to keep secure and accurate time.
Computer hacking is a common subject in the news. Some of the biggest companies have fallen victim to hackers, and for a myriad of reasons. Protecting computer networks from invasion from malicious users is an expensive and sophisticated industry as hackers use many methods to invade a system.
Various forms of security exist to defend against unauthorised access to computer networks such as antivirus software and firewalls.
One area often overlooked, however, is where a computer network gets it source of time from, which can often be a vulnerable aspect to a network and a way in for hackers.
Most computer networks use NTP (Network Time Protocol) as a method of keeping synchronised. NTP is excellent at keeping computers at the same time, often to within a few milliseconds, but is dependent on a single source of time.
Because computer networks from different organisations need to communicate together, having the same source of time makes sense, which is the reason most computer networks synchronise to a source of UTC (Coordinated Universal Time).
UTC, the world’s global timescale, is kept true by atomic clocks and various methods of utilising UTC are available.
Quite often, computer networks use an internet time source to obtain UTC but this is often when they run into security issues.
Using internet time sources leave a computer network open to several vulnerabilities. Firstly, to allow access to the internet time source, a port needs keeping open in the system firewall (UDP 123). As with any open port, unauthorised users could take advantage of this, using the open port as a way into the network.
Secondly, if the internet time source itself if tampered with, such as by BGP injection (Border Gateway Protocol) this could lead to all sorts of problems. By telling internet time servers it was a different time or date, major havoc could ensue with data getting lost, system crashes—a type of Y2K effect!
Finally, internet time servers can’t be authenticated by NTP and can also be inaccurate. Vulnerable to latency and affected to distance, errors can also occur; earlier this year some reputable time servers lost several minutes, leading to thousands of computer networks receiving the wrong time.
To ensure complete protection, dedicated and external time servers, such as Galleon’s NTS 6001 are the only secure method of receiving UTC. Using GPS (or a radio transmission) an external NTP time server can’t be manipulated by malicious users, is accurate to a few milliseconds, can’t drift and is not susceptible to timing errors.
When you tell somebody you’ll be an hour, ten minutes or a day, most people have a good idea how long they need to wait; however, not everybody has the same perception of time, and in fact, some people have no perception of time at all!
Scientists studying a newly discovered Amazonian tribe have found that they have no abstract concept of time, according to news reports.
The Amondawa, first contacted by the outside world in 1986, while recognising events occurring in time, do not recognise time as a separate concept, lacking the linguistic structures relating to time and space.
Not only do the Amondawa have no linguistic ability to describe time, but concepts like working throughout the night, would not be understood as time has no meaning to their lives.
While most of us in the western world tend to live by the clock, we all in fact have continuous different perceptions of time. Ever noticed how time flies when you’re having fun, or goes very slowly during times of boredom? Our time perceptions can vary greatly depending on the activities that we are undertaking.
Fighter pilots, Formula One drivers and other sportsmen often talk of “being in the zone” where time slows down. This is due to the intense concentration they are putting into their endeavours, slowing down their perceptions.
Regardless of out differing time perceptions, time itself can alter as Einstein’s Special Theory of Relativity demonstrated. Einstein suggested that gravity and intense speeds will alter time, with large planetary masses warping space-time slowing it down, while at very high speeds (close to the speed of light) space travellers could partake a journey that to observers would seem several thousands of years, but be just seconds to those travelling at such speeds.
And if Einstein’s theories seem far-fetched, it has been tested using ultra-precise atomic clocks. Atomic clocks on aeroplanes travelling around the Earth, or placed farther away from the Earth’s orbit, have minute differences to those remaining at sea-level or stationary on Earth.
Atomic clocks are useful tools for modern technologies and help to ensure that the global timescale, Universal Coordinated Time (UTC), is kept as accurate and true as possible. And you don’t need to own your own tomake sure your computer network is kept true to UTC and is hooked up to an atomic clock. NTP time servers enable all sorts of technologies to receive an atomic clock signal and keep as accurate as possible. You can even buy atomic clock wall clocks that can provide you the precise time no matter how much the day is “dragging” or “flying”.
The Pacific Island of Samoa, once the last place on Earth to see the sunset, is to move the entire nation into the future by 24 hours!
Of course, the Samoans haven’t discovered the secrets to time travel, but are skipping an entire day to make their nation fall on the other side of the International Date Line (IDL).
The International Date Line (IDL) the imaginary longitudinal line on the surface of the Earth where the date changes as a ship or aeroplane travels east or west across it. Since 1892, Samoa has sat on the eastern side of the IDL, but now the country’s Prime Minsister, Tuilaepa Sailele Malielegaoi intends shifting the nation to the western side, in essence skipping a day, making trade with neighbouring Australia and New Zealand easier.
When the change goes ahead at the end of the year, Samoa’s population of 180,000 will lose a day, going from 29 December straight to 31 December (The 30 December was chosen so presumably Samoan’s can still celebrate New Year’s Eve).
Samoa isn’t the only country to jump forward in time. When changing from the Julian calendar to the Gregorian in 1752, the British Empire had to skip 11 days, while Russia, the last European country to adopt the Gregorian calendar, had to skip 13 days (interestingly this makes the anniversary of the October Revolution fall on 7 November).
Difficulties with Time Zones
While Samoa’s difficult with trade has necessitated this change, a global economy means that a universal time system is necessary for communication between countries in different time zones.
UTC-Coordinated Universal Time was set-up for just this purpose. Governed by atomic clocks, the world’s most accurate timepieces, UTC allows the entire world to be synchronised to the exact same time.
UTC is often used by technologies such as computer networks to allow communication across the globe, preventing errors and miscommunication. Most technologies utilise NTP servers (Network Time Protocol) to receive a source of UTC time—either from the internet, GPS signals or radio frequencies—and distributes it around the computer network to ensure every device is synchronised to the same time.
A new atomic clock as accurate as any produced has been developed by the University of Tokyo which is so accurate it can measure differences in Earth’s gravitational field—reports the journal Nature Photonics.
While atomic clocks are highly accurate, and are used to define the international timescale UTC (Coordinated Universal Time), which many computer networks rely on to synchronise their NTP servers to, they are finite in their accuracy.
Atomic clock use the oscillations of atoms emitted during the change between two energy states, but currently they are limited by the Dick effect, where noise and interference generated by the lasers used to read the frequency of the clock, gradually affect the time.
The new optical lattice clocks, developed by Professor Hidetoshi Katori and his team at the University of Tokyo, get around this problem by trapping the oscillating atoms in an optical lattice produced by a laser field. This makes the clock extremely stable, and incredibly accurate.
Indeed the clock is so accurate Professor Katori and his team suggest that not only could it man future GPS systems become accurate to within a couple of inches, but can also measure the difference in the gravitation of the Earth.
As discovered by Einstein in his Special and General Theories of Relativity, time is affected by the strength of gravitational fields. The stronger the gravity of a body, the more time and space is bent, slowing down time.
Professor Katori and his team suggest that this means their clocks could be used to find oil deposits below the Earth, as oil is a lower density, and therefore has a weaker gravity than rock.
Despite the Dick Effect, traditional atomic clocks currently used to govern UTC and to synchronise computer networks via NTP time servers, are still highly accurate and will not drift by a second in over 100,000 years, still accurate enough for the majority of precise time requirements.
However, a century ago the most accurate clock available was an electronic quartz clock that would drift by a second a day, but as technology developed more and more accurate time pieces were required, so in the future, it is highly possible that these new generation of atomic clocks will be the norm.
Timekeeping and accuracy is important in the running of our day-to-day lives. We need to know what time events are occurring to ensure we don’t miss them, we also need to have a source of accurate time to prevent us from being late; and computers and other technology are just as reliant on the tine as we are.
For many computers and technical systems, the time in the form of a timestamp is the only tangible thing a machine has to identify when events should occur, and in what order. Without a timestamp a computer is unable to perform any task—even saving data is impossible without the machine knowing what time it is.
Because of this reliance on time, all computer systems have in-built clocks on their circuit boards. Commonly these are quartz based oscillators, similar to the electronic clocks used in digital wrist watches.
The problem with these system clocks is that they are not very accurate. Sure, for telling the time for human purposes they are precise enough; however, machines quite often require a higher level of accuracy, especially when devices are synchronised.
For computer networks, synchronisation is crucial as different machines telling different times could lead to errors and failure of the network to perform even simple tasks. The difficult with network synchronisation is that the system clocks used by computers to keep time can drift. And when different clocks drift by differing amounts, a network can soon fall into disarray as different machines keep different times.
For this reason, these system clocks are not relied on to provide synchronisation. Instead, a far more accurate type of clock is used: the atomic clock.
Atomic clocks don’t drift (at least not by more than a second in a million years) and so are ideal to synchronise computer networks too. Most computers use the software protocol NTP (Network Time Protocol) which uses a single atomic clock time source, either from across the internet, or more securely, externally via GPS or radio signals, in which it synchronises every machine on a network to.
Because NTP ensures each device is kept accurate to this source time and ignores the unreliable system clocks, the entire network can be kept synchronised to with each machine within fractions of a second of each other.