Synchronization is vital for most computer networks. Timestamps are the only reference a computer can use to analyse when and if processes or applications are completed. Synchronized timestamps are also vital for security, debugging and error logging.
Failure to keep a network adequately synchronized can lead to all sorts of problems. Applications fail to commence, time sensitive transactions will fail and errors and data loss will become commonplace.
However, ensuring synchronization no matter the size of network is straight forward and not costly, thank to the dedicated network time server and the time protocol NTP.
Network Time Protocol (NTP)
NTP has been around even longer than the internet but is the most widely used synchronization protocol available. NTP is free to use and makes synchronization very straight forward. It works by taking a single time source (or multiple ones) and distributes it amongst the network. It will maintain high levels of accuracy even when it loses the original time signal and can make judgements on how accurate each time reference.
These come in several forms. Firstly there are a number of virtual time servers across the internet that distributes time free of charge. However, as they are internet based a network is taking a risk leaving a firewall port open for this time communication. Also there is no control over the time signal so if it goes down (or becomes unstable or wholly inaccurate) your network can be left without adequate synchronization.
Dedicated NTP time servers use GPS or radio references to receive the time. This is far more secure and as GPS and radio signals like WWVB (from NIST) are generated by atomic clocks there accuracy is second to none.
Because the NTP protocol is hierarchical it also means that only one dedicated time server needs to be used for a network, no matter the size, as other devices on the network can act as time servers after having rece9ved the time from the primary NTP server.