Time has always played an important part in civilisation. Understanding and monitoring time has been one of the pre-occupations of mankind since prehistory and the ability to keep track of time was as important to the ancients as it is to us.
Our ancestors needed to know when the best time was to plant crops or when to gather for religious celebrations and knowing the time means making sure it is the same as everyone else’s.
Time synchronization is the key to accurate time keeping as arranging an event at a particular time is only worthwhile if everybody is running at the same time. In the modern world, as business has moved from a paper-based system to an electronic one, the importance of time synchronisation and the search for ever better accuracy is even more crucial.
Computer networks are now communicating with each other from across the globe conducting billions of dollars worth of transactions every second, millisecond accuracy is now part of business success.
Computer networks can be comprised of hundreds and thousands of computers, servers and routers and while they all have an internal clock, unless they are synchronised perfectly together a myriad of potential problems could occur.
Security breaches, data loss, frequent crashes and breakdowns, fraud and customer credibility are all potential hazards of poor computer time synchronisation. Computers rely on time as the only point of reference between events and many applications and processes are time dependent.
Even discrepancies of a few milliseconds between devices can cause problems particularly in the world of global finance where millions are gained or lost in a second. For this reason most computer networks are controlled by a time server. These devices receive a time signal from an atomic clock. This signal is then distributed to every device on the network, ensuring that all machines have the identical time.
Most synchronisation devices are controlled by the computer program NTP (Network Time Protocol). This software regularly checks each device’s clock for drift (slowing or accelerating from the desired time) and corrects it ensuring the devices never waver from the synchronised time.