5 Essential Elements of Network Time Synchronization (Part 1 of 8)

Organizations today need network time synchronization that ensures the integrity of network operations and applications, that needs little in the way of management overhead.

Computing today is a shared experience. Most computers are attached to the Internet and even when they are not shared, most of the things that are done on a computer — reports, spreadsheets, even calendars — are meant to be shared or are done with the understanding that they might be. Then there are all the applications that only work in a shared environment, including email, online financial apps, and transaction processing—not to mention network operations itself, which includes everything from directory services, to security, to fault diagnosis and auditing. Even before the Internet, many commercial applications depended on the smooth operation of networked computers: industrial process control, funds transfers, telecommunications, and EDI (electronic data interchange of business documents like purchase orders and invoices) to name just a few.

So what is it that people (or their computers) share? Two things: first, of course, they share whatever information needs to be sent, received, or processed. But the second thing they share is “time”. We may not all inhabit the same space. Indeed we may be continents apart. But what we do all share everywhere, all the time, is time itself. There is a well-known Alan Jackson song the title of which is: It’s 5 o’clock somewhere. That is a non-technical way of implying that if you add the right offset, it is 5 o’clock here too. As a matter of fact, the “here” is usually much less important to users than the “now.” Anyone who uses the Internet to make a credit card payment cares much less about the physical location of the bank’s server than whether the transfer occurred before the bank’s deadline (and has proof it did).

To create a shared experience, the network must provide shared time, just like it provides a sharing of information. “Now” must be the same everywhere on the network. Specifically, what is shared is a reference point called UTC (Coordinated Universal Time). UTC gives applications everywhere a common index with which to synchronize events and prove that events happened when timestamps say that they happened.

Sharing time—as opposed to timesharing—means applications can operate completely independent of each other yet remain completely synchronized because they are all synchronized to UTC. The key is distributing UTC to those applications and proving that you did. You also want to do both (i.e., distribute UTC and prove you did) in a way that is easy to implement and manage. Timekeeping is not something that most computer users, and certainly most network administrators, want to spend time thinking or worrying about. Nor will they have to—provided that network administrators recognize the importance of network time synchronization and apply its five essential elements.

Microsemi provides synchronization services that assist customers with the planning, deployment and maintenance of synchronization infrastructure. Services are designed to lower costs, streamline processes, ensure quality, and deliver the highest level of performance from your synchronization network. Visit Timing & Synchronization Systems and learn how we can help provide you with comprehensive solutions across a wide range of applications.

In the next few articles, I’ll write about the importance of network time synchronization and the 5 essential elements of network time synchronization.

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