By Richard Hoptroff, CTO, Hoptroff
precision timing has not been a necessity for data centres. Far from standard practice,
if a customer needs accurate time synchronisation, they buy it
in. However, this data centre hesitancy regarding new timing solutions
such as Traceable Time as a Service (TTaaS) cannot be sustained in the face of
growing industry demands for accurate time by data centres to improve the
quality of operations.
customers are progressively distributing computational processes in the cloud.
While this transition can offer greater efficiency and innovation it also
presents dangers such as fragmentation which can result in compromising data
quality and integrity. A casualty of this process is the coherence of time, and
with it the ability to establish causality between events, especially when
relying on traditional Network Time Protocol (NTP) time feeds that offer less
accuracy and verifiability than a software-based Precision Time Protocol
(PTP) solution. As the speed of data transfer and cloud migration
increase, the need for accuracy and traceability in time also increases in data
management. Data centres will experience growing demands for highly accurate,
traceable, and resilient time from their customers.
resilient, and traceable time is becoming increasingly
important for data centre operations. This is particularly true when providing
sub-microsecond delivery in data centres. Many computers must interact and have
clock synchronisation to regulatory required speeds. Within the finance
sector, the MiFID II and Consolidated Audit Trail (CAT) regulations require
companies to have trusted timestamping on transactions to as much as a hundred
millionths of a second (100µs). Thus, they need
a reliable source of time that is precise
and verifiable to ensure that transactions are compliant. This is not,
however, just a compliance issue. If timestamps are wrong, counterparties will
reject the trades and business will be lost.
media and broadcasting sector, companies can cut costs considerably if they
send content over Internet Protocol (IP) rather than the more traditional Serial
Digital Interface (SDI). This also enables them to process content in the
cloud rather than on-location in expensive edit suites. The catch is that
IP is asynchronous, so the content needs to be resynchronised at every point
along the production chain. This is where a source of traceable and
resilient time is needed, to ensure that this content is synchronised correctly at
whatever point in the chain it is in.
time stamps improving data quality
shift to virtual systems was accelerated by the pandemic. Almost all businesses
now have some dependency on the cloud, from cashless payments to appointment
booking. Remote working is also becoming more significant and companies that
use data centres need to ensure that their data is secure in the
cloud. Traceable and accurate time is necessary now more than ever to make
sure that documents can be worked on in the cloud by multiple people at the
same time to maintain business efficiency.
As the accurate recording of data becomes more central to compliance and regulation, so does trust. Companies need to be able to ensure that their time is correct and be able to prove it to their customers. This scenario is even more important when virtual events have real-world effects where someone needs to be held accountable. Blockchain, data validation, and GDPR regulation are some of many use-cases that require the level of certainty that traceable timing solutions provide.
regulation, monitoring and reporting
time is traditionally achieved with Global Navigational Satellite Systems such
as GPS, in combination with a grandmaster clock that translates this into the
PTP internet format used to transmit time to servers in a data
centre. As we push towards processing data at the edge, more and more
equipment setups are required, and the cost of this approach soon becomes
prohibitive. It’s not only expensive, but very high maintenance and
typically implemented by a network engineer who is not a timing specialist. The
only way to be certain of the time is to source it from
three independent sources (e.g., GPS, Glonass and Galileo) and use
three grandmaster clocks – but this makes it three times as
expensive. The final issue that has been imposed by COVID-19 is
the inability to visit the data centres to maintain all this equipment.
traditional methods used to achieve traceable time, the challenge lies
with the satellites themselves. Jamming and spoofing attacks are becoming
increasingly common and pose a real threat to these systems. Intentional interference
(‘jamming’) is increasingly common, most anecdotally when commercial drivers
deliberately jam their on-board tracking devices to cover their
tracks. Spoofing is a more sophisticated form of interference where false
GNSS signals are generated to convince GNSS receivers that they are somewhere
else. Originally developed by state actors as a defensive strategy, they are
now available at low cost and will increasingly be used as a defence against
undesired drone incursions as drone technology becomes more prevalent.
and reliable timing solutions
with satellite interference, network-derived timing sources are the solution.
These timing sources allow a software agent to synchronise
the server system clock; and the monitoring, alerting, and
logging system ensures that time synchronisation is maintained. It is a
more precise, and now verified, timing environment that enables global
financial services and other industries to enhance the value of their
data, optimise business operations and efficiency. There is no
hardware involved, it is a software solution.
Traceable Time as a Service offer lower costs and removes the need for cumbersome
physical hardware installation. With increasing reliance on the
cloud, having a terrestrial time distribution method increases security even in
the event of satellite signal loss. Clock synchronisation is a simple
compliance task which is not the institution’s focus, so out-sourcing it
can save time and hassle.
traceable timing solutions launch due to the increasing capacity of
data centres across financial services and beyond, companies will look to
invest in this invisible utility. Players in the data centre sector, such as
Equinix, are catching up with this market trend and has recently launched its
version of ‘Time as a Service’. This emphasises the importance of having
traceable and accurate time throughout data centres, while ensuring that
customer’s data is safe. It is likely we will see demand grow further as
more systems move to the cloud, so businesses should look to an
experienced timing solution provider to guarantee that their time is precise,
accurate and verifiable.