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How To Synchronize Clocks on Network Devices

How To Synchronize Clocks on Network Devices

Whether you run a school, warehouse, public transportation station, or another type of business, being able to instantly know the exact time is important. Knowing the time, however, will do you little good if the time on one half of your building is different than the time on the other. While you might think you’re on time for an important meeting, to other people, it might look like you’re running five minutes late! Avoid this issue and similar scenarios by learning how to synchronize clocks on network devices.

What Are Network Devices?

Before attempting to synchronize your clocks using one, it’s important to have a basic understanding of network devices. What are they, anyway? Network devices are the devices, or hardware, that allow for communication between other devices (for example, computers) on a network. Some common examples of network devices include:

  • Hubs
  • Routers
  • Bridges
  • Switches
  • Gateways
  • Access Points
  • Modems

Each of these types of network devices has a slightly different purpose—some connect multiple external hardware together, while others play a role in the transmission of information between the hardware on the network. Regardless of their exact functions, having at least one network device is essential for conveniently synchronizing any type of hardware, including clocks.

What Is Clock Synchronization?

Now that you understand network devices and why they are necessary, let’s talk about clock synchronization. The basic concept of clock synchronization is simple: when it is performed, several separate, individual clocks (or electronic devices that operate based on a clock) are synchronized to one another so that they all share the same time. All synchronized clocks on the same network will read the exact same time without error. This means that the clock or computer on one end of the building will be synchronized with another on the opposite side; look at any clock in the building and it will give you the same, accurate reading.

Why Is Clock Synchronization Necessary?

What’s the big deal about clock synchronization, and why would someone need to use it anyway? Contrary to popular belief, devices like clocks, computers, and other network devices do not come automatically synchronized. Every unsynchronized, individual clock keeps its own time, which also means each clock has its own error in that timekeeping. Even if two clocks are manually set to the same time, they will eventually become off from one another due to that margin of error. Now, two clocks being a minute or two off from one another may not seem very significant, but in settings where accurate timing is crucial, it makes a big difference. For example, in a school setting, if the clock in the hallway is a minute behind the one in your classroom, you may think you are on time for class, but you’re actually walking in a minute late. Knowing the exact time at which events occur within a network is also important for identifying and tracking security breaches or issues with your network, keeping files up to date, and keeping an accurate record of events across the network. Most billing services and other financial services are required by law to keep accurate network time, as timing is quite relevant in these institutions.

How Clocks Are Synchronized

As we mentioned before, clocks do not arrive automatically synchronized. So, how are these devices synchronized? Read on to learn more about the different types of synchronization and a few popular ways to synchronize clocks on network devices.

External vs. Internal

When synchronizing clocks, you can choose to align them in two different ways: externally or internally. Clocks that are externally synchronized refer to a single external source, such as a UTC signal, to get their time. Because the clocks are all synchronized to the same source, they will also be synchronized to one another. Internally synchronized clocks are synchronized directly to one another, such that all clocks in the system adjust themselves to match times. Though all the clocks in the system will always be set to the same time, they may not always match what would be considered the standard time.

Centralized vs. Distributed

When synchronizing clocks, you can also choose from one of two synchronization algorithms: centralized and distributed. With a centralized algorithm, a single network device is used as the standard to which all the other clocks in the system continually adjust their times. If this main device fails, the synchronized system will collapse. In a distributed system, the time is taken from all devices in the system; each clock’s time is considered, and the synchronized time is the average of all these individual times. Network Time Protocol (NTP) is the most common example of distributed synchronization.

Common Synchronization Methods

There are quite a few options to choose from when synchronizing clocks on network devices. Two of the most popular and common methods, however, are Network Time Protocol (NTP) and Precision Time Protocol (PTP). Below, we’ve provided a brief overview of each.

Network Time Protocol (NTP)

Network Time Protocol (NTP) has widely been considered the standard for time synchronization for many years. It’s a highly accurate protocol—it tracks time down to the millisecond. NTP works using one or more NTP server that maintains the exact time, which devices connected to the server can query for. This method of synchronization is accurate enough in most settings, which is why it’s so popular.

Precision Time Protocol (PTP)

Precision Time Protocol (PTP) is like NTP, but a bit more accurate and advanced. PTP can track time even more accurately than NTP—down to the sub-millisecond. However, it’s more complicated to set up and may not be compatible with every device or system. Typically, PTP is used in settings where a microsecond really matters, like the stock market or financial industries.

Having learned more about how to synchronize clocks on network devices, you now have a better understanding about why synchronization is necessary and a few ways to accomplish it. Aligning the times of all the clocks in your system or facility will help you to stay organized, no matter your task. To keep your company on track, purchase a digital warehouse clock or a clock for your school, fitness center, or business from BigTimeClocks. You’ll be grateful for the structure that proper synchronization brings to your business.

How To Synchronize Clocks on Network Devices