Time synchronization may be a “nice to have” for some applications, but for many vertical market applications, accurate time synchronization is absolutely critical. Before Time as-a-Service, options for time synchronization ranged from unreliable to quite expensive. Equinix has come up with a better “as-a-service” model for customers to ensure accurate time synchronization is possible at a reasonable price – Equinix Precision Time™.
Finance is one industry where an accurate log of the timing and order of transactions such as withdrawals, deposits, or trades is important. Manufacturing factory floors require a precisely timed series of operations, in a particular order, to end up with the desired outcome. In broadcast media, a good user experience relies on the picture running perfectly in synch with the sound. And in network security, logs with accurate time stamps can help cybersecurity experts learn about exactly when and how attacks happened.
These are just a few examples of the myriad organizations for whom time synchronization is a really big deal. There are currently three options for getting accurate time. But first, there are two different time protocols commonly used by these industries: Network Time Protocol (NTP), which offers accuracy levels typically within tens of milliseconds, and the more accurate Precision Time Protocol (PTP), which offers accuracy levels typically within the sub-microseconds range (microseconds, nanoseconds and picoseconds).
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Existing time synchronization options
The easiest option is to use public internet time. It’s free and easy to connect. Internet time might be fine for businesses where accurate time synchronization is not a priority, but the downside to this method is that it is not very accurate, and there is no SLA to ensure reliability. It’s also easy for bad actors to hack, making security issues a big problem.
At the other end of the spectrum is the DIY with an antenna set-up. Some customers choose to purchase and install their own antennas, GPS server equipment and other accessories. This gives business owners more control over their time synchronization. Unfortunately, building and controlling everything yourself takes a lot of time (weeks or months) and effort, not to mention expense. You also need someone with specialized training to maintain it — adding more expense. In addition, the DIY users have to watch out for GPS jamming and spoofing issues, and take on the responsibility of mitigating those issues while operating their own set-up.
Enter Time-as-a-Service, which outsources the installation and management of all that equipment to a third party. You don’t have to hire anyone to manage it, because the third party you outsourced to has their own experts, and it can give you microsecond-level accuracy. Unfortunately, Time-as-a-Service is only available in certain locations. Scaling it can be tricky. And its reliability is dependent on a good network.
In fact, all of these precision time solutions rely on the network to be effective, which they may not have any control over. To support precise time synchronization, networks need to be predictable, reliable, observable, controllable and secure. In the white paper “Addressing the Enterprise Need for Time as a Service,” IDC observes that “enterprises frequently find that it is difficult and expensive to manage and distribute time over great distances while maintaining a high degree of precision. Although NTP and PTP methods can adjust for latency, enterprises also require a network that can deliver minimal jitter.”[i]
A better time synchronization solution
Equinix has come up with a better time synchronization solution — Time-as-a-Service that runs on the high-performance network backbone of Equinix Fabric™, providing precise time, 24 hours a day, globally. Located within Equinix International Business Exchange™ (IBX®) data center locations all over the world, Equinix Precision Time is an ideal solution for customers in the financial services, enterprise applications, manufacturing, broadcasting, defense, and gaming or sports streaming industries, where precision time is business critical. Equinix Precision Time is a fully managed service, requiring no maintenance. By delivering Equinix Precision Time via Equinix Fabric software-defined interconnection, businesses can:
- Rapidly provision accurate time synchronization in less than two minutes
- Ensure predictable time synchronization with PTP SLA accuracy of 50 microseconds
- Choose between PTP and NTP using automated provisioning
- Save on CAPEX since no infrastructure is required
- Benefit from using a secure, private network instead of the public internet
A diagram of the test bed that we used to test PTP and NTP synchronization over Equinix Fabric. In this test bed, we measured accuracy levels around 1-1.5 microseconds for PTP and 30-40 microseconds for NTP.
In addition, Equinix Precision Time leverages Equinix Fabric to deliver higher time synchronization performance, even at scale, which enables us to meet much higher precision time standards than most solutions:
- Meets HIPAA, FINRA, MIFID II standards
- GNSS backups, anti-spoofing/jamming
- Multi-tenancy, authenticated.
- Highly available: multiple levels of service redundancy
Examples of deployments at scale with Equinix metro locations where you can connect to Edge Precision Time Service over ECX and Edge Precision Time sites with GNSS Reference.
Equinix Precision Time is an on-demand service that is available to Equinix data center customers in all metros with Equinix Fabric, except in Australia and LATAM —those regions will be supported in 2021.
We know your time is important — let us save you some time finding the perfect time synchronization solution. We invite customers who have a need for accurate time synchronization to try Equinix Precision Time risk-free for 30 days. It takes less than two minutes to get set up.
Learn more about how Equinix Precision Time is helping government agencies keep critical missions on time.
 IDC White Paper, “Addressing the Enterprise Need for Time as a Service,” Sponsored by Equinix, Authored by Brad Casemore, Doc #US47646121, May 2021.