Precise Time Synchronization in Distributed Cloud Environments

Connect your distributed cloud while enabling secure, highly accurate time synchronization with Equinix Precision Time

Ankur Sharma
Precise Time Synchronization in Distributed Cloud Environments

Applications are getting faster every day. Transactions that used to take a few seconds now happen in the millisecond and microsecond range—and before too long, applications and systems will need to operate in the realm of nanoseconds. While those orders of magnitude are difficult for the human mind to comprehend, what’s clear is that precise time synchronization for IT systems keeps getting more important. As transaction speeds accelerate, the timing of systems conducting those transactions must be accurate and precise.

Many companies now deploy solutions across distributed hybrid cloud environments and globally interconnected data centers. However, the distribution of servers, storage systems, networking, and private and public clouds creates significant challenges around synchronizing system clocks. For industry sectors such as financial services, gaming, broadcasting, manufacturing and enterprise applications, having precise, reliable logs of the timing and order of transactions is imperative—as is data security. For highly specific, secure timing signal delivery, organizations can take advantage of Time as a Service (TaaS) applications that offer the precision, reliability and flexibility needed in hybrid cloud environments.

Time as a Service for the digital edge

Get more information and technical specifications for Equinix Precision Time, a secure PTP and NTP Time as a Service for distributed enterprise applications on Platform Equinix®.

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Why time synchronization is becoming increasingly important

Time synchronization has become critically important for a wide range of businesses. Consider streaming media, where customer experience is defined by fast, smooth playback with flawless audio-video sync for viewers streaming from dispersed locations. Or think about the gaming industry, where multiplayer games involving thousands of players around the world rely on coordinated, time-synced transactions for fair play. Not to mention the highly regulated financial industry, where it’s critical to maintain a properly ordered, validated transaction sequence. Eliminating network jitter for these time-sensitive applications is highly important, as is synchronizing time for all the systems that support them—both of which require extremely low-latency networks.

What’s the issue with time sync in distributed hybrid cloud environments?

Distributed environments present some challenges around precise time synchronization. Organizations with distributed hybrid cloud environments typically have their own private data centers and networks as well as cloud services from major cloud providers like Google Cloud, AWS, Azure and IBM. The IT architecture can be distributed to many locations globally. Data is often stored in private data centers for security reasons, however, it’s common to run compute on a public cloud, which needs to access the data stored in other locations for analysis. To bridge the gap between data storage and compute, you can use virtual services and a network automation platform that reduces complexity and management of dispersed environments. However, you still need to make sure that the timing for all the devices across the environment are synchronized to each other.

Public clouds have their own time sync services. On the private infrastructure side, companies have three main options for synchronizing time:

  1. The public internet
  2. A do-it-yourself (DIY) approach
  3. Third-party TaaS solutions

A lot of industries require high security and don’t want data exposed over the public internet, making private network connectivity essential. DIY approaches can be more costly and complicated to set up. TaaS solutions are managed by a third party but not available in all locations. All three options require a highly reliable, predictable, observable and secure network—which is already critical in hybrid cloud environments.

How Equinix Precision Time and Network Edge help with time sync in hybrid environments

Equinix Precision Time™ is a TaaS offering that’s well-suited to distributed enterprise architectures. Delivered via Equinix Fabric™, Equinix Precision Time can be distributed in private and public clouds, as well as in remote and on-premises locations over MPLS networks using Network Edge virtual instances.

Network Edge virtual network devices include virtual routers, firewalls, load balancers and SD-WAN devices. As you can see in the diagram above, Network Edge can solve the connectivity between private and public cloud networks as well as send time packets across the private-public expanse.

Because Network Edge is an all-virtual system, this solution for hybrid environments requires customers to use Network Time Protocol (NTP). You can use a Network Edge router to address time synchronization in distributed infrastructures either (1) as a network proxy that will only route NTP packets or (2) as an NTP time server.

Equinix Precision Time provides timing services over Equinix Fabric, so if you already own a port on the Equinix Fabric network, you can connect easily to Equinix Precision Time services by submitting a request in the customer portal.

Most TaaS solutions are human-managed services, but Equinix Precision Time is offered at the software level. It’s highly automated and therefore fast and easy to use, providing the flexibility and scalability you need in a distributed environment. Equinix Precision Time offers time synchronization around the clock, with high accuracy and security.

The next horizon in time synchronization

The world of time synchronization is evolving quickly as applications get faster and faster. Technological advancements around smart grids, 5G and 6G networks and IoT devices like autonomous vehicles underscore the importance of more precise, secure time synchronization. Not only that—but to successfully operate modern computer networks, you must have precise information about the timing of events. As we move toward a need for nanosecond-level synchronization, companies with distributed cloud environments face some time sync challenges, but Equinix Precision Time is designed to provide highly secure timing signal delivery over low-jitter interconnected networks to keep all your systems in sync.

To learn more about TaaS for the digital edge, read the Equinix Precision Time whitepaper.


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Ankur Sharma Principal Architect, Equinix Precision Time™
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