Time – A Critical Dimension to Business and Digital Infrastructure

Asia-Pacific enterprises leverage Equinix Precision Time to overcome time synchronicity hurdles

Garina Tse
Time – A Critical Dimension to Business and Digital Infrastructure

The sustained adoption of video conferencing and streaming resulting from hybrid working, long-term growth in e-commerce and the uptick of high-frequency trading are several compounding factors driving demand for digitalization services in the Asia-Pacific. The growth of network service providers to support these industries and trends has led to the inevitable need for increasingly accurate timekeeping. For instance, financial institutions rely on precise time stamping to accurately track transaction sequences, broadcasting and streaming require synchronized audio and video feeds and e-commerce requires manufacturing and logistics to run on a mutually agreed upon schedule that ensures timely production and delivery.

According to the Global Interconnection Index (GXI) 2023, a market study conducted by Equinix, service providers are expected to consume 57% of regional Asia-Pacific interconnection bandwidth through 2025. With the rapid adoption of cloud and digitalization in business infrastructure, data centers have become an important linkage in the overall network chain across a multitude of industries and sectors. Edge services like Equinix Precision TimeTM delivered over Equinix Fabric® are offered to enterprises as “time-as-a-service”. By subscribing to a digital service that is scalable based on the varied needs of organizations and industries, customers can avoid the challenges that come with relying on the public internet or GPS antennas for time synchronization.

IDC – Precision Time for Digital Edge

Discover how a new time as-a-service offering from Equinix seeks to address both the limitations of current approaches to time and the evolving needs of modern enterprises.

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Hybrid Working Normalizes Virtual Conferencing

Initially a reactive policy, we’re now witnessing enterprises embrace hybrid working as part of their long-term strategy for work-life balance. Video conferencing and virtual meetings have now become commonplace methods for multiple people to connect and collaborate across great distances by streaming video, audio and presentations in real time. The Asia-Pacific region is no exception, in 2021 the video conferencing market was worth 3.3 billion U.S. dollars with the market forecasted to double by 2026, increasing up to 6.8 billion U.S. dollars.[1]

As networks and applications become increasingly geographically distributed to facilitate global collaboration, networking systems face the challenge of ensuring time accuracy for coordinating synchronicity across multiple network devices. To avoid “lip sync” errors, the time between feeds must be tightly synchronized following SMPTE standards to avoid deterioration or inaccurate time information.[2] Reliable time sources are necessary for maintaining unified time for all network functions and operations that include audio and video media data transmissions sent and received in separate devices and locations.

Available globally on Platform Equinix®, Equinix Precision Time can be deployed within minutes and supports both network timing protocol (NTP) and precision time protocol (PTP) to meet the operating requirements of various industries and organizations. For example, SMPTE standards in IP media streaming require accuracy within 1 microsecond – NTP is only accurate to approximately 50 milliseconds. This results in the need for the implementation of PTP time synchronization to meet regulatory and quality standards for broadcasting and video conferencing applications.

E-commerce Drives Supply Chain and Logistic Digitalization

Asia Pacific’s e-commerce market is expected to grow with a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 10.24% during the forecast period of 2022-2027.[3] Internet accessibility and penetration have contributed to increased efficiency and effectiveness in the distribution of goods to consumers across the region. Facing uncertain economic conditions, supply chain constraints and logistics disruptions, it is paramount for all facets of e-commerce to be synchronized from manufacturing to the delivery process.

PTP (Precision Time Protocol) is used to track production, monitor equipment performance and maintain seamless manufacturing processes across all systems and infrastructure including process automation and procurement lines. For example, the automotive industry relies heavily on PTP, which enables the pinpoint synchronization of robotic assembly lines and printing presses to ensure exact color distribution. Logistics systems rely on accurate time synchronization to schedule deliveries, track shipments and optimize routes when sudden disruptions necessitate rerouting. Accurate time synchronization impacts the punctuality of cargo arrival and delivery from port to port, all the way to the direct consumer.

High-Frequency Trading in Japan Demands Precision Time

In Japan, high-frequency trading accounted for 36% of equity trading and is attributed to contributing up to 64% of the liquidity in Japanese financial markets.[4] High-frequency trading platforms must adhere to stringent FINRA and MiFID II requirements that stipulate time certification for processing clearing reports to be in sync within 1 millisecond or finer increments for automated trading and 100 microseconds for high-frequency trading (HFT).[5] Increasing accuracy in time stamping saves a considerable amount of human time and effort when discrepancies in recording and reporting trade events are minimized and superseded by timestamps that are trustworthy and accurate.

Some financial firms may elect to deploy their own in-house time infrastructure that combines hardware-based processing of timestamps with additional timestamp processing in the data network, which can provide sub-microsecond precision over PTP. While this method may yield even higher degrees of precise time synchronization, it’s incredibly costly to set up and scale especially if hardware must be replicated and deployed at each node in a distributed system. Time-as-a-Service offers an alternative, scalable and digitally implemented timekeeping solution at microsecond accuracy, producing timing records that are traceable with automated maintenance and monitoring.

With Equinix Precision Time, the ease of integration and delivery of “time-as-a-service” remove the need for financial institutions to install their own hardware and feeds at every network node that requires synchronized time. Customers can simply subscribe to the service and scale up to their requirements and needs. The advent of time-as-a-service creates authoritative data that can be securely trusted, ensuring that the quality of data remains high due to its accuracy, traceability and verifiability.

Time-as-a-Service Presents a Solution to Legacy Time Keeping

Present-day workloads are becoming increasingly complex and rely on near perfect accurate time synchronization between all participating networks, devices and nodes. Clocks included in legacy hardware systems are inexpensive quartz oscillators that tend to drift, producing inaccurate timing and loss of synchronicity across networks resulting in their inability to keep up with modern applications. Traditional GPS antenna-driven time infrastructure can be difficult to install and maintain, while sourcing time from public Internet comes with latency issues and cybersecurity risks. Although PTP solves time accuracy and is critical for the early detection of anomalies (e.g. latency, loss, congestion), it’s costly to install and complex to maintain in-house. It requires continuous checking and adjustment to ensure that accuracy and traceability are properly maintained.

Accurate and traceable timing is incredibly desirable, timing inaccuracies left unchecked can result in network issues that lead to mission failure and operational collapse. While the level of accuracy, reliability and security may differ based on use cases, many vertical markets and mission-critical applications require the highest degrees of precise time to maintain regulatory compliance and benchmarks. Software-defined and hardware-accelerated time precision services like Equinix Precision Time overcome the challenges of time synchronicity and addresses the needs of modern enterprises. Time-as-a-Service resolves the setbacks of legacy timekeeping to enable new functions and applications by increasing scaling flexibility for enterprises while reducing the operating and talent costs of managing time infrastructure.

[1] https://www.statista.com/statistics/1293059/video-conferencing-market-value-asia-pacific/

[2] https://www.smpte.org/blog/precision-time-protocol-for-synchronization-in-broadcast-over-ip

[3] https://www.mordorintelligence.com/industry-reports/asia-pacific-ecommerce-market

[4] https://www.aof.org.hk/docs/default-source/hkimr/applied-research-report/ahftrep.pdf

[5] https://datacentrereview.com/2019/10/why-traceable-time-as-a-service-ttaas-is-crucial-for-data-centres/

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