Time is more important than you think

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Written by Gareth Chamberlain, Product Manager- Cyber Security & IT Automation

If the COVID-19 Lockdown has taught me anything, it has taught me that time is everything. Over the past 11 weeks we have been helping with problems and solutions from all over the world to help engineers with a wide array of applications while working from home. The Engineers that we have been working with have been supporting applications from home or have being working with social distancing at the application site.

While helping a lot of customers with network problems and issues with their applications, trying to pinpoint a specific time when an event occurred has been almost impossible. Many different nodes and products have logs to read and can tell you what has happened at a time-stamped entry into the log. But the problem is when a device is out of sync with every other device matching these events, it is a real headache.

Most products can use the NTP (Network Time Protocol) but this requires access to the Internet, and exposing your machine network to the internet is a big no-no with a lot of companies for the obvious reasons.

 The picture below is an example of a product with no set time.

A lot of applications are not real-time sensitive in knowing the exact time, but for diagnostic and fault-finding purposes it is important to have a matching timestamp of an event to pinpoint a problem. Even if you have set the time on a device with a manual input, there is nothing for the internal clock to check itself against, and most products would start to “Time Drift” over a period of time and the internal clock would become out of sync, which impacted over months and years could mean it is drastically inaccurate.

So, what can we do other than setting the time manually, or exposing our network to the internet to an NTP server?

I’m glad you asked.

Phoenix Contact has just released the FL TIMESERVER NTP.

The FL TIMESERVER NTP is a device that does not need access to the Internet and can provide you with a mechanism which facilitates polling the correct time and date, directly from the device.

So how can it provide NTP without internet? It gets NTP directly from the GPS satellites in orbit around the earth. So the accuracy of the time is within -+70 nanoseconds. 

There is also a bonus in using the device with GPS satellites- it can be used as a GPS device also giving you timestamped entries of its current location. There are more and more applications needing a valid GPS position, meaning you are getting two major functions from one device. The information can be withdrawn via SNMP (Simple network Protocol) or Telnet.

For more information contact Gareth on 07946 757375 or email gchamberlain@phoenixcontact.com



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