APNIC spends $50k on time servers

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APNIC spends $50k on time servers

Help ISPs identify network faults.

The Asia Pacific Network Information Centre will invest $50,000 in test traffic measurement nodes to aid internet infrastructure provisioning across the region.

The nodes analyse connectivity between a test site and other parts of the internet by measuring latency, packet loss, traceroute, bandwidth and jitter.

The information is expected to help decide the locations of future root server deployments regionally.

But APNIC also hopes end users will be able to access the network directly in the future to test the stability of a link before establishing a high-bandwidth session, such as video streaming.

"We could certainly envisage with a lot of video chat sessions being able to check if it's worthwhile switching it on, if the connectivity [with the target country] is stable enough," APNIC chief scientist Geoff Huston told iTnews.

"At this stage we haven't got many sophisticated end user tools to do that. So far [the network has been] used more around infrastructure provisioning."

APNIC will provide seven of the Unix-based test traffic measurement (TTM) nodes to sites in Pakistan, Bangladesh, India, Indonesia, Taiwan, Philippines and Thailand.

A further five boxes will also be deployed in countries that are understood to include Pacific Islands and Laos.

Each node consists of a PC and a global positioning system antenna. The antenna receives time information from the GPS constellation, a common time reference for computer clocks globally.

Other reference sources include atomic clocks but these are typically expensive and out of the reach of hosts in developing countries, according to Huston.

Synchronisation between the reference time source and individual computer clocks is handled in this case by the network time protocol (NTP).

Under the NTP model, the proximity of any computer or server from the central time server is described on a scale of zero to 14. Each level is referred to as a stratum.

A lower stratum indicates the server is closer to the time reference.

"The real issue is the development of a stratum-1 time service [regionally]," Huston said.

"Typically this involves expensive atomic clocks and frankly small countries can't afford them.

"This project utilises GPS to deliver a phenomenally stable clock signal and then this [TTM] box translates that to a stratum-1 time service. It's badly needed in developing locations and a damn fine service to have."

According to NTP.org, lack of synchronisation on the internet is a major issue because an end user switching between unsynchronised systems would notice time jumping "forward and backward".

"Isolated networks may run their own wrong time, but as soon as you connect to the internet, effects will be visible," NTP.org stated.

"Just imagine some email message arrived five minutes before it was sent, and there even was a reply two minutes before the message was sent."

APNIC director general Paul Wilson said in a statement that the TTM project "means that the Asia Pacific is better placed to monitor internet performance.

"TTM data allows ISPs to identify faults in their network, ensuring that network development and investment builds capacity where it is most needed," Wilson said.

"The data is global, so ISPs from other regions can also use it to improve connectivity into the Asia Pacific region, something I frequently hear is badly needed".

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