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Microsemi develops FPGA-based network time-servers

Posted: 09 Feb 2016 ?? ?Print Version ?Bookmark and Share

Keywords:Microsemi? FPGA? NTP server? network time protocol? atomic clock?

I don't know about you, but until now I haven't really spent a lot of time thinking about, well, time, at least in so far as it applies to things like the Internet. I'm interested in time in general, and I'm certainly interested in time as it pertains to my Cunning Chronograph, it's just that I haven't devoted a lot of time to thinking about time in the context of the Internet.

Of course, I'm jolly glad that my computer knows what time it is and that it displays the current time in the status bar at the bottom of my screen, but I really don't care if we're off by a second or two, and I vaguely assumed that the rest of the world felt much the same way.

How wrong I was. The reason for my change of heart is that I was just chatting to the folks at Microsemi. Of course, I know that they make and supply a lot of components, my particular interest is in their RTAX Rad-Tolerant FPGAs and their SmartFusion2 SoC FPGAs, but I had no idea that they also design, manufacture and purvey entire systems.

In particular, I was unaware that Microsemi has sold tens of thousands of network time protocol (NTP) servers. In fact, Microsemi is a leading supplier of timing infrastructure, with about 93 per cent of UTC (Coordinated Universal Time - don't ask why the abbreviation isn't CUT) world time contributions.

SyncServer S600

Front (top) and back (bottom) of the SyncServer S600 (Source: Microsemi)

It turns out that accurate knowledge of time is mandatory for the successful functioning of all modern electronic infrastructures, including data centres, wireline communications, cellular communications, enterprise communications, secure communications, power grid communications, financial exchanges, seismic exploration, and... the list goes on.

Take the financial market, for example. In the case of US stock trading requirements, SEC Rule 613 Article VI, Sec. 6.8 states that, effective February 27, 2015, transaction logs must have at least 1ms granularity, while accuracy must not exceed 50ms. You think that's tight? Well, on September 28, 2015, the European Securities and Markets Authority (ESMA) released new timing requirements for stock trading specifying 1ms log granularity for High Frequency Trading (HFT) transactions with accuracy not to exceed 100ms, and with an implementation deadline of January, 2017.

When they first saw these new regulations, I bet a lot of IT folks were pulling their hair out and thinking "How the xxxx are we going to manage this?" I bet those same IT folks are going to be dancing in the streets when they hear about Microsemi's NTP servers: the SyncServer S600 & S650.

This generation of ultra-high-capacity NTP servers boast four GigE ports for networking flexibility; they provide NTP Stratum 1-level performance via GNSS satellites; they offer holdover accuracy protection using one of Microsemi's miniaturised atomic clocks (about the same size as a classic Zippo lighter); and, since security is a number-one concern when deploying NTP servers today, they boast an extreme security suite that includes Microsemi's Security-Hardened NTP Reflector technology.

FPGA-based NTP Reflector technology

Microsemi's FPGA-based NTP Reflector technology (Source: Microsemi)


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