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Facebook Open Sources Time Appliance For Data Center Networks

Facebook engineers have built a time appliance for network synchronization and open-sourced the whole specification, that ought to drive the cost of the function down significantly. The Open Compute project is dependant on a time card the company invented in a PCI Express (PCIe) form component that can change almost any commodity server right into a time appliance. With the help of the OCP community, it established the Open Compute Time Appliance Project and open-sourced every aspect of the Open Time Server.

Time appliances are critical elements of much of modern timing infrastructure from 5G and automotive to financial services and tv broadcasting. All of these rely heavily on reliable distribution of time and frequency synchronization across packet networks. The large challenge with current off-the-shelf time appliances is the fact that while they work nicely and therefore are proven, they are usually outdated, vulnerable to software security concerns, and feature closed-source software and proprietary hardware, which makes them hard to service, repair increase; and they are also expensive.

In comparison, every facet of the design of outdoors compute time appliance released today – such as the specifications, schematics, mechanics, bill of material (BOM), and also the source code – is open sourced and on the GitHub repository, under the Open Compute Project umbrella.

In addition, a Facebook spokesperson told EE Times the new time card can be 10 times cheaper, three times more accurate, and much more compact than any commercial solution available today. He indicated that the brand new time card cost in the selection of $1,500 to $2,000, as compared to the $50,000 range for current solutions.

The new time card allows any x86 machine with a network interface card (NIC) capable of hardware time-stamping to become converted into a period appliance. This system is agnostic to whether it runs for NTP, PTP, SyncE, or other time synchronization protocol, since the accuracy and stability supplied by time card is sufficient for almost any system.

The time card built by Facebook consists of a GNSS receiver, and a miniaturized atomic clock (MAC). This really is crucial as it removes the dependencies on the internet connectivity and satellite signals which, if lost, could result in outages or drift in timing for any dependent systems. Using the integrated GNSS receiver and clock, users of the time appliance will keep accurate time, even just in the big event of GNSS connectivity loss. That is because the atomic clock takes over and may maintain accuracy for many hours until a signal is re-established.

To implement time engine in the time card, Facebook used an onboard MAC, a multiband GNSS receiver, as well as an FPGA. The time engine's job would be to interpolate in nanoseconds the granularity required between consecutive PPS (pulse per second) signals. The GNSS receiver also provides a ToD (time of day) in addition to a 1 PPS signal. In the event of losing GNSS reception, the time engine relies on the ongoing synchronization of the atomic clock based on a typical ensemble from the consecutive PPS pulses.

The processing blocks of times engine on the FPGA include various filtering, synchronization, error checking, time-stamping, and PCIe-related subsystems to permit the time card to perform as a system peripheral that gives precision time for outdoors time server.

Facebook asserted creating a device that's very precise, inexpensive, and free of vendor lock was an achievement on its own. Writing in an article around the development of the time card, the company's network hardware engineers for the project, Ahmad Byagowi and Oleg Obleukhov, said, \”We desired to truly set it free and make it open and affordable for everybody, from the research scientist to some large cloud data center. That's why we engaged using the Open Compute Project (OCP) to create a brand-new Time Appliance Project (TAP). Underneath the OCP umbrella, we open-sourced at that time Appliance Project GitHub repository, including the specs, schematics, mechanics, BOM, and the source code. Now, so long as printing the PCB and soldering tiny components doesn't sound scary, anyone can build their very own time card for a fraction from the price of a regular time appliance. We also worked with several vendors such as Orolia who definitely are building and selling time cards ,and Nvidia who're selling the precision timing- capable ConnectX-6 Dx (and the precision timing-capable BlueField-2 DPU).\”

They added, \”We published a wide open Time Server spec at www.opentimeserver.com, which explains in great detail how you can combine the hardware (time card, network card, and a commodity server) and the software (OS driver, NTP, and/or PTP server) to build time appliance. Building an appliance according to this spec will give full control to the engineers maintaining the device, improving monitoring, configuration, management, and security.\”