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Assuring Datacenter Synchronization in the Live 5G Network


Timing synchronization within and across datacenters is the lynchpin of 5G data integrity. Operators need to ensure the time difference between any two datacenter servers is accurate within 100 microseconds. Read about ways of avoiding inaccurate timestamps and meet regulatory requirements.

We previously explored why this has been so difficult for datacenter operators, especially in comparison to previous generation architectures. But our latest work with customers has demonstrated a path forward. Importantly, at the core of any successful accuracy and performance timing strategy will be the ability to verify synchronization in the live network.

This calls for a dedicated tool for measuring datacenter timing and synchronization with microsecond accuracy.

Measurement techniques for datacenter synchronization

The endless glut of traffic generated by video streaming and other applications has driven rapid growth in datacenters, even before the arrival of anticipated 5G services. Datacenter servers are often physically separated across remote locations in less-than-ideal conditions, threatening performance.

Sure, manual methods can be used to determine timing offsets but there are several downsides to this approach, especially in light of 100-microsecond accuracy requirements:

  • Manual methods don’t scale to the level needed for burgeoning 5G traffic

  • Testing at remote locations is time-consuming and expensive

  • Satellite GNSS/GPS atomic clocks are difficult to access and distribute across the datacenter

  • Cabling of various lengths can insert variable timing errors

  • Specialized hardware is often needed to get a device timestamp

The need for a more efficient approach to timing and synchronization assurance is clear. But how can datacenter operators evaluate test tools that will verify datacenter timing in live, working networks?

Requirements for a 5G-ready datacenter timing test solution

What capabilities should operators look for when evaluating a datacenter synchronization test solution? Based on Spirent’s ongoing work, we recommend prioritizing selection based on the ability to:

  • Take accurate measurements on a live network

  • Support unattended operation

  • Provide results to a centralized location, such as a network management center

  • Leverage a built-in atomic clock, such as a Rubidium clock, so measurements can be taken throughout the datacenter without needing to access a GNSS/GPS signal

  • Identify issues before they impact QoS

  • Deploy at scale

Of course, there are also technical requirements to balance, such as the need to continuously acquire measurement data, enable simultaneous measurement of multiple synchronization signals, and support Network Timer Protocol (NTP), Precision Time Protocol (PTP) and 1 pulse per second (1 pps) measurements. Importantly, the time/phase measurement must also have microsecond precision and measurements need to be graphed in real-time.

Maintaining accurate time within the datacenter

Learn about our work with a global vendor that needed to achieve sub-nanosecond timing performance for PTP and SyncE. A recent case study featuring Spirent Sentinel explores the challenges encountered and the range of goals that were met in this next-gen, 5G-centric environment.

Guest contributor: Bryan Hovey, Product Manager, Calnex Solutions

Image source: By Clément Bucco-Lechat - Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=47366512

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Malathi Malla
Malathi Malla

Malathi Malla leads Cloud, Data Center and Virtualization segment for Spirent. Responsible for the Product Marketing, Technical Marketing, and Product Management, she drives go-to-market strategy across Cloud and IP solutions. She has over 14 years of hi-tech experience at both Silicon Valley start-ups and large companies including Citrix, IBM, Sterling Commerce (software division of AT&T), Comergent Technologies. Malathi also represents Spirent as Marketing prime through various open source communities like Open Networking Foundation and OpenDayLight. Join the conversation and connect with Malathi on LinkedIn or follow on her on Twitter at @malathimalla.