Building an on-premise Stratum-1 NTP server

2017-08-11 13:59:00

Recently I've been poking around NTP time servers with a few friends. Our goal was to create an autonomous, reliable and cheap NTP box that could act as an on-premise, in-house Stratum-1 time server. In a world filled with virtual machines that don't have their own hardware clocks, but whose applications demand very strict timekeeping, this can be a godsend.

I could write pages upon pages of what we've done, but the RPi Fatdog blog has a great article on the subject

Using just one Raspberry Pi and a reliable RTC (real-time clock) module you can create an inexpensive time server for your network. The RTC they're referring to supposedly drifts about a minute per year; still not awesome, but alright. *

This setup works well and Windows servers will happily make use of it! Linux NTP clients and other, stricter NTP software will balk at the fact that your Stratum-1 box was never synchronized with another time source. This is proven by the ntpdate command refusing to sync:

$ ntpdate timeserver
4 Mar 12:27:35 ntpdate[1258]: no server suitable for synchronization found

If you turn on the debugging output for ntpdate, you'll see an error that the reference time for the host is in 1900, which is the Epoch time for NTP. The example below shows reftime (though not in 1900):

status=0664 leap_none, sync_ntp, 6 events, event_peer/strat_chg
system="UNIX", leap=00, stratum=2, rootdelay=280.62,
rootdispersion=45.26, peer=11673, refid=,
reftime=af00bb42.56111000  Fri, Jan 15 1993  4:25:38.336, poll=8,
clock=af00bbcd.8a5de000  Fri, Jan 15 1993  4:27:57.540, phase=21.147, freq=13319.46, compliance=2

The quick and easy work-around for this issue is to simply create both Stratum-1 and 2 in-house :) Have one RPi run as S-1, with 2 or 3 RPis working as S-2, that sync their time off the S-1 and who are peered among themselves. Any NTP client will then happily accept your S-2 boxes as NTP source. 

Better than nothing! And cheap to boot. 


*: Remi Bergsma wrote an interesting article about Raspberry Pi clock accuracy, with and without RTC. tags: , ,

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