[ntp:questions] drift value very large and very unstable

Andy Helten andy.helten at dot21rts.com
Fri Mar 7 18:01:48 UTC 2008

Fran Horan wrote:
> <snip lots of detail>
>> So, the summary is that drift goes to 500ppm when stepping is disabled
>> but runs normally when stepping is enabled and both situations never
>> require a time step.  This makes no sense to me.  By the way, as
>> mentioned previously, we require that time does not step backward due to
>> a problem in some commercial software that cannot currently tolerate
>> time moving backwards.
>> Quite frankly, I don't think it's unreasonable that a system require
>> time to monotonically increase.
> Forgive me if this answer misses a point in the earlier details, or shows my
> ignorance of NTP, but a few ideas/thoughts.
> Oscillators and drift can go in either direction, fast or slow, its a
> physics-based situation. You can't write code around that and provide a
> software solution that is monotonic at all times. However, a single negative
> step just at the start may be required before going monotic after that
> event. (Not an expert, but that is my understanding).
> With this ref clock and a GPS-drive IRIG source, you may only see a single
> negative step when NTP first begins running on a new system with no drift
> file, or a system that has been powered off a long time with a
> battery-driven clock drifting over that long time. Once NTP is humming along
> after the initial step and some updates, you shouldn't see a step again.
> This makes me think that you should insert a delay in launching your
> sensitive application, or block the application at some point, so it does
> not see the (possible) first time step.
> Fran Horan
Hey Fran,

Yes, exactly, we do perform an initial time sync with stepping enabled. 
This is done prior to initializing the commercial software and so it
does not cause problems if time moves backwards.  And, yes, if we are
below the step threshold after the initial sync (which should always be
the case), then we should stay below that threshold until the end of
time.  Following this logic, we should allow time steps and be comforted
knowing they will never occur in a normally functioning system.  I agree
this is reasonable and does not conflict with my own rant that "if we
have an offset of more than 10ms in this system, then something isn't
working correctly".

This approach is definitely worth considering and I'll bring it up with
the decision makers.  However, there is always concern that months or
years from now someone will say -- "Hey, some dumbass left time stepping
enabled, let's disable it on all systems immediately".  Surely this
wouldn't be done without some regression testing, but then again such a
mundane change shouldn't need exhaustive testing, right?  Riiiiight.

I guess was just hoping someone will say, "Oh, right, that's a known
problem.  You need to do 'X' to fix it."


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