[ntp:questions] Re: Router Vendor + NTP

Richard B. Gilbert rgilbert88 at comcast.net
Fri Jun 10 00:51:24 UTC 2005

David Carne wrote:

>C.P.T.N members,
>I work for a small router vendor, and we're just about to release our
>first product. We plan to use NTP to synchronize the times on our
>devices, but we want to be good netizens, and run our own ntp
>infrastructure for our devices.
>Does anyone have any advice on this? AKA, expectations of what we'll
>need in terms of bandwidth / what kind of server hardware we'll need?
>We expect to have eventually 100k+ devices out there, and the devices
>will probably synchronize one a week or so. [we have no need of really
>really accurate timekeeping].
>So in summary, do you all think I can do this with a single powerful
>box? or should I do something with round robin dns load balancing?
>Apologies for the intrusion, but after reading all the discussion about
>how some router vendors abuse the system, we want to make sure we do
>things the right way.
>David Carne
NTP does not work quite the way you seem to think it does!   What you 
are asking about sounds a little like SNTP but not exactly.

NTP uses polling intervals between 64 seconds and 17 minutes and 
actually tries to discipline the local clock so that it both ticks at 
exactly one second per second (frequency) and keeps the correct time 

SNTP sends queries about three times per day and corrects the local 
clock phase (perhaps the frequency also, I don't use it and don't know 
for sure).

If each of 100K devices send one query per day, randomly, you are 
talking about receiving and  replying to, about 100K packets per day.   
There are 86K seconds in a day so the server will be handling perhaps 
two packets every three seconds.  A single medium size box should be 
able to do this without even breathing hard.  Of course if 90K devices 
try to hit your server at 5:00PM Eastern Time every day, your server 
will melt down on the spot!

The offenses committed by router manufacturers so far seem to be:
A.  Hard coding the address of someone else's server without giving 
notice or asking permission!
B.  Sending queries once per second whether they get a reply or not, and
C.  Ignoring the standards for NTP which specify such things as polling 
intervals, what to do if a server sends you a "kiss of death" packet, 
etc, etc, etc.

For reasons of reliability, you should probably have more than one server

If you are using either the NTP or SNTP protocols, you should obtain 
copies of the appropriate RFCs and make sure that you comply with 
them.    If you are merely using the NTP packet format, and setting the 
clock once per day you are not really using NTP or SNTP and there are no 
standards, other than packet format.

Actually, I believe the server loading/bandwidth problem can be analyzed 
statistically.  Look up the "Erlang B" distribution.   It's what the 
telephone company uses to determine how many inter-office trunk lines it 
needs and what call centers use to calculate how many operators they 
need to have on duty.
I'm working strictly from a failing memory here, but ISTR that you feed 
it any three of four variables and get the remaining variable as the 

The Erlang B variables are:
1.  Average call duration
2.  Call arrival rate
3.  Acceptable waiting time
4.  Number of trunk lines (operators)

It will probably require some fudging by someone far better at math than 
I am but I think it might give you a clue.

More information about the questions mailing list