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Timing-as-a-Service, anyone? Timestamps via the cloud is now a OPEX-friendly option.

Users of hardware timing face growing risks.

The cost and hassle of maintaining a vulnerable in-house hardware timing network have long been a cause of headaches for firms in the financial services sector. Existing solutions have often consisted of a complicated system of hardware and software, cobbled together from different providers, requiring regular maintenance.

Firms are increasingly looking to the cloud to modernise their data storage and management, and to do so at much lower cost and with increased operational flexibility. Moving timing to the cloud can achieve this and increase the resilience and accuracy of time. Its much lower power usage also makes timing in the cloud a great step forward in reducing the environmental impact of data centres, writes Dion Travagliante, Hoptroff.

The evolution of timing regulations

It is a daily imperative for financial services firms to be certain they have compliant time on their transactions. In both Europe and the US, stringent timing regulations under MiFID II and Consolidated Audit Trail (CAT) not only demand high accuracy (a maximum divergence of between 100 microseconds or 1 millisecond from the benchmark of UTC), but also require proof of compliance.

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To achieve this tall regulatory order at each location that requires time, clocks, cables and switches must be installed. A reliable, accurate time feed must then be obtained and delivered.

Not to mention renting space on the data centre roof to access the timing signal, all in addition to procuring synchronization and monitoring software. A big, expensive, and labour intensive ask.

Delivering time

Delivering fully compliant time to the cloud with ease used to be a futuristic dream. Now, network-based timing has been developed for the cloud. Innovators in the timing space have built a global network that can deliver time to both on-prem and the cloud, and make it look easy.

Hubs located across the world contain state of the art equipment, sourcing time from both terrestrial and satellite sources, making the time feed they produce incredibly resilient. This high-quality time can then be delivered via telco networks to any data centre in the world, and directly to the cloud, removing the need for any hardware or maintenance on the part of the client entirely.

This solution is scalable immediately across rack space, meaning critical timing services can effortlessly expand with the business. A simple subscription model offers an easy outsourced timing solution that fits neatly into other cloud services and is available at the click of a button across financial services.

Bolstering resilience

Network timing services can overcome other problems that users of hardware timing have historically faced.

Currently, hardware timing solutions rely heavily on GNSS. Satellite sources of PNT (Position, Navigation and Timing) are becoming increasingly unreliable due to vulnerabilities to jamming and spoofing, disrupting the vital timing signals financial services relies on. This problem is even being recognised at the highest level with the announcement of a National Timing Centre by the UK government, and an executive order in the US.

The risk of trading interruptions is greatly reduced by accessing the highly resilient timing service backed by both terrestrial and satellite time feeds and delivered over robust networks.

Time for change

In parallel to all the challenges of modern timing and the demands of achieving regulatory compliance, a dirty secret of the digital revolution is increasingly coming to light. Data centres running huge computing infrastructure have become energy consumption behemoths and are having a measurable strain on the environment.

Leaders across the industry are calling for a new approach, that does not compromise on service.

The good news is leaders in the space like Accenture have recently made estimates of what we gain (and the environment) have to gain from migrating operations to the cloud. Forrester estimates that cloud migration could ‘reduce global carbon emissions by 59 million tonnes of CO2 per year’. As for the role timing can play, the solution already exists and is ready to roll out across the industry today.

Network-based timing cuts OPEX costs drastically – where before every data centre requiring time would have operated as its own timing hub, with clocks, switches, antennae etc, now three global hubs can serve an unlimited number of clients. This creates a welcome knock-on effect – a notable reduction in energy usage, and by extension, carbon emissions.

By recent estimations, every client who outsources time in this way instead of maintaining their own timing hardware, reduces carbon dioxide emissions by 30kg per day, per data centre. An added plus to an already exciting new timing proposition.

A cloud-based future for timing promises to complement the operational efficiency and management ease of the migration to the cloud. This modern solution takes on the challenges of existing technologies, like the vulnerabilities of GNSS, and even playing its part in creating a greener data centre industry. All this can be achieved at low cost, without the need for hardware.

No time to waste.

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