Meta launched (opens in new tab) a new network timing protocol for its data centers called the Precision Time Protocol (PTP), which it claims will improve accuracy and precision in its networks.
The tech giant previously used the older industry standard Network Time Protocol (NTP) to handle usage scenarios such as messaging, video conferencing and online gaming, which rely on precise, accurate timing between multiple servers and sometimes multiple data centers.
After a successful pilot, Meta has begun expanding PTP to all of its data centers, arguing that it can provide sub-microsecond accuracy, unlike NTP, which offers infinitely slower millisecond accuracy.
What is the PTP?
Unlike NTP, PTP takes a “master-slave” approach to its architecture, synchronizing to a single grandmaster clock, using techniques such as hardware timestamps and “transparent clocking” to improve consistency and symmetry.
In contrast, systems and servers using NTP are asynchronous, according to Meta, because they are distributed systems without a single global clock.
These data center clocks do their jobs independently, but they check in with each other to make sure they are in sync.
Meta claims that while the telecom industry has been using PTP for “more than a decade,” hyperscale data centers have been slow to adopt it.
What does this mean for users?
Meta claims this new technology will be beneficial for use cases where “lag” can be an issue, such as cloud-based gaming, especially of the more graphics-intensive variety. The tech giant also claims it could help with advanced remote collaboration and video conferencing.
In addition, Meta claims that PTP has the potential to enable the synchronization of GPUs between data centers, which could open up a level of “unprecedented scale” in AI capabilities that would be difficult to achieve with current technology.
If PTP sounds like something you might be interested in, Meta is ready to open source all of its PTP-related work, including the source code for its Time Appliance client software and transparent clock.