Meta is making a small but mighty upgrade to its data centers

Racks of servers inside a data center.
(Image credit: Future)

Meta has launched a new network timing protocol for its data centers, dubbed the Precision Time Protocol (PTP), which it claims will improve accuracy and precision across its networks.

The tech giant has previously used the older industry standard Network Time Protocol (NTP) to govern use cases such as messaging, videoconferencing, and online gaming which rely on precise, accurate timing among multiple servers and sometimes multiple data centers. 

After a successful pilot, Meta has started extending PTP into all its data centers, claiming that it can provide sub-microsecond accuracy, as opposed to NTP, which provides infinitesimally slower millisecond accuracy.

What is the PTP?

Unlike NTP, PTP uses a "master-slave" approach to its architecture, syncing to a single grandmaster clock, using techniques like hardware timestamping and "transparent clocks" to improve consistency and symmetry.

In contrast, systems and servers that use NTP are asynchronous, according to Meta, as they are distributed systems without a single global clock. 

These data center clocks do their jobs independently, but they check in with one another to make sure they’re in sync.

Meta claims that even though the telecom industry has been using PTP for "well over 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, particularly of the more graphically 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 across data centers, which could open up a level of "unprecedented scale" in AI capabilities that would be hard to achieve with current technology.

If PTP sounds like something which you may be interested in, Meta is set to make all of its PTP-related work open source, including the source code for its Time Appliance client software and transparent clock.

Will McCurdy has been writing about technology for over five years. He has a wide range of specialities including cybersecurity, fintech, cryptocurrencies, blockchain, cloud computing, payments, artificial intelligence, retail technology, and venture capital investment. He has previously written for AltFi, FStech, Retail Systems, and National Technology News and is an experienced podcast and webinar host, as well as an avid long-form feature writer.