It may be seen as fitting, or the whim of the technology gods, but now that telecom transport technologies no longer require accurate and stable timing to work at their best, the troubleshooting lines for network timing equipment are no longer as easily defined as they once were.
It is true that the fundamental networks no longer rely on timing for their own performance. However, there are many applications at the edge of these networks that do. And it is these requirements that are becoming increasingly tight with each new generation.
Solving Legacy Issues
For those of us in the timing supply and support world, the ‘legacy’ networks gave us plenty of challenges. Thankfully, there were always ones that could be resolved by swapping hardware modules. (With the occasional ‘turn it off and turn it back on again’ tactic for good measure, too.) Our time signals were an external input into network devices, and most hardware, especially in core networks, had a large degree of hardware resilience (e.g., dual power, dual clock, dual modules). An on device red light, or SNMP trap or similar for remote management, flagged up the error and a hardware swap would usually resolve the issue.
Consequently, the move from PDH/SDH has changed all that. We are now operating in non-deterministic networks and as a result our timing signals are now in with the rest of the traffic. Timing packets may have priority status, but this still presents challenges that the timing community had not really encountered before. While these timing transport issues have successfully been addressed, for those of us supporting our customers’ timing equipment, the old certainties have all but disappeared.
More Complex Systems
Time-focused solutions are now less modular, and highly dependent on software to deliver the functionality required. Simple hardware fixes are increasingly not an option. We are increasingly involved in many discussions on what a customer’s error is, and what service/services are causing it.
Furthermore, time issues formerly diagnosed with a call and an interrogation of the device could require deeper investigation. Now a series of meetings between many departments and contractors may be needed to identify the issue.
For us at Chronos, this has meant a massive shift in the ways our day-to-day support operation works, increasing complexity. This confirms the need for an operator to work with specialised timing supply/support teams to maintain effective network operation.
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