Linux Foundation Funds NTP's 'Father Time' - InformationWeek

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8/17/2015
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Linux Foundation Funds NTP's 'Father Time'

The Network Time Protocol will keep Harlan Stenn, its chief maintainer, working for another year. But the 12-month commitment, as well as other funding decisions, raises the question of whether the Linux Foundation is hedging its bets on NTP.

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in an interview with InformationWeek. He described Stenn as "a good friend and one of the most technically capable people that I've ever met."

Takhar acknowledged that NTPSec will be a fork of the NTP project, and will proceed in its own direction, attempting to impose new security guarantees and best practices testing on NTP code. There's no agreement that these will be adopted into the core project, he acknowledged.

But Takhar recently participated in a National Science Foundation "rescue" project intended to improve the security of NTP and other open source code. He wants to take the results of that work to create a more tamper-proof version of NTP in hopes that such code will influence NTP's course in the long run.

Working with the code from another project is a long tradition in open source, said Takhar. "I honestly hope the NTP protocol as a whole benefits."

(Image: Christong via Pixabay)

(Image: Christong via Pixabay)

When asked to comment on NTPSec, Stenn in an interview said he could say little about a project that he knew little about. He said it would be his job to live with it as another open source project. As with any project, he intends to watch for ideas viewed as improvements, wherever they come from, that could throw NTP out of compatibility with the many systems it currently works with.

Takhar has a group of six developers behind NTPSec, including a fellow veteran of the National Science Foundation project, a long-term member of the existing NTP Project, and Mark Atwood, HP's open source outreach manager. Eric Raymond -- author of The Cathedral and the Bazaar, a book on the characteristics of open source code -- is also a member.

Linux Foundation Funding Is A Surprise

The fact that the Linux Foundation and Stenn have reached agreement at this point came as something of a surprise. With a decision already past due, the foundation announced in June that it had allocated $500,000 to three projects. Neither NTP nor Stenn's Network Time Foundation were among them.

[ What else does the Linux Foundation support? Read Linux Foundation Funds Internet Security Advances. ]

Stenn's funding ran out April 30, but the foundation invited him to submit invoices as talks continued. It has continued paying him up to this point.

Stenn, who had been at loggerheads with the foundation in March over new accountability requirements, said he found himself talking to Linux security expert Emily Ratliff, a newly hired foundation staff member, in June. "Emily and I seem to be getting along together just fine," said Stenn. He added that a new contract sent to him in July no longer had the reporting requirements to which he had objected.

Stenn said the renewed money coming in was "awesome and wonderful."

But he thinks Internet time, and network time synchronization in general, is worth more than what he's receiving so far. He is preparing proposals for additional funding from other sources. His goals are to see more standards-body work on NTP and more background research and development on how best to steer its future.

Even with existing support, the complexities of time keeping and time synchronization threaten to overwhelm the limited resources devoted to them. The total need for NTP's maintenance ranges above $2 million, including staff to support the work that needs to be done rather than relying solely on volunteers, Stenn said.

Coming up with a standard way to incorporate leap seconds into NTP would be one of many priorities that could absorb such spending, he said. A recent addition of a leap second on June 30 illustrated the need. The NTP protocol and Google, for example, did it differently, so for 12 hours their clocks couldn't be synchronized.

Charles Babcock is an editor-at-large for InformationWeek and author of Management Strategies for the Cloud Revolution, a McGraw-Hill book. He is the former editor-in-chief of Digital News, former software editor of Computerworld and former technology editor of Interactive ... View Full Bio

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ThomasV466
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ThomasV466,
User Rank: Apprentice
8/18/2015 | 12:35:44 PM
Re: Is NTP too dependent on one man?
NTP is to critical of a piece of infrastructure to rest in the hands of one man. He should be recognized and rewarded for his hard work. But a the same time a committee involving large infrastructure providers from various industrieis, governement entties, and open source foundations should be formed to ensure that the NTP infrastructure is maintained and advanced. 

 

I am suprised Google or Yahoo haven't stepped up and given this guy a paid position with benefits. 
GAProgrammer
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GAProgrammer,
User Rank: Ninja
8/18/2015 | 12:23:26 PM
Re: Is NTP too dependent on one man?
He certainly is more generous with his time and energy than I would ever be. The major financial systems of the world run off this protocol and they can't send him some money for his 80+hr work week? Pssh... I would have left long ago.
CharlesB21101
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CharlesB21101,
User Rank: Strategist
8/17/2015 | 8:00:41 PM
Is NTP too dependent on one man?
I think the Linux Foundation Core Infrastructure Initiative is worred that the future of the NTP protocol rests too much in the hands of one man, Harlan Stenn. Hence it's willingness to fund an alternative project oriented toward security, NTPSec. Nor should those going along for the free ride assume that Stenn, who will be 60 in January, will be willing to continue to devote 12-plus hour days to NTP for another decade with minimal financial support. It's not that he's irreplaceable. He is. But his level of attention to technical detail and willingness to stick with whatever happens to be the task at hand won't be easy to replace with a few random volunteers. Time synchronization is more complicated than those who haven't done it are willing to concede. We may yet have to learn how so the hard way.   
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