Time and Money – Precise Time in Financial Systems

August 25, 2015

This is the first in a series of posts that summarize interviews with important consumers and providers of PNT services. Today’s is from a conversation with Mr. Andrew Bach, VP, and Chief Architect at Juniper Networks, a company that provides network systems and software to the financial services industry.

RNTF – Andrew thanks for talking with us. Could you summarize the ways in which precise time is important to the financial industry?

AB – Sure. It is basically two areas.

The one that most people think of first is time stamping. Financial services customers typically process millions of transactions a second and they need to know what order to process them in. This means that precise time, synchronized among our various algorithms and systems, is very important. It’s needed to make the systems run properly, and to demonstrate to government regulators that the financial industry continues to meet or exceed their requirements

The second area is precise synchronized time, which is important to the underlying hardware, software, and telecommunication systems that the industry depends upon. Part of this is financial systems specific. However, financial service customers also rely upon the same IT and telecommunications infrastructure as everyone else, and precise synchronized time is essential there as well.

RNTF – What kind of systems are commonly used for time references?

AB – The financial services industry uses a variety of atomic clocks, network timing, and satellites.

RNTF – GPS is not the exclusive source?

AB – Well, GPS is accessed but it’s not used as a primary, moment-to-moment source but rather as a day/date/time reference. In many of the areas in which the financial industry operates, like the urban canyons of Wall Street, GPS is often jittery and is occasionally disrupted due to routine signal reception issues.

RNTF – How do you see your needs developing going forward?

AB – Regulators here and in Europe are moving to tighten many requirements, including the need for firms – both end users and companies like Juniper – to demonstrate timing that is more precise and with greater integrity. As these regulatory proposals are enacted over the next 12 to 18 months, all of us in the industry should look to do the following:

  • Secure authoritative timing references derived from differing constellations based on regional regulatory requirements
  • Develop a timing solution accurate to one microsecond per transaction across data centers,
  • Develop a uniform epoch across the industry,
  • Develop the ability to time stamp every transaction to the required precision, and
  • Develop analytics to measure the performance of the transaction environment at 100’s of millions of transaction per second.

RNTF – Do you think you will be able to do that with atomic clocks and network timing alone?

AB – The financial industry will need to adopt these and other new technologies including network PTP support, ground based time source, as well as satellite based references. There are some challenges with network timing at the level of precision that we need that could be both difficult and expensive to overcome. The industry is looking at a wide variety of solutions from system, networking, and timing vendors. We will need, as an industry, access to GPS/Galileo/GLONASS/BeiDou.   Additionally, network vendors such as Juniper Networks will track the work of NIST and NPL as they explore terrestrial distribution of timing and the possible emergence of eLORAN, with the goal of continuing to expand their timing solutions to meet the needs of the financial industry

RNTF – Best of luck to you. Thanks for speaking with us!

More information can be found in Mr. Bach’s December 2014 presentation to the National PNT Advisory Board at http://www.gps.gov/governance/advisory/meetings/2014-12/bach.pdf. Mr. Bach can be found at Juniper Networks or LinkedIn or on Twitter @andrewfbach