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Introduction to IEEE 1588
Measurement and control systems are widely used in traditional test and measurement, industrial automation, communication systems, electrical power systems and many other areas of modern technology. The timing requirements placed on these measurement and control systems are becoming increasingly stringent. Traditionally these measurement and control systems have been implemented in a centralized architecture in which the timing constraints are met by careful attention to programming combined with communication technologies with deterministic latency. In recent years an increasing number of such systems utilize a more distributed architecture and increasingly networking technologies having less stringent timing specifications than the older more specialized technologies. In particular Ethernet communications are becoming more common in measurement and control applications. This has led to alternate means for enforcing the timing requirements in such systems. One such technique is the use of system components that contain real-time clocks, all of which are synchronized to each other within the system. This is very common in the general computing industry. For example essentially all general purpose computers contain a clock. These clocks are used to manage distributed file systems, backup and recovery systems and many other similar activities. These computers typically interact via LANs and the Internet. In this environment the most widely used technique for synchronizing the clocks is the Network Time Protocol, NTP, or the related SNTP.
Measurement and control systems have a number of requirements that must be met by a clock synchronization technology. In particular:
- Timing accuracies are often in the sub-microsecond range,
- These technologies must be available on a range of networking technologies including Ethernet but also other technologies found in industrial automation and similar industries,
- A minimum of administration is highly desirable,
- The technology must be capable of implementation on low cost and low-end devices,
- The required network and computing resources should be minimal.
In contrast to the general computing environment of intranets or the Internet, measurement and control systems typically are more spatially localized.
IEEE 1588 addresses the clock synchronization requirements of measurement and control systems.
Objective of IEEE 1588
The objective of IEEE 1588 is defined in the 'Scope' section of the Project Authorization Request approved by the Standard Board of the IEEE as follows.
"This standard defines a protocol enabling precise synchronization of clocks in measurement and control systems implemented with technologies such as network communication, local computing and distributed objects. The protocol will be applicable to systems communicating by local area networks supporting multicast messaging including but not limited to Ethernet. The protocol will enable heterogeneous systems that include clocks of various inherent precision, resolution and stability to synchronize. The protocol will support system-wide synchronization accuracy in the sub-microsecond range with minimal network and local clock computing resources. The default behavior of the protocol will allow simple systems to be installed and operated without requiring the administrative attention of users."
History of IEEE 1588
The last ten years have seen a number of academic and commercial organizations develop techniques for synchronizing clocks in devices typically used in measurement and control applications. Public discussion of the standardization of such a technology occurred between engineers developing technologies and standards applicable to distributed systems in industrial automation, the IEEE 1451 family of standards.
By November of 2000 there was sufficient interest in starting a standardization activity on clock synchronization to warrant forming a committee and seeking sponsorship. The initial committee met for the first time in April of 2001 and decided to seek sponsorship from the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE) Technical Committee on Sensor Technology of the Instrumentation and Measurement Society which had also sponsored, along with NIST, the IEEE 1451 activity. The committee membership included engineers from the automation, robotics, test and measurement, and time keeping industry as well as representatives from NIST and the military. The committee submitted a formal application to the IEEE which was approved on June 18, 2001.
The committee produced a draft of the standard which was submitted for ballot under the usual IEEE rules in April of 2002. This first ballot passed but there were a number of helpful comments submitted by the reviewing balloters. The committee incorporated these suggestions and resubmitted the standard for a second ballot which passed in May of 2002. The committee has submitted this final balloted version to the IEEE Standards Board Review Committee for final approval. The draft was approved as an IEEE standard by the review committee on September 12, 2002. The standard was published in November of 2002.
Early prototype implementations of IEEE 1588
The standard is based, in part, on early prototypes of this technology built at Agilent Technologies, Inc. between 1990 and 1998.
Additional information may be obtained from Kang Lee, the IEEE Technical Committee on Sensor Technology of the Instrumentation and Measurement Society sponsor of IEEE 1588.