Introducing the OCP-TAP Time Card made by Timebeat, featuring a miniature atomic clock (MAC) on an industry standard PCIe card from the Open Compute Project’s (OCP) Time Appliances Project (TAP).
Vespertec is proud to announce that it is partnering with Timebeat.app Ltd to offer the Timebeat OCP-TAP Time Card for servers requiring highly accurate time data.
The OCP-TAP Time Card:
The OCP-TAP Project
OCP was initiated by Meta in 2011 with a mission to apply the benefits of open source and open collaboration to increase the pace of hardware innovation. These days, there are dozens of active projects and subprojects within the OCP Foundation with a wide range of collaborators.
The OCP-TAP Project is one such initiative, led by OCP-TAP Project Lead, Ahmad Byagowi, to share innovation across industries that will benefit from highly accurate, reliable, and synchronous time. The OCP-TAP Time Card is one of the positive outcomes from this collaboration. “The OCP-TAP Time Card provides timing accuracy to a host computer that can transform it into a high-end time server,” says Byagowi.
Why time-accuracy matters for fairness in financial trading
When time is being measured in nanoseconds, precise timing is critical. To prevent market abuse and trading irregularities, regulators, including the European Security Market Authority (ESMA) and US Security and Exchange commission (SEC), require trading platforms to precisely synchronise to UTC (Coordinated Universal Time) and enforce strict time-stamping requirements.
Transactions must be properly sequenced and accurately timestamped to comply with regulatory requirement SEC 613, FINRA/ CAT NMS, or MIFID II RTS 25 as appropriate. Failure to provide synchronisation and an auditable log of financial transactions could require a trading platform to cease trading.
Algorithmic trading, meanwhile, relies on the accuracy of data, including time, to run simulations and understand the market better.
Challenges with precise timing and synchronisation
Precise time has historically been achieved using synchronisation protocols such as NTP (Network Time Protocol) or PTP (Precision Time Protocol) over a LAN or WAN. Operators need to compensate for network delays, which are not always consistent. This leads to regular intervention and updates.
GPS (Global Positioning System) and GNSS (Global Navigation Satellite System) provide highly precise time, but GNSS is not always available and can be vulnerable to security attacks.
OCP-TAP Time Card made by Timebeat provides a highly accurate and resilient solution.
The OCP-TAP Time Card provides the best of all worlds
At the heart of the OCP-TAP Time Card lies not just one source of timing information, but two: a GNSS receiver and a Miniature Atomic Clock (MAC), to support network synchronisation protocols including NTP, PTP and SyncE as well as PPS-based sync alignment.
There are even more features packed into the OCP-TAP Time Card such as IRIG-B, DCF-77, Precision Time Stampers, Precision Frequency Generators and Counters and many more thanks to great work done by NetTimeLogic (GmbH) in the development of the RTL code of the OCP-TAP Time Card which is open sourced as well and can be found at www.timingcard.com.
The holdover provided by the Miniature Atomic Clock on-board the OCP-TAP Time Card means trading can continue even when an external source of timing synchronisation is not available. The on-board atomic clock provides resilience to spoofing and jamming risks that may come from the GNSS receiver.
Put simply, the OCP-TAP Time Card made by Timebeat allows market participants to confidently meet regulatory requirements and provide highly accurate time data.
Why does being “open” make the OCP-TAP Time Card special?
Several things make the OCP-TAP Time Card special. This means that high-frequency trading and algorithmic trading operations are likely to want to deploy them.
- Firstly, the form factor: the OCP-TAP Time Card is mounted on an ordinary PCIe card, capable of being fitted or retrofitted into any vacant PCIe slot in most industry standard servers, so making it cost effective to buy and maintain. It means any x86 machine with an NIC capable of hardware timestamping can be turned into a best-in-class grandmaster time system. The alternative? An expensive proprietary appliance, expensive to buy, and with custom parts, expensive to maintain.
- Secondly, the OCP-TAP Time Card is open source, from the Open Compute Project. Open-source firmware is available (including Timebeat’s own software) and organisations also have the freedom to develop their own software specific to their use case. The alternative? A proprietary appliance: with limited potential to customise software and no control over feature upgrades and security updates.
- Thirdly, the open modular design of the OCP-TAP Time Card means there is a choice of Miniature Atomic Clocks (MAC). Alternatively, there is the option to swap the MAC for an oven-controlled crystal oscillator (OCXO) or a temperature compensated crystal oscillator (TCXO) for a budget-conscious solution with just minor compromises to the holdover capabilities. This flexibility provides the customer with both cost-options and choice should there be oscillator supply constraints. The alternative? A proprietary appliance with no flexibility in cost and often impacted by long lead times.
Lasse Johnsen a co-founder at Timebeat and a contributor to the OCP-TAP group says: “Timing is a key technology to enable a whole raft of cool technologies, such as financial trading, 5G, broadcast and more. The OCP-TAP Time Card ecosystem is a game changer for anyone needing accurate and reliable sync.”
Why is the partnership with Timebeat and Vespertec so special?
Allan Kaye, MD at Vespertec says: “As specialists in open, high performance data centre infrastructure, and as an OCP solution provider too, Vespertec is delighted to partner with Timebeat as the main distribution source for the OCP-TAP Time Card. Vespertec specialises in X86 server platforms, meaning we can source, configure, test and deliver servers featuring Timebeat Time Cards. What’s more, we specialise in global deployment, so are able to handle delivery into locations all over the world, including those with complex tax jurisdictions.”
Kaye continues: “The team at Timebeat has many years’ experience in providing clock synchronisation and were one of the participants in the Time Appliances Project. This wealth of experience and connections to industry experts has enabled Timebeat to manufacture the OCP-TAP Time Card and support customers using it. Timebeat also has its own synchronisation software and can provide customers with Enterprise Support.”
To find out more about the OCP-TAP Time Card made by Timebeat and how Vespertec can help, please call Allan Kaye on +44 (0)161 947 4321 or email email@example.com