Facebook chooses u-blox timing technology to speed up its data centres – and open-sources the design

05 October 2021

Facebook_Time-Card_featuring u-blox timing module_open source design
Facebook_Time-Card_featuring u-blox timing module_open source design

Facebook has open-sourced the design of its Time Card (sharing the GitHub repository, including specs, schematics, mechanics, BOM & source code), which features the ultra-precise u-blox ZED-F9T timing module, providing easy access to nanosecond-level timing.

Positioning & wireless communication technologies expert, u-blox has announced that social media giant, Facebook has chosen the u-blox ZED-F9T global navigation satellite system (GNSS) receiver module for its timekeeping solution. By improving the synchronisation of networked computers, Facebook’s Time Card can significantly speed up the performance of their data centres and distributed databases.

By open-sourcing its designs, Facebook has bolstered the adoption of highly accurate timing solutions based on u-blox technology. These solutions can easily be adopted by other industries requiring nanosecond-level timing, such as 5G cellular networks or smart power grids.

A better precise timing solution built on the ZED-F9T
Facebook set out to create a precise timing solution that reduces the computational overhead required when synchronising the timing between different computers in a network. They used a u-blox ZED-F9T multi-band GNSS receiver to sync up their solution with the highly accurate atomic clocks onboard dozens of orbiting GNSS satellites. To bridge possible gaps in GNSS coverage and keep clock drift to a minimum, the Time Card also contains a backup source of timing: a miniaturised atomic clock that is continuously synchronised with GNSS time.

Easy access to nanosecond-level timing accuracy   
To maximise the impact of their solution, Facebook decided to open-source the design of their Time Card, which fits onto a PCIe form factor. As a result, anyone with experience working with microelectronics can now use the design to turn any PC built on an x86 architecture and featuring a network interface controller into a nanosecond-level-accurate timing and synchronisation solution.

Easy access to nanosecond-level timing accuracy – based on the u-blox RCB-F9T timing board, which hosts the u-blox ZED-F9T GNSS receiver – opens new avenues in industry segments that rely on highly synchronised signals, such as 5G network base stations that require tighter synchronisation than those of previous generations. As power distribution networks become more complex to accommodate a growing share of decentralized renewable energy, they are becoming more reliant on reliable and accurate timing solutions. And following Facebook’s example, data centres and computer networks will be able to modernise infrastructure management to speed up performance and reduce latencies.

Facebook has shared the GitHub repository including the specs, the schematics, the mechanics, the bill of material (BOM), and the source code in partnership with the Open Compute Project (OCP) under the Time Appliance Project (TAP): www.ocptap.com

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