New Industry Products

Microchip’s New Time Server Boosts Synchronization, Grid Resiliency

May 04, 2022 by Gary Elinoff

The fresh device is a rugged, software-enabled solution providing enhanced levels of redundant and secure timing for power utility substations.

To properly manage modern power plants and substations, grid operators depend on stations' accurate transmittion of myriad parameters, including operability metrics, network health, fault monitoring, power measurement, and usage trends. And to ensure proper synchonization and continuinty across networks, they rely on sophisticated tools such as time servers, without which false tripping and inaccurate data timestamping would be far more common. 


In managing the grid, opeartors rely on myriad paramaters. Image used courtesy of ISO New England 


That in mind, Microchip on April 26 released its GridTime 3000 GNSS time server, a software-configurable system that generates precise time and frequency signals, effectively synchronizing both operators’ analog and digital communications networks. 


Numerous Protections Included 

Power grids, especially those supplying electricity to larger, more powerful nations whose energy demands, geography, and international adversaries are both dynamic and variegated, face numerous threats. Among them are surges, adverse weather events, and insidious cyberattacks targeting critical infrastructure. 

To guard against these, the GridTime 3000 stands up to stringent international standards while packing in a robust array of encryption and fail-safe features. 


The GridTime 3000. Image used courtesy of Microchip


The platform is compliant with both IEC 61850-3 and IEEE 1613-220; The former defines industry standard substation communications protocols, while the latter governs international environmental and testing requirements. 

For hardy cybersecurity, Microchip’s time server employs industry-standard encryption, based on the Rivest, Shamir and Adelman (RSA) and Advanced Encryption Standard (AES), that bars against the upload of malicious code. The device also sports a hardware-based cryptographic assurance module. 

In the case of a disruption to the global navigation satellite system (GNSS), which can be rattled by severe weather, environmental disturbance, or even intentional signal jamming or spoofing, the platform features multiple timing inputs. Necessary holdover duration is extended and performance is enhanced through a base voltage-controlled, temperature-compensated crystal oscillator (VCTCXO), as well as an optional oven-controlled crystal oscillator (OXCO) or rubidium oscillator.


Other Important System Features

With its ten 1000BASE-T Ethernet (1 Gbps) ports, the GridTime 3000 sports robust support for high-speed synchronization using precision time protocol (PTP) and network time protocol (NTP).


The backside of the GridTime 3000 is just as loaded as its Ethernet-oriented front. Image used courtesy of Microchip

In addition, the new unit complements Microchip’s other synchronization solutions, including the: 

  • TimePictra Synchronization Management System, which provides status and configuration support
  • BlueSky GNSS Firewall, which protects GNSS systems against jamming and spoofing
  • TimeProvider 4100 timing server family, which is interoperable with the GridTime 3000

The device also integrates a number of Microchip’s technologies, including integrated circuits and oscillators.


Looking Toward the Future

The grid’s data architecture is constantly evolving and, in order to keep up, so must Microchip’s new time server. That’s why the system offers flexible licensing options, allowing grid operators to enable only the features they need, when they need them. 

That’s achieved through use of the GridTime 3000’s clock management tool (CMT), which utilizes an internal web browser management interface. The CMT provides the configuration and management capabilities necessary for easy remote management and monitoring of both the server itself and a range of accessories, including a multi-band, multi-constellation GNSS receiver system and cold-swappable power supplies. 


Feature image used courtesy of ISO New England