NTP, Harlan Stenn & An Uncertain Future: Readers React - InformationWeek

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NTP, Harlan Stenn & An Uncertain Future: Readers React

InformationWeek's story about the work of Harlan Stenn on NTP sparked dozens of reader reactions on the website, as well as Tweets, Slashdot comments, and Facebook postings.

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Information's Week's story on the Network Transport Protocol and Harlan Stenn, alias "Father Time," has drawn extensive comment from its readers, including 30 on the InformationWeek homepage and another 286 on Slashdot.

In addition, the story was the subject of 674 Facebook posts and at least 290 Tweets -- and those are just the ones that the websites' monitoring system could capture. FSM Labs, Meinberg, and Pluribus Networks, all firms with a direct interest in the protocol, took pains to circulate the link and tweet the story.

"NTP -- probably keeps your network time synced. Why does its future depend on Harlan Stenn?" tweeted @Pluribusnet with a link to the story.

The tweets and comments represent a more dramatic response than what's awarded the typical technology update story, which isn't too surprising. The article highlighted how a piece of Internet infrastructure and its chief maintainer, Stenn, depended on a slender revenue stream, with Stenn saying he was ready to return to paid consulting work. The vast majority of servers and end-user Macs, PCs, and Linux computers depend on NTP for time synchronization with other systems.

It also wasn't clear what happens next if Stenn steps back from the project.

(Image: Margaret Clark)

(Image: Margaret Clark)

That's why Brian McNett (@b_mcnett), who describes himself as an anti-spam developer, tweeted shortly after it was posted late in the afternoon March 11: "Folks, this story needs amplification. NTP is one of the core protocols of the 'net. Harlan Stenn maintains it alone."

[Lend your voice to the NTP discussion.]

Sam Ramji, CEO of Cloud Foundry and one of the sources cited in the story, retweeted the story.

"This is the most unsettling thing I've read since a report many years ago that said all international Internet traffic was being routed through a garage in Virginia," wrote Tony A, one of the first commenters in the comment section of the InformationWeek's story. "Truly amazing how vulnerable the entire infrastructure is …"

That sort of reaction has lead to 72 donors, many of them individuals, sending $4,104 to Stenn and the Network Time Foundation as of 6 p.m. PT on March 19. Several companies had contacted him to say they would be getting back in touch shortly.

The story also gained readership by being cited on TechMeme.com, the technology news hosting site. Both TechMeme and Slashdot tend to attract an opinionated following. Slashdot typically has a young and outspoken developer audience with 3.7 million visitors a month. It has a strong predilection for the transparency and choice of open source code and NTP, as open-source code, became the focus of a stream of 286 comments -- not all of them positive.

"What the hell is there to fix in a protocol that returns a string of numbers?" asked an anonymous commenter on Slashdot.org.

Asked to comment, Stenn replied cryptically in an email message to InformationWeek: "The premise is incorrect."

[Next page: Companies using NTP take a hit.]

Charles Babcock is an editor-at-large for InformationWeek and author of Management Strategies for the Cloud Revolution, a McGraw-Hill book. He is the former editor-in-chief of Digital News, former software editor of Computerworld and former technology editor of Interactive ... View Full Bio

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Charlie Babcock
Charlie Babcock,
User Rank: Author
3/19/2015 | 9:57:55 PM
Youthful arrogance, or just ignorance?
A llittle surprised at the virulence of some of the comment: From Slashdot:, posted Thursday, March 12: "If he were to drop dead right this instant ... no one that matters would notice beyond his family." Nothing like arrogance. Or is it just ignorance?
Thomas Claburn
Thomas Claburn,
User Rank: Author
3/18/2015 | 6:28:50 PM
this makes me wonder...
...whether the open source community should have something like ASCAP or BMI in the music industry, to collect fees from companies that benefit from open source work but don't pay adequately for it.
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