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The International Electrotechnical Commission (IEC) 61850 standard describes the communication inside the substation automation system (SAS) setting the base for new interoperating devices that share information using the Ethernet network infrastructure. More recently, the request of time synchronization among SAS components for the timestamping of critical events or synchrophasor measurement has generated a very high interest in the IEC 61850 working group for distributed synchronization protocols like IEEE 1588. This paper analyzes the current situation, matching different implementations of the IEEE 1588, and their respective accuracy, with the requirements of typical SAS applications: from the millisecond synchronization accuracy required by fault recorder application to the microsecond required by the sampled values (SV). The main focus of this paper is on the integration of IEEE 1588 with real already existing systems, and the goal is the performance comparison of different architectures. For these reasons, experimental tests have been carried out using a real SAS network infrastructure [redundant gigabit optical fiber Ethernet network managed using rapid spanning tree protocol (RSTP)]. The results show that, under ideal conditions, the IEEE 1588 protocol can achieve synchronization accuracy slightly worse (80 ns) than legacy IRIG-B systems (15 ns). However, IEEE 1588 makes possible a great cabling reduction and a simplified maintenance when synchronization is directly transferred on the SAS system bus. On the other hand, experiments highlight that nodes connected through a legacy RSTP infrastructure, which does not support IEEE 1588 messages, can lose the time synchronization in the case of network traffic or reconfiguration of the network. Therefore, the integration of IEEE 1588 over existing IEC 61850 station bus is basically a tradeoff between installation costs and performance since it requires the replacement of already installed Ethernet infrastructure.- - In the last part, this paper analyses the challenges for the next SAS generation that has to combine on the same plants the high accuracy IEEE 1588 implementation with high-availability protocols based on IEC 62439. Since the lifetime of an SAS is more than ten years and the adoption of these technologies takes several years, some solutions that introduce synchronization and high-availability protocols guaranteeing compatibility with existing technologies have been analyzed, too. For instance, an adaptation block that (when attached to a high-availability network) reconstructs the interface signals (e.g., synchronization signals) required by traditional bay has been proposed.