The network operations center – an introduction

If you provide critical services in which IT plays a key role, a network operations center (NOC) is a necessity. In this control room of your IT-management, all assets are continuously monitored. How does a NOC work and what does it take to operate one?

A network operations center exists for organizations that depend on the permanent availability of highly complex IT infrastructure. The number of organizations that belong to this category is growing quickly, as IT steadily moves to the heart of organizations and their processes. These organizations simply cannot execute their core activities without IT and a IT infrastructure that ensures they can deliver their services across the globe, day and night. Incidents can lead to lost revenue and can result in losses, unfulfilled commitments and claims due to infrastructure failure.

A peek inside a NOC

Because of the risks described above, a NOC is absolutely crucial to day to day operations of complex, critical IT infrastructures. Knowing this is one thing, but actually building and operating a NOC is something else. How is a NOC set up?

The layout of an NOC is comparable to that of an air traffic control system: a large room with screens on which, in the case of an NOC, networks are monitored by a team of operators. The space is designed for at least 4 things:

  1. maximum focus by the operators, no distractions
  2. a detailed understanding of the current status of the infrastructure
  3. immediate attention for what is not going well
  4. being able to respond to what may not go well (i.e. signaling possible issues before they actually occur)

The NOC also has a proactive role making sure incidents are prevented before they have an impact. In addition, operators respond to incidents. They assist customers (or customers of customers) by telephone, create tickets, categorize notifications, resolve incidents and then contact the customer if necessary.

If an operator is unable to resolve an incident, he or she engages engineers. This is called second-line support. Operators call in system or network engineers who remotely monitor the incident, or send in field engineers who solve the incident on the spot. While the engineers are busy fixing the issue at hand, the first-line NOC employee maintains contact with the customer.

In order to work as efficiently as possible, standardization and automation are of great importance for a effective NOC. Standardized work descriptions are used to handle as many recurring or ‘common’ incidents as possible quickly and properly. Where possible, these actions are automated so that the NOC can operate more efficiently and keep focus on (preventing) incidents that occur less frequently.

A NOC is therefore at the heart of an organization that is heavily dependent on IT for its primary processes. It is the place where incidents are solved or prevented and where the services of the organization are safeguarded.

Remote NOC

As you have probably realized by now, this type of intense monitoring involves quite an amount of effort on the part of an organization. The NOC must be at high alert at all times and needs to be staffed 24×7, even if the organization it does the monitoring for is only open during office hours.

Medium-sized and larger organizations are therefore increasingly entrusting their NOC to a specialist party that has the necessary expertise and manpower to be on alert and solve incidents 365 days a year, 24 hours a day. There are both organizational and financial benefits to outsourcing a NOC, as we will discuss in upcoming blogs. For now, it is sufficient to know that outsourcing a NOC creates savings in terms of jobs, planning, training or administration. After all, a whole team is needed to occupy a “seat” in the NOC 24×7. Shifts, limited availability due to holidays, illness, training, acquiring sufficient knowledge and skills and other matters must be dealt with before a NOC can be operational 24×7, even if many processes are automated. A minimum of 5 to 6 people is needed on average to maintain a fully operational NOC.

All in all, a NOC could be a considerable upfront investment in time and resources, even for larger organizations. As I already mentioned, outsourcing a NOC to specialized third parties will solve many of these problems. What’s important though is whether a third party can deliver their services white label, i.e. whether the NOC is able to ‘brand’ itself as the organizations whose IT infrastructures it monitors when an incident is reported by email or by phone. In this way, the NOC truly becomes an extension of the organization.

Are you interested in how a NOC works, what the benefits of a NOC are and if your organization can benefit from or needs a NOC? Be sure to revisit our site the coming weeks and check our social channels, because in our next blog we will look more closely at the specific advantages of a NOC.

­John de Voogd
Manager sales Quanza