The saying “One man is no man” is often used to emphasize that continuity in a business is not feasible if you only have one person who possesses a specific skill. The employee with this specific knowledge and skill will sometimes go on holiday or can become ill. He or she can also change jobs. When one of these things happens, a company suddenly has no one left to do this specific job.
In the field of ICT, it is very common for companies to have multiple employees who can perform the same tasks. For some employees, these are tasks that they do not perform on a daily basis. But as an organization it is nice to have extra people available for the same tasks. In networking terms, we call this redundancy (of skills and knowledge in this case).
24×7 NOC with dedicated staff
When we consider what a NOC needs to do, we will quickly discover why redudancy of skills and knowledge is so important. An effective NOC needs to be ready 24×7. It is impossible (and undesirable) to have a single person work around the clock. In order to have the right expertise at an NOC at all times, we need several people with the same qualifications. Depending on the terms of employment, workload and pattern of peaks and troughs in the environment to be managed (seasonality), in practice five to seven employees are needed to fill one NOC ‘seat’ around the clock.
Sounds costly, and it is if you do it inhouse. Some organizations therefore decide to use the time of NOC employees more economically, or so it appears to them. As it happens, NOC employees do not have much to do most of the time. In most cases, the network they monitor functions as it should. Of course, organisations can have these employees do something else during that time, but there is a big risk here: it is at the expense of the attention and alertness required from employees to properly monitor a network. If NOC employees start doing other things, their NOC tasks will probably quickly become an afterthought to them. This of course flies in the face of everything a NOC is supposed to do.
Organizations therefore seem to face a choice between a fully functional but expensive 24×7 NOC, or a NOC that is less alert but cheaper, because it works on call. How would such a NOC work?
NOC on call does not work
To be frank, a NOC on call is not able to properly offer the same level of service as a 24×7 manned NOC. To understand why, we need to take a quick look at how a NOC on call may be organized.
As a 24×7 NOC is characterized, among other things, by a relatively low workload, it may be tempting for organizations to keep their network specialists on call day and night. That sounds efficient, because an organization does retain the capacity to respond to incidents quickly when needed, but does not have all the personal expenses that come with a 24×7 manned NOC. In this way, the organization saves costs. But it also saves on reliability and availability of its network.
To staff a NOC on call requires good and far-reaching agreements with employees. They have to remain in the geographical proximity of the company and have to feel comfortable with a wide range of restrictions in their private lives. What’s more, they don’t have their eyes fixed on the network environment. In case of calamities, they act reactively.
The employees of a 24×7 NOC literally have their eyes on the screens with network information. If the risks of limited availability, limited alertness and mere reactivity outweigh the costs, a NOC on call can be a valid consideration for any organization. But the business case for a 24×7 NOC as a Service (NaaS) looks different in practice. In that case, the costs can be divided over multiple network environments and organizations. For example, it is often more attractive to implement a 24×7 NOC as a Service instead of having your own NOC on a call basis.
Costs of network failures
IT, and in particular the functioning of the network, is like water from the tap: we take it for granted. When the water stops flowing or has a brown colour, we realize it is not as self-evident as it seems. If we suddenly have problems with a network environment, we get the same experience. In a network environment that does not function properly, the feeling of being taken for granted also disappears and annoying financial side-effects arise.
At best, employees can perform their work less efficiently. Perhaps a few emails cannot be sent, a report from the ERP comes a little later, the executive board has to wait a little longer for the results, but we can still send the invoices to the customer manually.
Slightly more serious is the situation where a non-functioning network results in production that is less optimal, or even comes to a temporary standstill. Especially in a business where margins are low, competition is fierce and customers are demanding, a temporary interruption of production is costly.
Much more serious, and hidden, but also much more costly is the effect of a network outage on an organization’s reputation, reliability and other soft aspects. These hidden costs are later reflected in long-term lower sales, lost customers, non-renewed ISO certifications and so on.
Whichever of the above scenarios applies, every outcome has a cost that you can avoid by outsourcing the monitoring of a company network to an NOC as a Service (Naas). It helps reduce overall costs compared to any other form of NOC, helps improve network availability and stability and in many cases is available white label.