The Network Operations Center (NOC)— the powerful, centralized epicenter that supervises, monitors, and maintains network availability—is the core of the network infrastructure. It’s up to the NOC to keep large, complex networks running reliably. Its wide-ranging and comprehensive breadth makes performance metrics visible at any given moment to quickly call attention to a long list of areas including firewalls, network devices, servers, wireless systems, IoT devices, virtual machines, databases, and internal and external software and services, as well as critical incidents and alarms.
Businesses depend on the NOC when it comes to keeping the network healthy – and this reliance is quickly gaining ground. The need for secure, reliable networks is critical to the business function, and it’s become one of the most pressing issues keeping leaders and IT teams up at night. Keyed-up competition, vulnerabilities, natural mishaps, and unforgiving cyberattacks call on today’s NOC to maintain network and organizational fitness and growth.
The NOC has the power to optimize network performance, as it detects issues and proactively resolves them. The NOC’s function allows employees, customers, partners and other network users to rest a bit easier, and its integrity and accuracy gives them peace of mind. It’s responsible for maintaining availability and operational continuity, playing a pivotal role in sustaining a company’s customer base and loyalty; therefore, optimizing the customer experience.
The Evolution and Diversification of the NOC
The network is becoming more sophisticated so NOCs are evolving and expanding to embrace diverse areas with their own specific nomenclature, including Dark NOCs and Cognitive NOCs, to name a couple.
Decades ago, Traditional NOCs started serving as an integral part of business network monitoring. Network operations staff run the traditional NOC, and the traditional NOC monitors the network 24/7. The staff is responsible for discovering anomalies as they arise and responding to alerts right away.
Traditional NOCs rely on a span of network management tools, like relevant software, and on the other hand, usually include some manual processes to carry out network management and oversight. They’re often the first line of defense when it comes to network security, so traditional NOCs must be on guard, ready and able to recognize and respond to attacks and disruptions.
A relatively new concept in network operations, a Dark NOC is one in which the NOC essentially runs with no staff. This type of NOC is called “Dark” because all operations-related processes and tasks can be fully automated – carried out by algorithms and machines so that no human intervention is required.
“Dark” means all lights in the NOC can be “put out.” Becoming an “operator of the future” will require communication service providers (CSPs) to maximize the potential of artificial intelligence (AI), machine learning (ML), and automation in pursuit of the so-called “Dark NOC.”
Dark NOCs are gaining interest in the Telco industry as the ultimate goal of network operations automation, and the idea is coming into prominence as the importance of high-performing connectivity increases.
The latest innovation in network operations, Cognitive NOCs are distinguished by their use of AI and ML to monitor and measure the network, which enable Cognitive NOCs to preemptively deal with anomalies and threats by taking any measures needed to prevent manifestation or harm of the network and its users.
Cognitive NOCs rely on advanced analytics to collect and analyze data from across the network, with the ability to detect and identify anomalous or suspicious patterns and trends that could bring about potential risks.
They also offer sophisticated features that help businesses personalize and respond to customer needs in a way that caters to each organization. Cognitive NOCs provide a more satisfying customer experience and further optimize network performance.
The Future of NOCs: What Lies Ahead
As new technologies, like 5G, the Internet of Things (IoT), and edge computing are adopted, deepening complexity defines the future of NOCs. The debuts of new technologies are creating an avalanche of data, exerting unprecedented pressures on the network. NOCs must advance so they can accommodate and handle greater complexity, as well as scale to manage massive amounts of data, as seemingly countless challenges will be inevitable. From there, they’ll have to apply the information gained to optimize network performance and protect the network from rising, convoluted threats.
Tomorrow’s NOC will need to offer functionality that smoothly adapts to change and can help ensure value and ROI for the business. As businesses advance toward cloud-based services and adopt the latest, most innovative technologies, network management must be just as agile, keep pace, and maintain best practices. The NOC of the future is expected to become even more flexible and versatile, to work at its full potential and deliver results, and seamlessly modernize to reflect new, progressive capabilities.
A trend forecasted for the future of the NOC is the integration of both physical security and cyber security. As the connectivity of the physical environment and the digital world increases, NOCs will face new challenges to monitor and manage both settings. It will require NOCs to integrate with technologies like video surveillance and access control, implementing any new features and capabilities in traditional network management tools.
An Even More Important Role for AI and ML
Human teams are getting to a place (if they’re not there already) where they’re unable to keep up with network complexity, and where they must employ AI and ML to automate routine, repetitive tasks. The trend positions AI and ML as key drivers of the future of the NOC, as their efficiency helps operations staff focus on the complex work, of higher value and greater priority, that matters most. AI and ML will enable NOCs to predict potential issues with keen accuracy and allow IT professionals to take preemptive measures to avert incidents and prevent any harm from happening to the business.
The optimization of resource utilization and improvement of network performance will see new, exceptional abilities from AI and ML. By analyzing network data at remarkable speed, AI and ML can quickly spot trends and patterns, enabling businesses to apply the right resources to dramatically increase efficiency and improve performance. The new abilities will make for a positive impact on the customer experience and a jump in competitiveness as a key marketplace differentiator.
Challenges Facing the NOC of the Future
There might be plenty of promising improvements and advancements associated with an NOC, but there are big challenges that businesses must overcome to fully benefit from an NOC working at its full potential.
- Perhaps the biggest obstacle is the need for skilled professionals who are capable of designing and deploying improvements and managing the NOC in a fast-evolving technology environment. The demanding skillset is difficult to find, and human staff will require a good deal of in-depth training. Their work would require a combination of technical expertise and a deep understanding of AI, ML, and network operations.
- It can be very difficult to ensure data is collected and analyzed in a secure and compliant manner. As the volume of data generated by modern networks soars, so does the need for businesses to store, analyze, and secure information. From a compliance standpoint, businesses must be able to meet the demanding regulatory standards for their individual industry and geography, including GDPR, HIPAA, PCI DSS, and many others. The consequences of noncompliance have tremendous impacts on an organization’s brand as well as its financial posture.
- A significant investment will be required for the implementation of a sophisticated NOC of the future, mainly due to its cost and complexity. So, businesses must make sure they get the benefits and ROI that make the commitment worth the spending. They must also work to keep the complexity of the NOC in check so that their resources contribute a satisfactory value and level of effectiveness and efficiency.
How IT Process Automation Works to Overcome Challenges
Handling the daunting challenges facing the NOC of the future is far from simple. Organizations can experience profound benefits by applying the power of IT Process Automation (ITPA). ITPA comes with substantial advantages and capabilities to help businesses function to the best of their abilities by automating manual, routine, and repetitive tasks that too often drain financial resources, as well as hinder effectiveness and efficiency.
Removing the burden of mundane work from network operations staff responsibilities lets them spend time on complex, high-priority tasks, and ITPA helps guarantee the data is managed securely and adheres with compliance standards.
The ability of ITPA to streamline and automate the collection, storage, and analysis of network data makes things easier regarding the NOC of the future and the challenges it must overcome, especially when it comes to getting big benefits and desired outcomes, like financial savings and customer satisfaction.
By leveraging automation, the NOC of the future promises to speed incident response, support reliability and security, and enable proactive network management to reduce downtime. However, as the NOC becomes more complex and poses more challenges, businesses will need to invest in the right tools and technologies to manage and optimize their networks. Adopting and utilizing ITPA, AI, and ML will help the NOC grow more capable and powerful every day.
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